Scores of women, wrapped in big chadors and holding photos of young men, shout at the top of their voices in the main bazaar of Balochistan’s Turbat city on a hot March afternoon. They want Baloch nationalist parties to boycott the upcoming general election, and instead support the separatists waging a bloody war against security forces. The women include mothers, sisters and wives of the young Baloch men who have either been found dead or have gone missing over the last few years.
Besides public agitation, separatist militants sometimes also use violent means to stop the nationalist parties from taking part in the polls. Similarly, security forces and intelligence agencies want to restrict the activities of the nationalist parties. When it comes to dealing with Baloch nationalist parties, both the intelligence and security apparatuses and the separatists appear to be on the same wavelength, although for different reasons, a political analyst tells the Herald in Turbat. Both want the nationalists to stay away from the election, he says without wanting to be named due to security reasons.
The separatists, according to him, interpret the participation of the nationalist parties in the election as a means to strengthen Islamabad’s writ over Balochistan. This, he says, also weakens the case the separatists are trying to make before the international community; that the Baloch people want Balochistan’s secession from Pakistan. The separatists know well that once the popular Baloch nationalist parties reach the parliament and manage to either form or became a part of the provincial government, armed struggle for Balochistan’s independence will lose sympathies and dissipate with the passage of time, he explains.
On the other hand, the analyst says, the election of popular Baloch nationalist parties into power will weaken the security forces’ grip over the affairs of the province. He claims that security and intelligence agencies prefer working with non-nationalist Baloch politicians who, like ministers in the outgoing provincial cabinet, connive with security forces in perpetuating the status quo — in return, benefitting from the illegal trade of petroleum and other goods from and to Afghanistan and Iran. These ministers, he says, have never raised their voices against the killing and kidnapping of young Baloch men or of political activists. The security and intelligence agencies want to maintain this situation as it exists now even after the election and this could be possible only if parties such as the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNPM) and the National Party (NP) either boycott the polls or are not allowed to carry out proper electioneering, the analyst adds.
These two parties indeed have paid a high price for sticking to electoral, democratic politics in the face of twin threats: The scores of party workers and leaders killed in the last few years and the steadily shrinking political space for the middle class from Makran, Kalat and Quetta divisions in the largely tribal and feudal society of Balochistan.
In the province, the situation on the ground is hardly helpful for these parties. Major cities in the Makran division are chock-a-bloc with graffiti appealing the masses not to cast their vote and threatening candidates that they could be killed for taking part in the poll process. A huge swathe of south-western Balochistan, comprising 14 predominantly Baloch districts of the province, don’t even get television coverage of the polling exercise going on elsewhere in the country. A cable operator in Gwadar city, who does not want to make his identity public due to security concerns, tells the Herald how, in early March, separatists sent written messages to all cable operators in the area instructing them to stop relaying Pakistani news channels. Some who ignored the directive saw their houses attacked, he says.
A week after the operators had blocked Pakistani news channels, the members of a hitherto unknown group, Gwadar Youth Force, approached them and demanded that they also block all Indian entertainment channels and stop airing Indian films on cable networks. Again, those who did not heed the demands of the group faced attacks on their houses, the cable operator says. Everyone knows that the security and intelligence agencies are behind organisations such as Gwadar Youth Force, he adds. In some areas, journalists associated with television channels, and even those working for local and national newspapers, have been told both by security agencies and separatists not to report negatively about their activities. Many news correspondents in Makran, who until recently would happily discuss the political and security situation in Balochistan with visiting reporters from Karachi or Islamabad, now avoid even seeing reporters.
Yet, the Baloch nationalist parties are determined to contest the upcoming election, unlike in 2008, when they decided to sit out the election process in protest of the military operation being carried out in parts of Balochistan. On March 26, two days after returning from self-exile in Dubai, Akhtar Mengal, the BNPM president, headed a long meeting of his party’s main leadership in Karachi. Mengal told the media, after the meeting, that his party had decided to contest the coming polls. He said BNPM will use the election as a means to highlight “apprehensions about the rights of the Baloch people”.
Ghafoor Baloch, a senior nationalist leader, says that nationalist parties have held lenghty sessions to weigh the pros and cons of both participating in the election and boycotting it. During these discussions, he says, the parties analysed threats from militants who call themselves the “Sarmachars” – a Balochi word for freedom fighters – and who have particularly targeted Makran division and its nearby districts of Khuzdar and Awaran. The participants of these meetings have also discussed why violence against political activities and security forces is low in districts where the sardari or tribal system is very strong. According to him, both separatist militants and the security forces are targeting political workers of left-leaning, liberal political forces. Other political parties have also announced that they are contesting in the election and running their election campaigns but their workers are neither being targeted by militants nor by security and intelligence apparatuses, Baloch claims. In such a situation, he says, poll boycott is a relatively easy and safe option for the nationalist parties. But he raises a question: “Will poll participation make the situation worse for liberal Baloch nationalist parties than what they have faced during the last five years?” If the answer is no, he says, then why not contest the election and at least make an effort to change the situation without bothering much about the results and the future?”
A senior BNPM leader confirms this when he tells the Herald that his party has decided to participate in the election despite having reservations about the establishment’s meddling in the political affairs of the province, as well as opposition from Baloch militant groups. The leaders of both BNPM and NP also say that they are holding talks with each other as well as with other political parties for possible election alliances and seat adjustment. But they also point out that fear of violence is holding them back from launching their mass contact activities in the run-up to the election to convince the electorate that parliamentary democracy is the best way to promote the Baloch cause.
Muhammad Yousuf, a senior journalist and the president of Gwadar Press Club, believes that threats of violence will force electioneering in the province to remain a low key affair, keeping public participation and voter turnout poor. In urban areas, he says, candidates may bring the voters out but it will be extremely difficult in rural areas where distance between the villages and polling stations is normally 20 to 30 kilometres. In the presence of the clear and imminent danger of militant attacks, there is little chance that voters will be willing to risk their lives to reach polling stations, covering such long distances. This, Yousuf says, may leave a serious question mark over the legitimacy of the next election which will then be seen as unreflective of the will of the people.
Away from Baloch nationalist hub in Makran division, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), is all set to launch its election campaign, in contrast to its decision in 2008 to boycott the polls. Based in the north of Balochistan and popular among the mainly Pashtun residents of the province, the party is wasting no time in debating the costs and benefits of its decision against participation in the previous election and is, instead, focusing its energies on the coming election, says its provincial president, Usman Kakar. Expecting that the Baloch nationalist parties will also participate fully in the May election, he says: “We are looking forward to making seat adjustments with liberal and progressive forces in both provincial and national elections.” Without naming any parties or groups that PkMAP would like to ally itself with before or after the election, Kakar says that during the formation of the next government his party will prefer joining hands with progressive and liberal forces “instead of those who support the armed forces’ role in politics in one way or the other”.
Is the shift in Pakistan’s military doctrine a case of too little, too late?
For the last 66 years, India has been Pakistan’s enemy number one — but this now seems to be changing, with military leaders and policy makers suggesting that internal security threats such as religious and ethnic militancy and the worsening law and order are posing a greater challenge to the country. Even the Green Book, which sets out the Pakistan’s Army’s strategic doctrine, has – for the first time – included a chapter titled “sub-conventional warfare” in its latest edition. On January 18, at 8:30 pm, the Herald has invited two panelists to discuss the consequences of this ostensible change in doctrine.
Political commentator Ayesha Siddiqa has written extensively on the military and related subjects.
The former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, Husain Haqqani, has authored a book titled Pakistan: Between mosque and military. He is currently a director at the Hudson Institute, Washington.
You can join the discussion or post your questions beforehand in the comments section below.
The idea appeared deceptively simple — capturing landscape and tribal lifestyles. What made this assignment challenging and extreme was its locale – Balochistan – which has experienced a volatile security environment since the assassination of the Baloch tribal chief, Akbar Bugti, back in 2006.
The basic challenge was to avoid conflict and violence – both during the journey itself and while capturing people and places – while recording the lives of those communities nestled in various swathes of the province. The other was to document the vast expanse of Balochistan, a province stretching from the Iranian border in the west to a few kilometres short of the Indus River in the east; from the Suleiman Range in the north to the Arabian Sea in the south. Many districts lack secure physical infrastructure, such as roads and rail tracks, that allow for a smooth, expedited journey from one district to another.
Graffiti in urban centres of Balochistan’s Makran Division has completely changed in two years. “Long live independent Balochistan” and “Down with pro-parliament parties” have replaced pronouncements about separatist leaders being traitors.
Until recently, the locals were told through what they call “fine art” by security agencies that Baloch separatists were responsible for killing innocent people and attacking the Frontier Corps (FC) as well as other state institutions. The separatists, on the other hand, were too weak to make their presence known, let alone propagate their views in public. Even when a separatist activist was killed, members of his group would never come out to protest and instead would rely on political parties for raising a voice against the killing.
All that has changed; the separatists are no longer in hiding. They are, in fact, so visible and strong that now they can force any town to close down whenever they want. When a separatist activist was killed on September 4 in an encounter with Levies in Tump area, his comrades forced a complete strike in Turbat. All government and private banks were still shut in the city when this scribe visited it, about a week after the encounter.
In far-flung rural parts of Makran Division, the separatists are virtually running a parallel government. Many traders and businessmen in the cities say rural areas of Gwadar, Kech, Awaran and Panjgur districts are under the control of the separatist militants. Naseer Jan, a shopkeeper in Turbat, tells the Herald how he left his ancestral village, Balicha, and settled in Turbat city to avoid constant threats to himself and his family from the militants.
Another indication of the increased power of the militants in the area is that many local leaders of political parties which believe in parliamentary politics have left their rural homes for Karachi and Quetta because they do not feel safe in the militant-dominated areas. In the words of a local political activist, it is revealing to see how “those who claim themselves to be the leaders of the masses are leaving.” Dr Abdul Malik, the head of the National Party, is always surrounded by government-provided armed guards and cannot move freely even in his hometown; Akhtar Mengal, who heads the Balochistan National Party–Mengal (BNPM), was living outside Pakistan until recently, for fear of his life.
The rise in the separatists’ power has forced political activists to concede that they no longer have the people’s ears. “Yes, the masses listen to the separatists,” says advocate Abdul Hameed, a former vice-chairman of the Balochistan Bar Council who is also a local leader of the Balochistan National Party in Turbat.
But the reason for the change, he argues, is not that the separatists have become popular; rather it is because the government is conspicuous by its absence. “There is a complete breakdown of law and order and the civil administration cannot be seen anywhere in the troubled areas,” says Hameed. The only government staff which attends its duties regularly are the ones who work at the offices of the commissioner and the deputy commissioner, the offices of the education and health departments have been non-functional for months, he adds.
Hameed says the loss of the government’s writ is so complete that even the conviction of a criminal can take entire towns hostage in order to press for his release. A few months ago when a sessions court in Turbat convicted a local resident for drug peddling his clansmen forced the whole city to shut down, he says. Tribal feuds have also resulted in civic life coming to a halt in Turbat many times over the last few months, he adds.
Political leaders, however, do not entirely exonerate Baloch militant organisations. Dr Jahanzeb Jamaldini, a central leader of the BNPM, says that tit-for-tat attacks between the separatists and the security forces continue, but he points out that the separatist groups never shy away from claiming responsibility if and when they hit a target. He hastens to add that nationalist parties always condemn separatist attacks which result in the deaths of innocent people.
But Jamaldini and other political leaders like him argue that the main responsibility for the deteriorating situation lies with the security and intelligence agencies. They claim the agencies have caused the breakdown of law and order by creating and sponsoring criminal gangs and drug peddlers in every Baloch district, mainly to counter the militants but also to kidnap and kill activists of political parties and to gun down non-Baloch settlers.
The first such incident, for which the groups backed by the intelligence agencies are blamed, is the murder of Maula Bukhsh Dashti in July 2010. He was a former Kech district nazim and a central leader of the National Party. A previously unknown group, Peoples Liberation Army, accepted the responsibility for his murder. Since then, local and central leaders of Baloch political parties claim that these groups have killed many of their members. The BNPM claims that 30 of its members and leaders have been killed over the last two years. The National Party says 10 of its members have been killed in Kech district alone.
Opinion is divided on whether these criminal groups are operating on their own or are still being backed by the agencies. Senator Hasil Bizenjo, a central leader of the National Party, says they are working independently and have become a problem for their own creators. On the other hand, Jamaldini believes that the agencies still control and support those groups.
For outsiders, it is almost impossible to find out and verify who is doing what and on whose behest but discussions about the role of the intelligence agencies are widespread across Makran Division. And almost everyone that the Herald spoke to in the area is convinced that agencies would do better if they adopted a hands-off approach. Once the agencies withdraw their support for criminal groups, there would be no threat to the resumption of political and electoral activities in the region, says Jamaldini. And that could also signal the return of peace.
Let us move towards some solutions, says Quetta-based historian and writer Dr Shah Muhammad Marri, pointing out that there has already been enough storytelling on Balochistan’s bloodshed. The question now is where to look for a solution. One thing that everyone keeps highlighting as key to finding a solution is the need to bring Baloch separatists back to the negotiating table. How easy or difficult will that be — given that, over the last few years, 400 mutilated bodies of mainly Baloch young men have been retrieved from different parts of the province following their disappearance from their hometowns? Is it possible for separatists to see any meaning in offers for negotiations while young Baloch men continue to disappear after mysterious encounters with security and intelligence agencies?
And then there is history. That may be one reason why the military establishment continues to treat Balochistan the way it does and always has, says Marri. Balochistan’s inclusion in Pakistan, despite the fact that the Kalat state assembly had voted against accession, set the tone for the future — even in the initial years after Independence, there was an anti-state armed rebellion in the province. Since then there has been a feeling within the establishment that Balochistan did not join Pakistan by choice; there has been a constant fear that the province would secede from Pakistan if and when it could, says Marri. This fear has compelled the military to adopt a perpetually repressive policy towards Balochistan, he adds.
Malik Muhammad Iqbal joined the Police Service of Pakistan in 1976. During his career, he held important positions at the hotspots of sectarian violence across Pakistan as Capital City Police Officer in Lahore and Deputy Inspector General in Gujranwala, Multan and Karachi. He also headed the Punjab Police’s special branch before becoming the Inspector General of Balochistan Police and then the Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency. His last assignment has been as the head of the National Counter-Terrorism Authority.
On April 16, 2012, Herald asked him to hold a live blog where people could pose their questions about sectarian violence. The blog has been edited for space, clarity and grammar.
9:11 Comment From SHM. Why have the police consistently failed to curb sectarian violence in the country
9:16 Malik Iqbal. It is the collective responsibility of the society because it is our attitude towards religion which determines how the society as a whole takes shape. The intolerance towards others’ beliefs/faith is the basic reason for extremism. The police on its part is doing its level best to control such types of crimes which have assumed dangerous proportions in recent times because of multifarious factors. The foreign intervention on account of using one extremist against the other is the primary cause for this dilemma. Anyhow, there is a lot of room for improvement in the performance of the police which also requires capacity building in areas such as training and fighting terrorism.
9:16 Comment From Lubna Shah. In your experience as the DG of Balochistan, who is to blame for the violence in Balochistan? The Army, government, Taliban or the Baloch themselves?
9:33 Malik Iqbal. As IGP Balochistan it is my experience that we cannot hold responsible either the Army or the Government for the present state of affairs. It is in fact the foreign hand which is patronizing some disgruntled elements in order to destabilize Pakistan. They have been able to identify existent weaknesses in our society and they are actively exploiting them. To my mind LEJ and TTP are involved in the indiscriminate killing of the Hazara community in Quetta. I have no doubt in my mind about the capability of the Law enforcement agencies to handle the situation provided political will is there. However, it is important we should pay full attention towards the capacity building LEAs.
9:34 Comment From Ahsan Majeed. Could you tell us how your experience of sectarian violence was different in different provinces? Is the type of violence in Sindh different from that of Punjab? Or are the causes the same?
9:37 Malik Iqbal. As far as the sectarian violence is concerned, the primary cause according to my experience is extremism and intolerance in the society. Whether it is Sindh or Punjab, the causes are the same. However, the involvement of different groups cannot be ignored. This is the unholy alliance of different groups who are working against each other to establish their own hegemony at the cost of lives of innocent citizens.
9:38 Comment From SHM. You were given a grant of 15 million Euros even then NACTA failed to take off, why?
9:45 Malik Iqbal. As far as NACTA is concerned there is a basic need for providing a legal framework for the organization to function properly. The donors have been reluctant to cooperate until such a legal framework is put into place. This is the primary reason for the failure of NACTA.
9:45 Comment From Naveed Hazara. The Balochistan Police as well as some Ministers are saying that there are hurdles to taking action against those religious militants. Being an ex IG in Balochistan, what do you think those hurdles are?
9:49 Malik Iqbal. Personally speaking, I do not agree to this statement. My firm belief is that political will is the foremost requirement to handle such like crimes. The Hazara community is being targeted by the unholy alliance of LEJ and TTP. There is need to handle these elements with an iron hand and the administration should not hide behind such lame excuses.
9:50 Comment From Mohammad A Dar. First of all why do sects exist? Where are the sources of sectarianism? Does anyone have strength of knowledge to correct the path of Ummah, misguided by so-called, self-appointed scholars in the name of religion? Can you elaborate please?
9:56 Malik Iqbal. Sects have existed since a very long time. Because of the tolerance between various sects and respect for each other’s faith untoward situation were rare at best. The basic principle is that one should not leave his own faith and should not interfere with the faith of others. As long as we were strictly adhering to this golden principle, the society was full of tolerance resulting in peace and tranquillity. When the extremist elements from abroad entered our society and tried to impose their own faith upon the others, it meets stiff resistance and society falls apart on the basis of religious divisions. It is my suggestion that if we follow the golden principle of respecting the faith and ideas of others it is bound to bring reconciliation and peace among all. One cannot be the judgemental about other people’s faiths.
9:57 Comment From Cyrus Howell. During the past year, no politician has dared raise the issue of reforming the blasphemy law. Intolerance by extremists against both Muslims and non-Muslims has increased enormously and there has been a dramatic rise in the number of sectarian attacks, which are usually perpetrated by Sunni extremists against Shia citizens. Why do you think this is so?
10:12 Malik Iqbal. The present situation cannot be termed as a clash between Sunnis and Shias. In fact, these are the extremists who are actively involved in creating a wedge between various sections of the society by attacking their faith. It is the collective responsibility of the society as a whole to put up a bold stance against these elements, even the politician cannot be held responsible for this inaction. The extremists have so far succeeded in creating an atmosphere of hostility between different sects and are using one against the other.
As far as the Blasphemy Law is concerned, it is based on the basic faith of Muslims. It is a very delicate issue and needs to be handled extremely tactfully. Any misguided zealousness may result in a far more alarming response from the masses than anyone would imagine.
10:12 Comment From I.W Khan. Today’s news is that around 400 Prisoners from Banu Jail were helped by Teherik-e-Taliban to escape. They were fighting there for 2 hours. Where was the security force? Where was the military? Where were the security helicopters? Pakistan security forces have failed so many times. These 400 escapees will be a source of additional violence. Do you agree?
10:15 Malik Iqbal. No doubt this was a serious situation which will have far-reaching consequences. One cannot tend to agree with such a sweeping statement questioning the capability of the LEAs. The police and other agencies are very actively pursuing the re-arrest of these escapees and responsibility is being fixed for negligence of duty if any. Till the final outcome of the inquiry one should avoid indulging in a blame game.
10:15 Comment From JUMA. Are secret agencies involved in genocide of Hazaras in Quetta to weaken the Baloch independent movement? In order to show the world that it is a sectarian issue in Balochistan not an independent one?
10:18 Malik Iqbal. This statement is based on heresy and has misconceived the actual issues. The Hazara community in Quetta is being targeted, as far as my personal knowledge goes, by the unholy alliance of LEJ and TTP in order to destabilizePakistan. Some Baloch dissidents are also supporting this unholy alliance for their own benefit. The Hazara community is loyal to Pakistan and any such suggestion is totally based on conjectures and is far from reality.
10:21 Thank you all for joining in. I hope you enjoyed the session.
Muhammad Amir Rana is a security analyst and the director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, an independent Islamabad-based think tank. He has worked extensively on issues related to counter-terrorism, counter-extremism, and internal and regional security and politics. He has also worked as a journalist with various Urdu and English daily newspapers between 1996 and 2004. He is the editor of Pakistan Annual Security Report, English research journal Conflict and Peace Studies and Urdu monthly magazine Tajziat.
On April 16, 2012, Herald asked him to hold a live blog where people could pose their questions about sectarian violence. The blog has been edited for space, clarity and grammar.
6:59 Comment From Mohammad A Dar. First of all why do sects exist? Where are the sources of sectarianism? Can you elaborate please?
7:04 Amir Rana. The problem is not sects but the intolerance and violence. Without going into the historical background, ones needed to develop sectarian harmony and security response, major responsibility goes to clergy and the state
7:04 Comment From Naveed. Are state and religion are two separate domains? Is Pakistan trapped in sectarian violence mainly due to intermingling of these two domains?
7:13 Amir Rana. For a democratic state, yes. But inPakistan, religious discourse is complex, which primarily focuses on Islamisation of the state and religious-socialisation of society. Cut and short, religious parties have influence on policy discourse, which constrain state to come up on religious issues with clarity. The result is obvious; sectarianism has become a structural problem.
The solution seems difficult but through developing an intellectual discourse and alternative narratives may help
7:13 Comment From Junaid. Is it true that your book A to Z Jihad was banned in Pakistan and that agencies picked up the copies of the book from the book stores?
7:15 Amir Rana. It was not banned but of course there was pressure and my publisher has refused to publish its Urdu version
7:15 Comment From Sadia. Is it likely that the Hazara and the Ahmadi communities will become non-existent in the near future? (Either through forced exodus or violent targeting). Do they have any reason to be hopeful?
7:17 Amir Rana. In the absence of a proper counter terrorism strategy, targeted communities and sects are justified to see the design behind the sequence of events. It’s the criminal negligence by the state which forces people to adopt such narratives.
7:18 Comment From Imran. How complicit do you think the security apparatus is in the current sectarian violence gripping the country, both directly and indirectly? Also, what are your thoughts on arrested criminals being released by the judiciary for lack of evidence or weak prosecution? This is especially true since on one hand political/corruption cases are taken up by the court despite lack of interest or evidence from the prosecutors while the same is not applied in terrorism cases.
7:21 Amir Rana.Pakistan still has neither a national security policy nor has developed any counter-terrorism mechanism. Security forces do response to security threats. But these responses are not part of any comprehensive strategy. The coordination among different law enforcement agencies, operational capabilities and of course judicial response considers three major components in any counter-terrorism policy. Unfortunately we are facing multiple issues on all these three fronts.
7:22 Comment From Aaliya. What sort of policy initiatives do you think can or must be undertaken to begin the fight to maintain our country’s diversity and peace, and stop these ethnically and religiously motivated killings? What should be the next steps?
7:24 Amir Rana. Simply a three level approach:
1. Counter-insurgency in TA
2. Counter-terrorism policy
3. Counter-radicalization policy
7:24 Comment From Hazara Tigers. Are the agencies involved in killing of Hazara tribesmen intended to weaken the independence movement of Baloch nationalists?
7:26 Amir Rana. There is no concrete evidence available but one thing is certain that the state has failed to address critical security challenges.
7:27 Comment From Seema. Most of our agencies are involved in pushing our society towards sectarian violence. What is DPC?
7:32 Amir Rana. The custodians of the strategic-depth narrative are united on the DPC platform and are trying to revive the pre-9/11 discourse. There are no illusions about the fact that their narrative does not deal with the issues of the common man: poverty, injustice and economic and social deprivation. One reason which DPC or its master thinks that they can control the few violent extremist group, which have disconnected with pre 9/11 jihad narrative and joined Al-Qaeda, though this is difficult.
7:32 Comment From Safdar Sial. What hinders the state to effectively respond to violent sectarianism?
7:36 Amir Rana. Apart from nexuses among militants, it is also important to understand the political dynamics of sectarian violence in Pakistan. Many of the banned sectarian organisations wear political hats and take part in electoral politics, whether with different names and independent candidates or through making alliances with mainstream political parties, which obviously create more space for them. The second confusion on policy level, faith fellows of sectarian outfits remained engaged in Afghan and Kashmir. This is another factor. Third, a weak perception of the state institutions and law enforcement agencies
7:36 Comment From Sadya. What’s your take on the forced conversions of Hindu girls? Should we expect to see massive sectarian radicalization in Sindh too?
7:39 Amir Rana. Increased influence of radical groups, mainly JuD, Jiash and Al-Rasheed trust in the Hindu community areas of Sindh and Balochistan is quite concerning. It’s not merely an issue of radicalization but is also a threat to diversity.
7:40 Comment from Akhtar CH. Sectarian violence is occurring mostly in Sindh, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan, all PPP majority government provinces. Why is the government finding it so difficult to control it?
7:45 Amir Rana. I think sectarian violence patterns are different. Kurram agency, Kohat, Karachi and southPunjab remained critical even before 9/11. During last three years the trend has become traditional. In 2010, more than 60 per cent of the total casualties of sectarian violence were concentrated in the cities of Karachi,Lahore andQuetta. In 2011, the ratio of such casualties in these cities stood at about 40 per cent of the overall sectarian-related casualties in Pakistan.
7:48 Comment From Seema. Do you think the DPC has no connection with the particular Sectarian Sunni outfit, and was Hameed Gul not part of that mission who created Monsters of Mujahideen?
7:50 Amir Rana. Structural patterns of sectarian violence had taken the shape in 80’s. It’s true that sectarian violent tendencies dominate in low income groups, despite economic factors, low level of religious knowledge (mainly education) make them soft targets for sectarian groups.
7:50 Comment From ozzie. Shouldn’t it just be called Genocide? This is a systemic targeting of minorities in Pakistan.
7:52 Amir Rana. It seems so. Not only state responses but societal behaviours also are shaping this trend.
7:52 Comment From SHM. Why has the provincial government in Punjab allowed sectarian based groups to flourish in their province?
7:56 Amir Rana. During there last tenure PML (N) government had taken strict action against sectarian outfits and even blamed for extra-judicial killing of the militants. Now the Punjab government is scared with the sectarian outfits’ nexus with Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Secondly now it is not merely a security issue but on the narrative level the Punjab government has not proved itself visionary and courageous.
7:56 Comment From Fyaz. As you know the sectarian division is deep rooted in our society, and ‘Islam” had a long history of wars among Muslims, the situation is the same here in Pakistan. What is the state or establishment’s role in promoting sectarian violence in the country? If the state allows and permits the violent sectarian organization to operate in the country and issue the Fatwas against the other sect then where is the solution? What should be the state’s role to handle this as followers of this organization do not obey the law of the state?
7:57 Amir Rana. I think of course criminal negligence of the state is an important factor.
7:58 Comment From Murad Aftab. Is a major cause of sectarian violence the rise of religiously political parties that are coming more into the mainstream such as Jamaat ud Dawa and Difa-e-Pakistan council?
7:59 Amir Rana. Yes this is one of the reasons, as I explained earlier, main-streaming of sectarian groups provide more political space to them
8:00 Comment From Agha Atta. There is only one valid reason for such sectarian violence. We have sects. The solution, bring all of them under one umbrella, the umbrella of secularism. Do you agree?
8:01 Amir Rana. No. this is not the solution, sectarian and communal tolerance is the answer.
8:05 Amir Rana. I’m sorry but my time is up. I hope I was able to answer most of your questions.
Brahumdagh Bugti has sought asylum in Switzerland where he lives with his mother, wife and two children. He was only 25 when his grandfather Nawab Akbar Bugti was murdered on August 26, 2006. As a favourite grandson, he was very close to the late Nawab, whose death hurt him so much that he fled to Afghanistan where he stayed for a number of years before landing in Switzerland some time last year. “I can work for the people of Balochistan from here; I can raise voice for their rights; there is no point in going to the mountains,” he told me.
What are the core Baloch grievances? In what capacity is he representing the Baloch people? Is there any chance of his return to Pakistan? How would an ‘independent’ Balochistan survive? We discussed all this and more.
On February 9, 2012, the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs convened a hearing on “Baluchistan” [sic], chaired by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (Republican-California). I, along with Messrs Ralph Peters, T Kumar, Ali Dayan Hasan and Dr M Hosseinbor, testified as a witness in that hearing. Members of the Baloch diaspora in theUnited States, who are proponents of an independent Balochistan, were elated. They were further pleased when, a week later, Congressman Rohrabacher introduced a Resolution “Expressing the sense of Congress that the people of Baluchistan, currently divided between Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country.”
While there are no doubt numerous human rights problems in Balochistan both suffered by – as well as perpetrated by – ethnic Baloch, the hearing and concomitant resolution came at a time when US-Pakistan relations could not be more strained. Both American and Pakistani officials are deeply vexed that the past 10 years have demonstrated that the two countries seem to have more conflicting goals than common ones. Indeed, one of the congressional staff explained to me in stark terms that “we want to stick it to the Pakistanis” when I asked him for guidance on writing my testimony. This, along with other disturbing details about the hearing, suggests that Pakistanis have little fear of actual American interest in this controversial hearing.
This does not mean that the United States should be indifferent to the human rights abuses that afflict an array of ethnic, religious, and sectarian groups in Pakistan. However, if the United States is genuinely interested in advancing an agenda that would improve the appalling human rights situation for a wide swathe of residents of Balochistan or elsewhere, a hearing and a resolution are not the most efficacious ways to proceed. This is likely why the US State Department and other members of Congress have repudiated these bizarre initiatives.
The United States has a long history of being swayed by influential diaspora communities which establish lobby groups that execute their interests among lawmakers who are often woefully ignorant of the facts on the ground. (Notably, only one Congressman at the hearing on Balochistan could actually pronounce the name of the province correctly with most, including Representative Rohrabacher, saying “Bloak-e-Stan”, conjuring up a territory peopled by drunk British male youths. This alone suggests at best a passing fascination with the province.)
Diasporas can manipulate the American legislative system by promising to rally funds for candidates through rousing the sentiment of fellow travellers. Alternatively, they can threaten foes of their agendas by seeking to fund the races of their opponents. This is patronage American style. Diasporas may even hire “journalists” to publish “articles” on their behalf. For example, Ahmar Mustikhan and Michael Hughes both publish on Balochistan under the guise of journalist when in fact they are Baloch lobbyists or employed by Baloch lobbyists.
The opening statements of the hearing demonstrated that the Congressmen had indeed been subjected to a highly stylised history of the province advocated by Baloch diaspora organisations. None of the Congressmen seemed to appreciate that far from some Baloch claims of exclusivity to the province, Balochistan is diverse in terms of religious communities who live there (Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Parsis) and while the Baloch speakers comprised about 55 percent of the province’s population according to Pakistan’s census in 1998, that figure also included Brahui speakers. This suggests that at least 45 per cent of the “Balochistanis” are not Baloch.
Thus demands by some Baloch for an independent Balochistan do violence to the wishes and aspirations of those who are not Baloch even if one heroically assumes that all Baloch have the same views. Of course, there is no such uniformity among the Baloch in Pakistan, many of whom actually live outside of the province.
Possibilities for positive change: Role of the United States?
The United States must accept at least partial responsibility for the human rights challenges that plague Pakistan. It is a lamentable fact that the United States had long encouraged the General (retd) Pervez Musharraf government to “disappear” persons, many of whom were either remanded to mysterious detention centres in Bagram, Guantanamoor elsewhere or were “interrogated” on behalf of the United States. Naturally, the Musharraf government took advantage of this carte blanche to disappear persons who put at risk the interests of Rawalpindi.
The United States also provided unfettered support to the men in uniform over most of the 11 years following the events of 9/11. This no doubt fostered the sense of impunity among Pakistan’s armed forces, paramilitary outfits, and intelligence agencies. Worse, American munitions have been used in Pakistan’s military and paramilitary atrocities against their own citizenry in Balochistan and elsewhere. This contravenes the US law under the Leahy Amendment which prohibits provision of security assistance to units that engage in human rights abuses. Similarly, the United States tried to turn a blind eye to collective punishments in Pakistan’s tribal areas (which is illegal under international humanitarian law) and the burgeoning accounts of mass graves in those areas. The United States only belatedly acted in October 2010 to (minimally) impose Leahy sanctions following disturbing revelations of extrajudicial killing by the army in Swat. However, it did so while simultaneously announcing a 2 billion US dollar aid package, inclusive of military assistance.
If the United States genuinely cares about the multiple crisis besieging Balochistan (state violence against Baloch and violence by Baloch against Punjabis, Muhajirs and even UN workers), it is best that it encourage Pakistan to make good on important recent steps that offer some hope.
Pakistan can and should address its internal problems
There is no evidence that the majority of Pakistan’s Baloch are irreconcilable. Research by the US Naval Postgraduate School demonstrates that violence by Baloch decreases with overtures of engagement by the state and increases when the state uses force. Moreover, the problems stem from legitimate grievances such as resource allocation, devolution of power, lack of development, exploitation of resources in the province to benefit the nation but not the residents of Balochistan, the ability to raise revenue from provincial resources and adherence to practices of rule of law. Nothing in this list of grievances poses existential threats to the Pakistani state. And thus it is mind-boggling that the state cannot undertake action to make good on current and past promises to address these grievances.
There have been recent developments that could help resolve this ongoing impasse should the state take a serious interest in doing so. Notably, in 2009 the current civilian government undertook a programme called “Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan” (Beginning of Right in Balochistan). This is a package of constitutional, economic, political, and administrative reforms, motivated by an understanding that the government has failed to empower the provinces, as called for in the 1973 Constitution. This scheme – if fully implemented – would require the government to: obtain the consent of the provincial government before undertaking any major project; compensate communities displaced by violence; increase the representation of Baloch in the civil service; and grant provincial and local government authorities a greater share of revenues. The package also calls for a temporary hold on construction of controversial military outposts and provides for the replacement of the military in the province by the Frontier Corps (which recruits locally even though its officers come from the Pakistan Army). Law and order operations would be placed under the control of the chief minister.
The initiative calls for investigations of targeted killings and other murders as well as into the cases of persons who have “disappeared,” and for the immediate release of all persons who are detained without charges. The federal government also released 12 billion rupees (roughly 140 million US dollars) in outstanding debts from Balochistan’s natural gas revenues and announced a 152 billion rupee (1.77 billion US dollar) budget for the province. It also announced a judicial inquiry into the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti and other Baloch political leaders. Another important step is the 2010 18th Amendment which provides for greater devolution of powers from the centre to the provinces and further to sub-provincial governance institutions.
Problematic politics in Balochistan
These moves by the centre are important, and will be even more so if they are fully executed with adequate attention to the provinces’ ability to raise revenue. Unfortunately, fractured politics and inadequate capacity at the provincial level may well undermine national efforts. This is particularly acute in Balochistan. First, few politicians in the Baloch provincial assembly bother to show up for work. In 2008, I spent several hours with a member of the provincial assembly who told me bluntly that she had no interest in legislating. She is not alone. The provincial assembly frequently cannot conduct business because it lacks quorum.
Second, in the past, provincial bureaucracies have had trouble executing their budgets due to human capital and other capacity constraints. Simply augmenting the budget without expanding capacity is unlikely to translate into substantial improvements to any of Balochistan’s abysmal metrics. Third, it is difficult to envision the recruitment of sufficient teachers or other service providers for this chronically underserved population without going outside the province. Similarly, non-local civil servants will likely be necessary to increase government capacity. In other words, there is an immediate need for external assistance in human service provision, even though in the future the province should eventually produce its own public servants.
If Balochistan is ever to transition from its current state of underdevelopment, those Baloch nationalists who are using violence as a tool of coercion must put down their weapons. Targeted killing based on ethnicity is abhorrent under all circumstances irrespective of the motivation or identity of the murderer. At the same time, the state needs to abandon its preferred militarised conflict resolution techniques in preference to engaging legitimate grievances, fortify its commitment to its own Constitution, continue devolution of power (and revenue generation) to the provinces, and pursue good faith efforts to expand development opportunities for all of its citizens.
These are tall orders that should not foster optimism. However, holding US Congressional hearings and subsequent proclamations of support for one ethnic group in a diverse province like Balochistan does nothing but exacerbate Pakistan’s long-standing concerns about its territorial integrity and will likely galvanize the state’s worse impulses in Balochistan rather than dampening the same.
–C Christine Fair is assistant professor in the Peace and Security Studies Programme in Georgetown University’s Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service.