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Posts from — July 2009

Relief agencies stop work in Balochistan

QUETTA: International relief agencies –United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Unicef, World Health Organisation and the World Food Programme – have suspended all activities in Balochistan after threats issued by the outlawed Baloch Liberation United Front against their staff.
Sources said that these organisations had shut their offices and their foreign staff, who would soon be shifted to Islamabad for better security, had been advised to stay indoors. The voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees, resumed by the UNHCR in April this year, has been suspended.
UN organisations had earlier suspended their operations in Balochistan after the kidnapping of UNHCR Quetta chief John Solecki in February this year.
The provincial government has increased security around offices of UN organisations.
‘We are providing maximum security to officials of UN-affiliated organisations in Quetta,’ a senior police officer said.
On Sunday, the Baloch Liberation United Front had warned of attacking UN officials and said that despite assurances the UN had done nothing for resolving issues like the recovery of missing people. http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/provinces/13+relief+agencies+stop+work+in+balochistan-za-16

July 31, 2009   No Comments

Agenda Balochistan: edit in The News, July 30

The prime minister, possibly reacting to criticism that he has been too slow to deal with the problems of Balochistan, has said he had accepted the proposals forwarded to him by a parliamentary committee set up to assess what was needed. However, while Mr Gilani has focused on the lack of development in the province and agreed that it had suffered 62 years of neglect, he seems unclear how to tackle the sensitive political issues that underlie this. For instance, he has said he does not know yet whether a traditional ‘jirga’ or an all parties’ conference on Balochistan should be called to enter into discussion with its people. We must hope the final verdict goes in favour of a meeting of parties. Balochistan is represented by a range of such entities.

There seems to be no reason to resort to the ‘jirga’ and every cause to promote a thinking that moves beyond it. The nationalists need also to be brought into the dialogue process. This will be a controversial decision, given that leaders affiliated with such groups have made increasingly provocative statements in recent months. But we must hope the government demonstrates the courage and wisdom necessary to make it regardless of this. There is also a need for urgency. The gunning down of academics, and now others in Balochistan, possibly on the basis of their ethnicity, is alarming. It opens up the possibility of far greater violence ahead. The simmering dangers in Balochistan act as a source of instability and disharmony. They must be addressed for the sake of the people of that province and indeed for the sake of the country as a whole. http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=190506

PC or jirga on Balochistan: PM still undecided: The Daily Times, July 29
ISLAMABAD: The recommendations forwarded by the parliamentary committee on Balochistan have been approved, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said on Tuesday, adding he would decide whether to conduct an all-parties conference or a traditional jirga after consultations with the people of the province.

After inaugurating a joint pharmaceutical venture between Ferozsons of Pakistan and Bago of Argentina, he told reporters the people of Balochistan felt deprived due to 62 years of neglect. He said his government would make every effort to remove this sense of deprivation. “We formed the parliamentary committee to review the pledges made to the Baloch people and to try and remove their grievances. I have been chairing the meetings of this committee,” he added. www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2009\07\29\story_29-7-2009_pg1_1

July 30, 2009   No Comments

Bombers, borders and Balochistan: op-ed in The News, July 30

By Kamila Hyat
We are all accustomed to the many words of wisdom delivered periodically by our interior minister. His recent orders banning ‘anti-government’ emails and SMS texts inspired acts of great public creativity, as the surge of messages and jokes sent out across the country grew in number. The primary targets did not change.

But sometimes the comments made by our ministers leave one aghast. The assurance that the establishment of ‘check-posts’ on the Balochistan-Afghanistan border would bring ‘good news’ from that province is among these remarks. Despite the recent capture of an alleged Baloch suicide bomber who stated he had been trained in Afghanistan and insinuations that insurgency in the province is linked to Indian intervention backed by Kabul, most of us know the problem simmers on within Balochistan itself. It is perfectly possible the Indians and their allies in Afghanistan have played some part in stirring the bubbling cauldron and keeping it simmering. The arms that flood Balochistan have after all come from somewhere. New Delhi we know is perfectly capable of seeking to destabilise its neighbour. But the ‘outside’ elements involved in Balochistan use the tensions that exist in the region to further their purposes. If we are to solve the issues of our largest province, this is a reality we must squarely face up to. Shying away from it will only add to the difficulties we confront as a federation and as a nation made up of people from many diverse cultures.

Over the past two months, six eminent academics have died in Balochistan. The victims appear to have been targeted on the basis of their ethnicity. Some had lived in the province for years. This of course is extremely bad news. There is immense potential for inter-communal strife in Balochistan. Pre-dominantly Pakhtun orthodox groups, some of whom have links to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have already been using this card to rally support among the large number of non-Baloch settlers. Handbills call for ‘Islam to be defended’ against ‘infidels’. There are insinuations that the Baloch are ‘bad’ Muslims and ‘bad’ citizens. Other racial slurs circulate widely, with echoes picked up too in other provinces. The potential then for still more instability in the country’s most troubled province is immense. There has as yet been no meaningful effort to dampen the fires. The conference involving all Baloch parties that the prime minister had promised to convene has, oddly, not been called. The continued blockage of Baloch nationalist websites means such groups are denied even the basic right to be heard and to make their views known. The Senate has been told Baloch nationalists will not be involved in any process of talks. This of course means less possibility of a solution and a greater likelihood that the intense rage in Balochistan will not be quietened.

The extent of the feelings that exist is now not hidden. Nationalist leader Hyrbyair Marri has said in London that he does not recognise Pakistan, Brahamdagh Bugti, the fiery grandson of the late Nawab Akbar Bugti, has used still stronger language and former chief minister Akhtar Mengal has scoffed at the notion of provincial autonomy, insisting that this will not now be enough. These words hurt ‘patriots’; perhaps they incite immense fury in some places. But we need to keep our calm, to reassess what we mean by patriotism and whether a federation within which so much angst exists can be indefinitely held together. It is in the interests of Pakistan – and the Baloch – to create more harmony between the units that make up the state. This can happen only by bringing the nationalists into the process of dialogue and accepting that their views are backed by people across the province. It is for this reason foolhardy to ignore the nationalists. The fact is that in homes, faded pin-ups of ‘heroes’ such as slain nationalist fighters decorate walls or appear unexpectedly atop washing machines and refrigerator doors. The people who have placed them there, the ordinary citizens who passionately believe their province has been discriminated against, need to be won over and somehow persuaded that they can play a meaningful role in a unified state.

It has been argued Balochistan cannot on its own survive. This may be accurate and there are also statistics which bring into question the number of ethnic Balochis in their home territory. The old bogey of East Pakistan and the ethnic hatreds that flared up there have been raised in the senate. Good advice on the need to talk to all groups there has also been given in the Upper House. But there is as yet no evidence that it will be taken or strategy altered. Sometimes one wonders who is calling the shots in Balochistan. Both the president and the prime minister have suggested sensible measures to solve the problems. It is a mystery why there has been no attempt to follow up on these; why missing people have not been tracked down or major dissident forces asked to sit around a table and discuss the issues that exist.

There are compelling reasons why this should happen. The unrest in Balochistan opens up doors and corridors that can be used to interfere in what is happening. India and Afghanistan have been identified as culprits, and with possible reason. But the US too has its eyes on this part of the world. Some think tanks have proposed a break-up of the region as a means to ‘tame’ both Iran and Pakistan. This may not happen immediately. But a US role in Balochistan and some kind of tie-in with nationalists is not a possibility that can be completely disregarded. It is something we need to be wary of. The best counter-strategy against any moves from outside quarters, no matter where they may be based, is of course to dampen the resentments in Balochistan.

If this were not reason enough to do more than setting up barricades at the borders, we need to keep tracks too on the Taliban threat. The extent of the dangers this poses have been highlighted by the fiery battles in Swat and other places. There is still no accurate assessment of the death and destruction that has resulted. There is a risk that we may yet see further conflict, focused in Waziristan. Acting against nationalists in Balochistan – many of whom espouse secular values – could open up space for the Taliban. They have already demonstrated they have a base in the province. Gatherings of their leaders have taken place openly even in Quetta.

This looming threat makes it all the more imperative that Balochistan be calmed. The only way to do this is to engage all players in an open discussion. A failure to do this may not result in the break-up of the federation; the state of Pakistan will almost undoubtedly be able to hang on to Balochistan, if necessary through force. But we must ask if the energy and effort necessary to do this weakens the nation in the longer run and adds to the many problems it already faces on far too many fronts. http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=190512

July 30, 2009   No Comments

Owning Balochistan: op-ed in The News, July 29, 2009

By Ahmed Quraishi
A college chemistry professor is murdered in cold blood at his house’s doorstep in Quetta, the latest in a long list of educationists cowardly assassinated by terrorists claiming to stand for the great Pakistani Baloch. And yet no one in the PPP-led federal and provincial governments is willing to condemn the terrorists. Last month they planted a bomb on a train leaving Karachi and detonated it just half an hour away from Quetta, killing an innocent Pakistani Baloch. No condemnation then too.

The sheepish and apologetic attitude of the government is inexplicable. Just a few days ago this government gave the Indians and the Americans damning proof on how Indian spy outfits were using the Afghan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar to target Balochistan. The central role of a grandson of the late Akbar Bugti has been mentioned by the Pakistan government as playing a leading role in this terrorist enterprise. As much as eight foreign spy agencies are cramming this Pakistani territory. And yet the Pakistani state is reluctant to call a spade a spade.

Instead of putting a politician-turned-terrorist on a pedestal, it is time to ask the question: Was Akbar Bugti acting on foreign guarantees when he launched without notice a blitzkrieg of rocket fire on vital installations one fine morning in January 2005? His grandson Brahamdagh has been photographed meeting Indian intelligence officers not just in Kabul but also in New Delhi. So, why does the provincial government of Nawab Aslam Raisani avoid condemning these terrorists? More stunning is the reply of Interior Minister Rehman Malik in the Senate when questioned about how a Pakistani television station was allowed to air an interview with a London-based member of the Brahamdagh terror group. Mr Malik said the interview was taped in London and “you know there is freedom of speech there.”

What a joke. Britain is providing a sanctuary to people who finance and support terrorism inside Pakistan and all our powerful security czar can say about this is to cite Britain’s speech laws. Is there a conflict of interest here between Mr Malik’s personal life and interests in the UK and his official duty to level with the Brits on their duplicitous policy?

Major grievances aside, there is no direct discrimination against Pakistani Baloch on ethno-language grounds from anyone in the rest of the country. The level of education of Pakistani Baloch denies them opportunities to climb the social ladder. And the blame for this rests squarely with both the federal government and Balochistan’s tribal chieftains. And there is no hope in sight that those running the federal government – the PPP now or the PML in the future – can change anything on the ground.

Washington is desperate now in Afghanistan and this has given Pakistan some breathing space. But there are lobbies in Washington that would like to see their failed war expand now into southern Punjab and Karachi after NWFP, Balochistan and the northern areas. Unfortunately we have people here who parrot the lines created by propaganda artists elsewhere.

We need a practical, nationalistic and visionary federal administration that can take monumental steps to reorganise the state and provinces. We need creative minds at the top to unlock the initiative of the Pakistani people. We need change. But let’s begin with condemning the terrorists who have taken ownership of Balochistan without any contest from the government. http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=190335

July 29, 2009   No Comments

Settling scores, but at whose cost: op-ed in the News, July 27

By Kamal Siddiqi The writer is editor reporting, The News
When Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who was recently snubbed by the prime minister on the SMS censorship issue, says that he has good news about Balochistan, we should be worried. So far, the People’s Party government has been unable to live up to the expectations of either the Baloch people or the settlers there. In fact, it has become part of the problem there.

President Zardari tell us that he can solve the problem because it is a political issue. He assures us that since he is half Baloch himself, he can fully comprehend what the issues are. But so far, apart from the initiative taken by the president in his first months in office, things are not getting better in Pakistan’s largest and most resource-rich province. In fact, they are getting worse.

People in towns and cities across Balochistan live in fear of what the future holds for them. Many families, a significant number of them Baloch, have moved to Karachi so that they can live more peaceful lives. There have been a marked number of admissions in Karachi schools of children who were previously studying in Balochistan. People have moved houses and businesses – possibly, this silent migration was behind tensions with the Baloch in Karachi last year.

As tensions rise, the death toll climbs in Balochistan. Several hundred people have been killed over the past couple of years, ostensibly by Baloch nationalists who want to rid the province of outsiders.

We are not sure entirely who killed these innocent people, many of whom did not even know why they were being targeted. People tell of horror stories where buses had been stopped and outsiders identified and shot. Is this what Pakistan is being reduced to? How much of these actions are a genuine expression of anger, and how many are “inspired”?

The settlers are not the only victims. An unknown number of ethnic Baloch people, many of whom possibly have nothing to do with the conflict that has now taken root there, are also missing. We all know what happened when the courts tried to take up this issue. And many Pakistanis don’t want to go that route again. But the question is, which route do we take from here.

The feeling of alienation amongst the Baloch has not come overnight. Neither is this the first time the Baloch have complained of being neglected and short- changed. It is an irony that can only happen in Pakistan, that Sui gas reached Murree first and was supplied to Quetta later. Baloch grievances are not addressed and are taken lightly.

Take, for example, the parliamentary committee that was formed to look into the complaints of the people of Balochistan. The members of this committee, which was formed in Gen Musharraf’s time, themselves say that their work is not taken seriously. And then we wonder why the Baloch are angry.

There is practically no concept of governance in Balochistan. A chain of successive chief ministers have only complied with what Islamabad has directed them to do. The same is the case with governors and the entire Balochistan government machinery. Any initiative to address the complaints of the Baloch or find local solutions is met with resistance in Islamabad. The fate of Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch, who lasted only six months as governor, is well known. There can be no home grown solutions.

The government in Balochistan has a simple formula — live and let live. In several instances in the past, almost all members of the Balochistan Provincial Assembly were made ministers. These ministers were never held accountable for their actions or spending. As a consequence, the province is almost always broke. But the politicians and ministers – both from the left and the right – have made lots of hay.

The irony of Balochistan is that despite being rich in terms of resources, its government is always facing financial problems. Apart from the gas from which it gets little or no royalty, its others minerals – – like gold and copper – are silently siphoned away while the people of the province remain one of the poorest in Pakistan. But that is half the story – the resources that the province does get are spent on idiotic schemes and for the benefit of the leaders. The people get next to nothing.

To give credit where it is due, President Musharraf was the force behind the coastal highway. It is one of Pakistan’s most scenic and strategic roads. And yet, the dream of Gwadar as a coastal dreamland crashed the day he resigned from office. Gwadar is now slowly receding back into oblivion.

It is also an irony, and one which shows how desperate the people are – that the same tribal chieftains who exploit the poor are also now seen as champions of the people. They are leading the struggle against the Centre. Given that their priorities are different from those of the common Baloch man and woman, one can only see where this leads to.

For most Pakistanis, however, the questions are deeper. For how long will we allow the government to mishandle the issues in Balochistan? Why, may we ask, have those who in 2005 criminally assaulted Dr Shazia in Sui not still brought to book? If President Musharraf needs to be brought to book, it should be for interfering with the due process of law by exonerating an army official from the case on television, at a time when investigations were being conducted.

In the same light, why have we not brought to book people who in 2008 buried five women alive for the “crime” of deciding who they should marry? Why has President Zardari not taken action against the provincial minister who was involved in this crime, given that the minister is from the PPP? If nothing else, the president should take a leaf out of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s book who sacked a Punjab MPA for credit card fraud.

We want to know what became of the investigation into the killings of Ghulam Muhammad Baloch, Lala Munir Baloch and Sher Muhammad Bugti, three Baloch leaders whose bodies were found in Turbat in April this year. These honourable men were members of a committee formed by the government to investigate the case of missing persons in the province, notably abducted UN worker John Solecki, who was later freed.

Rehman Malik now tells us that India is behind the troubles in Balochistan. This is an insult to the people of the province, because their grievances are genuine. Instead of addressing these problems, Islamabad is once again looking for scapegoats on the one hand and absolving itself of past sins on the other.

By playing the India card, Islamabad wants to kill many birds. First, it wants to prove that India too has been up to mischief. It wants to tell the world that Pakistan is not the only country where terror outfits are bred and tolerated. Islamabad also wants to tell people at home that the troubles in Balochistan are only because of external forces. With this premise, any action that Islamabad may contemplate in the province would have the endorsement of the people.

While India may have some role to play in creating trouble, the problem actually lies with us. We need to wake up to Balochistan. If we do not do this soon, outside forces – and not just India as our leaders claim, will exploit the situation. While our leaders neglect Balochistan, the province is of particular interest to others. For the Taliban, for India and Afghanistan, for Iran as well as China and for America. All for their own reasons. How long can we blame others for what are essentially our own failings? http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=190049

July 27, 2009   No Comments

BALOCH SCENE: THREE VIEWS – July 26

balochistan-burning
Baloch rights: edit in The Dawn, July 26

MUCH is said but little has been done to address the problems plaguing Balochistan. The grievances felt by the Baloch are genuine, and they have not only been ignored but exacerbated by the actions of the federation over the course of several decades. The government now at the helm in Islamabad made a promising start when it issued a public apology for the “the atrocities and injustices committed” in Balochistan. That was seen as a statement of positive intent, even by some nationalist forces, but the lack of follow-up relegated the apology to the realm of rhetoric. In the dying days of March 2008, Yousuf Raza Gilani pledged that the Concurrent Legislative List would be abolished within a year. That hasn’t happened. Broken promises are what the people of Balochistan have come to expect from the centre. It is time for deep and intrinsic change.
We are now told by the interior minister that there will be “good news” about Balochistan in a matter of weeks. This is a typically vague statement, short on content and high on hyperbole. Instead of mouthing off, we should be soul-searching. It must be admitted and recognised that, much to the detriment of the ‘smaller’ provinces, a form of neocolonialism has been at work in Pakistan all along. Regional rights over resources have been appropriated by the centre with little dividend accruing to the provinces. Successive governments have colla-borated with tribal chieftains who want to keep their areas backward so that the system remains intact and influence is retained by a chosen few. Education is denied because knowledge is a tool that could be used by the poor to better their lot in life. Industry is discouraged in parts of Sindh and Balochistan because monthly paychecks are likely to shrink the ranks of sharecroppers. The people have been rendered voiceless and the state is a party to this crime.
It is said that foreign agents are fomenting the insurgency in Balochistan, which is most likely true. At the same time, however, it ought to be acknowledged that the state is creating the conditions that can be exploited by outside forces. Given its natural riches, Balochistan should be the most prosperous province in Pakistan. In reality it is the poorest. It was not just the Musharraf era in which Baloch dissidents simply ‘disappeared’. The practice of branding political opponents as ‘anti-state’ must end and the government needs to ask itself whether its actions are forcing insurgents to seek outside help, which is what happened in East Pakistan. There has been enough talk and it is now time to act. http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/editorial/baloch-rights-679

a-street-in-kushlak-pakistan-near-quetta-united-states-officials-say-taliban-leaders-have-been-stirring-violence-in-afghanistan-from-havens-in-the-quetta-area

What ‘good news’ from Balochistan: edit in The daily Times, July 26
Just as unknown killers shot to death a professor of Government Degree College Quetta — two days after the killing of the principal of a Government High school –Interior Minister Mr Rehman Malik told the Senate in Islamabad that there could be “good news in two to four weeks about Balochistan” as a result of secret “back-channel” contacts. He did not name India as a mischief-maker and left the reference to “back-channel contacts” hanging in the air; but he did speak about his recent meeting with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and the agreement he had reached with him on the establishment of “three bio-metric checkposts on the border” to stop the movement of militants he said were being trained at training camps in Afghanistan.
The senators had raised other questions, however. For instance, why had Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani not yet convened a promised all-parties conference on Balochistan? They had also voiced their concern about what they called an “East Pakistan-like situation” in Balochistan where non-Baloch settlers, including teachers, were being killed, and the national flag and anthem were not allowed to be observed in educational institutions in some areas. But Mr Malik was firm about having no truck with the separatists among the Baloch. He pledged action — of an unspecified nature — against Hyrbair Marri, the leader in exile of the Balochistan Liberation Army, who had recently told a TV channel that he “did not recognise Pakistan”. But Mr Malik insisted, “With some back-channel talks going on, God-willing, problems will be resolved.” More specifically, he said that because of efforts to “persuade those estranged”, it is possible that he might come up with “a better good” news in two to four weeks.
Anyone in Pakistan will tell you that the crisis of Balochistan will not be resolved by putting up a few checkposts on the Balochistan-Afghanistan border. While it is true that India is fishing in troubled waters in the province, its problems have not been created by it. The mention of Balochistan in the recent Indo-Pak joint statement at Sharm al Sheikh may have sent a shiver of unfamiliar triumph up Islamabad’s spine, but it has not led to any softening of the Indian attitude. In fact quite the opposite has happened.
Pakistan has been “path dependent” — tied to past policy decisions that deter policy change in light of new developments — on its Taliban policy in Afghanistan and is now facing its backlash. Balochistan is no longer a place made tough by the simple question of Baloch rights, it is also a region under Talibanisation. The killing of teachers is not far divorced in thinking from the destroying of girls’ schools in the tribal areas and the NWFP. It is no longer the Baloch sardars who have to be placated; we have to look at the growing strength of the immigrant Pashtun who threaten the local polity with their linkages with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
There is a Tehreek-e Taliban Balochistan (TTB) that undercuts the secular Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKAMP), vows lack of connection with Baitullah Mehsud, boasts “no enmity” with the JUI, and now speaks for people other than the Baloch. The grievances of the Baloch have been inquired into in great detail in the past by Senate committees. Much of what Pakistan has to do to save Balochistan has been spelled out there and can be the basis of negotiations. But the province is too disturbed to allow that process to take place.
Mr Rehman Malik is hamstrung also by nationalist backlash against his soft approach towards India. If you want to get ahead in Pakistan these days, be hawkish with India. But expect no respite from New Delhi, either. Balochistan needs to be tackled but before the talks with the Baloch begin the terrorists have to be taken care of. The media is hostile to the PPP government and will accept only mid-term elections as a precondition before it is helpful. The petroleum minister in Islamabad is already thinking of taking the Iranian gas pipeline through the sea.
Good news will take some time coming. Pakistan’s national politics is opposed to the deep self-correction that the state requires in foreign policy as well as the internal policy about the non-state actors which the state used to patronise in the past. http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2009\07\26\story_26-7-2009_pg3_1

a-balochi-protest-in-washingtonDamani dam breach: edit in The dawn, July 26
Another dam in Balochistan has breached after the recent torrential rains, once again causing misery and destruction. Although the incident is not comparable to the 2005 Shakidor dam-burst in coastal Balochistan in which hundreds of people went missing or died, the recent breach in the under-construction Damani dam has reportedly affected 15,000 people, submerged over a dozen villages and inundated over 1,200 hectares of agricultural land. The immediate needs of the affected people include food, shelter and medicine. Once the waters subside they will need monetary and other help to repair their damaged homes and rebuild their agricultural lands.
Post-disaster relief is no doubt an important responsibility of the local and provincial governments as well as of the army and relief agencies. But of equal, if not more, importance are pre-emptive measures to ward off a disaster or mitigate its effects. Dam failures during the monsoon rains have become common in recent years in Balochistan which has some 300 big and small dams. Of particular concern is the fact that the threat comes more from new dams. Shakidor dam was built in 2003 and the Damani dam was under construction. Clearly, greater checks, at regular intervals, on under-construction and built dams are in order.
What is also required is structural enhancement so that dams vulnerable to breaching do not threaten communities. A detailed evacuation plan to minimise harm to the communities when the structure fails should also be drawn up. This would entail installing an effective early-warning system and educating communities on ways and means to evacuate their villages when the threat of flooding becomes imminent. Considering the potentially immense damage and loss of life that can be caused. www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/editorial/damani-dam-breach-679

July 26, 2009   No Comments

Plight of inmates: edit in The Nation, July 25

SUCH was the fury of the inmates at Machh jail in Balochistan at the absence of basic facilities and ruthlessness of the jail officials that they set on fire a carpet factory. And it was only after Provincial Minister Sultan Tareen’s personal assurance to the prisoners that they would be taken care of that the matter was resolved. The inmates’ grievances against overcrowding, and torture by the jail authorities are genuine and should be addressed without further ado. They have nonetheless warned that they would resume their protest if their demands are not met. Just the other day, there was a report highlighting the lack of health facilities in the jail and that a large number of inmates were suffering from hepatitis. By and large, the state of the Machh jail, which is a violation of fundamental rights of the inmates resembles prisons across the country. Little work has been done to ensure provision of facilities like lavatories, electric fans, clean drinking water and hygienic food. Likewise, overcrowding has come up as a big problem. Usually, prisoners are locked up in a cell as if they were animals. It is a pity that the government despite calls by various sections of society has not built new jails. Worse still, it is not uncommon for the wardens to resort to atrocious practices like torture and harassment of the inmates.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry who was on an inspection tour of jails across the country was so shocked by the conditions that he took suo moto notice of the state of prisons. Concurrently, it is obligatory upon the government to see to it that the rights of the prisoners are secured. http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Opinions/Editorials/25-Jul-2009/Plight-of-inmates

July 25, 2009   No Comments

After charge sheet, what next?

The Pakistan government has, after tremendous Indian and international pressure, decided to charge sheet the key executors of the attack on Mumbai in November last. Such an action was overdue after the Indian government had presented irrefutable evidence of the involvement of Pakistani nationals in carrying out the attack which was compared to the 9/11 attacks in its audacity.

However, it is quite obvious that mere filing of charge sheet in a court of law was only the first step in prosecuting terrorists and their supporters. Pakistan now must move quickly to present evidence and testimonies to prove these charges. Pakistan has enough evidence to do so. The terrorists named in the charge sheet have been in the custody of the security officials for over six months, enough time to piece together the evidence based on their testimony and corroborative evidence gathered by investigating agencies in the meantime.

Intelligence agencies of foreign countries have also provided considerable evidence of the involvement of the persons charge sheeted in the Mumbai attacks. The Indian government has submitted several dossiers containing irrefutable evidence against the persons named in the charge-sheet and much more.

Considering the gravity of the crime and the global attention, it is the responsibility of the Pakistan government to see that the trial of the accused persons is conducted in a fast-track anti-terrorism court. There is a precedent to lean on. The trial of the main accused in the Daniel Pearl murder case in 2002 was completed within six months with the trial court sentencing Syed Omar Sheikh to death for his role in the killing of US journalist Daniel Pearl.

There are considerable advantages for Pakistan to do so. First, and the most important, it will generate public confidence in the State’s determination to wipe out terrorism from the country which has over the years become an existential threat. There is considerable public expectation within Pakistan on this issue. No less is the international community’s expectation from Pakistan which has benefited immensely from generous munificence from them. A serious and determined pursuit of the Mumbai terror case would bring confidence among Pakistan’s well-wishers including China which are relying heavily on it to contain the sweeping fires of terror threatening to singe regions around the new sanctuary of al Qaida and the Taliban.

A determined pursuit of the case filed in the court would, however, remain the first step. The next critical step would be to expand the scope of investigations to file charges against the supporters and allies of the persons accused in the charge sheet. This would mean chargesheeting LeT chief Hafiz Saeed, its deputy Abdur Rahman Makki and its spokesperson Yahya Mujahid to begin with. They should be charged with conspiracy, abetment and for carrying out anti-national activities. The Mumbai attack, which shook India, also dented Pakistan’s image considerably.

The Pakistan government must also move quickly to shut down the funding channels of these persons. The US Treasury has already blacklisted many of them. Lack of funds would cripple groups like LeT.

The Indian dossiers have clearly pointed out the linkages between LeT and some officers in ISI and Pakistan Army. The Pakistan government must carry out an investigation of the involvement of both retired and serving officers in the Mumbai Conspiracy. Some of these officers have, incidentally, been named by Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto weeks before she was assassinated in December 2007. The role of these officers in training and facilitating terrorists sent to Mumbai by LeT. The testimony of the lone surviving terrorist, Ajmal Amir Kasab, has revealed that several batches of recruits were trained at LeT’s training campus outside Muzaffarabad, Baitul Mujahideen. The Pakistan government must not delay in shutting down the campus and its allied facilities in the mountains nearby. The structures must be bulldozed and the vacated land secured with fencing. Similar actions must be taken on LeT’s headquarters at Murdike. Without harming the future of several hundred madrasa students and others living or studying there, the government can put the complex under the care of an administrator who could either be a serving or a retired judge.

These actions have in fact become imperative for Pakistan for its own survival. LeT, for instance, is known to be actively colluding with the Taliban targeting Pakistani State and its Army for more than a year now. LeT cadres have been fighting alongside the Taliban in Swat, Waziristan and other areas. LeT’s hand has been found in the series of attacks that shook cities like Lahore and Islamabad in the recent past. The group’s ploy to search for recruits in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in North West Frontier Province by projecting itself as a welfare organisation should raise alarm bells in Islamabad as also in other world capitals.

Pakistan’s determination to fight terrorism will thus rest on how it pursues the Mumbai terrorist case. It will be the litmus test of its sincerity.

July 23, 2009   No Comments

Time to shun the past: op-ed in the Dawn, July 22

By Iqbal Ahmad Khan
AT the heart of Pakistan’s foreign and security policies lies India and at the heart of our India policy lies Kashmir, Pakistan’s jugular vein as the country’s founder described it.

Kashmir has bedevilled Pakistan-India relations, is the source of insecurity and instability in the region and a cause of serious concern for the international community.

India reneged on its commitments to Pakistan, the United Nations and the Kashmiris to the holding of a plebiscite in the state. Six rounds of Bhutto-Swaran Singh talks, focused entirely on Kashmir, in 1962-3, proved inconclusive. The negotiations took place in the wake of India’s Himalayan debacle at the hands of China and on the serious prodding of the United States and Great Britain.

Having exhausted the path of diplomacy with an intransigent India, Pakistan embarked on a strategy to bring India to the table in a serious and meaningful engagement on the dispute. In 1965 Pakistan launched Operation Gibraltar in a bid to get Kashmiris to rise against their Indian occupiers. That did not happen. Instead, Pakistan and India got involved in a full-scale war, which neither could afford. After 17 days both were exhausted.

Whatever implications the war might have had for India, its consequences for Pakistan were disastrous.
The perceived economic growth that Pakistan had been enjoying for several years and which was widely quoted as a model for Third World countries came to an abrupt halt. Western sanctions were imposed on Pakistan; East Pakistanis were extremely disenchanted leading Mujibur Rahman to launch his six-point programme and the country was engulfed in political turmoil. Six years later Pakistan was embroiled in another war with India. Its outcome was the disintegration of the country.

The East Pakistan tragedy should have prompted an earnest and urgent review of our policy towards India. The security establishment, however, was successful in having recommendations of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission report, which called for the trial of Gen Yahya and his confederacy of generals, shelved. It also managed to have high priority assigned and substantial resources allocated to the rebuilding of the armed forces. After all, East Pakistan had to be avenged.

The military, once again, began to loom large in Pakistan’s politics leading to its logical conclusion. Not only was the democratic government overthrown in a coup d’état, but Pakistan’s most popular and accomplished prime minister was dispatched to the gallows.

The Indian factor again played a major role in Pakistan’s reaction to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The military dictator, who had usurped power on July 5, 1977, enthusiastically embraced the US which lent a new lease of life to his shaky and sanctioned government. The uni-dimensional military-based relationship with the US improved the military balance vis-à-vis India.

The victory of the Mujahideen against a superpower prompted him and his coterie of generals to (a) adopt the ‘strategic depth’ doctrine by ensuring that the new regime in Kabul should be so ingratiated to Pakistan as to invariably do its bidding; (b) employ the CIA-ISI Mujahideen model, successfully used in the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, against India in occupied Kashmir. The former strategy led to the emergence of the Taliban Frankenstein; the latter to such jihadi outfits as the Lashkar-i-Taiba, Jaish-i-Mohammad and the Harkat-ul-Ansar.

It did not take long for Al Qaeda, the Taliban and others to establish a nexus for the use of terror against their adversaries. Neither were the Taliban able to provide strategic depth, nor were the jihadis able to coerce India into settling the Kashmir dispute. The policy, in fact, dangerously backfired, with these battle-hardened and self-sustaining militants posing an existentialist threat to Pakistan itself.

As if the failure of our strategy was not enough of a setback, an emboldened military embarked upon a course that brought serious embarrassment and disgrace to the country. The overthrow in October 1999 of a legally constituted, democratically elected popular government was a direct consequence of the Kargil episode — once again the outcome of our policy of confronting India.

The multiple wars and skirmishes with India (futile at best) and the ensuing instability and insecurity in the region have adversely impacted on the internal political dynamics of Pakistan. The imbalance of a powerful military and a fragile democracy has seriously undermined the political process and impaired the healthy growth of civil institutions. The pursuit of highly ambitious and inherently unrealistic policies of ‘strategic depth’ and ‘coercive diplomacy’ have overstretched our limited resources and subjected our foreign relations to avoidable stresses.

A policy of confrontation with India — and its close cousins militancy and coup d’états — contains within itself the seeds of our destruction and must be avoided like the plague. It has become a millstone around our neck.

The real threat to Pakistan comes not from India, but from militant extremism. The second biggest source of instability emanates, also not from India, but from the widespread poverty and the low levels of human development that characterise our society. We need to divert the enormous time and resources that we continue to invest in our confrontation with India towards fighting militancy and getting rid of the all-pervasive poverty, ignorance and disease. Pakistan’s history and its present precarious condition demand a serious and honest appraisal of its traditional India policy with the objective of establishing a close, cooperative and tension-free relationship. Realpolitik and sound common sense dictate that Pakistan and India should live in peace and friendship.

The proposed change in our India policy is not tantamount to an acceptance of India’s hegemony. On the contrary, an economically vibrant, politically stable, socially cohesive nuclear Pakistan with 170 million economically empowered, healthy and educated citizens should be able to exude enough confidence and maturity to deter any entity contemplating domination. http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/editorial/time-to-shun-the-past-279

July 22, 2009   No Comments

Sindh, Balochistan at loggerheads over water issue: The News, July 16

KHAIRPUR: The irrigation minsters of Sindh and Balochistan met in Sukkur on Wednesday for resolving the water issue.

The Balochistan Minster Irrigation, Sardar Aslam Khan Bizenjo, Excise Minster Rustam Khan Jamali and MNA Mir Changez Khan made it clear upon the Sindh minster that they would stop the water supply from the Hub River if Sindh government did not release 400 cusecs Balochistan water.

They alleged that the Sindh Irrigation Department was not releasing the due share of Balochistan water into the Saifullah Mangsi Canal from Ghirungh Regulator of the Khairthar Canal. They said Balochistan had approached the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) on this issue. They said the people of Balochistan had already been deprived of their basic rights and they were under the threat of poverty.

Sindh Irrigation Minster Syed Murad Ali Shah said the Punjab was stealing 1,700 cusecs water of Sindh from the Chashma Canal. “We have decided to form a technical committee, comprising irrigation officials, who are inspecting the canals and measuring the water gauge and later the committee would forward its recommendation to the irrigation ministries.”

He said issues of provincial autonomy and the NFC would be tackled on multiple resources base and not on the population base. He said Balochistan, Sindh and the NWFP provinces had a consensus over that formula.

The Sindh irrigation minster said there was complete harmony between Balochistan and Sindh provincial governments and inter-provincial minsters of both provinces were trying their level best to bilaterally resolve the issues. Later, both ministers inspected the Sukkur Barrage. http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=188330

July 16, 2009   1 Comment