ISLAMABAD - Less than a week after a Baloch nationalist leader had demanded an end to the alleged highhandedness on part of military intelligence agencies for the settlement of Balochistan crises, the army’s top brass has contended that it ‘fully’ supports political process in the province.

“Army fully supports any political process, as long as it is within the constitution of Pakistan,” a military statement on Wednesday quoted Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as having said, shortly before he left for Moscow on a four-day tour.

In the policy statement issued by ISPR, the COAS said, “Army will extend its support to a political solution to the Balochistan problem, provided that the solution is according to the Constitution of Pakistan. (However) any step, which goes against the Constitution, will be unacceptable.”

General Kayani’s statement comes at a time when the Supreme Court of Pakistan has taken up the cases pertaining to serious human rights violations in Balochistan with the alleged involvement of military intelligences agencies in the abductions and killings of civilians. The apex court has also endorsed the proposal that alleged ‘death squads’ run by the secret agencies in Balochistan need to be immediately abolished.

Last Thursday, Balochistan National Party (BNP) President Sardar Akhtar Mengal appeared before the SC in connection with a petition concerning human rights abuses, poor law and order situation and missing persons issue in Balochistan. He had directly accused the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) of running death squads that, according to Mengal, had created adverse security situation in Balochistan.

His six-point proposals for the solution of Balochistan crises suggest that: All overt and covert military operations against the Baloch should end. All missing persons should be produced. All proxy death squads created by the ISI and MI should be disbanded. Baloch nationalist parties should be allowed free political play without interference from ISI and MI. Those responsible for the killings and disappearances should be brought to book. Thousands of Baloch displaced by the conflict should be rehabilitated.

While the political circles have mostly lauded these proposals amidst echoing calls to bring into the political fold the aggrieved Baloch nationalists who have significant public following in Balochistan, the role of secret agencies in the province has become a subject of severe criticism coupled with the demands that political settlement be allowed to replace coercive tactics for bringing peace and stability in the province.

“Pakistan’s military accuses Baloch nationalists of anti-state activities. Is there anything in Akhtar Mengal’s six points that goes against the interests of Pakistan?” Jamhoori Watan Party chief Talal Bugti asked. “These proposals need to be implemented to bring peace in Balochistan,” he told The Nation.

“Brutal use of force by Pakistan’s state institutions has done irreparable damage to our province. We welcome the Supreme Court’s initiative to take to task the highhandedness of the intelligence agencies in Balochistan. The culprits should be dealt with an iron fist. The solution of every problem lies in the political settlement, not the use of force.”

Bugti had met Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif on Monday. Both the leaders had demanded an end to the use of force in the province.

Talking to The Nation, senior leader of Balochistan National Party-Awami (BNP-A), Senator Mir Muhammad Ali Rind argued the military needed to prove its reiterations. “If military command says that it fully supports political process in Balochistan, it better prove this claim. Actions speak louder than words. As a first step, state-sponsored bloodshed should be stopped, immediately.”

During last Thursday’s hearing, the apex court had shared serious reservations over the secret agencies role in Balochistan “We may now consider passing an order in a nature to call that person, who is very much responsible, to assist the court and find and bring the missing persons,” Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had observed referring to the top military leadership’s evident non-compliance on missing persons issue.

The chief justice commented after hearing Akhtar Mengal’s views about unrest in Balochistan who had termed the prevailing situation in Balochistan as “worst than Kashmir and Palestine”. “We could not digest the statement of Akhtar Mengal. The issue of the missing persons has to be resolved at every cost even if we have to take on the law enforcement agencies,” the CJP had further observed.

Agencies add: Meanwhile, senior army officials were present on Wednesday at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport to see off General Kayani, who left for Moscow on a four-day official visit. The army chief’s Russia visit has become more significant after Russian President Vladimir Putin recently cancelled his Pakistan visit. Putin was scheduled to visit Islamabad in the first week of October but his visit was cancelled owing to ‘unspecified reasons’.

Kayani’s visit also coincides with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov’s two-day visit to Islamabad (Oct 3-4) on the invitation of Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. Lavrov is scheduled to call on President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, besides holding bilateral consultations.

General Kayani during his four-day visit is expected to meet Russia’s top military and civil leaders to discuss ways to boost military-to-military cooperation between the two countries, ISPR Director General Maj-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa said. Gen Kayani is also expected to visit Russia’s vital defence installations and meet his Russian counterpart.

Political pundits dubbing the visit a breakthrough in cooperation between both the countries, claim it can become beginning of a new era of Pak-Russian relations. Pakistan has been desperately trying to strengthen ties with Russian in a bid to lessen its reliability on the United States.

A senior defence official has described the army chief’s visit as a major breakthrough in Pak-Russia defence ties. A diplomat at the Foreign Office, meanwhile, said that engagement with Russia was meant to “safeguard national interests as well as deepen consultations”.

Gen Kayani’s visit was in the planning for months, but has received additional focus because of the cancellation of Putin’s visit to Pakistan, which would have been a landmark trip because he would have been the first Russian president to visit Pakistan.

Meanwhile, General Kayani was given a warm welcome as he landed in Moscow on a historical visit to Russia. He was received by Deputy Commander in-Chief of Russian Armed Forces at the airport.

A contingent of Russian Army gave guard of honour at the airport. Kayani would call on President Putin during his visit.

Kayani speaks his mind on Balochistan