COAS General Kayani has categorically denied reports that a military operation is underway in Balochistan. Talking to newsmen at a reception hosted by Prime Minister Gilani in honour of visiting Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Islamabad on Saturday, he set asserted that not a single soldier was involved in an operation in the province. The General maintained that all that was being said against the security forces in this context was mere propaganda and the killings being committed by the insurgents were being blamed on them. An emphatic enunciation of the army’s position on this sensitive issue was badly needed in view of the rumours of security forces’ involvement in cases of kidnappings and murders set afloat by certain elements within Pakistan and outside. The Economist magazine put the blame for 300 deaths in the province on intelligence agencies. Some US Congress members went a step further and while castigating these agencies remarked that the province was ripe for separation.

Against this backdrop and firming up General Kayani’s observations, a military source gave further insight into the goings-on in Balochistan. According to him, basically three organised militant groups – Baloch Republican Army, Balochistan Liberation Front and Balochistan Liberation Army – are responsible for the turmoil that is confined only to three districts: Turbat, Dera Bugti and Kohlu. It is unfortunate that three of the four main miscreants, Brahamdagh Bugti, Harbiyar Marri, Javed Mengal have been given asylum in Europe and are directing their operations from there. Allah Nazar, the fourth of the gang, is leading the fight from the hills. These groups get training, funds and arms from abroad. Terrorist acts are as frequent in these districts as four a day, totalling 1476 in 2011 alone, and that included the firing of rockets, coalmine explosions, bomb attacks, and acts of sabotage involving railway, gas and electricity installations.

The sense of hopelessness and frustration that this bleak scenario creates is accentuated by the lack of any developmental activity in this otherwise resource-rich but scantily developed province. The utilization of Rs 250 million that each MPA, the amount an MNA and a Senator get from the official exchequer for development purposes is nowhere in sight. The package known as Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan has largely remained on paper, and no benefit has accrued to the general public from any other odd project that might be going on in the province. This provides the local influentials enough ground to incite the disadvantaged lot to militancy. Khair Bakhsh Marri and Mir Biyar Marri, according to these sources, are trying for the closure of Chamlang coalmines that has been providing jobs to 75,000 people since 2006. The challenge, no doubt awesome, has to be faced with wisdom and courage. It would entail not only engagement with the hostile elements, but also a sustained and well-planned development programme whose benefits provide visible relief to the common man. Unless he feels that he has a stake in being a committed citizen of the country, things would go from bad to worse.