Tag Archives: Army

Force and Neglect in North Waziristan

I’ve just gotten off the phone with contacts/colleagues.

Here’s another example of the fall-out from cycles of violence in FATA, particularly Waziristan–fall-out that goes largely unreported and undiscussed in the national and international media. That silence only adds to the prevalent image of “backward tribals,” enraged Muslims and inexplicable violence when people in these regions do resort to armed resistance and/or stubborn refusal to work with the state.

First, recall this little reported story: 17 Pakistani soldiers were killed and scores more wounded when a car packed with explosives detonated near two fuel tankers at a military post in North Waziristan’s capital, Miranshah. The blast at Esha checkpost flattened two residential barracks last Saturday evening (Mar 23rd).

This is what happened after: the army imposed a 24-hour curfew in all of North Waziristan, one that is still ongoing 4 days later. The curfew was announced by the political administration. Shoot-on-sight orders have been given.

No services–including emergency services like ambulances–are reportedly allowed to run. Students at Miran Shah College have been unable to leave their hostels and have therefore missed some of their matriculation exams. Until at least Monday, approximately 350 vehicles and their passengers were stranded on the road between Bannu, a settled area in KP and Miranshah (ET). People are running out of basic supplies while businesses and vendors suffer losses as perishable supplies like vegetables and fruit rot. Some families have been reduced to eating shaftal or alfalfa, the fodder they usually give their livestock.

It is these daily cycles of brute force coupled with rank neglect that fuel support for insurgents who can then pose as resistance against a brutal regime. In other words, a gaping political vacuum exists in FATA, to which drones seem like an absurd response.

And finally, this is the first time that political parties will be allowed to operate and to contest elections from the Tribal Areas. Residents of FATA did not gain the right to vote till 1996, and although they were able to elect representatives to Parliament, these candidates had to run as independents. This year, however, parties have been given permission to carry out activities within FATA. In either case however, the Pakistani citizens here are in the bizarre position of electing representatives to an electoral body–the Parliament–whose laws do not apply to FATA. That questionable democratic process was further stymied by the curfew because candidates were unable to submit their paperwork for elections by the deadline this Sunday (Mar 24th).

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Reporter’s Notebook: Swat After the Army

Some time in 2008, I met Lalaji (Khan Sahib) and his nephew, refugees from Swat who had fled to Brooklyn. Reading the Amnesty International report on the abuses of the Pakistan Army, their stories come back to me now, along with others I heard when I finally went to Swat in 2009 shortly after a Pakistani Army operation. So, I dug up my old notebooks and harddrives on Swat. What follows are fragments of notes and video, stories and lives.

A large version of this video, here.

By 2009, the Pakistan Army had decided on Operation Rah-e-Rast (Righteous Path), a move heralded by Pakistani liberals and the US. Both camps had been unsettled by the irenic tone of the secular, provincial Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government as it struck a peace deal in February with the militant turned questionable peacemaker, TNSM leader Sufi Muhammad. The deal quickly soured, and a feverish clamor for an army offensive took over.

Militants had been attacking civilians as early as 2003. Local ANP politicians were killed with impunity and their mutilated bodies left in public to serve as a warning. On several occasions, ill-trained policemen surrendered to the Taliban rather than defend their towns. By 2007, the TTP already controlled sections of Malakand division, the larger district of which Swat is a part.

Rah-e-Rast was to be purgative, clarifying. Approximately 20,000 regular Army troops were deployed to Swat to fight an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 militants. In mid-October finally, Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik declared, “Operation Rah-e-Rast in Swat was successful.”

It takes us over five hours to get to Swat from Islamabad.

After the war—if it can be called a war—Swat also has the startling runic quality of a Dali painting. Shots of fuschia flowers peek furtively throw a window in a crumbling lone brick wall standing mysteriously at the edge of a field. A few miles on, a soldier peers out of a sand sack fort by the side of a dappled road. Directly across him, a staircase plateaus to the open air like an unfinished thought. Driving through Swat is like that now, a series of questions, punctuated by the Army.

Checkpoints dot the road with increasing frequency as we near the capital, Mingora. The soldiers are by turns surprisingly hospitable and gruff. At one checkpoint, we’re offered tea. At another, a soldier speaks roughly to my guide and demands to see the medicines in my bag: allergy pills.

The security is simultaneously high and thoroughly penetrable. At still another checkpoint, the soldier on guard dismisses our government issued ID cards demanding instead to see a business card for verification. The latter can be easily printed for less than a penny.

First Britain, now Pakistan: the army is here again.

Interview fragments

Zainab—not her real name—has three kids and a detached indifference to the aftermath the military’s offensive. The death of her husband by an army explosion as he was making his way home from Friday prayers has unutterably altered her life. She searches for words to explain the economic hardships she’s now handling. She relies on her extended family for material support.

A large version of this video, here.

We’re sitting on the carpeted floor of a bedroom in Matta, a town about 30 kilometres north of Swat’s capital, Mingora. Nearly twenty women around us. News that we were coming had somehow spread, and neighborhood women kept gathering till the room became overstuffed with women and stories. They’re actually gracious that we’ve made it out this far. Not many journalists pass through here, they say. I feel silly being thanked simply for showing up.

Matta had been a militant stronghold, intermittently, since 2003 when the Taliban set up its own courts. Criminals terrorized the local residents here, butchering those that defied—or seemed to defy—the militants’ law. They were barbarous, pitiless and unrepentantly bloodthirsty.

Begum Iqbal is unreservedly glad the army came. She’s chatty, decisive in her opinions and the wife of an Urdu language professor. “It was good for us,” she tells me. “If the army weren’t here, the Taliban would be.” Her opinion is in the sheer minority in the room.

Eighteen year old Shabano—not her real name—cuts her off saying, “I don’t agree.” I turn towards her, and she looks surprised at herself for having expressed her opinion so boldly, and that too, over an elder.

“All the poor people stayed. The rich left.” She speaks nervously, her voice slightly high-pitched. “My married brothers left, but the rest of us were here. There was no food. The rations ran out. My school was destroyed.” She pauses.

“You don’t know what we went through. I don’t like talking about it.” She stops.

The casual attacks, the “collateral damage,”coupled with the merciless beatings and the torture of suspects I hear about do not look like an army trying to protect its citizenry. It looks like collective punishment. For Swatis, that has often meant that neither the government nor the army have provided support. In fact, they speak of collusion.

“There would be a soldier here and a Talib here,” says Mehnaz putting her forefingers next to each other, “but the soldier would do nothing.” She hails from a small village in Swat. I initially met her in a Pashtun neighbourhood in Karachi where she had fled after the army offensive began along with her two young children and extended family. “The Talib would leave the area, and then they would begin bombing.”

In one notable incident in 2008, the openly pro-Taliban commissioner of Malakand, Mohammad Syed Javed reprimanded and disarmed residents of Buner who had organized themselves into a militia against Taliban incursions into their town. The commissioner forced the Buneris to apologize to the militants during a meeting at his house.

“What can I say? The government doesn’t ask us anything,” said Asfand Ali when I prodded him about his opinion on the recent operation. His brother and father were killed when a mortar fell on their house.

“Whatever they do is just fine. They killed a lot of innocent people.” A ghost of a smile flickers across his face. “They can do whatever they want. It’s the government.”

Originally published at Tanqeed

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I. Notes on the Pakistan cables

These are my notes, thoughts, musings on the cables related to Afghanistan and Pakistan. These notes refer to these cables:

1. Govt abandoned Swat. “Kayani was candid that the government has essentially abandoned the Swat valley.” -Biden’s meeting w. Kayani Secret, US Embassy, Islamabad, Feb 06, 2009. And that is exactly what those who opposed the Swat operation were saying from the start, and has been clear for a long time now.

2. Does he or doesn’t he? “Biden asked if Kayani made a distinction between the Pashtuns and the Taliban. Kayani replied that the Taliban were a reality, but the Afghan government dominated by the Taliban had had a negative effect on Pakistan.” -Biden’s meeting w. Kayani Secret, US Embassy, Islamabad, Feb 06, 2009. Important to know particularly as it concerns what happened in Fata and Swat.

3. Military funding. Senator Biden said the system of reimbursement through Coalition Support Funds would be reexamined. Kayani said that the military had only received about $300 million of the $1 billion ostensibly reimbursed for military expenses. He was not implying that the money had been stolen, but had been used for general budget support.” -Biden’s meeting w. Kayani Secret, US Embassy, Islamabad, Feb 06, 2009.

4. American knowledge of murders by the Pakistani Army. “A growing body of evidence is lending credence to allegations of human rights abuses by Pakistan security forces…The crux of the problem appears to center on the treatment of terrorists detained in battlefield operations and have focused on the extra-judicial killing of some detainees. The detainees involved were in the custody of Frontier Corps or Pakistan Army units.” -Human rights abuses by the PK Army Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 10. 2009. Why presume that the ones being detained and killed are, in fact, terrorists? As with drones, there is a presumption that if you have been killed, you must have been a terrorist. Witch hunt anyone?

5. The ‘guilt’ of the forcibly disappeared. “The allegations of extra-judicial killings generally do not/not extend to what are locally referred to as “the disappeared” — high-value terrorist suspects and domestic insurgents who are being held incommunicado by Pakistani intelligence agencies…” -Human rights abuses by the PK Army Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 10. 2009. Again, the presumption that those missing are guilty.

6. Orientalist logic as explanation for Army murders. “Revenge for terrorist attacks on Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps personnel is believed to be one of the primary motivating factors for the extra-judicial killings. Cultural traditions place a strong importance on such revenge killings, which are seen as key to maintaining a unit’s honor.” -Human rights abuses by the PK Army Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 10. 2009.

7. They have to kill because the courts don’t work. “Senior military commanders have equally and repeatedly stressed their concerns that the court’s are incapable of dealing with many of those detained on the battlefield and their fears that if detainees are handed over to the courts and formally charged, they will be released,…This fear is well-founded as both Anti-Terrorism Courts and the appellate judiciary have a poor track record of dealing with suspects detained in combat operations such as the Red Mosque operation in Islamabad…Post assesses that the lack of viable prosecution and punishment options available to the Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps is a contributing factor in allowing extra-judicial killings and other human rights abuses of detained terrorist combatants to proceed.” -Human rights abuses by the PK Army Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 10. 2009.

8. Number of detainees. “There may be as many as 5000 such terrorist detainees currently in the custody of the Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps from operations in Malakand, Bajaur, and Mohmand.” -Human rights abuses by the PK Army Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 10. 2009.

9. The solution to PK Army murders? Legalise the state of exception. “To the Defense Minister propose assistance in drafting a new Presidential Order that would create a parallel administrative track for charging and sentencing terrorists detained by the military in combat operations.” -Human rights abuses by the PK Army Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 10. 2009. But, it’s very interesting to see that legal regimes matter, however oddly. I would shy away from viewing this simply as a legal “cover”; it is that, but why does the US feel the need to create a legal cover in the first place?

10. Verbiage. Why does Anne Patterson use the antiquated “Pakhtoon” rather than the more common “Pashtun” in her cables? -Will more aid persuade the PK Army to cut its ties with extremists? Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 23, 2009

11. What the PK Army may do in case of US withdrawal from Afghanistan. “General Kayani has been utterly frank about Pakistan’s position on this. In such a scenario, the Pakistan establishment will dramatically increase support for Taliban groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which they see either as ultimately likely to take over the Afghan government or at least an important counter-weight to an Indian-controlled Northern Alliance.” -Will more aid persuade the PK Army to cut its ties with extremists? Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 23, 2009

12. Follow the money? The Pakistani establishment, as we saw in 1998 with the nuclear test, does not view assistance — even sizable assistance to their own entities — as a trade-off for national security vis-a-vis India.” -Will more aid persuade the PK Army to cut its ties with extremists? Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 23, 2009

13. Afghanistan: Does the Army want it stable or unstable? “Afghan instability by definition leads the Pakistani establishment to increase support for the Taliban and thereby, unintentionally, create space for al-Qaeda. No amount of money will sever that link.” -Will more aid persuade the PK Army to cut its ties with extremists? Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 23, 2009

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The Army that owns a state: Protest!

Karachi based activists have organized a protest against the recent attacks of the Pakistani Army on Pakistani which resulted in numerous civilian deaths.

  • April 16, 2010
  • 4-6pm
  • Karachi Press Club

This is their press statement:

Protest Military Action! 73 Civilians Killed In Raid By Pakistani Army Jet

More than 73 civilians have been killed in an air strike by a Pakistani Army jet on a remote village in the country’s troubled North-West, media reports said Tuesday.

A unnamed military official disclosed that the bombing in the tribal Khyber region took place on Saturday, but news of the operation emerged only now.

The same jet was also used for bombing Taliban positions in neighboring Orakzai tribal region where the militants fled to in the wake of the Pakistani Army’s major push to snuff out Taliban strongholds in the Swat region.

Reports of those killed in air strikes in the area vary greatly with the Army terming them militants while locals say there were several civilian casualties as well.

According to the official, initial reports indicated that the military jet strayed from its course and mistook a village for a Taliban camp resulting in the deaths of civilians.

The injured are being treated under heavy guard at the Hayatabad medical complex in Peshawar and reporters have been barred from speaking to the survivors.

Moreover, in a bid to contain the fallout, the Pakistani Army establishment has imposed a “gag clause” preventing military personnel from divulging operational details including deaths of civilians to media.

It is said the Army is under severe pressure from the U.S. to go after Taliban militants in the restive tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and the ongoing offensive against insurgents has displaced close to one million residents of the region.

PROTEST ARBITRARY KILLINGS OF CIVILIANS
WE DO NOT CONDONE SUCH INHUMANITY ON THE PART OF OUR MILITARY

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Constitutional changes; Pak Army kills Pakistanis

OrakzaiSix people were killed in the earliest fall-out from the 18th Amendment now making its way through Pakistan’s Parliament. The bill, which makes major changes to the constitution sparked protests among ethnic Hazara for one of its amendments: changing the name of Pakistan’s North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) –so named by British Lord Curzon in 1901 when he formed the province–to the Kyber Pakhtunkwa province after the dominant ethnic Pashtun majority there.

Even as the country is poised for significant changes, Pakistan’s Army killed literally hundreds this last week. Approximately 60 civilians were killed when Pakistani fighter jets dropped bombs in Khyber Agency in Fata. The initial attack was on Hameed Gul’s house and it killed 3 children and 2 women. This is what happened next:

“After 10 minutes of the bombardment when the villagers and labourers working on nearby water channel approached the house to retrieve the bodies, the fighter jets again bombed the house killing and injuring more than 150 people,” Sadiq Khan, an injured and eyewitness, told this scribe in the Civil Hospital Jamrud.

In case you find the second bombing confusing, please note that the same tactic was seen in the leaked Wikileaks video of American soldiers firing on Iraqis followed by a second round of killing when a van showed up to help the injured. And, it’s often used by Israelis in occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Another 54 people were killed in Orakzai which the Army claims were militants.

Meanwhile the 18th Amendment abolishes changes made by Paksitani autocrats over the years to accrue greater powers to the President. The amendment devolves greater authority to the provinces, reserves a few seats for non-Muslim members in the Senate and makes it a crime for the High Court to validate acts that abrogate the Constitution in the future. These changes come roughly a year after the success of the lawyers’ movement and David Kilcullen’s pronouncements that Pakistan had only six months left to survive.

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Boots on Our Necks

My cover story on Pakistan’s restless province, Balochistan, “Pakistan’s Broken Mirror” appears in the The National this week. An excerpt:

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.

And, in case, one needs more reminding about the Army that owns a state, here’s a story from Antiwar.com about the military attacking civilians in Fata’s Orakzai Agency, killing 61 people.

Pakistani warplanes attacked a number of sites in the Orakzai Agency today, including a mosque, a school, and a religious seminary, killing 61. Security officials initially labeled all 61 “suspected militants,” though locals later conceded that a great many of them were actually innocent civilians.

cover of the Review in this week's The National

cover of the Review in this week's The National

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What’s Balochistan Got To Do With It?

It’s not the Pakistani Army but the Baloch nationalists it suppresses that may be the most effective counter to politically motivated religious extremism.

Balochistan is largely a stunningly beautiful desert.

Balochistan is largely a stunningly beautiful desert.

Obama’s publicised 30,000 troop increase for Afghanistan has come with latest round of deliberations for a second “surge”: the expansion of drone attacks into Balochistan. But while the US seems to only view Balochistan, and particularly, its capital, Quetta, as a hotbed of Taliban extremism, it is far better known to the Pakistani Army as home to a politically secular, sometimes Marxist insurgency that has already been at war with the state, in its latest round, since 2004.

The largest of Pakistan’s four provinces–it’s nearly half of the country’s landmass–Balochistan was forcibly annexed in 1947, has fostered four insurgencies with a fifth currently underway and is entirely occupied by the Pakistani Army, its vast natural resources including natural gas, oil, coal, gold and copper siphoned away from the local Baloch towards the rest of Pakistan. Meanwhile, the province remains gut-wrenchingly poor, and it’s that inequality, between what Balochistan provides and what it gets, that has fuelled a stubbornly secular ethnic Baloch nationalism.

The Great Game

Rough translation: "You will have to give us freedom."

Rough translation: "You will have to give us freedom."

America too, has its own obsessions with Balochistan. Rich in energy reserves and strategically situated along the borders of Iran and Afghanistan the province is central to the energy politics of the region. The US fears that China’s involvement in building Pakistan’s critical warm water port of Gwadar on the southern edge of Balochistan may mean that the US will lose out on all that energy wealth. And with Washington’s wars expanding, it may look to Balochistan as a critical base for US forces wanting to stage attacks into Afghanistan or Iran. American drones already fly from bases in Balochistan, particularly Shamsi air base.

The Pakistani government blames India for meddling in Balochistan and fomenting an insurgency there, and Tehran is worried about what the Baloch national movement inside Pakistan may mean for Iranian Balochistan, an underdeveloped region where the Baloch have been brutally suppressed.

The state, or the “center” as the Baloch call it, has always sought military solutions to the Balochistan question, staging its worst confrontation in the 1970s during which some 55,000 Baloch fought against an 80,000 strong Pakistani Army. It has also tried to ideologically neutralize Baloch nationalism by pursuing Islamization polices. Many argue that as with the NWFP, the state has been involved in behind-the-scenes manipulation such that parties with Taliban sympathies such as the Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) hold critical seats in the Balochistan Provincial Assembly. And, JUI members introduced a resolution against drone attacks into the Assembly two months ago. Although, it’s unanimous passage does not signify support for the Taliban but rather concern for the casualties that must follow when bombs drop on a crowded city of nearly two million by current local estimates, the origins of the resolution are telling.

The fanning of sectarian flames has had international consequences: Tehran accuses Islamabad for providing support to religiously sectarian Baloch outfits like the anti-Shia Jundallah, responsible for attacks inside Iranian-Balochistan this past October killing many including senior members of the Revolutionary Guard.

Additionally, the paramilitary Frontier Corps, which are deployed inside Balochistan along with the Army allegedly have links with Islamist militants, the logical outcome of the FC’s involvement in training and equipping the mujahideen in the 70s and 80s.

Baloch Nationalism

The consequence of the Army’s and central government’s policies is an increasingly radicalized population, especially among the young. While the leaders of mainstream nationalist parties send mixed messages about whether they want maximum provincial autonomy within a federated Pakistan or outright independence, their base is far more clear. At a rally organized by the BNP-M (Balochistan National Party -Mengal faction) two weeks ago in Quetta, protestors shouted “Pakistan murdabad!” (“Die Pakistan!”) slogans. Having spent much of the past month travelling through Balochistan, that sentiment is not limited to the extremes. It’s everywhere, daubed on school walls, on road signs, hospitals and on the lips of the young. Pakistanis seriously underestimate the level of anger and discontent of the Baloch.

Protestors demand justice for the killing of Baloch in Lyari, Karachi at a BNP-M rally.

Protestors demand justice for the killing of Baloch in Lyari, Karachi at a BNP-M rally in Quetta.

That’s what made the Balochistan package a foregone failure. Termed a historic offer by the current civilian Pakistani government, the Agaz-e-Haqooq deal was rejected by even the most moderate Baloch national parties as a sham because it does not fundamentally deal with budget or resource issues and simply offers to replace regular Army troops with the FC -which many Baloch describe as worse than the regulars.

The government has also claimed that it released twenty of the enforced disappeared, but Chairman of the Voice for Missing Baloch, Nasrullah Baloch says that several of those freed were in fact known to be in a jail in Sui, Dera Bugti. In other words, their whereabouts were always known and they don’t belong the group of the disappeared. Anywhere between 1,500 to 4,000 Baloch remain disappeared. Eyewitness reports as well as fact-gathering missions by groups like the HRCP (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan) confirm that they have been forcibly disappeared by the intelligence agencies. Local police also regularly refuse to register FIRs (first information reports) or charges on behalf of families of the disappeared. The amazingly untenable responses of the government compound the issue. Echoing Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani recently remarked at a press conference that the missing were in fact not missing at all. Rather, they had “deliberately gone underground to malign the country’s intelligence agencies.”

Baloch Militancy

The intransigence of the federal government coupled with the brutality of the Army has given rise to an armed Baloch movement. The Pakistani government blames India for fomenting an insurgency in the area. It’s hard to know, with any certainty whether that’s the case, but it’s clear that groups like the BLA (Baloch Liberation Army) and BRA (Baloch Republican Army) enjoy widespread support among the Baloch as they launch attacks on the Army and FC. Thus, even if funding may come from international players, the genuineness of the insurgency cannot be doubted.

BLA and BSO graffiti in Pasni. Chalkings like this were common everywhere.

BLA and BSO graffiti in Pasni. Chalkings like this were common everywhere I went in Balochistan.

There is however one troubling aspect to the militancy as well as to Baloch nationalist rhetoric. The Baloch often define the issue in terms of Punjabi domination over Balochistan, and regard Punjabis living in the area as “settlers,” sometimes attacking them in retaliation for attacks on the Baloch. The most recent case has been the cycle of violence initiated in Khuzdar where the FC cold-bloodedly opened fire on a student protest killing two and injuring several including one 20-year old student Liaquat Kurd whose left leg has had to be amputated as a result. In return, four Punjabis were killed in various parts of Balochistan.

Pressed on this issue, Baloch nationalists give varying responses: some claim that those killed have links to the intelligence agencies; others argue that intelligence agencies are killing Punjabis in order to give a bad name to the Baloch struggle, a claim difficult to swallow as the BLA has accepted responsibility for three of the four killings. Other non-Baloch communities such as the Hazara have also come under attack.

Following this model of organic nationalism appears to be dangerous on two grounds. First, unlike Israel’s direct funding of Israeli settlers on Palestinian territory, the non-Baloch population inside Balochistan has not, by-in-large, been systematically placed there by the government. It thus smacks of a disregard for human rights which is not helpful to the the movement. One wonders what kind of havoc this kind of ethno-nationalism will wreak should Balochistan gain independence. Secondly, it’s simply not strategically useful because it alienates potential supporters of the Baloch struggle. While the movement appears to be gaining strength and momentum in the wake of Akbar Bugti’s murder, it now remains to be seen whether it can ground itself in more sophisticated rhetoric. None of this however, takes away from the central fact that Balochistan–like Swat of late (which I also visited)–is under occupation by Pakistan’s own Army, and that Army and its government (for the Army owns the country), have dealt with the Baloch cruelly.

The End Game

Now, Obama’s war is likely to further destabilise the region with the Army using the chaos as a cover to crack-down on Baloch nationalists rather than the Taliban once again. The end game may be that—as with Egypt and the Middle East generally in the 1970s—the repression of secular Baloch nationalists compounded by possible drone attacks may actually pave the way for the very Islamists Washington so fears.

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Swat in Pictures

CopA friend, Moneeza Ahmed, and I recently travelled to see what Swat looks like after the war. Below are a few of the quick photos we took. Click on each to see the caption. I’ll be posting more stuff/ impressions in a few days.

Operation Rah-e-Rast is the fourth Army offensive in Swat in the last 2 years. The Army and the Pakistani liberals who supported the war swear that this time, it’s for real. This time, the Army gets it. But, in Swat, that’s not true judging by the way it ran its offensive. And the goverment has yet to make serious rehabilitation or reconstruction efforts. The only thing that moves quickly is business of killing. The Army has moved on to Waziristan and is repeating its cavalierly ruthless policies there.  I spoke with an aid worker in Dera Ismail Khan recently. That’s where most of the civilians have fled. No governmental or state institution has yet put up much needed refugee camps. It is also now likely that once Waziristan is over, Balochistan will be next. Under the pretext of hunting down militants, the government may try to wipe out the Balochistan insurgency which stems from their very legitimate demands for rights and access to their resources.

Swat, meanwhile, has been forgotten. Without reconstruction, it’s possible that militants could have the opportunity to return, as they have done every other time. But who gives a shit, right? I mean, Swat is so yesterday.

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Waziristan: What We Knew

I’ve been in Pakistan for about two months now, and the chasm between what is reported and what we know but goes unreported is deep and wide. But, here’s some stuff we knew about Waziristan:

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Faith. Unity. Brutality.

[screen grab]

[screen grab

“You don’t want me to chop off your hands and feet,” says the Army officer to a Pashtun.  This horror-flick statement is part of a 10-minute video that, if authentic, would be the first time that proof of the brutality of the Pakistani Army will have been captured on tape. The footage shows Pakistani soldiers interrogating and then beating Pashtun men suspected of harbouring the Taliban. The soldiers kick, whip and thrash their victims who scream and agonize on the ground.

Authentic or not, the ruthlessness shown in the video is already real for the Pakistani media so much so that hardly a local media outlet dared report on it. Being beaten or having your hands chopped off is rather unpleasant business after all, and few reporters are willing to risk that for a story. The fear is pervasive, and the near pitch-perfect silence speaks volumes about the army whether the video is a real or a fake.

It was the BBC that first carried the story on October 1st after the video had been making rounds on Facebook. That was followed by a piece in the Guardian. Under pressure from stories being carried in the foreign press, the English language dailies, Dawn and the Daily Times finally ran pieces today available here, here and here.

Compare that to the coverage of the Taliban flogging video in April this year. Within a week, numerous articles had already been published. Justifiably horrified progressive Pakistanis took to protesting the Taliban in Karachi and Lahore. Then newly reinstated Chief Justice took suo moto action the same day calling the case to court. As a result, the man beating the girl in the video was arrested a day ago.

It’s one thing to criticize mullahs, militants or politicians like President Asif Ali Zardari, say local journalists, but quite another to probe “the establishment,” the term in Pakistan for the nexus of military and security agencies that run intrigues, kidnappings, undercover operations, and lately, the American war on terror.

Democracy may be transient in Pakistan, but the establishment is well…established. Cameramen know the areas that are off-limits for filming in the heart of Pakistan’s cities; reporters know which stories should go unrecorded. Otherwise, as one reporter explained it to me, “Accidents happen.” You may be hit by a car, or a container might fall on you. Or, you may disappear and a few hours later your brother will find your mangled body.

That’s what happened with Musa Khan Khel, the 28-year-old Geo Television reporter who was killed in Swat the day the Swat peace deal was signed with Sufi Muhammad. Only a few days earlier, Khel had told his reportedly told his employers, “I have been receiving death threats from a powerful force. They are after me. They want to kill me.”

Khan Khel never specified who “they” were. Veteran reporter and Khan Khel’s friend, Imtiaz Ali says he doesn’t know either, but  “The Taliban proudly declare when they’ve done something.” In this case however, they came to offer condolences to Khan Khel’s family after his death.

It is known that Khan Khel was on tenuous terms with the Pakistan Army officials and often barred from official press conferences in Swat, the region he was covering as a result.  He set out on the morning of his death to report with his brother. They were banned from covering senior minister Bashir Bilour’s press conference that day announcing the Swat deal between the government and local militants.

Khan Khel stated this fact in the last report he filed. It would run in The News a day after his death.

***
The Army is everywhere. When I was a child, we would watch a television show about young dashing Rashid, an Air force pilot who does kamikaze rather than be caught and divulge his secrets to the enemy. I wanted to be him. At six years old, didn’t we all?

Karachi monument

Karachi monument

Now, returning after 19 years, the symbols are everywhere. Unity. Faith. Discipline. The Army motto haunts the country in oversized and often fairly ugly sculptures. A sculpture of Jinnah along with the army motto lay carved on a grassy hill in Islamabad. Three phallic marble swords pierce the sky in Karachi. At their hilts, the army motto. In Lahore at the Wagah border between Pakistan and India, thousands throng to watch the Army ritual on Independence Day. There is no room for everyone inside the enclosure. The crowd runs thick. It surges forward. Soldiers on horseback lathi-charge, beating at random. A man screams in the crush trying to turn his car back around in the human sea. His daughter is bleeding from her head. He needs to get out.

We all need to get out. In its latest operation in Swat, the Pakistan Army has already been accused of human rights violations by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). After being so unceremoniously tossed out of their homes and livelihoods, the nearly 3 million internally displaced Swatis are being handed 500Rs per adult head and returned on buses, packed off for journeys scheduled to be as long 35 hours, which if one is familiar with “Pakistan standard time” actually means more like 45 hours. One bus fell into a ditch this week. Fifteen people were killed.

Islamabad monument

Islamabad monument

The public indignities which the Pashtuns have suffered are the result of the “army better than the Taliban” mentality. But for whom exactly? Caught in that abysmally narrow-minded refrain are all the calumnies, indignities, horror and violence of what has happened in Swat. In the name of destroying the Taliban, the Pakistani elite cheered on an army that razed villages and collectively punished Pashtuns. That is what is going on in that video: collective punishment. And the groundwork for what is geographically and mentally in the periphery was laid in the heartland of Pakistan. Stories of the “Talibanization” of Karachi smack of cold racism against the immigrant Pashtun population against whom the MQM, the party that rules Karachi, has long held a grudge. They are the underclass in Pakistan, our cooks, our car drivers, our chaukidars.

And what will follow in Waziristan?

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