SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Among the most pressing of tasks that currently engages the new regime in Islamabad are the worsening internal security situation and the challenge of halting Pakistan’s slide towards state failure. To that end, the coalition Government headed by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani has sought to initiate a dialogue with an array of anti-state actors presently orchestrating violence across the country. The strategic and resource-rich Balochistan province, which has long remained on the periphery of Pakistan's projects and perceptions, is one of the theatres of conflict where "dialogue with those who are up in the mountains" is presently unraveling.
Gillani has stated that his Government is working for ‘national reconciliation’ and has already ordered an end to military operations in Balochistan. As part of a new strategy to bring peace to the conflict wracked province, a series of ‘confidence building measures’ (CBMs) have been initiated by Islamabad. Among others, these include:
FC troops were reportedly seen withdrawing from their positions on May 4, 2008. FC sources disclosed that more than 600 FC troops had been withdrawn from 28 check-posts in Quetta, adding that about the same number of troops had also been recalled from the Gwadar District. Sources indicated that the Chief Security Officer of Gwadar, who belonged to the FC, had been replaced by a Deputy Inspector-General of Police. However, officials said that FC troops would remain stationed in troubled areas like Dera Bugti and Kohlu to protect sensitive installations, including the Sui Gas Plant and the pipeline network supplying natural gas all over the country.
The truth, however, is that the Federal Government’s plans for Balochistan – whether military, economic or political – stand in irreducible opposition to perceptions of local interest among the people of the Province. At the moment, there is little evidence of the insurgents’ responding favourably to the proposed CBMs.
One of the Baloch nationalist parties has, in fact, challenged the Government's claim that military operations have ended. Hasil Bizenjo, Secretary General of the National Party, told Gulf News that "It is a lie that the military operation has been halted in Balochistan." He said, though a new Government has been installed, hundreds of dissidents and political activists still languished in prisons and "torture cells". "The military and paramilitary troops are still active on the mountains, their intelligence networks are still operational and hounding people struggling for their rights," he asserted. Bizenjo, whose party boycotted the 2008 general elections, claimed that not a single political prisoner has been released. "Only those cases of treason have been withdrawn in which the Government had not arrested any people," he stated. According to him, "More than 900 people are missing in Dera Bugti District and more than 750 in its neighbouring Kohlu District." Bizenjo insisted that he "did not understand" the reasons behind the Government’s "false claims", when it has not even ordered withdrawal of troops from places like Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Gwadar, Dilbadin and Khuzdar.
The Central Leader of the Jamhori Watan Party (Brahmdagh Bugti faction), Nawabzada Jamil Bugti, son of the slain Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, stated, on May 5, 2008, that the arrest and trial of those involved in Balochistan military operations, rehabilitation of internally displaced people and immediate release of thousands of detained Baloch youth are preconditions, if the rulers want to make the reconciliation process result oriented. Refusing to hold talks with Senator Babar Awan, Secretary of the Balochistan Committee set up by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), he contended that negotiations are possible only if a murder case is registered against President Pervez Musharraf for killing his father and other Baloch people, and Security Forces are withdrawn from Dera Bugti and other areas. He expressed the hope that, in the present scenario, no Baloch leader would engage in the reconciliation process, adding that they had a bitter experience of surrendering arms in the 1970s. Addressing a Press Conference in Quetta, he stated military operations were still continuing in Dera Bugti and other parts of the Province. "We will not surrender our weapons because it is against the Baloch tradition. We remember the fate of Nawab Nauroz Khan Zarakzai and other tribesmen who were brought from the mountains under oath and then hanged by Army ruler Ayub Khan in the 1960s," Jamil Bugti concluded.
Nawabzada Talal Akbar Bugti, another son of Akbar Bugti, has rejected Prime Minister Gillani’s offer of negotiations conditional on laying down arms, saying "that the Baloch people will only do so after they have achieved their rights and gained complete autonomy."
Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, a veteran leader and chieftain of the Marri tribe has described President Musharraf as a "gangster with an ego," and has also rejected the CBMs.
The proscribed Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) has also rejected the Government’s invitation for a dialogue. We regard the Government’s offer for talks as its defeat, since previously it was not even ready to recognise the existence of the BLA, BLA spokesman Beebarg Baloch said. The Government’s claims of holding talks with Baloch insurgents are a "pack of lies" and the new Balochistan Governor, Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, and Chief Minister, Nawab Aslam Raisani, are "fooling themselves" by offering talks, the BLA he said, on April 16, 2008, adding, "Neither has the Government contacted us nor are we interested in talks."
Further, Baloch political groups are claiming that the CBMs are mere hogwash since "no cases have yet been withdrawn, no one has yet been released and the names of the members of the Committee on Missing Persons have not yet been announced. The Prime Minister also announced plans to replace 6,000 Army personnel with the Frontier Constabulary, but the Army is there with its full strength."
On the face of it, it seems that the province has relatively calmed down after the assassination, on August 26, 2006, of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti by the military. The momentum of the Baloch insurgency declined relatively in 2007, as some leaders either fled Pakistan or were neutralized by the state. At least 450 persons, including 226 civilians, 82 soldiers and 142 insurgents, were killed in 772 incidents in 2006. Violence in 2007 was at relatively lower levels, with about 245 persons, including 124 civilians, killed in the year (Institute for Conflict Management data). Balochistan Inspector General of Police Saud Gohar, however, said that terrorism and subversive activities increased in the province by 19 per cent during 2007. About 186 people were killed and 445 injured in 540 incidents of terrorism and sabotage in 2007. He said that the Police had recovered more than 1,000 weapons and 18 kilograms of explosives during 2007.
According to the Institute for Conflict Management database, in year 2008 (till May 9) approximately 78 persons had been killed and 242 others wounded in 188 incidents of insurgency-related violence in Balochistan. There have been approximately 126 bomb blasts in 2008 (till May 9) in which more than 43 persons died and 215 others wounded. Through 2007, at least 332 people died and 457 were injured in more than 125 bomb blasts.
Whatever the actual figures may be, it is evident that insurgency continues to simmer, and there has been a steady stream of bomb and rocket attacks on gas pipelines, railway tracks, power transmission lines, bridges, and communications infrastructure, as well as on military establishments and Government facilities. The rebels are still capable of carrying out acts of sabotage on a daily basis across the province and a political solution to the insurgency is nowhere in sight. Acts of violence are, importantly, not restricted to a few Districts, but are occurring practically across the Province, including the provincial capital Quetta. Currently, all 27 Districts of Balochistan are affected either by a sub-nationalist tribal insurgency or, separately, by Islamist extremism. Most of the violence in Balochistan is, however, 'nationalist' and there is no co-operation between Islamist militants in pockets in the North and the Baloch nationalist insurgents. The shadow of Afghanistan continues to hover over Balochistan, with (mostly Pashtoon) Islamist militants concentrated in the north of the province, who are orchestrating violence on both sides of the Afghan border in their areas of domination. There are regular reports of the presence of al Qaeda-Taliban operatives in North Balochistan.
The Federal and Provincial Governments undoubtedly face a challenging task. Chief among the policy dilemmas is whether to abandon the military track altogether or pursue a combination of both military and political initiatives. While a dialogue with the rebels is imperative for the coalition Government in Islamabad and military operations alone cannot bring peace to the province, it is also the case that there has been a clear disconnect in the past between Islamabad and the insurgents regarding a peace process. Considering the intense animosity – enormously deepened by the military excesses of the recent past – between Islamabad and the Balochis, it will take much more than a partial troop withdrawal and unreciprocated CBMs to reverse course in the Province and engage politically with the insurgents.
Underlying the entire conflict is a crisis of faith. Islamabad has never trusted the Baloch. And the Baloch find little reason in their history to trust Islamabad. Worse, recent developments in the province have immensely intensified Baloch apprehensions. Protests against the Federal Government's acquisition of vast tracts of land for mega military ventures, such as the Gwadar Port and City project, already feed the insurgency, and the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) recent plan to take over 70,000 acres of land has caused further furor in Balochistan. The PAF is reportedly attempting to acquire 70,000 acres of land along the Coastal Highway in the Lasbela District to establish its new weapons’ testing and firing range. The previous Provincial Government had reportedly allotted the land to the Defence Ministry at an insignificant price of PKR 600 an acre. The Ministry, according to Dawn, had already paid approximately PKR 50 million and asked the provincial Government to eject local people from their ancestral lands. While the locals have refused to vacate the areas, contending that they had been living on these lands since centuries, sources said the "firing range would also adversely affect the Rs. 250 million National Hingol Wildlife project launched by the World Bank." Criticising the action of the previous Government, Speaker of the Balochistan Assembly, Aslam Bhootani, who was elected from the area, contended that the land had been allotted to the Defence Ministry at too low a price and without consulting the local people, who were its real owners.
While there is immense pressure on the Government to unveil a peace process in all the conflict zones across Pakistan, for the insurgents in Balochistan, a change in dispensation in Islamabad does not denote any modification of the underlying sources and character of their insurgency. The new regime’s initiatives are, consequently, not expected to change the dynamics of the conflict in Balochistan.
A wide range of entrenched discriminatory practices underlie this dynamic. Robert Wirsing writes in Baloch Nationalism and the Geopolitics of Energy Resources: The Changing Context of Separatism in Pakistan (Strategic Studies Institute, April 2008), that "when it came to jobs, for instance, the gas industry’s well-paid managers and technicians were almost invariably drawn from outside Balochistan; local Baloch, inevitably viewed with some suspicion, were mainly employed in low-end jobs as day laborers…. An obvious remedy for the shortage of technically skilled Baloch qualified for employment in the gas industry – government funding of technical training institutions in Balochistan – was never seriously considered until recently."
Another significant issue that Islamabad, the insurgents and other stakeholders will have to engage with is how to alter the current fiscal arrangement, which is evidently inconsistent with the concept of provincial ownership of natural resources. As Wirsing notes, further,
Despite significant agreement on the Province’s grievances against Islamabad, however, unity continues to elude the insurgent movement. There was a measure of expectation that some form of unity would emerge in the aftermath of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti’s – arguably the most powerful insurgent leader – assassination on August 26, 2006. Islamabad’s counter-insurgency strategy has also been a significant factor contributing to the disunity. Mass arrests, long periods of imprisonment and assassination have complemented military operations, resulting in a gradual and strategic decapitation of the insurgents over the last three and half years. After Bugti was killed in August 2006, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, former Chief Minister of Balochistan and head of the Balochistan National Party (BNP), was arrested in November 2006 and tried in the Karachi Anti-Terrorism Court for alleged treason. Mengal was subsequently acquitted of the treason charges in early 2007, but he continued to be held in jail on other charges, until his eventual release on May 9, 2008. Another leader who was neutralized was Nawabzada Balach Marri, purported chief of the Balochistan Liberation Army and one of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri’s sons. Balach Marri was killed on November 21, 2007, along with his bodyguards, in a clash somewhere inside Afghanistan, triggering widespread violence in Quetta and other parts of the province. Mystery shrouds Marri’s killing, as some reports suggest he was killed in Afghanistan and others stated it was in Pakistan, while no confirmed identification of the perpetrators of the attack is yet available.
Despite the systematic elimination of its leaders, however, decentralization may, in fact, emerge as an effective strategy for the Baloch insurgency, considering its ability to sustain a significant threshold violence.
The protracted nature of the Baloch insurgency makes it clear that Islamabad’s overwhelming reliance on a military solution has failed. However, attempts at political management have also failed repeatedly, particularly in the recent past. For instance, findings of the Parliamentary sub-committee on Balochistan headed by Mushahid Hussain in 2005 are gathering dust in Islamabad. The political track has not found favour within the current establishment either. Balochistan’s nationalist parties are reportedly not keen to participate in an All-Parties’ Conference (APC), which the PPP Co-chairman Asif Zardari has suggested, to resolve the problem. The February 2008 apology tendered by the PPP to the people of Balochistan, also, does not seem to have had the desired effect. In its resolution, the party had stated: "The PPP, on behalf of the people of Pakistan, apologises to the people of the province of Balochistan for the atrocities and injustices committed against them and pledges to embark on a new highway of healing and mutual respect."
The founder of the Balochistan National Party (BNP), Sardar Ataullah Mengal, while terming the apology a positive but insufficient step, expressed a lack of hope in the PPP being able to solve the insurgency. "The civil-military bureaucracy has always called the shots here," he noted. He and other nationalist Baloch leaders have indicated that the state of affairs in Balochistan would remain unchanged until the "colonial perception of the rulers" changed and basic issues such as provincial autonomy were addressed. In a similar vein, Yusuf Khan Mustikhan, a central leader of the National Workers’ Party, stated that a mere apology could not solve the Balochistan problem and the "core issue of autonomy had to be resolved in line with the expectations of the Baloch people." BNP Secretary General Habib Jalib Baloch asserted, further, "The Baloch have been cheated time and again by the Centre under the disguise of Parliamentary Committees and APCs. We are tired of such measures which, at the end of the day, do not yield any positive results." Baloch nationalist political parties, dominant actors in the Province who had earlier boycotted the February 2008 elections in the Province, have now unambiguously refused to attend the APC.
A high measure of euphoria and optimism currently attend the ‘democratic transition’ in Pakistan, and high expectations of finding rapid solutions to the multiple insurgencies that currently afflict the country are widely articulated. Within this context, it merits mention that during the Baloch insurgency in the 1970s, it was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, founder of the current ruling party PPP, who was the Prime Minister heading one of the intermittent democratic regimes in Pakistan, and he demonstrated little patience for concepts like provincial autonomy and the human rights of the Baloch people. In fact, he had refused to negotiate with the then Chief Minister Ataullah Mengal and had also sent the military into the Province to brutally suppress the insurrection.
Over the past few years, the insurgents have unequivocally indicated that their capacity to disrupt power and gas networks, and attack Government installations at will, is not a mere irritant. Wirsing notes that the demonstrably adverse impact of the Baloch crisis on the daily lives of most Pakistanis grows larger with each passing day. In the absence of a radical transformation of both the political and military approach in Balochistan, the insurgency will certainly continue to simmer and, in certain circumstances, has significant potential for escalation.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
May 5-11, 2008
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
12 Black Widow militants killed in Assam: 12 Black Widow militants were killed and 18 others injured in a gun battle with the Security Forces (SFs) in the North Cachar Hills District on May 10, 2008. SF personnel cordoned off the village along the Assam-Nagaland-Manipur border around 4.30am (IST) during the operation at a camp of the Black Widow sheltering around 30 militants, police sources said. The militants opened fire on the SFs, who retaliated, killing 12 of them. The village is dominated by the Jemi-Naga tribals and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) cadres were also suspected to be in the camp as they have an understanding with the Black Widow militants. The cease-fire between the Black Widow and Centre expired recently and the State Government had reportedly been instructed by the Union Home Ministry to draw up an action plan to improve the law and order situation, particularly in the North Cachar Hills District. The Hindu, May 11, 2008
NWFP Government signs cease-fire agreement with militants in Swat: The Awami National Party-led Government in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and militants in the Swat District reached a cease-fire agreement on May 9, 2008. The truce was achieved after three hours of talks between a Government committee and a team of militants representing Maulana Fazlullah. "We talked to each other, like Pashtuns do. They are also Pashtuns and they did understand that violence has brought nothing but bloodshed and mayhem," said the NWFP Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour. Bilour, who headed the committee formed by the Government to negotiate with the militants in Swat, said the two sides had decided to place "tega" - a Pushto euphemism for truce. He stated that the two sides had signed an agreement to stop violence in the valley, adding that the militants had agreed to stop attacks on security force personnel and Government installations. The Government, in return, would stop search operations and arrests, he added. "The cease-fire will hold until we reach a final agreement. We are going to Swat next week and will hold more talks with the militants," he said. "It was not a peace agreement but a cease-fire. This was the first direct contact with the local Taliban in which we secured a ceasefire as confidence building measure (CBM) and now we will be able to hold further talks with them for the solution of the Swat problem," Wajid Ali Khan, a member of the Government Committee and provincial Minister for Environment, stated. Dawn; The News, May 10, 2008.
Four persons killed in suicide bombing in NWFP: A suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint in Bannu in the NWFP on May 6, 2008, killing a Police constable and two civilians and injuring 12 persons, including eight security force personnel. According to eyewitnesses, the bomber blew himself up when Police stopped an auto-rickshaw at the checkpoint near the office of an intelligence agency. No group has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing so far. It was the second suicide attack in the province after Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud declared a cease-fire on April 24. On April 25, a car bomb exploded at a Police Station in Mardan, killing three people and wounding 12 others. Dawn, May 7, 2008.
211 LTTE militants and 15 civilians among 238 persons killed during the week: 211 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants, 15 civilians and 12 soldiers were among 238 persons killed in separate incidents between May 4 and May 11, 2008. 10 LTTE militants, including two area leaders, were killed by the Security Forces (SFs) in an encounter at the Muhamalai Forward Defence Line (FDL) of Jaffna District on May 5. Two soldiers were also killed and 14 others wounded in the LTTE attack. On May 7, the SFs killed 12 LTTE militants during intermittent clashes in the areas north of Parappakandal, Kathankulam, Alankulam, Chalampaikkulam, Nedunkandal and Adampampekkulam in the Mannar District. Further, 10 LTTE militants were killed as the Army captured a two square kilometre stretch of land in the LTTE-held territory, about 5-6 km south of Adampan town in the Mannar District on May 8. One soldier was also killed while another was wounded in the incident. On the same day, clashes erupted between the two sides in the Manipullkulam, Nedunkandal and Mantota areas of Mannar District in which 11 militants were killed. On May 9, 14 LTTE militants were killed during an encounter in the area under Government control in Vavuniya District. 11 persons were killed and 29 others injured in a bomb blast at the City Cafe Hotel near the Ampara Clock tower in Ampara town in the evening of May 9. The troops also captured the strategic Adampan town in Mannar District in the morning of May 9, killing at least 15 militants. Two soldiers were killed and seven others injured in the incident. The SFs captured a one square kilometre area in Alankulam on in the afternoon of May 9, killing 33 militants and injuring 40 others. One soldier was killed and five others wounded in the clashes. Further, on May 10, the troops attacked several LTTE hideouts and killed at least 18 militants in the areas north of Palampiddi, Vedamakilam, Kurukkandai, north of Janakapura and Kiriibbanwewa. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Colombo Page, May 5-11, 2008.
UPFA wins Eastern Provincial Election: The United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won the first ever Provincial Council Election in the East, securing 20 (18 + 02 bonus seats) out of 37 seats on offer, while polling 52.21 per cent of the total votes. The United National Party (UNP) which obtained 42.38 per cent of the total valid votes got 15 seats while the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the Tamil Democratic National Alliance secured one seat each. The UPFA won two out of the three Districts – Batticaloa and Ampara – while the Trincomalee District was won by the UNP. A total number of 591,676 (65.78 per cent) voters exercised their franchise out of a total of 982,721. However, the number of rejected votes was quite high with 54,780 (8.47 per cent) declared annulled. Meanwhile, the election monitoring body People's Action for Free and Fair Elections which deployed over 2,500 election observers, including foreigners, said that, despite some scattered incidents, the election was conducted in a free and fair manner. While observing that there had been 83 recorded incidents on the Election Day (May 10), it said these cases, on the whole, could not be viewed as ones which would affect the overall result. However, the main opposition UNP and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress rejected the results saying the poll was marred by violence. Daily News; Colombo Page, May 12, 2008.
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