He could have been a hero in any romantic feature movie. Physically extremely smart, elegant and handsome with a soft smile always on his face – I gathered this impression about young Captain Fahad Khan from a news package broadcast on one of the leading news channels. I say he could have been a hero in a feature movie because he was as charmingly smart as any of the heartthrobs that adorn our television or silver screens. Fahad, however, was a real-life hero, who embraced Shahadat last Sunday in an IED blast near Kahan, Balochistan.
It is astonishing that a young man of his age— people of this age usually party, indulge in some love affairs, and get married if they belong to rich families, or seek a good salaried job after graduation — could so easily and so comfortably put his life in danger, rather extreme danger. Since the August 2021 Taliban takeover of Kabul, Pakistan has experienced a revival of two lowkey insurgencies, one in the north-west and another in the south-west. The insurgency in the north-west is led by the religiously inspired Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), while the insurgency in the south-west is led by Baloch separatist groups.
His appearance makes it clear that Fahad was not only physically fit, but also a mentally alert and socially aware person—which means he knew about the level of danger in the area in which he was performing his military duties. Both in the north-west and south-west, Pakistani security forces—mostly army units—are carrying out Intelligence based operations against militants of two types. In the north there are tribal militants inspired by a religious ideology, while in the south there are mostly secular minded separatist organisations inspired by left-wing ideology. So, Fahad knew the area and the dangers he was facing while serving in this area. So did all other five soldiers that were killed alongside him as result of the Sunday blast.
Fahad was not the first Pakistani soldier to have lost their life while performing internal security duties in the troubled areas of the country. And keeping in view the grave security situation that our society is confronted with; it is an unfortunate reality that he was not the last either. Even more unfortunate is the fact that we as a society have failed to take stock of the situation in which Fahad—and hundreds of others like him— lost his precious life. I am not trying to present a security analysis of the situation in Balochistan and the erstwhile tribal areas. Such analyses usually dwell on which militant groups are operating in the area, what is the nature of the threat and how effective is the military force that the Pakistani state has deployed in the area. I am here trying to draw the attention of the reader to a larger question: why have we as a society failed to resolve our conflicts through political means, and why have we failed to build political mechanisms and institutions which can help resolve conflicts? In my reading Captain Fahad Khan’s precious life, like hundreds if not thousands of similar lives, was lost just because we allowed our conflicts to fester for an indefinite period of time. And these conflicts then grew into existential threats for our society and state.
Balochistan continued its life as an economically and politically backward region of Pakistan, while the civil-military elite of west Pakistan hoarded the resources in the Punjabi heartland of the country and suppressed Baloch particularism with a narrowly defined so-called Pakistani identity. Thus Balochistan’s language, culture and history were all suppressed and overruled. The Pakistani state opted to partner with socially and ideologically conservative tribal Sardars in Baloch society, while the recent uprising is led by the emerging middle class. Baloch natural resources were used for the industrialization of Punjabi heartland. This caused a conflict. And we didn’t have the political and representative mechanisms in place to resolve this conflict throughout our more than 70 years of existence. Use of military force was the only tool available to the Pakistani elite to tilt the balance in their favour whenever the Baloch people rose in struggle for their rights.
In the erstwhile tribal areas, we are faced with different kinds of festering wounds. This area and the then youth of this area was used by the military government of Zia-ul-Haq as a base camp for jihad in Afghanistan against Soviet and Afghan troops in the wake of the 1979 Soviet invasion. The Americans supported this jihad with weapons, training and funds. 20 years later, Americans turned against these jihadi forces and the Pakistani tribal areas became the target of the US and its allies in the Pakistani military and state.
In the words of a senior Peshawar journalist, those now fighting the Pakistani military in the erstwhile tribal areas are the third generation These are jihadists whose grandfather started the fight against the Soviets in the 1980s under the sponsorship of the Pakistani military and the US defence establishment. Our political institutions have played no role in healing the festering wounds of the people of the tribal areas—wounds which were caused by superpower rivalry that started in the 1980s and continue till date. There is a saying in English, “When the only solution available to you is a hammer, all your problems look like nails.” This is what is happening now, and the solution is one that we have been trying to impose on the tribal people since the 1980s. Poverty, absence of health facilities and education are the problems of the people of the tribal areas, and the 1980s and ‘90s were the years of trauma for them. We added our own military solutions to this lethal mix of problems. Now the conflict that exists in the tribal areas is deep-rooted and is even beyond the comprehension of our political elite. Our political institutions don’t have an understanding of the problems and conflict either. They believe what is fed to them by the military.
Captain Fahad Khan and so many other precious lives like his are being sacrificed at the altar of the dysfunction of our political institutions. Our political culture revolves around power struggles, confrontations and palace intrigues. We recently added media campaigns to this unproductive mix. The type of politics which is utilised to resolve conflicts in society is simply unknown to us. Every ten years, we have been adding new conflicts to the list of problems that our society and state are facing. Our political institutions play zero role in resolving these conflicts and they simply don’t even make an attempt even to understand or comprehend these troubles. Our political class’s basic conception about politics is an activity which compels them to engage themselves into any type of conflict or confrontation. Conflict resolution is an activity which is simply unknown to them. The result is that we allow our wounds and our conflicts to fester and become unmanageable in the process. This often leads to a situation where we have to employ military force.
Some will argue that life-and-death situations are part of a military career. I would disagree. If political institutions were functioning properly and allowed to take root in our society, many of the political conflicts—which turned into military conflicts only when they were allowed to fester unattended—will not emerge in the first place. The military as an institution in modern times is used around the world as a force for political stability.
And this, it must be noted, is a political stability that they achieve mostly without fighting – just by acting as a deterrent force.