The controversial policy of recruiting retired military soldiers and officials to support the security forces of Bahrain against pro-democracy protestors threatens to undermine the credibility of complaints about foreign interference within our own borders. But this may not be the only affect. After reading a news report from last Friday, I think it is worth examining whether this practise is also destabilizing Balochistan.
The news report referred to appeared in last Friday’s edition of The News. Amir Mir wrote that hiring of Pakistani fighters for Bahrain angers Iran. The government of Iran is unhappy with this because, though it is no bastion of democracy itself, Iran has sees the crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in Bahrain as a sectarian fight.
But what is being clearly seen as Sunni and Shia rivalries, Iran is annoyed with the recruitment of mainly Sunni Muslims for the Bahraini security forces because it blames them for crushing a mainly Shia uprising against the rule of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Tehran believes that all these recruitments were being made at the behest of Saudi Arabia. For long, Riyadh has been one of the two foreign hands — the other being the US — rocking the cradle of Pakistani politics, brokering truce among warring leaders, providing asylum to those being exiled and generously lavishing funds on a state strapped for cash. But the explosion of democratic upsurge is gradually bringing about a role reversal — it is Pakistan’s assistance the Arab royal families have now sought to quell rebellion in West Asia, rekindling memories of 1969 when the personnel of the Pakistani Air Force flew the Saudi fighter planes to ward off an invasion from South Yemen.
Viewing the situation with this historical perspective, the Iranians may see Pakistani involvement in Bahrain as sectarian aggression. The involvement of Fauji Foundation, even though it is nominally a private enterprise, makes the policy like an official position of the military.
The Fauji Security Services (Pvt) Limited, which is run by the Fauji Foundation, a subsidiary of the Pakistan Army, is currently recruiting on war footing basis thousands of retired military personnel from the Pakistan Army, Navy and the Air Force who will be getting jobs in the Gulf region, especially in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. But sources in the Fauji Foundation say over 90 per cent of the fresh recruitments, which started in the backdrop of the recent political upheaval in the Arab world, are being sent to Bahrain to perform services in the Bahrain National Guard (BNG), and that too at exorbitant salaries. Thousands of ex-servicemen of the Pakistani origin are already serving in Bahrain and the fresh recruitments are aimed at boosting up the strength of the BNG to deal with the country’s majority Shia population, which is calling for replacement of the Sunni monarchy. Bahrain’s ruling elite is Sunni, although about 70% of the population is Shia.
While it’s popular to blame the US and India for supporting Baloch separatists, the nation that actually stands to gain the most from the trouble is Iran which shares a border with Balochistan. In retaliation for Pakistani participation in putting down the pro-democracy shia in Bahrain, Iran could be funneling support and resources to Baloch separatists. Iran could also see the possibility of an independent Balochistan as a bulwark against sectarian militant groups in Pakistan. Amir Mir saw the same possibility.
In other words, as things stand, Islamabad, wittingly or unwittingly, has become the frontline state for protecting the supremacy of Sunni Islam which would not be taken lightly by Iran that has the ability to create problems in Balochistan province, neighbouring Iran.
We should be examining the policy of allowing Fauji to recruit security personnel to help the Bahrain ruling family because such a practice goes against our own stated protests against foreign interference in our own politics. How can we complain about hundreds of Raymond Davises when we are sending our own Raymond Davises to Bahrain?
But more immediately, we need to carefully consider whether such actions are doing worse than undermining our own credibility and are actually fueling instability in the country by promoting sectarianism and hurting our relationship with our neighbors.