The ‘Core Commander’

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Lieutenant-General Javed Zia, who commands the 60,000-personnel Southern Corps of the Pakistan Army is more powerful than many of his peers in the nation’s military.

The commander of the southern Corps, joined by the Inspector General of the Frontier Corps (FC),  covertly exerts more  influence on Balochistan’s politics, bureaucracy and the civil administration than the civilian governor and the chief minister of the province.

Hence, it is not surprising why his recent statement on Balochistan’s disappeared people attracted considerable coverage in the national and international media.

General Zia’s is the strongest statement ever issued by a military official since the inception of the Baloch insurrection in 2004. Of course, the Pakistan army is a direct player in the  Baloch conflict for two major reasons. First, the military carried out a deadly operation in the province and killed a widely revered Baloch nationalist leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti, who had formerly served as the governor and the chief minister of the province. Secondly, the Balochs accuse the military and its intelligence agencies of whisking away young Baloch students, political workers and professionals to detain, torture and kill them.

In his interaction with the journalists, the commander with a core responsibility warned that if the killing of missing persons did not stop, it may lead to the dismemberment of the country. He condemned the recent cases and called for reconciliation with the enraged Baloch nationalists to work for the ‘stability of the country’.

While the first part of the top military officer’s statement is comforting, his brazen support to the military is regrettable. There is credible evidence and supportive statements by reputed human rights groups, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Amnesty Intentional and Human Rights Watch, which implicate the Pakistani army, intelligence agencies and the Frontier Corps (FC) responsible for these extra-judicial activities.

The General also sounded cognizant of the fact that burning of Pakistani flag by disillusioned Baloch youths was the order of the day in today’s charged Balochistan. He said he did understand the people’s anguish and offered to heal the their wounds. One wonders if he also realized how enormously the issue of enforced disappearances had contributed to anti-Pakistan sentiments. It is totally absurd to identify a burning issue but still defend the elements responsible for orchestrating it.

Furthermore, it is meaningless to reconcile with the Baloch when the army troopers are seen with contempt by the widows and orphans of the slain disappeared Balochs. It could have been a better start if General Zia had offered to permanently close the chapter of ‘kill and dump’ by discussing the issue with General Kayani.

Agreed, our military should not have jumped into politics in the first place. Now that it has, as some pundits sarcastically say,  emerged as the biggest political party in the country, it should also master the art of resolving political disputes through political means. The army is a direct instigator in the Balochistan conflict. Therefore, it also has a role to play if it has now realized that its aggressive policies have unimaginably backfired in the province.

General Javed Zia actually committed the same blunder that General Musharraf  did while publicly defending Captain Hammad, a military officer accused of raping a lady doctor, Shazia Khalid,  at the Pakistan Petroleum  Limited (PPL) in 2005. Without even initiating an inquiry in the rape case, General Musharraf said in a press conference that the army captain was totally innocent.

Dr. Shazia’s ordeal was implicitly described by Dr. Akbar S. Ahmed, a Professor of International Relations at American University in Washington DC, in his article “Musharraf’s Rape-Cover-Up“:

“When Shazia Khalid’s story began to filter outside official circles, Musharraf’s challenge was to prevent it from connecting up with Mukhtaran’s story, which had already become international news. Musharraf’s officials put Shazia and her husband under house arrest for two months.

“A campaign was launched to smear her character, with rumors of her being a loose woman and perhaps even a prostitute. To make matters worse, her husband’s father gathered a mob threatening to kill her because she had dishonored the family name.

“Desperate and dejected, Shazia tried to commit suicide.”

It is clear that the civilian government does not have the powers to undo the mess created in Balochistan. If the military has reached a point of regret over its strategic mistakes, it should publicly and officially apologize to the people of Balochistan, dismantle all the units in the secrete services which are responsible to kill and dump political dissenters in Balochistan.

If the army insists on being innocent, then it should at least cooperate with the civilian government, international human rights groups such as the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and the local HRCP to  conduct an independent and impartial investigation into this grusome phenomenon.

The army should get out of the denial mode. People have begun to question what the army officers mean when they simply say ‘we don’t know’ how Osama bin Laden managed to find a safe house in Abbottabad in the backyard of the  Pakistan Military Academy (PMA). They also say ‘we don’t know’ if they are asked who, if not the army, is responsible for the widespread disappearances and killings of the missing Baloch youths during the custody.

It is the time the army shifted from the ‘we don’t know’ mode to ‘we know’ mode by clearly reprimanding the rogue elements who are  committing massive human rights violations while keeping their naive corps commander in absolute darkness. (The Baloch Hal)

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