Three fundamentally vital points in this proposal need to be clearly stated at the very outset:

One: The COAS is the most important person in the conceptualisation, making and the management of the military’s operational and strategic organisation. Hence, any issue pertaining to the military’s conduct and policy-making must be addressed to its top leadership, namely the COAS.

Two: All over the world, the military has the right of legitimate institutional input into the overall political system of the country, both domestically and in external affairs. Be mindful, the emphasis here is on constitutional and legitimate institutional input. So, this universally accepted practice for efficient working relations between the civil and military institutions must be respected and accorded to the Pakistani military as well.

Three: A mutual understanding and clear demarcation of the rules of engagement between civil and military institutions must be clearly defined and respective institutional prerogatives respected.

It is not important here, in the present context, to go into the past history of civilian-military relations in Pakistan. Indeed, some army generals have overstepped their political role and successive civilian political administrations have time and again failed in their democratic mandates to deliver sufficiently to the masses.

As a result, both the civilian and military institutions have mismanaged their respective part in the conduct of national affairs and have caused the nation to suffer indefinitely, hopelessly and almost incurably. Hence, today’s Pakistan stands at the crossroads virtually fighting a battle for its future survival. Because of the grave political challenges facing the nation, the need for a rational approach to find a political solution has never been greater.

Perhaps, one of the fundamental problems in the chequered history of Pakistan has been that the military leadership, at times, has turned national political issues into military confrontations. It is the mindset and training of soldiers that a sufficient use of force can terminate adversaries in an actual battlefield, as well as in the arena of political dissidence and discourse. The military-political history of Pakistan from Ayub Khan to Pervez Musharraf is a testament to that fact.

Now, we are faced with yet another grave national crisis: The fast deteriorating political situation in Balochistan. The US has internationalised the Baloch issue, and those who think that it is only making tactical moves to pressure Pakistan into resuming Nato supplies are certainly mistaken. The move in the American Senate is part of the US doctrine of global expansion of power through regime changes and the shifting of territorial boundaries in this region for its greater geopolitical, hegemonic objective of containing China and Russian. Make no mistake about it: The US will employ all means - manipulative, coercive, military, and diplomatic - and the use of political force to get what it wants!

So, the question is: Cognisant of the fact that Pakistan’s civilian regime is inefficient, dysfunctional and helpless in the face of American demands, how is its military leadership going to act in the political resolution of Balochistan and save the country from the impending crisis of further destabilisation? Indeed, rightly or wrongly, much of the Baloch problem has been pinned on the conduct of past military leaders (turning political issues into military confrontations).

Anyway, the Inspector-General of Frontier Corp (FC), a serving two-star military general, in a TV talk show on February 17, confidently articulated the role of the FC, as a credible force of stability, peace and development in Balochistan. He also said that there are 50,000 soldiers stationed under his command with the FC having access to all civilian administrative departments in every district of Balochistan - assisting the civilian administration on the constitutional and legitimate request of the provincial democratic government.

Let’s assume that what the IG has said is true. But, to some extent, the Balochi perception of its role is quite contrary. It is not perceived as legitimate; it is somewhat perceived as a “de facto” military power engaged in terror against the dissidents. So, here is a word of caution for the COAS: Given the ground political realities in Balochistan’s simmering situation, it is not time to offer technical or legal justifications of the army’s role and its presence there.

Indeed, the FC is a part of the military outfit - and that is a fact. It is the need of the hour to make visionary, imaginative, versatile, determined, and effective political judgments on the Baloch issue - that is how the federation of Pakistan can be saved and national sovereignty safeguarded. The honourable COAS would be well-advised to counsel the civilian leadership in the country to completely disengage the FC from civilian affairs in Balochistan and pave the way for a political resolution in the province. Nothing less will suffice!

It is time to pay heed to the pressing situation of Pakistan’s largest province and address the issues - before it is too late!

The hounds are at our doors! Don’t provide them an opportunity to manipulate and control the situation!

I suggest that the COAS must act now to disengage the FC from Balochistan.

The writer is UAE-based academic policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and the author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a masters degree from

Columbia University in New York.

Email:hl_mehdi@hotmail.com