Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Who kidnapped Colonel Imam?

It has makings of a script for a Hollywood movie but since the main character hails from Pakistan and has been an operative of the much loved Inter Services Intelligence Agency of Pakistan, this might not become a reality.

I got interested in this story in February reading the Times Online piece about retired Brigadier Amir Sultan Tarar, well known as Colonel Imam. The article gave credit to Colonel Imam to be the main man who single handedly ran the Mujahidin insurgency against the Soviet Union.
As a top agent for the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, Colonel Imam recruited, trained and armed almost every one of Afghanistan’s prominent insurgents and warlords during the 1980s. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ahmed Shah Massoud and Jalaluddin Haqqani were all his charges or colleagues at one time.
He escorted Charlie Wilson, the Texan congressman who funnelled millions of dollars to the Mujahidin, into Afghanistan three times and once took the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, then the CIA’s Deputy Director, to a Mujahidin camp near the border.
It is only when I saw a grainy photograph of three ISI operatives, who have allegedly been kidnapped by Taliban sympathisers in the North West tribal region of Pakistan, I realised that one of the victims is none other than Colonel Imam himself. Reportedly Taliban hostage takers are asking for release of three key Taliban leaders recently arrested by Pakistani law enforcement agencies.

According to daily Telegraph Colonel Imam believed that
only direct dialogue between the Afghan authorities and Mullah Omar himself, without the interference of the Americans, could end the conflict [in Afghanistan]
Since leaving the ISI, Colonel Imam
has styled himself as a human rights campaigner. He has defended al-Qaeda suspects and fought attempts to extradite Mullah Baradar to Afghanistan.
It is the same Mullah Baradar that his captors want to be released in exchange for his life.

The story is still unfolding and it is hard to say whether it is really Taliban who have taken Colonel Imam hostage. According to daily Telegraph Colonel Imam along with other ISI operatives was taken [by whom] at the request of the American intelligence service as he travelled through Pakistan's lawless tribal belt. In the meanwhile, I am going to watch Charlie Wilson's war to see whether Colonel Imam featured in the Hollywood version of events two decades ago.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Full text of Report of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Having spent millions of Pounds (that Pakistan doesn't have) and over two years late Pakistan is now abuzz with findings (or lack of) in the report of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

The report is a catalogue of incompetence of law enforcement personnel and agencies, callousness of ruling Junta at the time, and ineptness of those responsible for Mrs. Bhutto's personal security - now responsible for overall internal security of Pakistan.

Unfortunately the report does nothing more than providing an independently verified catalogue of what independent Pakistani media has been saying all along.

Though Baitullah Mehsud was immediately singled out as the mastermind behind her assassination and duly killed himself, the report highlights that real masterminds are still at large. For those interested in detail the report is a good read and available here.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa - what the fuss is all about

I have been watching with bemusement the rumpus in the political circles in Pakistan caused by discussions around renaming of the North West Frontier Province - a name which does not represent anything other then a effigy of the British Raj in India.

Right wing media in Pakistan, including my personal favourite daily newspaper Nawa-e-Waqt that I grew up reading has been up in arms at the thought of the province being named Pakhtunkhwa - reminding the audiences that this is in some way giving in to the long dead Pashtun nationalist leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan's demands who wanted independence for NWFP and having failed to see that happen continued another struggle to get the province named as Pakhtunkhwa.

I am failing to understand that if the province inhabited by majority of Punjabi speaking Punjabis is called Punjab, that of Sindhi speaking Sindhis is called Sind, that of Balochi speaking Blauchs is called Baluchistan and that of Kashmiri speaking Kashmiris is called Kashmir then what is the harm in shedding the legacy of the Raj and calling NWFP - a province of Pashtu speaking Pakhtun majority as Pakhtunistan.

Worth noting that I am not, in anyway suggesting splitting up the country in small unmanagable provinces split on linguistic lines. It is worth acknolwedging that in Punjab the number or real Punjabi speakers is not more than 75.23% and the second bigger lingistic group Saraiki speakers (17.36%) have for quite some time been raising their voices for a provincial status. Similarly in Sind only 59.73% of the population speaks Sindhi, while 21.05% speaks Urdu - and they have in the past raised similar voices for a provincial status for Karachi. In Baluchistan 54.76% people speak Balochi compared to 29.64% Pashto speakers.

There are already protests in Hazara region where speakers of other languages are unhappy at the naming of the province as Khyber-Pakhtunkwa. At the moment various political parties are being compelled to back the demand for Hazara province in view of the growing support for the idea. Lets not go down that road.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Are Pakistan's nuclear weapons safe from the Americans?

Speaking to the New York Times President Obama has confirmed that he is confident that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is safe from Al-Qaeeda.

Q. When you came to office, President Bush had just spent five years working with the Pakistanis to try to secure their weapons. I think we spent about $100 million on a U.S. program to help them go do that. My impression, covering the Bush administration, people were unsatisfied with the results of that by the time you came to office. What can you tell us that you’ve done specifically ——

A. I’m not going to — - I’m not going to talk about the details of Pakistan’s nuclear--

Q. O.K. Can you tell us if you now feel more assured than you were when you came to office, that those are safe from Al Qaeda, from the Taliban?

A. I feel confident that Pakistan has secured its nuclear weapons. I am concerned about nuclear security all around the world, not just in Pakistan but everywhere.

And so my sense is that in every country, we constantly have to find ways that we can further improve our approach. And as I said, right now, one of my biggest concerns has to do with the loose nuclear materials that are still floating out there. It is — it remains more likely that a threat arises because of some smuggled HEU or plutonium than that a terrorist organization obtains a fully built nuclear weapon.

And so we’ve got to guard against that, and that’s exactly why this nuclear summit is so important.
For common Pakistanis this confirmation from president Obama has raised alarm bells. Is Pakistani nuclear arsenal safe from America? Care to comment General Kayani (note I am not asking president Zardari)

Monday, 5 April 2010

America's home grown terrorists - and they are not muslims

"Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment."
This is a statement on the website associated with a Michigan-based group, known as the Hutaree. The site also contained hate-filled rhetoric about minorities in the US.

Washington Post reports that US law enforcement authorities have brought charges against nine members of this armed militia group, "accusing them of seditious conspiracy and attempting to deploy weapons of mass destruction, in a case that highlights a strain of extremism focused against the federal government"
Members of this homegrown Christian militia accumulated weapons and explosives to target employees of the federal government, the law enforcement "brotherhood" and other participants in what they called the "New World Order"
The group has allegedly been involved in military style training for over two years and the stockpiling of guns and explosives. And like many Al-Qaeeda sympathisers the Hutaree leaders collected materials and found information about bombs on the Internet.

And this is not the only non-muslim militant group with terrorist aspirations in the pipeline. Dr James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, Washington DC, recently wrote in the Daily Nation:
The arrests of nine members of an armed militia group in Michigan, hell bent on fomenting violence, should serve as a wake up call to those in political leadership roles who are inciting rage against the government. My fear, however, is that they will not see the connection between their rhetoric and the rage they inspire.

Back in January of 2009, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning (based on analysis compiled during the closing days of the Bush administration) that right wing militia-type groups were a growing threat here in the US, noting that “the historical election of an African American president…the prospect of policy changes…and the economic downturn…are proving to be a driving force for right wing extremist recruitment and radicalisation….Lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent right wing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.”

An FBI official told me, at the time, that law enforcement agencies were focusing more of their attention on this phenomenon. And bearing out these concerns, a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Centre notes that in just the past year, these armed “patriot” militias have tripled in number – with over 130 such armed groups now known to be operating across the US.
It is important to recognise that the Obama election was, in many ways, born out of the same set of circumstances. Having studied social movements that emerge in response to social dislocation and stress, I know that in periods of great anxiety, the public can be motivated in different directions. They can be inspired by hope, believing that positive change is in the offing, or, as is also the case, they can be moved to respond in fear and anger, striking out at targets identified as the cause of their distress.

Obama’s messages of hope and change won the election, but, as we soon saw, did not put an end to those who preyed on discontent. Donning the robes of populism, they focused their attacks on “them” – whether the government, liberal elites, or the president himself. Their rhetoric was vile, if not also violent. Watching the “Tea Party” movement emerge and play a disruptive role last summer shouting down and at times breaking up town meetings called to discuss health care reform, was instructive. On the one hand, the established political leaders and TV personalities who fomented this mob-like behaviour were no doubt pleased as they saw this anti-government movement grow and suit their anti-reform agenda. Then again, when their offspring acted out of control, they were able to disassociate themselves from the fruits of their labour with a wink and a “tsk, tsk”.

But the danger remains and the possibility of violence is real. And those in respected leadership roles need to recognise that, in the current environment, playing with matches can start fires. We’ve seen the ugly racist placards, heard the chants and shouted epithets, and witnessed the raw anger at rallies. Can violence be far behind?

I know this to be true and can speak from experience of the dangers of incitement. In the past decade alone, federal law enforcement officials have arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced three individuals for making violent threats against me and my family. In these threats I have been called “a rag head”, a supporter of jihad and Hizbollah – all rather weird, one might say, since I am a Catholic who has consistently spoken out against all violence. From where then, did these deranged fellows get their distorted ideas? The answer is: from a group of individual associated with right wing think tanks who write for blogs or articles that consistently defame or distort the positions of most recognised Arab American and American Muslim leaders.

And it hasn’t stopped. When, for example, I was given the honour of delivering the closing remarks at the Department of Justice’s commemoration, the 40th anniversary of the signing of the civil rights bill, but an article written by one of these characters who termed it an outrage that the DOJ would invite a “Hizbollah supporter” to speak at this affair. And when the Pentagon invited me to speak at their annual Iftar, honouring the service of American Muslim in the US military another writer decried my presence at the event calling me an extremist “wahabi supporter.”

Just as I feel that these writers bear responsibility for their words and for the behaviour of those whom their words motivate to commit illegal acts, so too those elected officials and political leaders who rant on the floor of Congress or at mass rallies about “creeping communism”, or “Obamunism”, or about “death panels”, etc, must own up to the atmosphere they are creating and the behaviour of desperate lost souls who will use their words as a licence to violence.

Given the circumstances we face, the old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” needs to be updated by adding “but may provoke others to break my bones.” A warning is in order: “Put away the matches.” It’s dangerous out there and you don’t know who’s listening or what they might do to act on what you say. It’s time to lower the temperature and tone down the rhetoric, before it’s too late.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Pakistan High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hassan responds

On Friday 2 April I wrote "Pakistan High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hassan defies diplomatic decorum and aligns with Labour Party in the UK" commenting on High Commissioner's address at a Liberal Democrat fund raising dinner in Manchester. High Commissioner has responded to this blog post in the comments section of that article. I would like to retain my journalistic integrity by not letting his views be buried under comments and am publishing them up front on this blog without any commentary. Here is what Pakistan High Commissioner, Wajid Shamsul Hassan wrote:
Unfortunately your correspondent has misquoted me. I was invited by Councillor Qassim Afzal to his fund raiser and when I was told that they would like me to say a few words I had told the organisers that as a diplomat I cannot support this party or that. When I was inisted to speak I did say--with reference to Qassim Afzal's remarks-- that Labour was the only party in 63 years that had supported the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir. It was a "diplomatic triumph" for Pakistan as described by the Indian media when Labour Party adopted a resolution in its annual conference in Brighton in October 1995 in support for the right of self-determination. It had also reiterated that Kashmir was part of unfinished agenda of the partition brought about by the Labour Party in 1947. It had also reaffirmed that it was Labour's moral obligation to play a role to resolve the dispute that could push India and Pakistan to a nuclear war.
I had praised the then Shadow Foreign Secretary Robin Cook for moving the resolution drafted by Rt Hon Gerald Kaufman. As one would recall Robin Cook--as Labour Foreign secretary--accompanying the Queen to Pakistan and India in 1997--had got involved in a major media controversy when he offered to mediate between India and Pakistan to resolve Kashmir dispute. He was accused of spoiing the Royal visit by the Indian and British media.
Much similarly present Foreign Secretary David Miliband too, recently said the same thing in so many words causing a storm in Indian media. He said that India must recognise that it was Kashmir issue that was a cause of terrorism in the region. He advised Delhi not to close its eyes to the presence of an "elephant" in the room.

I reminded those present of the role that is being played by Lib-Dem Baroness Emma Nicholson vis-a-vis Kashmir and referred to the series of seminars she is holding objecting to the status of a province given to Gilgit-Baltistan on the specific desire of the people forgetting that she did not object when Indiands made occupied Kashmir their province. Your correspondent has mentioned about Liz Lynn. I did not refer to her in my short speech.
I am putting this to put the record straight and not by way of supporting this party or that. Whenever I have been asked to speak on such occasions I have advised the Pakistani-Kashmiri origin diaspora to vote for the best candidates and to participate in elections in full strength to support the people who could voice their causes in the Parliament.

Incidentally it was not only me but the main Lib-dem speaker who also mentioned that Mr Kaufman was the only person with consistent stand on Palestine and Kashmir in support of the people. I had just put the record straight.

Wajid Shamsul Hasan, High Commissioner for Pakistan to UK

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Baluchistan - the forgotten province

For a majority of Pakistanis living outside the province of Baluchistan the insurgency in Baluchistan is a long long way away from home. For many it is a ploy to black mail the federal government used by Baloch feudal lords to benefit personally from the natural gas reserves in the province that provide an energy life line to rest of the country. For some it is supported and run by India's RAW and its local agents to gain a strategic depth in its war against Pakistan.

Only if you are a Punjabi, Sindhi or a Pashtun who has had the opportunity of having been employed to work somewhere in Baluchistan or studying or teaching at one of the Universities in the province you get close enough to the feelings of ordinary Baloch people and get to know the simmering anger that is a result of six decades of mishandling by the federal government of demands for local self governance and political autonomy.

I am reproducing an interesting article by Madiha Tahir, a free lance journalist written for the National. You might not agree with some of the viewpoints presented in the article but it does provide an alternative view that his missing from the mainstream Pakistani media.
Balochistan: Pakistan's broken mirror

Islamabad's brutal attempts to crush ethnic Baloch nationalism have met with fierce, escalating resistance - and have laid bare the strains that threaten the founding idea of Pakistan. Madiha R Tahir reports from the rallies, homes and hospital rooms of the fifth Baloch rebellion.

A child is fiddling with a poster of a mustachioed man, a missing political worker who may be his father or his uncle, and who is in all likelihood, dead. He draws my immediate attention, this child, because out of the thousands seated around him in row upon neat row inside the open-air tent, he is the only one not focused on the stage, the blazing lights, the young man holding forth in angry punctuated bellows.

“I am not a friend of Pakistan!” Zahid Baloch bangs the podium to emphasise his point, his countenance flushed, severe. “I am not a friend of the People’s Party!” He bangs the podium again, and the evening air swells with the ferocious stillness of his audience, tense and alert like a taut muscle.

Two days earlier, on January 15, the Pakistan army’s Frontier Corps had opened fire on a student protest in south-eastern Balochistan, killing two students and injuring four more – the latest casualties in an escalating war between the state of Pakistan and nationalists in Balochistan, the country’s largest and most sparsely populated province, where the fifth sustained rebellion against Islamabad since 1948 is seething.

Zahid is the secretary-general of the largest student movement in Balochistan, a fierce opponent of the central government and the more mainstream Baloch parties. At this twilight gathering in Lyari, home to a sizeable Baloch community, he delivers a verbal blow to the waffling nationalist parties. “The Baloch are the enemy of the National Party! The Baloch are the enemy of the BNP-Mengal!” The crowd has heard itself affirmed. Wild applause erupts, a release.

The next speaker is Abdul Wahab Baloch, the scruffy and soft-spoken, white-bearded head of the Baloch Rights Council. Midway through his talk, he switches abruptly from Balochi into Urdu. “Tonight, we have a foreign journalist among us who is here to report the Baloch cause, and we welcome her.”

I turn around to hunt for a foreign face, eager to find another female journalist – and find the crowd watching me. The realisation blooms. Oh. You mean me. Here in Karachi, the city of my birth, I am suddenly a foreigner. I wave nervously, unsure of how to respond. How many among the crowd will talk to me when they realise I am a Punjabi, the politically and numerically dominant group in Pakistan, and the eternal target of Baloch nationalist ire?

A caterwauling rises up from the semidarkness, and then a rallying cry. “Pakistan murdabad!” “Die Pakistan!”

Outside, my taxi driver has been waiting uncomfortably, ringing my phone every so often as darkness descends in a plea to hurry it up. He is an ethnic Pashtun: the two groups have an uneasy peace, and Lyari, a large ghetto with a million residents, is nowhere to be after dark. As I get into the car, he asks, “Everything done?”


“Good.” He sounds relieved that I will not be directing him elsewhere. “Let’s get out of here.”

Nearly half of Pakistan’s land mass, Balochistan is a voluminous desert, a bone-dry expanse unfurling into sinuous cliffs set on a rilled desert floor. In the south along the Makran coast, weathered Baloch fishermen extract their livelihood from the coruscating waters of the Arabian Sea. Further inward, sheer bluffs give way to date palm groves and patches of green farm.

To the west and north, the province is bounded by Afghanistan and Iran, each of which has its own Baloch population; the Pashtuns who predominate in the northern part of the province also spill across international borders. The province’s location at this explosive geopolitical crossroads – as well as its vast mineral resources and valuable coastline – have focused the anxieties of international powers near and far, suggesting that a new Great Game may take Balochistan as its target. Tehran worries about what conflicts in Balochistan will mean for its own Sistan-Balochistan province, whose Baloch population has been brutally suppressed by the state. The Americans are concerned about the Taliban who have taken refuge in the province’s Pashtun belt and the leaders of the Afghan Taliban long believed to be operating out of Quetta. Washington is also concerned about China’s increasing involvement in the area, most visibly the deep-water port at Gwadar, built with Chinese investment and intended to provide an Indian Ocean foothold for Beijing.

But for the government of Pakistan – and particularly for its army – Balochistan is first and foremost the epicentre of a stubbornly secular Baloch national rebellion whose endurance poses a threat to the state’s ideological and geographical coherence.

Balochistan is a looking glass for Pakistan today, reflecting the tortuous struggle to imagine a national community. How the state handles the rising tide of Baloch nationalism will also determine the future of Pakistan’s nationalist project.

So far the tidings are poor. Over the course of six decades Islamabad has failed to come to terms with Baloch nationalism; the province has almost always been under the effective control of the army or the intelligence services. During the 1970s and the 1980s, the threat of secular Baloch nationalism provided one rationale for the Islamicisation policies of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Zia ul Haq, who hoped that a resurgence of Islamist-nationalist sentiment would undermine the appeal of Baloch nationalism. Ironically, the government routinely attempts to discredit the Baloch separatists internationally by associating them with the Taliban. More recent reports have alleged that American funds intended for use against the Taliban have been diverted to the war on Balochistan’s secular militants.

Before its accession to Pakistan, parts of modern-day Balochistan were ruled by the British; other parts comprised the princely state of Kalat. As Pakistani nationalism crystallised around the idea of a homeland for a religious minority, Baloch nationalists stressed their ethnic identity as the basis for an independent state. They cast Pakistani nationalism, underwritten by religion, as a ruse for Punjabi dominance, but under pressure, the Khan of Kalat acceded in March 1948, triggering the “first rebellion”, which was quickly put down by the army. Two more rebellions rose up in the 1950s and 1960s, paving the way for the bloody confrontation that stretched from 1973 to 1977, pitting some 55,000 Baloch against more than 80,000 Pakistani troops. Hundreds of Pakistani soldiers and 5,000 Baloch died before the insurgency was finally suppressed. One of its initial leaders was the militant nationalist and sardar, Nawab Khair Baksh Marri.

When I go to meet Marri in his Karachi home, a man carrying the most enormous brown rooster swings the gate open and tells me to wait. As we head down the garden path, I hear more roosters crowing; Marri is well-known as a lover of cockfighting. A line of men sit in the neat garden, huddled in quiet conversation. Marri is seated in the veranda wearing an impeccable Baloch-styled peach salwaar kameez and Baloch cap listening attentively to a man with a bright turquoise ring and a peak cap. They’re speaking in Balochi flecked with English; the occasional word or phrase can be overheard: “ideology”, “human rights”, “NGOs”.

Marri was an apolitical youth, but he was radicalised by the army’s merciless campaign to put down the “second rebellion” in 1958; he emerged from several prison stints as a Marxist-Leninist and a hardline nationalist who rejected Baloch participation in parliamentary politics. “The rules are theirs, so you can’t win a match,” he tells me. In his telling, the very structure of the state is illegitimate: “We were Muslims already,” he says. “We were Baloch already. The British grouped all the conquered people together [into Pakistan]. That’s not a justification: grouping people together just for being Muslims.”

Marri has been linked to the ongoing armed struggle, and his Moscow-educated son, Mir Balaach Marri, was killed as he waged guerrilla warfare in 2007. His son’s death spurred Marri, usually reclusive, to argue more publicly for Baloch independence, but his manner remains deceptively soft, like a knife cloaked in silk. The Baloch, he says, can draw inspiration from the Vietnamese resistance to America: “Vietnam wasn’t an atomic power,” he concludes. “That’s why we have to do the same thing: Punjabi sons will die.”

Though the stakes today are higher than ever, most of the Baloch grievances are now decades-old. The province, whose gas reserves are among the largest in Asia, accounts for half of the country’s gas production, with the lion’s share forcibly exported to Punjab. Balochistan’s resources produce roughly a billion dollars annually for the central government; the Balochis receive pennies in return. The local population remains gut-wrenchingly poor, living in sparse shanty towns with little in the way of infrastructure outside of multiplying army encampments – only one reason why local discontent, especially among young Baloch, has found its outlet in increasingly militant Baloch separatism.

During the tenure of General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in 1999, the army again took a leading role in the administration of the province, and the government proceeded apace with the construction of army garrisons and other mega-projects that the Baloch regarded as inimical or irrelevant to local interests, like the massive Chinese-funded port at Gwadar. These became targets for attacks by guerrilla groups like the Baloch Liberation Army.

The “fifth rebellion” began in earnest in 2004, and grew more intense after the rape of a Baloch doctor who worked at the province’s largest gasfields. After the army refused to allow the police to interrogate the suspects, one of whom was an army officer, massive protests erupted, led by the ageing nationalist and tribal leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti.

“Don’t push us,” Musharraf warned Baloch militants during an interview in January 2005. “It isn’t the 1970s when you can hit and run and hide in the mountains. This time, you won’t even know what hit you.”

Bugti, who once worked with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to oust more hard-line rivals from the provincial government, went underground to lead an insurgency with 5,000 of his tribesmen. Helicopter gunships pounded Bugti’s tribal areas, and on the morning of August 26 2006, the snow-bearded Bugti was killed while hiding in a cave in Kohlu. Islamabad hoped that this would be the final blow, but it gravely miscalculated. Rioters burst onto the streets, burning cars and smashing windows in the immediate aftermath. Shopkeepers went on strike. The central government deployed the paramilitary Rangers, arrested over 450 people and imposed an indefinite curfew, but the violence spread to Baloch neighbourhoods in Karachi where protesters rallied and burnt tires. The assassination was roundly condemned as a major political blunder. Bugti was, after all, a leader who had been open to dialogue with the state. His death provided yet another blood-soaked example to consolidate Baloch nationalism and awaken younger Baloch to the futility of dialogue.

I arrived in Quetta on a crisp January afternoon to join a throng of camera crews crowded on circular embankment to film a Balochistan National Party rally making its way down the city’s main artery.

A few thousand men – I saw no women either among the journalists or the protesters – marched purposefully, dressed in Baloch wear and light jackets, while policemen stood by, batons in hand. The BNP has traditionally participated in electoral politics, and its focus has been on greater autonomy for Balochistan and local control of natural resources; its willingness to work within the Pakistani system has brought the inevitable accusations of treachery and opportunism from more militant nationalist factions. But the intransigence of the central government seems to have alienated even the more moderate members of the BNP: when I scrambled off the concrete island to walk alongside four of the young protesters, they evinced little appetite for elections or compromises.

“They killed the Baloch! They’re trying to spread fear!” a young student named Tauqir Ahmed tells me loudly. A hopeful fuzz lines his upper lip. He keeps his eyes on the road as he talks, moving in quick strides. “They should know that we prefer to be killed than to put our heads down!” Ahmed is suffused with his own certainty, a self-conscious bravado animating his words. “They think they can just kill us. Now we’ll show them what a Baloch is!” And then as though he’s decided he must declare this to someone down the road tout de suite, his pace quickens. His friends, invigorated by their comrade’s words, and not to be outdone, bruise the air with their fists, swell expansively and shout: “Pakistan murdabad!” Other men and other boys roll past repeating the slogan, throwing it back to the crowd, holding it aloft in the air.

In the week preceding this march, targeted killings in Karachi neighbourhoods, including Lyari, have claimed the lives of 27 Baloch. Raids conducted by the police to “clean up” Lyari fanned the flames even further, leading to massive demonstrations by local Baloch. The neighbourhood had traditionally been a stronghold of the Bhutto family’s Pakistan People’s Party, but it has increasingly come under the sway of Baloch parties, who have been working hard since Bugti’s murder to inculcate ethnic nationalist sentiment – and thereby connect the Baloch scattered across the country into one force. That the murders in Karachi are being protested in Quetta is one sign that they have been successful.

Three days after this march, the Frontier Corps opened fire on students in Khuzdar – sparking the protest led by Zahid Baloch that I attended in Lyari.

When I spoke to the organiser of the Quetta protest, a BNP leader named Akhtar Hussein Langau – who held a seat in the Balochistan Assembly until he resigned after Bugti’s assassination in 2006 – he pointed to the army presence as a principal cause of the alienation young Baloch feel from the state of Pakistan. “We asked them to stop building the army cantonments and they wouldn’t,” he told me over tea shortly before the rally, “but they had no problem killing [Bugti].” Four army cantonments exist in Balochistan and Islamabad is planning several more. Most of these are not where the Taliban roam, but in Baloch lands that are resource-rich and seething with rebellion. Pakistan’s Air Force has six bases here; the Navy has three. And hundreds of checkpoints dot the province. “The ground reality,” asserts Langau, “is that all of Balochistan is a cantonment.”

In November, Islamabad offered to halt construction as part of a deal intended to tamp down the insurgency: touted as a historic concession, the offer outlined constitutional, administrative and political reforms for Balochistan, as well as an inquiry into Bugti’s killing, a promise for fair dividends, and the immediate release of missing political workers. The package was tabled in Parliament on November 24, but by the end of the day all the major Baloch parties had rejected it.

Islamabad’s approach is marred by inconsistency, partly because the civilian government has little to no control over the army establishment: while the state rolled out its proposed reforms, the army continued to disappear Baloch activists. Sangat Sana Baloch, a 28-year-old, was abducted only two weeks after the reform offer was announced. He had been active in the BSO as a student, and then joined the Baloch Republican Party, headed by a militant grandson of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. He was picked up while driving into Quetta. “They had blocked the road,” his father tells me with a face crumpling into sorrow. “They were waiting for him.”

The police have refused to register Sana’s case. “They’re scared and they don’t have the nerve,” his father says. In the absence of police reports, family members file constitutional petitions in the provincial high court asking a judge to take notice. Amnesty International documented at least 600 disappearances two years ago; Baloch activists now claim nearly 6,000.

“This government doesn’t want to admit that the Baloch are human,” says Chakar Qambrani, a BRP activist who was abducted in February 2008 and held for six months and 10 days. We sit on the carpeted floor of Qambrani’s living room, an electric heater glowing orange in a corner as he recounts his time in an underground cell and the savage beatings inflicted on him after his torturers had stripped him naked. “They would curse me and they would hit me with their hands, with leather straps and with sticks. Then they would start interrogating me about my party, who gives us money, why we go on strikes.”

Outside the Quetta Press Club, a group called Voice for Missing Baloch has set up a protest camp to call attention to the disappearances; a banner with bold red lettering hangs over the entrance: “UN Should Take Notice Against Illegal Abduction of Baloch Missing Persons By Intelligence Agencies.” Oversized photographs of disappeared men line the walls of the cloth tent, which was pitched by families of the missing men in late December; dozens gather here every day to hold vigil. “They claim we have courts, but the point is, we have no rule of law,” the group’s chairman, Nasrullah Baloch, tells me outside the tent. “If the agencies really think that these people have done something, then try them in court. Otherwise, what’s the point of having courts?” He adds laconically, “Just end them.”

In Tump, on the border with Iran south of Quetta, I meet Banok Karima Baloch, a 26-year-old student activist who has faced several cases in the antiterrorism courts; she was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in absentia last year. “They claim that people are free, but that’s not true… Even students who speak against them have had cases registered in the antiterrorism court.”

Karima is light-eyed and apricot cheeked, a member of the BSO central committee and the daughter of a solidly middle-class doctor. When the court demanded that she present herself, she refused. “The agencies disappear thousands,” she says, “and even if they present them in court, [the court] never bothers to ask what happened.”

Karima has suspended her studies to focus on activism. She explains that women have been compelled to take on a public role because their husbands and brothers have been abducted, but admits that she likes her work. I ask what will happen once the nationalist struggle is over. Will the women return home? Will she? “In Baloch tradition, women are respected,” she counters, hedging. “We get educated as much as the men.”

On the subject of tactics, however, she pulls no punches. “The ones who talk about autonomy and rights,” she says, referring to the mainstream nationalist parties, “have a different vision and different goal from those of us who want freedom.” For her, resistance is the only possible step. She notes succinctly, “You can’t get freedom through talk.”

slamabad’s feckless, incoherent policies have amplified a strident Baloch nationalism, and even the most pliable Baloch nationalist parties are feeling pressure from young activists. These nationalists have lost faith in Pakistani overtures; the hardliners among them now view any effort at reconciliation as a ploy to muffle and then quash this resurgent Baloch nationalism.

For the next generation, the only significant question is how soon Balochistan will become independent – which they now regard as the only way to preserve a distinct Baloch identity. To protect this “imagined community”, militant nationalists are willing to kill and to die. As a young, wiry activist, Abdul Qayyum Baloch, put it to me in a callow remark: “It’s just as well when they disappear and shoot people. It needs to happen, so more Baloch recognise the true nature of Pakistan.”

A day after the murder of the students in Khuzdar, the BLA launched its retaliation, killing three Punjabis in Balochistan. Rather than religion, which draws the lion’s share of attention when analysts contemplate Pakistan’s coherence, these increasingly strident ethnic divisions pose the greatest problem for the government – which cannot seem to evoke a sense of Pakistani nationhood broad enough to encompass them.

“What is Pakistan?” Qayyum asked me. “I understand Sindhis, Baloch, but Pakistani?” The question of Balochistan, it seems, is really a question about Pakistan itself.

The pressures of the American war, and its overriding obsession with the Taliban, seem likely to direct Pakistan only toward unsavory answers to those questions. The billions of dollars sent to Pakistan’s army by the United States have reinforced what may be the nation’s most long-lasting problem: the dominance of a military establishment that knows no language but force, and pursues the cause of Pakistani nationalism by bludgeoning and disappearing its own citizens. Ironically, the abuses of the US-funded army – which heighten ethnic discontent and delegitimize a broad and secular Pakistani nationalism – are the thing most likely to bring the Islamists that Washington fears so to power.

When I returned to Karachi, I visited Liaquat Kurd, who had been shot by the Frontier Corps in Khuzdar, and was now recuperating in a hospital bed – a film of sweat on his round face, instruments monitoring his heart rate as blood mixed with a yellowish liquid soaked through the bandaged stump of his left leg. “When they told me they had to amputate, I said just give me poison,” he recalls.

fter Kurd was shot, the FC continued its rampage. Kurd’s friends dumped him in a graveyard promising they would return. Strangers found him an hour later and took him to the local hospital, which was ill-equipped to handle his wounds. By the time Kurd arrived, by road, in Karachi, too much time had lapsed: the nerves in his leg were destroyed. I asked him whether he would continue with his activism. “When you close all paths,” he said, “the youth will either leave politics or pick up a gun. Those are the only two options.”

Later I went to meet Jamil Bugti, the son of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, at his home in Karachi. I asked him who were the heirs to the towering political figures who led the Baloch nationalist movement in its earlier days. “The next generation is all in the mountains,” he replied, “And they’re not willing to talk to anyone. People like me, and others, like the different nationalist parties that are in Parliament, they don’t have any role to play. They look very good on TV. That’s about it.”

Madiha R Tahir is a freelance journalist reporting on international conflicts and currently based in Pakistan.

Looking for an Indian Mandella: Water, Kashmir and a nuclear war

Kashmir is now not the only reason for a nuclear war in the Subcontinent - new reason is water. For more than sixty years Pakistan has maintained that Kashmir is its jugular vein and Indian control on it can kill the country. The statement is becoming a reality now by Indian construction of hydro power dams in the disputed region thus controlling water flow to the rivers that feed the agricultural economy of Pakistan. Indian actions over Baglihar dam have already demonstrated how it can destroy Pakistani economy.

There appears to be no desire or action on the Indian side to acknowledge legitimate Pakistani concerns. John Briscoe, a South African who is the Gordon McKay Professor of Environmental Engineering, Harvard University, with an experience of having worked on water issues in the subcontinent for 35 years and a Senior Water Advisor for the World Bank who dealt with the appointment of the Neutral Expert on the Baglihar case, wrote for daily News in Pakistan:
I see as a looming train wreck on the Indus, with disastrous consequences for both countries. I will outline why there is no objective conflict of interests between the countries over the waters of the Indus Basin, make some observations of the need for a change in public discourse, and suggest how the drivers of the train can put on the brakes before it is too late.

Is there an inherent conflict between India and Pakistan?

The simple answer is no. The Indus Waters Treaty allocates the water of the three western rivers to Pakistan, but allows India to tap the considerable hydropower potential of the Chenab and Jhelum before the rivers enter Pakistan.

The qualification is that this use of hydropower is not to affect either the quantity of water reaching Pakistan or to interfere with the natural timing of those flows. Since hydropower does not consume water, the only issue is timing. And timing is a very big issue, because agriculture in the Pakistani plains depends not only on how much water comes, but that it comes in critical periods during the planting season. The reality is that India could tap virtually all of the available power without negatively affecting the timing of flows to which Pakistan is entitled.

Is the Indus Treaty a stable basis for cooperation?

If Pakistan and India had normal, trustful relations, there would be a mutually-verified monitoring process which would assure that there is no change in the flows going into Pakistan. (In an even more ideal world, India could increase low-flows during the critical planting season, with significant benefit to Pakistani farmers and with very small impacts on power generation in India.) Because the relationship was not normal when the treaty was negotiated, Pakistan would agree only if limitations on India's capacity to manipulate the timing of flows was hardwired into the treaty. This was done by limiting the amount of "live storage" (the storage that matters for changing the timing of flows) in each and every hydropower dam that India would construct on the two rivers.

While this made sense given knowledge in 1960, over time it became clear that this restriction gave rise to a major problem. The physical restrictions meant that gates for flushing silt out of the dams could not be built, thus ensuring that any dam in India would rapidly fill with the silt pouring off the young Himalayas.

This was a critical issue at stake in the Baglihar case. Pakistan (reasonably) said that the gates being installed were in violation of the specifications of the treaty. India (equally reasonably) argued that it would be wrong to build a dam knowing it would soon fill with silt. The finding of the Neutral Expert was essentially a reinterpretation of the Treaty, saying that the physical limitations no longer made sense. While the finding was reasonable in the case of Baglihar, it left Pakistan without the mechanism – limited live storage – which was its only (albeit weak) protection against upstream manipulation of flows in India. This vulnerability was driven home when India chose to fill Baglihar exactly at the time when it would impose maximum harm on farmers in downstream Pakistan.

If Baglihar was the only dam being built by India on the Chenab and Jhelum, this would be a limited problem. But following Baglihar is a veritable caravan of Indian projects – Kishanganga, Sawalkot, Pakuldul, Bursar, Dal Huste, Gyspa… The cumulative live storage will be large, giving India an unquestioned capacity to have major impact on the timing of flows into Pakistan. (Using Baglihar as a reference, simple back-of-the-envelope calculations, suggest that once it has constructed all of the planned hydropower plants on the Chenab, India will have an ability to effect major damage on Pakistan. First, there is the one-time effect of filling the new dams. If done during the wet season this would have little effect on Pakistan. But if done during the critical low-flow period, there would be a large one-time effect (as was the case when India filled Baglihar). Second, there is the permanent threat which would be a consequence of substantial cumulative live storage which could store about one month's worth of low-season flow on the Chenab. If, God forbid, India so chose, it could use this cumulative live storage to impose major reductions on water availability in Pakistan during the critical planting season.

Views on "the water problem" from both sides of the border and the role of the press

Living in Delhi and working in both India and Pakistan, I was struck by a paradox. One country was a vigorous democracy, the other a military regime. But whereas an important part of the Pakistani press regularly reported India's views on the water issue in an objective way, the Indian press never did the same. I never saw a report which gave Indian readers a factual description of the enormous vulnerability of Pakistan, of the way in which India had socked it to Pakistan when filling Baglihar. How could this be, I asked? Because, a journalist colleague in Delhi told me, "when it comes to Kashmir – and the Indus Treaty is considered an integral part of Kashmir -- the ministry of external affairs instructs newspapers on what they can and cannot say, and often tells them explicitly what it is they are to say."

This apparently remains the case. In the context of the recent talks between India and Pakistan I read, in Boston, the electronic reports on the disagreement about "the water issue" in The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Indian Express and The Economic Times.

Taken together, these reports make astounding reading. Not only was the message the same in each case ("no real issue, just Pakistani shenanigans"), but the arguments were the same, the numbers were the same and the phrases were the same. And in all cases the source was "analysts" and "experts" -- in not one case was the reader informed that this was reporting an official position of the Government of India.

Equally depressing is my repeated experience – most recently at a major international meeting of strategic security institutions in Delhi – that even the most liberal and enlightened of Indian analysts (many of whom are friends who I greatly respect) seem constitutionally incapable of seeing the great vulnerability and legitimate concern of Pakistan (which is obvious and objective to an outsider).

A way forward

This is a very uneven playing field. The regional hegemon is the upper riparian and has all the cards in its hands. This asymmetry means that it is India that is driving the train, and that change must start in India. In my view, four things need to be done.

First, there must be some courageous and open-minded Indians – in government or out – who will stand up and explain to the public why this is not just an issue for Pakistan, but why it is an existential issue for Pakistan.

Second, there must be leadership from the Government of India. Here I am struck by the stark difference between the behaviour of India and that of its fellow BRIC – Brazil, the regional hegemon in Latin America.

Brazil and Paraguay have a binding agreement on their rights and responsibilities on the massive Itaipu Binacional Hydropower Project. The proceeds, which are of enormous importance to small Paraguay, played a politicised, polemical anti-Brazilian part in the recent presidential election in Paraguay. Similarly, Brazil's and Bolivia's binding agreement on gas also became part of an anti-Brazil presidential campaign theme.

The public and press in Brazil bayed for blood and insisted that Bolivia and Paraguay be made to pay. So what did President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva do? "Look," he said to his irate countrymen, "these are poor countries, and these are huge issues for them. They are our brothers. Yes, we are in our legal rights to be harsh with them, but we are going to show understanding and generosity, and so I am unilaterally doubling (in the case of Paraguay) and tripling (in the case of Bolivia) the payments we make to them. Brazil is a big country and a relatively rich one, so this will do a lot for them and won't harm us much." India could, and should, in my view, similarly make the effort to see it from its neighbour's point of view, and should show the generosity of spirit which is an integral part of being a truly great power and good neighbour.

Third, this should translate into an invitation to Pakistan to explore ways in which the principles of the Indus Waters Treaty could be respected, while providing a win for Pakistan (assurance on their flows) and a win for India (reducing the chronic legal uncertainty which vexes every Indian project on the Chenab or Jhelum). With good will there are multiple ways in which the treaty could be maintained but reinterpreted so that both countries could win.

Fourth, discussions on the Indus waters should be de-linked from both historic grievances and from the other Kashmir-related issues. Again, it is a sign of statesmanship, not weakness, to acknowledge the past and then move beyond it. This is personal for me, as someone of Irish origin. Conor Cruise O'Brien once remarked, "Santayana said that those who did not learn their history would be condemned to repeat it; in the case of Ireland we have learned our history so well that we are condemned to repeat it, again and again."

And finally, as a South African I am acutely aware that Nelson Mandela, after 27 years in prison, chose not to settle scores but to look forward and construct a better future, for all the people of his country and mine. Who will be the Indian Mandela who will do this – for the benefit of Pakistanis and Indians – on the Indus?

Friday, 2 April 2010

Pakistan High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hassan defies diplomatic decorum and aligns with Labour Party in the UK

Wajid Shamsul Hassan, Pakistan's High Commissioner in the UK is not a man known for mincing words when speaking his mind, with the exception, of course, of occasions when he is having to defend his lord and master president Zardari of Pakistan. Early this week he decided to deviate from diplomatic protocols and advised the British voters of Pakistani origin in Manchester, in no uncertain terms, to vote for Labour Party in the forthcoming general elections.

The High Commissioner was the guest of honour at a fund raising reception organised by supporters of Qasim Afzal, Liberal Democrat candidate for Gorton constituency in Manchester standing in the forthcoming general elections. Liberal Democrat leadership including Lord Dick Newby, and Chris Davies and a number of Liberal Democrat local councillors were in for a surprise when the High Commissioner, when invited to speak formally from the stage, chose to remind the audience, whose majority incidentally was of Pakistani origin, that the only political party in the UK that has taken concrete steps to support Pakistan in its disputes with India were the Labour party. Mr Shamsul Hassan reminded the audience of Lib Dem Euro MP Liz Lynne and her alleged activities that went against the Pakistani interests on the Kashmir issue. He told that audience that though he is addressing a fund raising reception for Liberal Democrats but cannot advise the audience to vote for their candidate - he would rather they remembered that its Labour Party who have a track record of supporting Pakistan.

I understand that the High Commissioner represents the state of Pakistan but should he not stay away from getting directly involved in the internal party politics of Britain. He was a guest of honour at a Liberal Democrat fund raising evening simply because the candidate Qasim Afzal is of Pakistani origin and many among the audience had strong links with Pakistan. Many among them still like to honour their country of origin by inviting the diplomats to their functions. I do not believe that the High Commissioner reciprocated that honour by insulting the hosts publicly from the stage.

Pakistan army in Swat: a shovel in one hand and a gun in the other

Writing for Washington Post, Karin Brulliard writes
Of 401 schools bombed by militants or left dilapidated, half have been rebuilt. But it was the military, not the government, that rebuilt them while also providing temporary tents for other schools. By some estimates, the army has carried out 90 percent of the building and rebuilding projects
But all of this should be delivered by the civilian government, surely?
The military is rebuilding roads, schools and libraries. It is buying computers for women's vocational institutes and solar-powered streetlights for villages. It is planting a million trees. The work has made soldiers hugely popular, but some wonder why the civilian government is not doing it.
Writing on the war in Swat last year I wrote
It is, however, important to ensure that what appears to be a qualified victory in the short term doesn't turn into a long term defeat.Though a large number of Taliban fighters have been killed in the operation and remaining appear to be on the run, the top tier command structure of Swat Taliban is still intact. Military action has not succeeded in capturing or eliminating key targets like Mullah Fazlullah, Muslim Khan and the like. While these hard core terrorist are alive there will always be a risk of Taliban resurgence once the army has gone back into the barracks.
Situation on the ground has not changed. Swat Taliban leadership is still at large and waiting for army to pull out leaving them free to deal with the jelly kneed civilian infrastructure.

Militancy in Swat was never a mere Islamic fundamentalist insurgency. It had its roots in the absence of a functional civil administrative infrastructure and institutions of law and justice. That need has not changed. Before the 50,000 strong Pakistan army moves out of the region the government still need to ensure that:
  • A new police infrastructure that is trained, equipped and willing to take on the responsibility of establishing the law and order and provide security to citizens without having to rely on military support;
  • A civil administration that does not simply rely of doing deals with the remnants of Taliban or their supporters;
  • institutions of justice and law and order - absence of these gave credibility to the demands of people like Sufi Muhammad in the first place;
  • active counter insurgency mechanism in place with bodies on the ground and in the streets. Having just a military cantonment is not going to achieve this;
  • engage national and regional political parties to create a national voice against the menace. While doing so not to cave in to pressure groups like Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman who are still in the business of making money from dead bodies.
Some of it is being put in place.
government offices in Swat are open, and they have reclaimed their chaotic bustle... officials have reduced a large backlog of court cases, surveyed 10,000 destroyed houses and shops, and plan to distribute $1 million in total compensation to families of victims or survivors of terrorist attacks. "In the entire district, every nook and corner, the government is functioning,"...But security analysts say that keeping insurgents at bay requires the government not just to resume its functions but to improve them -- and that is the worry...