By B. Raman
There is a need for the US to pay more attention to Balochistan as part of its Af-Pak strategy in order to pacify the Pashtun militancy encouraged by Al Qaeda and the Talibans operating in the Pashtun belt on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Balochistan is one of the areas of Pakistan where the influence of the mullas (clergy) is limited. The Balochs have no love for either the Army or the Mullas. The present struggle of the Baloch nationalists is directed against both the Army and the Mullas. The success of the nationalists would provide the US-led NATO forces with a rear base, free of the extremist virus, from which they could operate against Al Qaeda and the Talibans. A progressive and developed Balochistan could be an important component of the ideological struggle against Wahabised Islamic extremism, which today controls large areas of Pakistani Punjab and the Pashtun belt.
A Baloch component of the Af-Pak strategy should pay attention to the following aspects:
Allocation of more American funds for the economic and educational development of Balochistan and the improvement of its infrastructure.
The US should pay more attention to new ideas such as using the Chinese-constructed Gwadar port for providing logistic supplies to the NATO forces in Afghanistan, thereby reducing the present dependence on the Karachi port and truck movements from Karachi to Afghanistan. A US interest in Gwadar could achieve two objectives. It could seek to keep the Chinese Navy out of this area, thereby reducing the security concerns of the Gulf States and it could make Gwadar serve the economic interests of Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics and not merely of Western China. There is already some support even in Government circles in Balochistan to the idea of an American role in the further development of the Gwadar port. Talking to the local media on January 2, Balochisan’s Chief Minister Muhammad Aslam Raisani said that the provincial government was ready to provide security to NATO supplies if they were transported through the Gwadar port. Raisani said that the NATO forces would have to invest $1.5 billion for the construction of roads to facilitate the transportation of oil to Afghanistan through the Gwadar port. He added that the Afghan Transit Trade through Gwadar could promote trade and business in Balochistan besides opening new opportunities for employment. According to him, the Afghan Transit Trade through Gwadar Port was the need of hour for the development of the port.
Greater US attention to the human rights situation in Balochistan and to the aspirations of the Baloch nationalists. After having kept its eyes closed to the deteriorating human rights situation in Balochistan all these years, the US is showing some signs—still inadequate— of concern over the suppression of the Balochs. This became evident from a “New York Times” report of December 30,2010, according to which, the US has been voicing concern over reports from human rights groups that Pakistan’s security forces are holding thousands of political separatists without charge. Citing a State Department report to Congress, the “NY Times” said the Barack Obama administration was alarmed by reports that separatists, mostly from Balochistan, had been detained over the past decade and were being held incommunicado. Some of the missing were guerrillas and others civilians. The State Department report, obtained by the paper, said that some American officials think that the Pakistanis have used the pretext of war to imprison members of the Baloch nationalist opposition. The report urged Pakistan to address the issue and other rights abuses, the paper said. “There continue to be gross violations of human rights by Pakistani security forces,” the report said. “The Pakistani government has made limited progress in advancing human rights and continues to face human rights challenges.” The Reuters news agency had reported that in late September last year the US had asked Pakistan for information about a video posted on the Internet purporting to show men in Pakistani military fatigues lined up in a firing squad shooting bound and blindfolded men.
The worsening human rights situation in Balochistan has aroused serious concern in Pakistan itself. The “Daily Times” of Lahore wrote as follows on January 7: “The sorry saga of Balochistan’s struggle for rights continues. Two more bullet-riddled bodies of Baloch Students Organisation-Azad (BSO-A) have been found in Pasni Road in Turbat on Wednesday. One of them Qambar Chakar, 25, was deputy organiser of BSO-A in Shal zone and had been picked up from near his residence in Turbat on November 27, 2010. The other one, Ilyas Baloch, 24, was a student of Balochistan University and had been picked up by unidentified persons 16 days ago near Ormara, while he was on his way to Gwadar. Each of them had received three bullets and their bodies bore signs of torture. These young men might have simply disappeared never to be found again, but there has been a visible shift in tactics on the part of the security agencies during the past few months. Earlier, Baloch activists, mostly moderate nationalists or student activists, simply disappeared from the scene, without a trace. Now they reappear – dead and their bodies disfigured. Perhaps the thinking behind this policy is that it would frighten the Baloch into submission. Or because the pressure is mounting on the security agencies to produce the missing persons, which they are now doing in this form to silence the protesting relatives. There cannot be a bigger miscalculation. Instead of cowering the Baloch, this brutality is spreading their cause and strengthening their resolve even more. On the other hand, the international community is gradually waking up to the reality of Pakistani security forces’ excesses in Balochistan. Human rights agencies have consistently reported that thousands of Baloch activists have been rounded up during the last decade. Just recently The New York Times revealed that a US State Department report has shown concern over enforced disappearances in Balochistan as well as extra-judicial killings in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Reportedly, the US refused to impart training to half a dozen army units charged with killing suspects. According to this news report, the US had privately confronted Pakistan with evidence of human rights abuses by its security forces. If this pattern of abuse continues, Pakistan should prepare for a tragedy like East Pakistan.”
Speaking in the National Assembly on January 7,Lt-Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz Sharif), who used to be the Governor of Balochistan, warned the Government that its indifference towards Balochistan would augur well neither for the province nor for the country’s integrity. He drew attention to the issue of custodial killings allegedly by the Frontier Corps (FC) which, he said, had paralysed most of southern and central Balochistan and also the issue of reappearance of FC posts which had been removed earlier after the present Government came to power in Islamabad in 2008. He said a strike was being observed in most parts of southern and central Balochistan in protest against the killing of two youths whose mutilated bodies had been found. He said the bodies of seven youths had been found over the past few days. They were reported to have been picked up by FC personnel in raids on their homes. Gen (retd) Qadir Baloch said he had been voicing concern over such actions which had been reported by international media and taken up by the US Congress and other forums. But “our own government is unmoved”.
The Government headed by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which initially showed signs of a more sympathetic approach to Baloch aspirations, has proved itself to be no different from the previous Government of Gen.Pervez Musharraf which unleashed a policy of military suppression of the Balochs. The Army dictates the policies of the Government in Balochistan.
The Balochs could play an important role in the ideological campaign against Wahabised Islam and in countering the activities of the Afghan Taliban from Balochistan. Just as the Pakistan Army has been suppressing the Shias of the Kurram Agency of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) who are resisting the ingress of the Jallaludin Haqqani network into their areas, it has been suppressing the Baloch nationalists instead of acting against the Afghan Taliban, which has been operating from the Afghan refugee camps in Balochistan.
It is time for the US to correct its Af-Pak strategy in order to pay more attention to the Baloch component. Closing its eyes to what has been going on in Balochistan will prove to be detrimental to the US interests in the region.