Curzon’s curse


Mir Mohammad Ali

A hundred years ago Lord Curzon bequeathed this region with an efficient and reliable instrument of repression in the form of the Frontier Corps (FC). It served his Frontier policy well and kept peace there for them to securely continue the exploitation of the Subcontinent unhindered and unchallenged. One has to give to give the devil his due, he created an outfit which not only fulfilled their needs then but is still serving the interests of Imperialism along with those of the tyrants here. It still has a place of pride in the strategic needs of anyone who requires a willing fighting machine and can pay handsomely. He must be smiling smugly with contentment in his grave that the ‘curse’ he left behind is still very much alive and kicking, kicking in the literal sense of the term.

Some time back the US Assistant Secretary of State Richard A. Boucher said that the FC needed a transformation drive to give the extra capability and training needed to fight terrorism. The US government is to provide the 80,000-strong force $ 75 million a year for five years from the $ 750 million package earmarked for Fata. This assistance is an attempt to solve the problems created by their policies during the first Afghan war 1978-1989. The US needs efficient fighting machines to fight their wars the world over. Its assistance in the fields of education, health, etc, if any, is a fraction of what it spends on creating mercenary armies.

The US vigilantly defends its interests everywhere and looks after the needs of FC in Balochistan as well. The FC there is supposedly performing the duty of guarding Balochistan (from its own people I suppose?). While in fact it is seen as an outside force that is widely believed to be involved in human rights violations and is famous for its disproportionate use of force. Little wonder that the Corps installations and personnel in the province are routinely attacked.

To improve the kicking capability of the FC Balochistan; the US envoy Nancy Powell, in January 2003, handed over 483 vehicles and 626 wireless sets to the FC in Balochistan as the latest instalment under a $ 73 million security assistance package. She said, ‘The US government was providing vehicles equipped with latest facilities to FC Balochistan to enable them to patrol rugged terrain and remote locations in order to maintain law and order situation at Pakistan-Afghanistan border and to check terrorist activities, narcotics trafficking and other forms of criminality.’ The suppression of people’s struggle for their rights there is conveniently lumped under the heading of checking ‘other forms of criminality’.

The role of FC Balochistan has been a major source of resentment for the people there because of its indiscriminate use of force against them. Take a look at the newspapers of the past few years and the news about the FC and its contribution to the prevailing atmosphere in Balochistan crops up with amazing regularity and intensity. If there are four items of news about Balochistan, one is bound to be either about the FC’s high-handedness or about an attack against it.

Marginalized people perceive injustices even where none may exist and they magnify the injustices that are committed against them, but before you blame them, for a moment put yourself in their place or for that matter look at the way your rights are respected by the US even though you are living in what you call your own ‘very sovereign’ country. The injustices in Balochistan are not only perceptions but are real and substantial.

A brief look at the activities of the FC in Balochistan will illustrate the point that ‘Curzon’s curse’ is still doing what it did a hundred years ago, i.e. keeping the people pinned down so that the exploiters can have a free rein.

In June 2005 there was a motion in the Senate to discuss the activities of FC and its high-handedness in Balochistan by Prof. Khursheed Ahmed and Dr. Ismail Buledi for a debate ‘on the abuse of power and the atrocious behaviour of the FC Balochistan generally and in Makran and Nag Zamuran Buleda in particular,’ where, they said, the attitude of the FC had assumed ‘menacing proportions’. Opposing the motion, the state interior minister said the FC was performing its duties of checking the smuggling of goods and drugs, assisting in maintenance of law and order and carrying out relief operations.

It seems that among the FC’s relief operations in July 2003 was what a news headline reported, ‘FC forcibly occupies youth hostel in Quetta’. The news item said, ‘The FC has forcibly occupied a youth hostel in Quetta run by Pakistan Youth Hostels Association (PYHA) after laying siege to it and the residence of its secretary who was allegedly abused for refusing to hand over the keys. The FC contingent broke open the gates and locks of the hostel and occupied it forcibly. This act of high-handedness was not only illegal, but also deprived the youth of a decent and affordable accommodation in Quetta during this busy summer, the PHYA said. The PYHA management has urged the government to instruct the Quetta Corps Commander and FC officials to vacate the hostel immediately and find an alternative accommodation for the FC Jawans elsewhere.’

It seems that depriving the youth of Balochistan of decent and affordable accommodation just to house their men is considered the best way to endear FC to the hearts of the people there.

In July 2005, Major-General Shujaat Zamir Dar had said that to the present 13 units and 43 wings of the FC, an additional 15 units and 10 wings would be added by next year. Little wonder that during a Senate debate, Sanaullah Baloch had once said as long as 37,000 ‘alien FC forces’ remained in Balochistan, the Baloch would continue to exercise their right to self-defence.

The integrity of FC is also suspect. In October 2003 the FC initiated departmental inquiries against 45 lower rank officials for having contacts with smugglers and other people involved in illegal activities. The officials, including soldiers, were found involved in allowing smuggling and helping people run illegal business on both sides of the border; so much for the $ 73 million package from the US.

In June 2006 Federal Minister for Inter-provincial Coordination, Saleem Saifullah Khan said he stood for maximum autonomy for the provinces so that they could run their own affairs. However he did not agree with a questioner that the appointment of an army general as the inspector-general of federal projects in Balochistan was not in conformity with the principle of provincial autonomy. Seemingly Mr. Saifullah’s concept of autonomy includes the ever present guiding hand and influence of the Army and FC because soon after the Governor appointed Agha Ahmed Gul, a retired brigadier and former chief executive of QESC, as vice-chancellor of the Balochistan University. This man must be extraordinarily qualified because the administration simply doesn’t want to lose him. Major General Owais Mushtaq is the Chief of RAB Balochistan.

In January 2006 Dera Bugti District Nazim Kazim Bugti had said that there was no civil administration in the district and the FC was running the government affairs in the area. Probably Mr Saifullah again didn’t have knowledge about that.

Although ‘Curzon’s curse’ has long outlived its utility because the attitudes have radically toughened due to the increasing and relentless denial of rights to the people, but the rulers insist on perpetuating it for their ulterior motives and designs of oppressing the people and exploiting the resources.

The people no longer accept the FC as a force representing them simply because they are Muslims, as might have been the case in the past. Now people evaluate what a force does and do not acquiesce to it either on religious or nationality grounds. Even if FC were constituted of Baloch only but continued to do what it is doing now the reaction and the response of the people there would be exactly the same and they would continue to resist it.

It seems that the inheritors of the shameful legacies of Curzon and of British rule here and their masters and mentors in the West have now understood the feelings of the people and are now concentrating on making FC a better equipped albeit unpopular fighting machine, which can respond to their call with greater efficiency and eagerness to strike against those who express dissent.

The yoke that the British hitched around the people’s neck has persisted in various degrees and forms for people of different regions since 1947. For some people the only change that occurred was that of the change of skin colour of the masters while their lot remained the same or even considerably worsened.

Some gained an illusory supremacy at a huge and debilitating cost to others. The supremacy they acquired is as illusory as it is inane because though they can lord it over some of the unfortunate nationalities here they are subservient to the Imperialists. And those who call the shots dictate what these rulers should or shouldn’t be doing and to add insult to injury, they not only threaten but also bomb places whenever they like.

Unacquainted with and heedless of way in which world history progresses, the rulers and their mentors in the West erroneously continue to think that their survival depends on perpetuating ‘Curzon’s curse’ and other outfits of its ilk, and also in promoting and imposing absolutely brazen ‘deals’ of sham democracy ‘in the interests of democracy’.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at mmatalpur@gmail.com

This article was first published on 07 August 2007

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