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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fresh Perspectives of Balochistan Crisis

Fresh Perspectives of Balochistan Crisis

By amicus • Feb 28th, 2012 • Category: Lead Story •No Responses
Fresh Perspectives of Balochistan Crisis

The Baluchistan issue is in the limelight again. The immediate reason being the renewed and excessive focus of the media and human rights groups on the matter of alleged, forced disappearances and discovery of mutilated death bodies of Baluch activists, picked up by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies that are virtually under the control of the country’s military establishment.
The proceedings in the Supreme Court in the matter of ‘missing persons’ have also brought into open horrible stories of brutality and inhuman treatment, alleged, meted out to those in the unlawful custody of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Military Intelligence (MI) and FC. Initially In 2007, “Pakistan’s Supreme Court Chief Justice gained wide notoriety when he demanded that General Musharraf account for the for the thousands of Pakistanis who had been disappeared”.
The relentless efforts of the relatives of the ‘missing persons’ to know their whereabouts have led credence to the premise that the ISI and the MI work as ‘a state within the state’ and are responsible not only for unlawful detention of citizens under suspicion but often their extra-judicial executions.
The issue of Baluchistan is now drawing the attention of international community.
It is ominous that on February 8, 2012, the US Congress’ Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation held hearing on the Baluchistan issue and accused the Pakistan government of broad human rights abuses against the Baluch people.
In response, the National Assembly of Pakistan passed a resolution condemning the Congressional hearing on Baluchistan and termed it as interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state and breach of international law. Pakistan Foreign Office also lodged a protest against the Congressional hearings.
On February 17, 2012, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, together with two other lawmakers, tabled a resolution in the House of Representatives that says that in Pakistan, the Baluch people are subjected to violence and extra-judicial killings.
The resolution which is still to be voted upon adds that the Baluch people “have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country; and they should be afforded the opportunity to choose their own status.”
Although the resolution has no legal force and the State Department has clarified that “it is not the policy of the Administration to support independence for Baluchistan,” it is a matter of grave concern for Pakistan. The United States has called for a negotiated settlement of Baluchistan issue.
As the things are unfolding internally and at international level, it is important that the Baluchistan issue is addressed with utmost seriousness and urgency.
Briefly speaking, the narrative of the Baluch nationalists goes;
Baluchistan was not historically a part of the Indian/ South Asian Subcontinent. The Khanate of Kalat was an independent entity. As a result of its ‘forward policy’ to counter Russian southward expansion, the British interference in the region increased and Baluchistan was sucked into the Subcontinent.
At the time of independence of the Subcontinent, the Khan of Kalat was reluctant to accede to Pakistan. The upper and lower houses of Kalat’s legislature opposed the State’s accession to Pakistan. However, Kalat and other Baluchistan States were annexed by the Pakistan government through a show of military might.
Since then the Baluch people have always been denied their just and legitimate rights and deprived of their due share in the resources of Baluchistan. Even a process of ‘colonization’ of Baluchistan is underway. The so-called mega projects are also designed to benefit the outsiders.
The Punjabi political elite and the Punjabi military establishment are not prepared to provide even bare necessities to the Baluch people. Baluchistan has remained backward in every respect.
Whenever the Baluch people have demanded autonomy and their due share in the natural resources, the Pakistan government has resorted to military action. This happened under Ayub, Bhutto and Musharraf regimes. The Baluch nationalists have always been accused of being traitors and at different times of having contacts with the Soviet Union, India, even Iraq and now the United States.
The agencies have adopted ‘kill and dump’ policy to terrorize the Baluch people and as a last resort, the Baluch nationalists contend, they have taken up arms to liberate their motherland.
There is a narrative that is obviously different:
Following the elections of 1970, the ethno-nationalist National Awami Party (NAP) won the largest block of seats in both Balochistan and what is now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and formed governments in both provinces with the political support of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam.
Following the 1971 civil war in which East Pakistan, with India’s assistance, became Bangladesh, the NAP government finally took control of the provincial government and tried to correct some of the developmental, economic, and political problems of the province.
Pakistan’s first elected Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, opposed such reforms, fearing that they would undermine the Punjabis, Pakistan’s dominant ethnic group, and other non-Baloch who also have huge stakes in the province.
In 1973, the Pakistani authorities, under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, invaded Balochistan, after they raided the Iraqi Embassy in Islamabad, discovering 300 Soviet submachine guns and 48,000 rounds of ammunition. Although it was alleged that the American officials knew the weapons were meant for Baloch rebels in Iran, the government claimed that Iraq was planning to transfer the arms to Pakistan’s Baloch.
The elected provincial government was dismissed, Governor’s Rule imposed, and the central government dispatched 80,000 troops to fight 55,000 Baloch guerrillas.
Iran provided 30 Cobra helicopters with their own pilots to help Pakistan put down any insurrection, owing its own problems with its ethnic Baloch, who struggle under ethnic discrimination and, as they are Sunni, Shia domination. In the end, about 3,300 Pakistani army soldiers died, as well as 5,000 militants and thousands more innocent civilians.
After Bhutto’s government was toppled by General Zia-ul-Haq on July 5, 1977 and subsequently, his government launched several development projects, such as road construction, expansion of power transmission, and building small dams, in hopes of appeasing Baluchistan’s residents. Zia also ensured that Quetta received Sui gas for the first time even though deposits had been discovered in Balochistan some four decades earlier.
The previous governments of Benazir and Nawaz Sharif tried to introduce such mega projects in this province but failed owing to political uncertainty. President General Pervez Musharraf finally took a very bold initiative and in 2002. The most recent insurgent violence began with General Musharraf’s seizure of power in 1999. In particular, Musharraf outraged many in the province when he announced the development of the deep-water port at Gwadar (a huge project being carried out in partnership with the Chinese) and the construction of two army cantonments.
While many Baloch see the army cantonments as part of Pakistan’s “colonizing presence,” the Pakistan army has long sought to increase the number of Baloch in its ranks. This desire stems from the belief—long held by the Pakistan army—that the institution must reflect the population from which it draws.
Achieving this goal has proved a challenge because fewer Baloch meet the educational standards and/or wish to join the Pakistan army. In response, the army has built cadet schools in Quetta and elsewhere, in the hopes of increasing the number of recruits from the province. Pakistan’s army has long dominated the state, and its extensive welfare system is the best in the country.
The Baloch ethnic group is the largest in the province, it is not known definitively whether or not its members comprise the majority of the province’s inhabitants as the census is both out of date (from 1998) and does not ask about ethnicity. Be that, it is, however, suggested that Baloch are the largest group in the province (followed by the Pashtuns and the Brahvi, but it falls short of forming a majority of the population.
In addition to these three largest ethnic groups, Balochistan is also home to Sindhis and Punjabis. Using the 1998 Pakistani census data on mother tongue as a proxy for ethnicity, those who claim the Baloch language are a slight majority (55 %), followed by Pashto speakers (30 %), Punjabi (three %), and Saraiki (two %). Those who speak Urdu (the national language) comprise a mere one % (Pakistan Census, 1998).
However, the census does not distinguish Brahvi speakers from Baloch speakers, even though the two languages are linguistically distinct and completely unrelated.
This is one reason why some scholars are wary of declaring Baloch the majority ethnic group while others insist that they are the majority community of the province.
Determining Baluchistan’s ethnic composition is complicated by Pakistan’s census. The census is supposed to be decennial, but has been deeply politicized since the 1980s. The 1981 census was delayed until 1998. This extraordinary delay was due in part to the Pakistan government’s hope that many of the millions of Afghan refugees who had flocked to Pakistan would return to Afghanistan before the census was conducted.
Balochistan, along with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK, formerly Northwest Frontier Province, (NWFP) has hosted millions of Afghan refugees since 1979. While Pashtuns had lived in Balochistan long before the Afghan crises unfolded, there can be little doubt that developments across the border have altered the ethnic, political, and even religious and social fabrics of the province, as many Afghans and their offspring have acquired Pakistani national identity cards and have made Pakistan their home.
As of January 2012, there were more than 1.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, 2012). Current figures for Balochistan in particular are not available, but in 2010 there were more than 406,000 Afghan refugees in the province (UNHCR, 2010).
It says that the British government had made it amply clear that Baluchistan, including its native states, was a part and parcel of the Indian/South Asian Subcontinent. The Baluchistan States had no option of independence.
At one time or the other, the Khan of Kalat and at other some Baluch Sardars, particularly the chiefs of Bugti, Marri and Mengal tribes, have resented and resisted the legitimate authority of the Pakistan government and hindered the development programmes, including the implementation of the mega projects, in Baluchistan.
It is the Baluch social structure that is responsible for the province’s backwardness. Take a look at the Baluch Tribes and then juxtapose it with the stance of the Khan of Kalat and the Chiefs of Bugti, Marri and Mengal tribes, who also find their own tribes divided over the issue and stand, of their leaders. It is also revealed that, with the exception of these four the others have never opted for armed struggle as means for attaining their rights and none has aimed at secession. Baloch Tribes
The official narrative says that the Baluchistan province is sparsely populated and lacks necessary human resource to undertake development projects. The settlement of people from other provinces is, therefore, very natural. Have not the Baluch people settled in Sindh and Punjab?
The official narrative accuses the Baluch nationalists of terrorizing the non-locals. They are involved in target killings and have forced exodus of two to three hundred thousand non-locals, mainly Punjabis, from the province. While Baloch nationalists are wont to call attention to their grievances and losses, they are not the only victims, in many cases they are the perpetrators. Baloch nationalist militants are widely suspected to be the culprits in a wide array of killings of Punjabis, ostensibly to protest Punjabi colonization of the state.
Teachers and police have been particularly vulnerable because they are seen as the representatives of the so-called Punjabi-dominated state generally and the military in particular. The Pakistan army is not as Punjabi-dominated as is widely believed.
The targeted killing of teachers has had a profound impact on the province’s already fragile educational system. There are too few educated persons in Balochistan to supply an adequate numbers of teachers, and the hostile and dangerous environment makes recruiting teachers from other provinces difficult.
The official narrative also decries foreign (read Indian) interference in Baluchistan and blames the Baluch nationalists for seeking foreign military and diplomatic assistance for securing separation of the province. Perforce, the agencies, this narrative asserts, have to take action against terrorists and anti-state elements.
Now the questions that agitate the mind are: Why this sudden concern of the US Congressmen with the situation in Baluchistan? Are they genuinely motivated by Human rights violations in the province? Is the Obama Administration anything to do with the move?
There are various theories that attempt to answer the questions.
According to the conspiracy theory, the ultimate US objective is to secure independence of Baluchistan or the part of it that is adjacent to Iran and Afghanistan to have access from the Arabian Sea through Baluchistan and Afghanistan to Central Asia. It could serve as a transit trade route, energy corridor and logistic passage to promote and safeguard American interests in the region.
Other theories do not take very serious view of the move in the US Congress:
One explanation is that it is just a pressure tactic to compel Pakistan to reopen NATO/ISAF supply lines. A second explanation is that it is meant to prevent Pakistan from going ahead with the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.
Another view is that the United States wants Pakistan to dilute its conditions concerning the composition of future political set-up in Afghanistan. Lastly, there is the view that the United States aims at undermining the role of the ISI as custodian of Pakistan’s national interests.
Here it may be noted that the presence of Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad and the treatment meted out to Dr. Afridi, who conducted the fake vaccine campaign to locate Bin Laden, has raised many intriguing questions about the ISI and CIA.
Obviously if we subscribe to any of the above-mentioned theories, it would imply a nexus between the US Congressmen’s move and the policy of the Obama Administration.
At the peak of the so-called American ‘war on terror’, Pakistan had assumed the status of a non-NATO ally of the United States and entered into strategic dialogue with the United States to safeguard its interests.
Simultaneously, on April 5, 2005, Pakistan concluded a Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good-neighbourly Relations with China, which is more explicit and meaningful than one signed by India with the Soviet Union in August 1971.
The Pakistan-China Friendship Treaty says that, inter alia, the Chinese side appreciates and supports Pakistan’s efforts to settle peacefully all the problems with its neighbouring countries and all efforts to safeguard its state sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.
The Treaty also says: “ each Contracting Party shall not join any alliance or bloc which infringes upon the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of other Contracting Party, nor shall it take any action of this nature including the conclusion of treaties of this nature with a third country.”
The Treaty significantly adds that the Contracting Parties shall enhance and consolidate trust and cooperation in the military and security fields to strengthen their security.
The reference to the Pakistan-China Treaty is not meant to suggest that China will fight Pakistan’s war if one is imposed on it but to indicate that at least Pakistan is not alone and can pursue a regional policy that is independent and commensurate with its national power. There is no need to prostrate abjectly before the United States if Pakistan is able to put its house in order.
China has invested in the Gwadar Port and other projects, and also wants to secure transit trade route across Pakistani territory for its western region. Obviously China is an important stake-holder in Baluchistan and will like it to be a stable and peaceful part of Pakistan.
Since last many years, the Iranian government has remained concerned with American interest in Baluchistan as a base to interfere in and destabilize Iran or topple its regime.
During the Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan trilateral summit on February 17, 2012 in Islamabad, the three countries agreed “not to allow any threat emanating from their respective territories against each other and commence trilateral consultations on an agreement in this regard.”
Pakistan has also assured Afghanistan that it would facilitate Afghanistan government’s dialogue with Taliban.
The credit goes to leadership that it has assured Iran that Pakistan would remain committed to the gas pipeline and electricity import projects despite international sanctions.
On the issue of Baluchistan, the interests of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan converge because Baluch people reside in all of them and any turmoil in Pakistani Baluchistan would definitely have impact on the Baluch population in Iran and Afghanistan.
The Baluchistan issue is an extension of the ‘Great Game’ being played for hegemony in resource-rich Central Asia. The United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and even Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have stakes in the region. A comprehensive, all-embracing international understanding on the future of Central Asia can ease situation in Baluchistan also.
In a win-win situation Baluchistan can serve as a transit trade route to and energy corridor from Central Asia via Baluchistan and Afghanistan with a bright future for the Gwadar Port, thus benefitting all stake-holders and opening up new vistas for ECO, SCO and SAARC.
In due course, the pace and prospects of economic development and the need for human resource may overtake the Baluch resentment over settlement of non-locals in Baluchistan.
Internally, the Pakistan government has initiated the Rights of Baluchistan Programme but it has not made headway. The Baluch nationalists consider the programme as mere a cosmetic effort and not to resolve the crisis.
Under the Eighteenth Amendment considerable autonomy is to be conceded to the provinces. If implemented in letter and spirit, some of the grievances of the Baluch nationalists may be addressed through decentralization and devolution of power.
However, there seems to be divergence in the perceptions and policies of the civilian government and the military establishment.
The ISI and the security establishment view the Baluchistan imbroglio more as a security issue than a political one. Apparently the Defence of Pakistan Council, or say the Islamists and other religio-political parties are federalists and have huge stake in Baluchistan. Hence is a force to be reckoned with to counter the Baluch nationalists. This reality is not lost on security establishment of Pakistan.
There is need for the civilian and military leadership to forge a consensus on Baluchistan policy and work in tandem. Negotiations with the Baluch nationalists and removing trust deficit is the only way out.
The agencies should understand that their strong-arm tactics, even if justifiable, are estranging the Baluch people and simultaneously bringing bad name to the country. They should reform themselves.
One recalls with great pain and anguish the traumatic events of 1971 which led to severance of Pakistan’s eastern wing. Immediately after the commencement of military action in East Pakistan, President Nikolai Podgorny of the Soviet Union, President Richard Nixon of the United States and Prime Minister Chou En Lai of the People’s Republic of China had advised President General Yahiya Khan to resolve the crisis through political settlement but the over-confident and arrogant military regime failed to heed the advice which led to catastrophic consequences.
Agreed that the nature of crisis in Baluchistan is qualitatively different from the one in erstwhile East Pakistan, yet the military response is not likely to work and in the present geopolitical context there is a genuine risk that the issue might get out of hands if it is not addressed properly.
The worst thing is that as of today there is no political initiative, emanating from Civil and Military leadership, in tandem, to understand and address the quagmire, which, albeit, is extremely hyperboled in media. Hence the situation appears to be in a free fall mode and rapidly deteriorating. With self-serving interference of the USA it is fast getting internationalised, no matter what the stated policy of the United States as to Baluch Problem being internal issue of Pakistan.
While not at all condoning use of force in Balochistan, the so-called concerns of the USA for Human Rights violation, to put it mildly, are self-serving, self-conceited. It does not behove USA to preach those lofty notions of Human Rights to us. In the last decade alone, USA has not only violated Human Rights of people from Africa, Middle East, Central and West Asia, Pakistan, its people and armed forces being subjected to inhuman and despicable human rights violation by the USA on daily basis. USA | Amnesty International
If the tabling resolution by three US congress person is not the US policy, let’s do the same through some of our own members of the Parliament and debate the visible and abject violation of Human Rights by the USA in above regions and particularly against the people of Pakistan 2001, violation of sovereignty routinely, which has resulted in deaths, maiming, renditions and incarceration of huge number of people.
Instead of making tsunami out of a visible US muscle flexing, just don’t blink, while putting your house in order.

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