This is a political war and it calls for discrimination in killing.” (John Paul Vann, U.S. adviser in Vietnam)
The recent killing of Prof.Nazima Talib in Quetta, Baluchistan, has once again called into question the logic of indiscriminate violence against the non-combatant, non-Baluch settlers in the province.
It has turned the focus of attention not only to the Baluch guerrilla fighters but has simultaneously put those, who support a non-violent Baluch struggle, on the spot.
Writing about the potential US policy towards the Baluchistan, Selig S. Harrison noted in his 1981 book In Afghanistan’s Shadow that, “with respect to the Baluch issue, the American goal should be to forestall the necessity for a choice between the Scylla of supporting repressive counterinsurgency programs and the Charybdis of supporting Baluch independence.”
Indeed both the friends and foes of the Baluch have had to follow this impossible to negotiate path. The state players like the USA, former Soviet Union and India have erred – by design or default- in favor of the Pakistani state, while treading this regional policy tightrope.
For the individual and politically or apolitically organized supporters, sympathizers and fellow travelers of the Baluch struggle, it has been a rather straightforward matter where they have consistently condemned the repressive tactics of the Pakistani state machinery while openly endorsing the Baluch cause.
Be it the 1971 joining with the Parari fighters, in Marri hills, of the “London Group” boys or lending open – albeit tepid – political support from Wali Khan to Asif Zardari, the Baluch struggle has had almost unanimous backing from the leftist and center-left circles of Pakistan.
With the spat of killings of the non-combatants, especially Punjabis, in Baluchistan, the non-Baluch sympathizers of the Baluch nationalists are finding themselves in an increasingly difficult situation in defending what they – at least in their hearts and minds – have held to be a legitimate resistance and indeed a just war.
The nature of the Baluch guerrilla struggle has been complex throughout its many phases. For the most part though, it has followed – as accurately noted by Selig Harrison- the line given by Che Guevara’s associate Regis Debray, that in the revolutionary struggle the fighters themselves should be the focus of political power and not subservient to the political leadership not involved in fighting.
Sardar Ataullah Mengal and to some extent Nawab Khair Bukhsh Marri had correctly observed during the 1970s that the students and non-students joining the ranks of the armed struggle would not be under their political guidance or control. These leaders, due both to personal and ideological discipline, did not encourage the ideological waywardness in the Baluch guerillas.
On the other hand, the late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, for various reasons contributed to strengthening of this behavior in the movement. Nawab Bugti was a rather late convert to the Baluch nationalist cause. Besides having a death wish characteristic of a convert, he injected traits in the struggle that have over the last several years contributed to its negative image.
Irregular and asymmetric wars – like any other armed conflict – exhibit tremendous variation in the magnitude and type of violence, even within different phases and time-periods of that particular conflict. The motives of such violence, especially against civilians are complex and multiple. They could range from drawing attention through a spectacular act like the WTC bombings to instilling fear and triggering displacement, as in the case of the Jewish Irgun’s attack on Deir Yasin in Palestine.
Regardless of the targets and tactics of violence, it is neither indiscriminate as such nor without consequence. Usually, a method exists to such madness, whether it is a so-called reprisal based on a presumed guilt by association of the target or simply an attempt to eliminate or displace a group of people.
However, there are limits to any strategic gains emanating from violent tactics. Beyond a certain point, violence – indiscriminate or not – is counterproductive. The general population, angered and frightened by the violence, is not only likely to support the state’s repressive response but might also resort to tit-for-tat hostilities as have been witnessed in case of the Baluch students in Punjab.
The Baluch nationalist movement now has reached a juncture where it is about to lose the support of its various sympathizers in rest of the country. Similarly, the state apparatus is also at the threshold where it would likely respond by high-profile deterrent activity against the resistance.
The state forces already outnumber and out-gun them and have no intention to scale back their repressive activity. Given the geopolitical realities surrounding Baluchistan, it is highly unlikely that the Baluch guerrillas will parade down the streets, mobilize a mass uprising or face the state forces in open combat.
With the US, Pakistan and India arriving at a tacit understanding on the future direction of events in Afghanistan, the Baluch question is not anywhere near the top of any regional or global power’s to do list. India – whether actually or allegedly backing the Baluch fighters – would not go beyond a certain threshold violating the cushion of safety between her and Pakistan , which the US has cobbled together.
It is high time that the Baluch fighters and the non-combatant elders and leaders revisit the tactics, direction and objectives of their campaign. The Baluch resistance is at a point where, without a clearly identified political leadership, the Scylla of its own violence is about to push it to the Charybdis of failure.
While the Baluch must get their house in order, it is incumbent upon leaders and human rights activists across Pakistan, especially those who have remained together with the Baluch in the erstwhile National Awami Party (NAP), to not only engage the key Baluch politicians in talks but also impose upon them the importance of denouncing the violence against civilians and disassociating their movement from it. For the Baluch, it is a political war after all .
(Author teaches and practices Medicine at the University of Florida and contributes to think-tanks