Sunday, April 27, 2008

Reflections, Part 1

For the first time in a while, I looked at the website of Dawn from Pakistan (see sidebar under news), and opportunely found some interesting stuff.

First up is a short article entitled Al Qaeda-linked foreigners are in tribal areas: Musharraf, reproduced here in its entire brevity, with my comments interspersed:

LAHORE, April 26: President Pervez Musharraf has said that foreigners, particularly Uzbeks and Afghans having links with Al Qaeda, are hiding in tribal areas and they carry out terrorist activities not only in the country, but are also financiers for such activities.

Addressing participants of a management course at the National Management College here on Saturday, he said the Taliban were also facilitating terror acts and had links with foreigners.

"A major threat is the spread of Talibanisation from the tribal areas to Swat and southern parts of the NWFP," the president said, adding that Pakistan today was facing internal security threats.

None of this should come as news to readers of my blog.

He said that another factor hampering the country's development was extremism, accusing the custodians of Lal Masjid of trying to impose their will by force.

He also said some elements in Balochistan like the BLA had separatist tendency, but the government would "nip their designs".

The Balochistan Liberation Army... more on the BLA below.

"We have to chalk out a long-term strategy to address these grave problems. Pakistan does not have any offensive designs against anyone and is at peace. This is its strength."

The government, he said, had tried to settle the Balochistan issue politically and through socio-economic development.

President Musharraf stressed the need for bridging the gap between policy formulation and implementation. He said it was unfortunate that every incoming government "does away with the outgoing government's policies". This hindered development, he added.

If the outgoing government's policies make sense and the people are behind them, the incoming government won't do away with them.

Otherwise, isn't it nice to have a change?

It will be interesting (and scary, considering the options) to see what happens in January of 2009.

The president said that nepotism was another menace which badly affected the government's performance. "The job of a government is to ensure security, progress and development of the country and welfare and well-being of its people," he added.—APP

Actually, it is the job of a government to ensure that people's liberties are respected, and that the rule of law is respected; it is the job of the people to ensure progress, development of their country, and their own welfare and well-being.

We turn now to focus on the BLA, reviewing excerpts from Tribes and Rebels: The Players in the Balochistan Insurgency by Muhammad Tahir:

As the violence on Pakistan's northwest frontier dominates the headlines, a lesser-known insurgency has gripped Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan. Bomb blasts and rocket attacks have become almost daily events in this region: A ten-week period in 2008 saw 76 insurgent-linked incidents reported, claiming the lives of 14 people and wounding 123 (South Asia Terrorism Portal: Balochistan Timeline 2008).

The troubled history of Balochistan dates back to the independence of Pakistan in 1947, beginning as a reaction to the annexation of the princely state of Qalat—later joined to three other states to form modern Balochistan—by Pakistani authorities in 1948. The annexation led to the first Baloch rebellion, which was swiftly put down. The security situation in the region remained fragile as rebellions erupted in 1958, 1973, and most recently in 2005.

Unlike previous anti-government insurrections, it is currently hard to pinpoint one person or group for orchestrating these incidents as there are today several groups in Balochistan potentially interested in challenging the government. The most immediate suspect is the Taliban, who are unhappy with Pakistan's cooperation with the United States in its war on terror. The Taliban is active throughout Balochistan, particularly in Quetta and the Pashtun belt of the province, bordering with Afghanistan.

However, despite the Islamist presence, the prime motivators of the current insurgency remain Baloch nationalists, who live in the remote mountains of the province and believe they have been deprived of their rights and revenues from the considerable natural resources of their province. The nationalists believe these revenues are appropriated by the federal government with little return to the province (Ausaf, February 7, 2006).

There's probably a degree of basis to the concerns of these Baloch nationalists.

Recall how in previous posts here (no links provided; sorry) we looked at how Pakistan was working with China to improve port facilities in Gwadar. Recall also how in our Genesis series (of which I just completed a post after many weeks of neglecting this series) we address the support from Pakistan for the Taliban movement.

A logical connection to make is that the Taliban were needed to stabilize Afghanistan so the road improvements leading northward from the Gwadar port facilities, which were in the initial stages of being upgraded in the early-to-mid 1990's, would connect all the way through Afghanistan to Central Asia, bringing Central Asian trade through Pakistan, and thus providing competition for Iran.

Of course, considering Washington's (somewhat fickle) close relationship with Pakistan, and American concern about Iranian intentions ever since the Islamic revolution there, one could be forgiven for suspecting US complicity in the rise of the Taliban, n'est-ce pas?

The Baloch claim to have been native to the region since 1200 BC. Today, there are an estimated eight to nine million Baloch, living in Iran and Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. Their language consists of three main dialects: Balochi, Brahwi and Saraiki. The Balochistan province of Pakistan is one of the important Baloch settlements in the region, located at the eastern edge of the Iranian plateau and in the border region between southwest, central and south Asia. It is geographically the largest of the four provinces of Pakistan and composes 48 percent of the nation’s total territory.

That's half the country at stake!

Though the Baloch have a long history of mistrust of the central government of Pakistan, the federal government has its own interpretation of the current tensions, claiming that the hostile situation is provoked by Baloch nationalist leaders who consider large-scale initiatives to develop the region as a threat to their influence. President Pervez Musharraf even accused the leading tribal chiefs of the Baloch tribes of Bugti, Marri and Mingal of playing a direct role in the mounting insurgency (Daily Dunya, August 25, 2006; Dawn [Karachi], July 21, 2006).

These initiatives probably are a threat to the influence of the tribal chiefs -- just as the development of trade between Central Asia and the rest of the world via Pakistan would be a threat to the influence of the Taliban, who owe their rise to a desire to provide stability to enable such trade. (!)

Skipping down some, past some background information...

Tribal Leaders and Insurgent Groups

Since Musharraf came to power in 1999 there have been other goals besides independence that have drawn Baloch nationalists together. The most influential Baloch leaders—Akbar Khan Bugti, Khair Bakhsh Marri and Ataulla Khan Mingal—have had a variety of reasons to be suspicious of the government's involvement in the area, which they viewed as an attempt to de-seat them from tribal chieftainship. Government moves have included state support to rival factions within the tribe and the deployment of military forces into the region (Bakhabar, August 27, 2006). Nevertheless, no tribal chief is ready to tie himself to insurgent groups publicly, though military sources remain skeptical that the authoritarian tribal chiefs are ignorant of who is firing rockets in their territory.

So, Islamabad is accused of destabilizing its own province of Balochistan!

Currently at least five insurgent groups are publicly known in Balochistan, including the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Baloch People’s Liberation Front (BPLF), Popular Front for Armed Resistance (PFAR), Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), and the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), the last two being the largest and most widely-known.

Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA)

The BLA's political stance is unequivocal: They stand for the sole goal of establishing an independent state for Baloch in the Balochistan province of Pakistan. The roots of the BLA date back to 1973, during the period of resistance against military operations in Balochistan and the discovery of the secret NAP-led London Plan.

Again, that's 48% of Pakistan under threat of secession.

Though the movement did not become public until 2000, some sources claim that the BLA was a Russian creation and came into being during the Afghan war, propped up as a reaction to Pakistan's anti-Soviet involvement in Afghanistan (Dawn, July 15, 2006). Those supporting this claim point to the Moscow education of the alleged leader of BLA, Balach Marri, and the time he spent in Russia and Afghanistan.

Considering the Soviet quagmire in Afghanistan during the jihad -- turnabout is fair play?

The number of BLA activists is not known, but Pakistani military sources suggest that there are currently 10,000 Baloch insurgents involved in separatist activities, of which 3,000 are active in the insurgency. The government implicates India and Afghanistan in supporting the movement. President Musharraf reportedly presented a damning file regarding these allegations to President Karzai during his visit to Afghanistan in late February 2006 (The News [Islamabad], April 16, 2006). Despite these allegations and regardless of any possible outside support, the nature of the BLA's activities has a local focus, with no foreign nationals being arrested with proven involvement in the Baloch insurgency.

Of course, Islamabad accuses New Dehli of just about everything bad that happens in Pakistan.

And, Islamabad has had repeated, and somewhat justifiable, concerns about Indian involvement in Afghanistan.

Keep in mind this allegation from Musharraf of Afghan involvement.

Skipping down some in the article....


Regardless of the number of Baloch insurgents, the nature and scale of their activities since 2000 have marked their emergence as a major threat toward regional security, with Pakistan's new government—elected on February 18—apparently recognizing this threat. Soon after the election, the victorious politicians began signalling the adoption of a softer approach to ease tension in Balochistan. The election was boycotted by the Baloch nationalist parties in response to ongoing military operations in Balochistan that began in 2005.

As a first step to change the tense atmosphere, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has hinted at accommodating some Baloch nationalists under its political umbrella and has accepted their demand to stop military operations in the region. The nomination of Aslam Raisani, an independently elected Baloch member of parliament, for the post of provisional chief minister in Balochistan by the PPP is another signal directed at winning hearts and minds in the province.

It is unclear whether these policies and the appointment of Raisani as a chief minister may bring a major breakthrough, but soon after his nomination, Raisani hinted at taking a completely different approach toward the crisis from the military-based policies of the Musharraf regime. Recently he was quoted by local media saying that the so-called rebel Baloch are his own brothers and if he could not make them agree to lay down their arms, he will step down (Daily Zamana, March 9).

The question of an independent state remains a tricky issue, but some moderate Baloch voices say that independence is no longer a priority for the Baloch majority, as they are struggling to survive due to the devastating effect of hostilities on the local economy. The economic structure of Balochistan is where the future of the region begins. Involving local Baloch in the large-scale economic projects proposed for the province will be a major step in winning their confidence; otherwise there is no reason to believe that the tense political situation in Balochistan will not deteriorate further.

I have a slightly different spin on this.

The development of Gwadar, plus a road running through Balochistan (and, of course, Afghanistan) connecting Gwadar to Central Asia, would help ease the economic difficulties faced in the province. Such economic development might take the people's minds off economic concerns and allow them the leisure to drift back onto thoughts of independence? Certainly, the increased traffic through the area would further erode tribal authority and tradition, and could spark a reactionary backlash.

In any case, what we see here is definitely an example of what President Musharraf was saying about an incoming government doing away with the policies of an outgoing government, as the newly-elected cabinet in Pakistan makes a break with policies established under Musharraf regarding Baloch nationalism.

And, this brings us back to the accusation of Afghan instigation in Balochistan, only in a round-about way....

(Continued in Part 2.)

1 comment:

WomanHonorThyself said... always my friend..your knowledge and in depth assessments leave me speechless.