SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Almost prophetically, Abul Maali Syed, evolving scenarios for Pakistan in the year 2006 over 14 years ago, predicted, in his book The Twin Era of Pakistan: Democracy and Dictatorship (New York: Vantage Press, 1992):
While this scenario is still far from realization, a cursory glance at Balochistan in 2006 clearly shows that the situation in this strategically important and largest province of Pakistan is following an ominous trajectory, with Baloch nationalist violence escalating into what could soon become a major insurgency. The law and order situation in Pakistan’s resource-rich but poorest Balochistan province continues to spin out of the Government’s control amidst a massive military operation being carried out against the rebel Baloch nationalists, who, as yet, are just demanding greater political autonomy and a bigger share of revenues from their huge gas reserves and other natural resources.
Balochistan has been in the news for over a year now because of frequent clashes between armed Baloch nationalists and the Pakistan Army, which have already led to a massive military operation in parts of the province that are under the influence of the Bugti and Marri tribes. The Government says that local tribal chiefs and the nationalists are responsible for ‘creating a law and order situation’ because they are opposed to development in the province. The tribal chiefs and nationalists, however, complain that they are constantly being denied their due share of the income from huge gas coffers and that they have been excluded from both the development as well as the political process to the advantage of the Pakistan Army which is using development to extend its presence and influence in the province.
The current operations in the Marri and the Bugti areas started after President General Musharraf’s visit to Kohlu, the administrative headquarters of the Marri tribal area, on December 15, 2005. On his arrival, eight rockets slammed into a Frontier Constabulary (FC) camp on the outskirts of Kohlu. The following day, the Director General and the Inspector General of the FC were injured in firing while surveying the area. The FC, backed by regular troops stationed in the Sui area, launched a massive operation against ‘miscreants’ in both the Marri and Bugti areas. The military as well as the Government continues to emphasise that no military operations are underway, and only the paramilitary FC is engaged in rooting out miscreants. Both Balochistan Governor Owais Ghani and Chief Minister Jam Yousuf have stated that 1,000-2,000 fararis (rebels) are holed up in camps that are being targeted by the security forces. They have tried to allay fears regarding civilian casualties stating that no civilians are to be found in the vicinity of the farari camps.
Since the areas under siege have been sealed off by the troops, the only sources of information on the situation are official spokesmen or Baloch nationalist leaders. Irrespective of whether one chooses to take on board all that both the sides are saying, it is undeniable that a major conflagration is in progress. The latest reports of Kohlu being deprived of power by the blowing up of electricity pylons, as well as rocket and bomb attacks in Sibi, Harnai, Naushki and Turbat, suggest that the fire is spreading to new areas in the province. The security forces may claim to be confining themselves to targeting the farari camps, but in aerial strafing and bombing, avoiding collateral civilian casualties is beyond the scope of even the most sophisticated armies. While the fighting rages and spreads in Balochistan, voices of concern from other parts of the country are steadily getting louder.
The opposition parties in Pakistan have criticized ongoing operations, demanding an immediate halt and the initiation of negotiations with the Baloch leadership. The Nawaz Sharif-led Muslim League and the Benazir Bhutto-led People’s Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami, led by Qazi Hussain Ahmad, have all condemned the military operations in Balochistan, in the process delivering dire warnings of the dangers of trying to resolve essentially political problems through the use of force. In a joint resolution adopted by the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD) at its emergent meeting in Islamabad in the last week of January 2006, the opposition parties demanded that the Government call off the Balochistan operation, dust off the parliamentary committee reports on the Balochistan issue, and try to re-engage the Baloch leadership with the weapon of negotiations rather than the language of weapons.
An adamant Musharraf, however, insists that those resisting the military operation in Balochistan were ‘foreign agents’ who are opposed to development in the province and would have to be dealt with an iron hand. Consequently, as things stand, the fifth civil-military war in Balochistan since independence in 1947 has escalated to a worrying degree. The sputtering insurgency led by the Baloch nationalists is fast being transformed into an all-out internal war between the forces of the Centre backed by the Punjab-dominated military establishment and the Baloch people.
Taking notice of the Balochistan imbroglio, the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Asma Jahangir, led a fact finding mission to Balochistan in January 2006 to collect first hand information and to verify the flood of reports being received by the Commission about the use of heavy weaponry against the Baloch nationalists by the Pakistan Army and the scale of armed conflict in parts of Balochistan. Giving a first hand account of the actual happenings in Balochistan, Jahangir told this writer that the ongoing militarization of the province in the name of development had provoked the current crisis. “The people of Balochistan believe that the real motive behind the setting up of new cantonments in the province was to completely take over their natural resources, particularly in Kohlu and Dera Bugti.”
Commenting on the Government’s repeated denials of having launched a military operation and its claims that it was only trying to deal with a law and order situation in Balochistan where a ‘few miscreants’ were involved, Jahangir stated: “However, our findings are very different. Having visited the troubled areas of the province, particularly Dera Bugti and Kohlu, we found evidence of a full-fledged military operation being carried out. The Army is also involved in the operations because there have been helicopters flying over, there has been aerial firing and in some places also bombardment. The disproportionate use of force, mass arrests of civilians and the lack of accountability of state agencies amount to a grotesque violation of the most basic rights of citizens.” Jahangir also disclosed that, since just December 31, 2005, the military operation inflicted at least 50 civilian fatalities, including women and children, besides causing injuries to dozens. She said the local population had been subjected to indiscriminate bombing and the dead even included some Hindus, many of whom had been forced to leave their homes due to the fighting.
The chief of the Bugti tribe, Nawab Akbar Bugti, however, insists that the military operation jointly being carried out by the Army and the Air Force since December 15, 2005, had killed over 300 people, mostly women and children. The Baloch leader added further that over 50,000 regular Army troops are currently deployed in Balochistan, in addition to over 30,000 personnel of the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC). The latest phase of violence has taken a serious turn because the military operation has been extended beyond the Kohlu area. Though official circles are emphasising that military action is limited to the dissidents’ camps and the tribesmen attacking Government installations or the troops, unofficial and independent sources talk of the brutal impact on ordinary people who have been forced to migrate to other areas. The information on military operations being provided by the Army’s spokesman is not corroborated by independent news sources.
The stepping up of military activity in Balochistan appears to herald the collapse of the peace process that was initiated by the Government last year, which was meant to push for a political solution. Despite the fact that the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Balochistan constituted by the centre had already submitted its recommendations to the Government in June 2005, no step has been taken towards their implementation. The Committee had made sweeping proposals for enhancement of gas royalties to the Province and clearance of arrears, amendments to the Concurrent List, changes in the National Finance Commission Award, provincial autonomy, and the development of gas-rich areas. Unfortunately, however, the political negotiations track is dead, and the only dialogue being conducted in Balochistan is the dialogue of opposing firepower. Where that will lead can only make one shudder.
Most political observers in Pakistan disagree with the commando-style handling of the Balochistan situation by Musharraf and fear that the use of brute force may inflame the state of affairs and the localised insurgency could escalate into a major security nightmare for the General, who comes from the Special Service Group (SSG) of the Army. The Baloch nationalists are clearly gaining support against a military dictator who they accuse of exploiting their rich natural resources without providing benefits to the Baloch population. As a matter of fact, the ‘armed terrorists’ in Balochistan, Musharraf often refers to, are not foreigners but Pakistani citizens. Observers say they may well be highly unpatriotic, even treasonous, yet they are still to be accorded the rights due to any other Pakistani citizen. They argue that the mistake made by the establishment in East Pakistan is now being repeated in Balochistan.
The matter of solving the Balochistan dispute is no more about settling a single problem, such as the exploitation of the province’s natural resources, the setting up of new cantonments, or the continuing hostility and tension surrounding the natural gas reserves. The matter is fundamentally about Pakistan’s basic political direction, whether or not the country is to become a stable and prospectively progressive state. If this is, in fact, the case, the only way to deal with the problem is to give the people of Balochistan the rights that have been denied to them. The use of brute force will only cause further alienation, leaving them with no option but to fight for their genuine economic and political rights. The clock is ticking and the Musharraf regime must move swiftly for a political situation, where the strong are just and the weak secure.
One year of King Gyanendra’s direct rule in Nepal has been an unmitigated disaster, both for the country and the institution of Monarchy that he personifies. Violence and disorder have remained unabated, except during the brief four-month unilateral ceasefire declared by the Maoists. During this ceasefire, however, the King’s Army continued to kill. Even vigilante groups were unleashed on innocent citizens to punish them both for their suspected sympathies for Maoists and their aspirations for democracy. Besides violence, corruption and non-governance have registered significant growth during direct rule, a fact borne out both by Transparency International and the ordinary Nepali citizens who met the King during his visits to various regions. The institution of Monarchy has never been as unpopular as it is today, with the King, his cronies and his desperate attempts to legitimize his direct rule through the elections for local bodies, now being lampooned and insultingly caricatured in the Nepalese media. The Monarch and his political antics have distanced him farther not only from the common people but also from his erstwhile loyalists as well as the international community, save China and Pakistan. If anyone deserves credit for bringing the political parties closer to the Maoists in their movement for the restoration of democracy, it is the King and his obduracy.
With the Maoists withdrawing their ceasefire on January 2, 2006, violence has escalated and the security situation has deteriorated further, pushing Nepal each day into the dark pit of anarchy and chaos. Yet the King has not hesitated to pat his own back on the first anniversary of his direct rule. Camouflaged under the rhetoric of dubious ‘achievements’, the King nevertheless admitted that, wherever he went in the country, people were asking for peace. Where then are the signs of ‘improvement’ in the situation?
The King’s continued confidence in the merits of direct rule, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, comes from three sources: First, his control over the Army and a firm faith in the efficacy of force and repression in securing his desired political goals; many Nepali watchers of Palace politics recall his displeasure with his slain brother, King Birendra, during the 1989-90 crisis when the latter ‘surrendered’ the Panchayat system when confronted with the democracy agitation, without resorting to strong methods and ruthless use of force. Gyanendra is trying to demonstrate that the use of force can deliver his political ambitions. Secondly, he is taking advantage of the weak and indecisive political leadership of the democratic parties, which have still not been able to build a formidable popular resistance to his direct rule. And thirdly, the King knows that, despite their displeasure with his rule, the international community stands divided on specific aspects of the Nepalese situation, where key countries like India and the US have not been able to reconcile to a republican political order in Nepal in which the Maoists may emerge as major shareholders in the post-monarchy power structure.
The indecision of the political parties emerges from two concerns. One is that even if the Maoists may not use force during the proposed elections for the Constituent Assembly, who will force them to surrender arms for eventual political mainstreaming, when the Royal Nepalese Army is demoralized in the event of the collapse of monarchy? Who will protect the political parties from the Maoists’ arms, and possibly influence, in a situation where the King is removed from the scene? The truth, however, is that such fears and concerns are untenable, inspired (by the King’s cronies) and highly exaggerated. The Maoists have accepted to follow the lead of the political parties and committed themselves to having their arms monitored by independent international agencies such as the UN. They have also agreed to merge their armed cadres into the Army, when it comes under the control of the representative Government. Thus a reformed Nepalese national Army would be capable of dealing with recalcitrant Maoist sub-groups, if any, under the leadership of a multi-party dominated interim or full fledged Government. There would also be international support in this respect, to ensure that Maoists did not violate their commitments. A fact that the political leadership needs to understand is that the Maoists have forged a joint front with them only after being convinced that they cannot overwhelm the Nepali state by themselves and militarily.
The second of the political parties’ concerns is the more serious, though far less acknowledged. The political agenda of the present anti-monarchy movement is the restructuring of the Nepali state where marginalized and excluded groups like the janjaties (tribal and ethnic groups) and the Terai dwellers (madheshis) are given their appropriate place and share in the new power structure. The prevailing organizational structures of the political parties are not conducive to even internal inclusive democracy. They have no consensus yet on the road map to an inclusive democracy either internally, within their respective organizations, or for the country as a whole. That is why these marginalized groups, while they are alienated from the Monarch, remain, at the same time, skeptical of being led by the present party leadership in their struggle against the King’s direct rule and his ‘Hindu Kingdom’. The political parties have to come to terms with the challenge of an inclusive democracy and a truly representative political order. They can avoid this question only at the cost of their struggle against an ambitious and autocratic King, and must fully understand that this King has no respect either for their leadership or democratic institutions and practices.
The international community, though united on the issue of democracy, faces a dilemma on the future of democratic institutions. India and the US, in particularly, are concerned about sorting out the political vacuum and chaos that would result from the sudden and violent collapse of the monarchy. Their preferred course is to have a negotiated resolution of the Nepalese crisis in favour of democratic governance under a benign or constitutional monarchy, but King Gyananedra is not willing to oblige. The Americans, alarmed by the rise of popular extremist forces in Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Palestine (Hamas) are worried by the prospects of an assertive Maoist presence in Nepal’s political order. The fear of the Maoists has been a persistent theme in the US approach towards Nepal in recent years and this was again evident during the latest visit of the US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Fallone. Notwithstanding its stated preference for democracy, there is a degree of discomfort in the US approach towards the rise of independent grass-root popular forces in Asia.
India seems to share some of the American concerns in this respect. More so because a section of the security agencies (including the premier intelligence organizations) apprehend the link-up between the Nepal Maoists and the Indian Naxalite (Maoist) groups to the detriment of India’s internal security. King Gyanendra is exploiting these apprehensions in the Indian decision-making core and has also mobilized many of the diverse but influential constituencies within the Indian political space, including Hindu fundamentalist groups and Indian ‘royal families’, to ensure that India’s indecision on his fate persists. He has also been flashing the China and Pakistan cards to deter India and its defense establishments from taking any precipitate action against his political survival. There are also reports that the Indian defense forces are apprehensive of too much isolation of King Gyanendra, lest he drives Nepal fully into China’s and Pakistan’s lap in his pursuit of political survival. Consequently, while India’s stated policy stands in favour of democracy, there is a serious and persisting dilemma on the role to be assigned to monarchy. This dilemma has sustained the King in his obduracy, since the US, UK and EU also steadily await a clear and firm Indian initiative on Nepal.
Notwithstanding the dilemmas of the Nepali political parties, the international community and India, the popular support for a republican democracy is spreading through Nepal, slowly but surely. Nepali youth and grass-root cadres of the political parties are increasingly committed to a republican Nepal. The King will, of course, continue to focus his energies and attention on diffusing and dispersing this momentum through the use of force and political maneuvers to keep the parties and the international community confused. His prolonged and ruthless repression however, will only bring his monarchy closer to a violent end in a manner and at a time that may even take India and the international community by surprise, if the latter continue to hesitate in responding to the unfolding situation constructively and decisively.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
January 30 - February 05, 2006
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
597 people arrested so far in anti-terrorism campaign: On February 5, 2006, the Health Minister, on behalf of the State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar, told the National Assembly in response to a question from lawmaker Shahinur Pasha Chowdhury that the Government has so far arrested 597 people against 214 cases to dismantle the terrorist network across the country. Of them, trial in 31 cases has already begun while 121 charge-sheets have been submitted. Seven cases have been sent to the speedy trial tribunal while 35 others are under process to be sent to the tribunal. Daily Star, February 6, 2006.
with NSCN-IM extended by six months in Nagaland: The National Socialist Council
of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM)
and the Government of India agreed on January 31, 2006, to extend the cease-fire
in Nagaland by six months and resume peace talks soon. "The cease-fire has been
extended by six months," Government interlocutor K. Padmanabhaiah told Reuters
after four days of talks in Bangkok. Express
India, January 31, 2006.
Bomb explosion on Quetta-Lahore bus kills 14 people: At least 14 people were killed and 19 injured when a powerful bomb exploded on a passenger bus on February 5, 2006, in the Mastung District of Balochistan province. The explosion occurred when the Lahore-bound bus, which was carrying 34 passengers, reached Kolpur, some 55 kilometers from Quetta, capital of Balochistan. Provincial police chief Choudhury Mohammed Yaqoob said that the bomb used “high-intensity” explosives and a timer. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing. Daily Times, February 6, 2006.
Private militia in Balochistan must disarm for peace, says President Musharraf: President Pervez Musharraf has said that the private local militia in Balochistan must disarm for peace to prevail. "There is no military operation in the province and there is no collateral damage there," the President claimed at Camp Office in Rawalpindi on February 3, 2006. He said that the private militia must "stop hampering development" in the province. He spelt out a four-point solution, beginning with the surrender and disarming of the local militia, to end unrest in the province. "We will not let them flourish and challenge the writ of the Government ... (which) will be established in Balochistan," he stated. The president informed that the Government would adopt a political solution to the issue only if the local sardars (chieftans) give up arms and stop hampering oil and gas exploration activities and development projects. "I do not believe in politics at the cost of the nation ... the nation comes first," he claimed. Daily Times, February 4, 2006.
Recommend South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR) to a friend.