Saturday, June 18, 2011

What Is The Score In Balochistan?

After the killing of Professor Saba Dashtyari, a renowned scholar of Balochistan, a question commonly asked by the people is: What is the latest score in Balochistan? The killings, whether extrajudicial or through target killings, have become so common that not one day passes when one or two bullet riddled bodies are not found dumped on the roads. The Baloch nationalist and political activists claim that the state intelligence agencies abducted the victims and held them for some days incommunicado and then killed them. Killing the abductees after interrogation is the easiest method for law enforcement agencies, the military, Frontier Corps and invisible soldiers of intelligence agencies, to destroy all evidence of such acts against humanity. On the other hand the government and law enforcement agencies never produce a clear statement or try to deny these claims, they prefer to keep silent to enforce the idea that this is their ruthless way of dealing with persons they see as a threat. It would also appear that the provincial government of Balochistan has been instructed by these 'forces', to keep their mouths shut. Only one person, the Federal Minister of the Interior claims that there is an insurgency in Balochistan and the insurgents are Indian agents. However, he has produced no concrete evidence to back this up, but whenever there are talks between Pakistan and India he pulls out this stereo typed statement. On one occasion the prime minister himself said in Sharm-ul-Shaikh, Egypt during the meeting with the Indian prime minister that Pakistan had handed over evidence of Indian involvement in the Balochistan insurgency. However, this 'evidence' has never been revealed to the Pakistani people. The Frontier Corp (FC) tried to help the government in finding Indian hands behind the so called insurgency by producing a person before the media. The man, Murad Khan Marri, had been in FC custody after his disappearance in 2009 and was produced only in March 2010 as he was 'found' crossing the Afghanistan border with Indian currency. The FC also claimed his head money (reward) but the claim was found to be false after it was learned that he had been kept in the FC torture cell at Mastung city and was brought out to prove that the movement of the Balochi people for greater autonomy was funded by India. During the regime of general Musharraf, who created the phenomenon of disappearances on a mass scale, the abduction and disappearances were common and people were kept for months in the military torture cells. But since last year, when the government and military could not find any evidence to implicate the movement of the Baloch people as an Indian attempt, a new phase of extra judicial killings was started. Since 2010 approximately 140 political activists, journalists, academics and students were killed in extrajudicial killings. Included in the lists are also those who were killed in target killings by unknown persons. Up until 2007 the province was under direct military operation during which the Pakistan Air Force carried out aerial bombardments. But since 2008 , when a civilian government took over power the military operation was withdrawn and the FC was given the responsibility of law enforcement of the province. The military was not recalled and they still patrol and have their check posts and business in constructing the cantonments there. The police role has been minimized to just follow the FC or help in abduction of activists. The FC has proved itself worst than the military as it runs its own torture cells in private premises throughout Balochistan, no law can be applied on it and no court can ask the FC about its extra- constitutional methods. One Baloch leader, Mr. Shah Zain Bugti, was arrested by dozens of FC persons on the charges of carrying arms, whereas the FC does not have the authority to arrest anyone. Only police have that authority. Though Bugti was released after many days by the court no action was taken against the FC for taking this authority into their own hands. There is always impunity for the FC. In a recent case FC killed two innocent women and three men extrajudicially. It was announced by the FC that they were Chechen citizens and suicide attackers who were killed by their own hand grenades. However, after examining the bodies it was found that they had been killed by gunshot wounds. Now, because of the pressure created by the people and media an inquiry is being conducted against the FC where the invisible forces are trying to destroy the evidence. It is firmly believed that the extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances of Balochi citizens is an attempt at genocide and that there is a scheme to get rid of them entirely from Pakistan in a similar manner to that of the Bengalis. The Balochis also feel that the Pakistan army is dealing with them in the same manner as they did with the people of Bangladesh. Due to the introduction of extrajudicial killings, through abductions and disappearances or target killings, the whole of Balochistan now resembles a deserted or barren province. Generally people go to their homes early in the evening, universities, colleges and schools are with fewer students, the parents, who have resources prefer their children to study in other provinces; the streets, cafes and roadside hotels keep their doors open in the optimistic hope that their establishments will be filled as they were in the past. The customers who do come to these places are reluctant to sit and chat; there is no sense of relaxation. Quetta, the capital of the province used to have a literary and social culture quite apart from its commercial activities. However, it is now becoming a haunted city because the people are avoiding the areas and places that used to attract and encourage them in their literary efforts and culture. Parents no longer allow their children out of the house unless it is to attend school or some other activity. Their late arrival at home is enough to send the parents into a panic. There is no longer any rule of law in Balochistan. The government has turned its back on the concept of justice and fair trial. No sensible inquiries into disappearances are conducted and no one is ever held accountable. Despite the testimonies of the few fortunate people who have survived their abductions and torture, the courts take no action, even when the perpetrators are positively identified. One comment sums up the feelings and emotions of the people: "We are tired of carrying home the bodies of our loved ones". The increase in extrajudicial killings and the daily discovery of bodies has created a sort of graveyard humour in the people who live outside the province which prompts them to ask, what is the score in Balochistan today?

My Ally, My Enemy

Arresting views WHEN Islamabad’s ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, lectured army officers last month at Pakistan’s National Defence University, he asked the assembled colonels whom they regarded as the greatest enemy. A third of them named America—with which Pakistan supposedly has a military alliance. That alliance was already turbulent before a raid by American special forces killed Osama bin Laden on May 2 nd. Now it has gone into a tailspin. It was an embarrassment for Pakistanis that bin Laden was living in northern Pakistan and that the Americans went in to kill him without telling them—and undetected. Now it emerges that Pakistani authorities have arrested several local informers who had watched bin Laden’s compound for the CIA ahead of the raid. According to a Pakistani source, the arrests include a former army officer, a doctor who had been with the army medical corps. The army is enraged that the CIA has developed an independent spy network in the country. The arrests come at a time when America badly wants Pakistani co- operation in killing or capturing the remainder of al-Qaeda in the country— including, presumably, Ayman al- Zawahiri, its new leader. The group is struggling to cope with the death of bin Laden and with the American seizure of huge amounts of information on its workings. But Pakistan’s powerful armed forces are wallowing in anti-Americanism. Their relations with various jihadist groups also remain a concern, even while other extremist groups carry out a campaign of terror inside the country. Last week the CIA director, Leon Panetta, flew to Islamabad and confronted the army with evidence that intelligence America had recently passed on about two bomb-making factories in Pakistan’s tribal areas, being used by insurgents active in Afghanistan, had led to a tip-off. The bomb-makers had vanished from the sites several days before the army showed up. In turn, the armed forces have haughtily declared they will no longer take cash from the United States (on whom they have long depended for handouts). They have also ended an American military counter-insurgency training mission in the country. Yet behind the bitter words, from both sides, a good deal of co-operation continues. For instance, American “drone” aircraft still fly secretly from an airstrip deep in the desert of Baluchistan province, targeting suspected militants in the country’s tribal areas. Pakistan’s military is feeling wounded. The bin Laden shock was followed by a daring terrorist raid on a naval base in Karachi, and by accusations that the armed forces’ spy agency was behind the murder of a journalist last month. Domestic criticism unleashed at the army, the country’s dominant institution, is unprecedented. It is usually exempt from scrutiny, mostly out of fear. The army says it has resolved to “put an end” to the disparagement.

Surrounded By 3783km Of Barbed Wire Fencing : Is Bangladesh To Be The World's Largest Prison?

The famous, or infamous, Berlin Wall used to be 140 km. The wall which Israel has built around Gaza is 760 km. The wall along the US- Mexico border is 1123 km. But the length of the Indian barbed wire fencing along its border with Bangladesh is more than all these walls combined.   The longest border fencing in the world   While Bangladesh and India share a 4096 border which delineates the two separate countries, the people of the border regions are not always that separate. Particularly the people of West Bengal and Assam , and those this side of the border adjacent to those states, have relations or either side of the border, and in the past had thriving business relations too. In fact, the border would even pass through the middle of some houses, causing the international media to even term it as the world’ s most “inhuman border”. The logic put forward by the Indian politicians for constructing this fence is very much on the same lines as the Israel justification of wall along Palestine . India is also proceeding with the construction of a 1800 km fence along its border with Pakistan . However, the construction of the fence around Bangladesh is proceeding at a much faster pace. This is now being acknowledged as the world’s longest border fence. Concerned government, human rights activists and the affected countries are very vocal in their protest against the border wall between Israel and Palestine and the fencing between USA and Mexico . In Bangladesh , however, this issue is being totally overlooked. Only on May 15 , 2010 , Abdus Sobhan Sikder, Home Secretary at the time, said, “In constructing this barbed wire fencing, India has violated international laws in at least 46 places [The Daily Star May 16 , 2010 ].” The Home Secretary pointed out that even in the joint survey with India , at least 12 points were identified where there was violation of the international compulsions not to have any structures or construction within 150 yards from the zero point of the border demarcation.   Symbol of racism   This project went into full operation from 1989. Initially 3.7 billion rupees was allocated for this project, but this amount gradually increased and is likely to stand at 10.5 billion rupees. Not only has Indian erected this barbed wire fence, but in places has also, along the fence, constructed roads for movement of heavy military vehicles. So far about 3000 km of fencing has been completed. The fence is three metres high. Several other structures are to be constructed alongside the fencing. Using the Right to Information Act, on 30 December, 2009 , local Indian citizens obligated their government to reveal detailed information about the border fencing. It was then revealed that till date a total of 5205.43 rupees had been spent and the decision had been to raise 3436.59 km of barbed wire border fencing. Later Indian sources revealed that actually 3783 km of fencing would be raised. According to a statement made by the then Indian Home Secretary in the Lok Sabha, in the 2004-5 financial year, already a sum of 2404.70 rupees has been spent on the fencing. In some places of Assam the barbed wire fence has even been electrified. When the US had decided to construct a wall/fencing along its border with Mexico , at least two laws had been drawn up in two phases. Finally the Secure Fence Act 2006 was adopted for the task. This came into effect from September 13 , 2006 . In the case of India , no such law was adopted. It was simply by administrative decision that the plan to surround Bangladesh was taken up for execution. The justification made by the US for its border wall was that narcotics were being smuggled in from Mexico . As for Israel , they reasoned that the wall along the West Bank was a security measure against alleged Palestinian terrorist attacks. India faced neither threat from Bangladesh . On the contrary, it is from India that Phensydyl and other narcotic substances as well as arms and ammunition enter Bangladesh , posing as a security threat to this side of the border. Despite all this, Bangladesh never demanded any kind of anti-humanitarian sort of infrastructure. Interestingly, all the issues which India has highlighted in justifying this border fencing, exist in the case of Nepal too, but it has made no move for any such wall with Nepal . Perhaps it is because of their diplomacy and failure to fall into the trap of ethnic hatred that Bangladesh ’s policymakers have maintained a strange silence about this fencing, while standing fully in favour of handing over transit or corridor facilities to India . Yet this construction of the fence and road around the border is even a violation of the Mujib-Indira treaty signed in 1974. Even though this treaty expired in 1997 , it is still considered to be the guiding force behind Bangladesh- India relations. According to the Mujib-Indira treaty, neither of the country could construct any infrastructure that would be harmful to the other country. In constructing this border fencing, India has completely moved away from the treaty. Along various parts of its border, India is using ground sensor technology imported from Israel . In a recent issue of the Kolkata daily Bartaman (June 5 , 2011) , Ashok Kumar, Acting DG of BSF’s Cooch Bihar sector, is quoted to have said that they are using such sophisticated thermal imagers that even in the night they can observe activities a few kilometers within Bangladesh. Previously, on October 15 , 2006 , Zee News sources revealed that just for the Bangladesh border alone, India had procured 900 hand-held imagers, each set costing 28 lac rupees. The equipment uses its body heat to detect its object. Additionally, BSF has procured for the border Israel-made LORROS ( Long-Range Recce and Observation System) which enables them to carry out intensive observation for 40 miles along the border. They have procured at least 27 sets of such radar-based technology, each set costing two crore rupees. It is not in technology alone, but in its entire border management that India has forgotten the spirit of the Mujib-Indira Treaty. The very first paragraph speaks of long-term peace and friendship, peaceful co- existence, and not having any discriminatory attitudes towards one another. But having a thousands of miles long barbed wire fence surrounding Bangladesh hardly speaks of friendship. On the contrary to speaks of a sort of ethnic hatred. The US has a similar attitude towards Mexico .   Threat to biodiversity   All the elements for which the human rights activists of the world opposed the Israel-Palestine and the US-Mexico border walls/ fencing, exist in the case of India and Bangladesh too. The ethnic groups living along the US-Mexican border are being cut off from each other’s kith and kin because of the border wall. The fencing between Bangladesh and India has similar broken up thousands of families. Since time immemorial people on either side of the border have become related to each other through marriage. They could never imagine a wall separating people of the same language and ethnicity. These families are now split. This has also hit them hard economically. This longest border fencing in the world is also going to divide the world largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans. This has created concern among environmentalists at an international level. Roads and other infrastructure will have to be constructed in the Sundarbans too for them to set up this wire fencing. The wire fencing and the roads will certainly harm Sundarbans’ biodiversity. Tigers and other animals on the verge of extinction will lose their natural habitat. Biodiversity will vanish in no time if the fencing is electrified.   A military mindset   Needless to say, the source of such a short-sighted anti-humanitarian project is the military and bureaucratic mindset. It is noted that the three countries constructing these controversial border divides have strong military mindsets and also share links of cooperation among each other. Most of the agreements of cooperation among these countries are of the military ilk. The right wing media aids and assists in placing public opinion in the military mould. It is the smaller neighbours like Bangladesh who have to bear the brunt of such attitudes. And yet for the “ security” which India is apparently seeking through its barbed wire fencing, the best alternative would be for it to grow strong ties of friendship and trust with Bangladesh .