Sunday, June 19, 2011

Balochistan Is Dying Out

“The bodies surface quietly, like corks bobbing up in the dark. They come in twos and threes, a few times a week, dumped on desolate mountains or empty city roads, bearing the scars of great cruelty. Arms and legs are snapped; faces are bruised and swollen. Flesh is sliced with knives or punctured with drills; genitals are singed with electric prods. In some cases the bodies are unrecognizable, sprinkled with lime or chewed by wild animals. All have a gunshot wound in the head.” This is not a description of a scene from some horror movie. This gruesome parade of corpses has been surfacing in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province, since last July. Declan Walsh writes in “Guardian” (March 2011) , “Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have accounted for more than 100 bodies – lawyers, students, taxi drivers, farm workers. Most have been tortured…If you have not heard of this epic killing spree, though, don' t worry: neither have most Pakistanis. Newspaper reports from Balochistan are buried quietly on the inside pages, cloaked in euphemisms or, quite often, not published at all.” He further says, “This is Pakistan's dirty little war. While foreign attention is focused on the Taliban, a deadly secondary conflict is bubbling in Balochistan, a sprawling, mineral-rich province along the western borders with Afghanistan and Iran. On one side is a scrappy coalition of guerrillas fighting for independence from Pakistan; on the other is a powerful army that seeks to quash their insurgency with maximum prejudice. The revolt, which has been rumbling for more than six years, is spiced by foreign interests and intrigues – US spy bases, Chinese business, vast underground reserves of copper, oil and gold.” Almost six months back, in November 2010 , the president of the Balochistan National Party ( BNP), Sardar Akhtar Mengal, is reported to have called on the head of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium,and apprised him about the alleged military operation in Balochistan and also about “issues like missing persons, systematic elimination of Baloch political leaders and activists and violation of human rights at the hand of government functionaries” . According to the BNP’s information secretary, Mengal produced a memorandum which he is reported to have already sent to the Secretary-General of United Nations, Ban Ki-moon. In the letter, Mengal accused security forces and secret agencies of carrying out targeted killings of Baloch political activists. He said that corpses of executed missing persons are regularly being found, adding that the issue of missing persons is still awaiting proper attention. He told the EU chief that Baloch political opponent were being brutally tortured in illegal torture cells and later their corpses were thrown in desolate places across Balochistan. ..such incidents had become a matter of routine. Hong Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission claims it has collected details of detention and torture centers in Pakistan, where missing persons are held for long periods of time for their alleged involvement in terrorist and sabotage activities. The information about the places of illegal detention was collected from the persons who were detained in these centers for several years after arrest. Their whereabouts were never made known to their family members. Military intelligence (MI), Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), Federal Intelligence Agency (FIA), Pakistan Rangers, and the Frontier Constabulary (FC) are the main agencies who are keeping persons incommunicado and who torture them to confess their involvement in anti-state activities. In Balochistan province there are dozens of military detention centers, where people after their arrest, are detained and tortured to force confession statements about their alleged activities. AHRC statement, released in June 2008 , says, “It is interesting to note that the army officials are interrogating persons from Balochistan to force a confession admitting their involvement with the Balochistan Liberation Army ( BLA) and those arrested from Sindh about their involvement with the Sindh Liberation Army (SLA).  The military rulers are certain that both these organizations are working to disassociate themselves fro Pakistan.” Since the inception of Pakistan, the baloch people have been facing the wrath of the state of Pakistan. It is the fifth or sixth military intervention in Balochistan chasing the young and old, and women and children, into rugged mountains and deserts of the province for long periods of sufferings. After the assassination of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, particularly the Baloch youth is fighting for their rights. These are not only the tribesmen, but educated classes, teachers, students and other parts of emerging Baloch middle class are also taking part in the struggle against atrocities also, and hence being tortured and killed. The Baloch people are also the victim of violence being perpetrated by religious and sectarian militant groups. The pro- Taliban elements are active in the province whereas sectarian groups have been targeting members of the Shia community, particularly the Persian-speaking Hazaras. Such sectarian attacks are on the rise occurring mainly in the provincial capital, Quetta. The pro-Taliban Islamist groups are attacking those who act contrary to their interpretation of Islam. Teachers and students are being killed allegedly by the security agencies or by the Islamist groups or by the both. In early June this year, a complete shutter-down strike was observed in most parts of Balochistan to protest against the killing of prominent Baloch intellectual Professor Ghulam Husain Saba Dashtiari, called “Baloch Noam Chomsky” in www.thebalochhal. com editorial. The strike call was given by Baloch National Front and was observed in Khuzdar, Kech, Pasni, Gwadar, Nushki, Panjgur, Hoshab, Tump, Mand and adjoining areas, suspending all trade and business activities. All major markets, banks and even chemists in these areas remained closed for the day. The University of Balochistan was also shut to mourn the killing. Prof Ghulam Hussain, commonly known as Saba Dashtiari, was gunned down in broad daylight in Quetta. Dashtiari was known for his affinity with Baloch nationalist groups and his anti-establishment views. The Ansarul Islam, a little-known militant organization, claimed responsibility for the murder. Its spokesperson, who identified himself as Saifullah, said that the group would target anyone it deemed anti-jihad. Dashtiari became an active member of the Baloch nationalist movement in 2007 because of the dramatic increase in numbers of ‘ missing’ persons and army operation. He attended gatherings of the Baloch Republican Party, the Baloch Students Organisation and Baloch National Front. He was often a keynote speaker at demonstrations and seminars arranged by these groups. He blamed the military and the intelligence agencies for torturing and killing Baloch activists and even refused a presidential award from former president Pervez Musharraf in protest against the violation of human rights in Balochistan. Teachers, professors, and school administrators have found their lives increasingly under threat in Balochistan. Between January 2008 and October 2010 , suspected militant groups or agencies targeted and killed at least 22 teachers and other education personnel in the province. The Human Rights Watch laments that the most affected ethnic group currently is the Baloch because it is they who are losing teachers. It is their children whose education is affected, and it is their future that is at stake. The net result of the dirty wars in Balochistan is that despite being rich in gas, oil and other minerals, the province stands out with the worst social indicators. According to the World Bank, it scores lowest in 10 key indicators for education, literacy, health, water and sanitation for 2006-07. Poverty in Balochistan has risen and “become statistically indistinguishable from that in NWFP, the province with traditionally the highest measured poverty.” The very unfortunate situation in Balochistan, however, seem to have raised little concern in other parts of the country. The ethnic media appears more concerned about the ‘ghairat business’ or events occurred in Karachi or Islamabad. Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch concludes in an interview that the Pakistani media does not report on the brutal realities of Balochistan in any meaningful manner…Its people suffer from persistent, systematic and widespread human rights abuse both by state authorities and at the hands of non-state actors.  

Why Burma Matters

While the world’s attention is focused on the ongoing tension in the South China Sea, rebels in Burma are creating problems for the western extreme of Southeast Asia.  Though never fully pacified, Burma has made modest gains in subduing -- or at least co-opting -- the various ethnic groups that challenge the central government’s rule. But the past few days have seen troubling signs that this relative tranquillity may begin to unravel with  Kachin rebels  in Burma’s northwest fighting a series of skirmishes with government forces.  Ethnic unrest in Burma isn’t new and certainly isn’t surprising. A Chinese-built dam under construction on the  Taping River  in Burma has concerned the local population since construction began. The dam, which is in the area just opposite the border with China’s Yunnan Province, is intended to send electricity to China, Burma’s biggest patron. The Chinese working on the project are said to feel threatened and many are fleeing back to China. The refugee situation is reminiscent of the Kokang clashes in 2009 , which created rare  public tension  between China and Burma’s leaders.  Further to the south, China is enlisting the help of another  ethnic opposition  group to help find four missing Chinese engineers. These engineers were also working on an unpopular hydropower project. In this case, the rebels made a demand to the Chinese that they restrain Burma’s government forces from entering the area while they search for the missing Chinese, lest they start a larger conflict These developments must be unsettling to China given its extensive interests in Burma. To begin with, as noted in a recent  Economist  article, an estimated 2 million Chinese live in Burma’s northern states. Economically, China has many resource extraction and hydropower production operations in the country.  Furthermore, Burma is a key geopolitical asset to China in that friendly relations with its government offers access to the Indian Ocean and an outpost against further Indian penetration into Southeast Asia.  China desires stability in the region as a means of protecting its interests there. As demonstrated in the Kokang clashes, China will chastise Burma if it sees the junta’s actions as inimical to Chinese interests. However, this time is different in that it’s the pursuit of Chinese interests, namely clearing the area of the hydropower project from hostile Kachin entities, that’s disturbing the peace.  Consequently, KIA spokesmen have hinted at the possibility of intentionally targeting Chinese assets. If this happens, then China can’t sit idly by. There is already speculation that the situation may necessitate some level of Chinese involvement. However, increased Chinese involvement in this area could elicit a response from Burma’ s other neighbour in this region. India values Burma just as much, and so is watching these developments closely. India’s growing economy requires the same resources from Burma currently heading north to China.  India would also like to push its influence further into Southeast Asia, and Burma is crucial to that end. In regards to security, northwest Burma is thought to be a safe haven for insurgents operating in India’s restive north- eastern states. Finally, unresolved border disputes with China and a growing paranoia within India of Chinese encirclement makes minimizing Chinese influence in Burma a key security goal for India. Distrust of Chinese motives in Burma is the motivation behind India’s warming relations with the country’s generals, despite their continued abhorrent behaviour.  Clearly, the situation must be handled delicately by all parties. The tri-border area sits ominously between a Sino-Indian rivalry that will shape the future of the region. Something must therefore be done by the Burmese government to reinstate some level of control over this region, otherwise, it could become a vacuum in which Chinese and Indian interests directly clash.  But despite the gravity of the situation, the United States has still been missing from this discussion. The problem is that US policy has removed it from relevance in Burma. Developments in Burma should be of concern, yet the United States has so far chosen to allow human rights concerns to inhibit meaningful engagement.  Selective US policies in the ‘Arab Spring’ demonstrated that US diplomacy can be pragmatic when necessary.  With this in mind, US policymakers should re-evaluate relations with Burma. Without improved US-Burma ties, the country could evolve into an unstable,  WMD-proliferating  client state of China, serving as a buffer to India while also giving China valuable access to the Indian Ocean. This outcome conjures images of a tropical North Korea. But contrary to appearances, there’ s no deep affinity between Burma and China; it’s purely a relationship of necessity for Burma. Conversely, improving ties with it and possibly dislodging it from Beijing’s orbit could benefit the United States by aiding a budding ally in India while removing a source of tension within ASEAN.   

In Inda And Israel, The Burden Of Protest Falls On The Victims Of Injustice

The moment of truth is approaching for Obama and his like who preach the high morality of non-violence to the powerless, writes Pankaj Mishra AT A dark moment in postcolonial history, when many US-backed despots seemed indestructible, the great Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, whose centenary falls this year, wrote: ‘We shall witness [the day] when the enormous mountains of tyranny blow away like cotton.’ That miraculous day promised by the poet finally came in Egypt and Tunisia this spring. We have since witnessed many of the world’s acknowledged legislators scrambling to get on the right side of history. Addressing—yet again—the ‘ Muslim world’ last month, Barack Obama hailed ‘the moral force of non-violence’, through which ‘the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades.’ But Obama failed to acknowledge to his highly politicised audience the fact that the United States enabled, and often required, the ‘ relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens dignity.’ And he gave no sign that he would respect the moral authority of non- violent mass movements ranged against America’s closest allies, India and Israel. Let’s not forget: before the Arab spring of 2011 , there was the Kashmiri summer of 2010. Provoked by the killing of a teenage boy in June last year, hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris took to the streets to protest against India’s brutal military occupation of the Muslim- majority valley. Summer is the usual ‘season for a face-off in Kashmir’, as the Indian filmmaker Sanjay Kak writes in Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir, a lively anthology of young Kashmiri writers, activists, rappers and graphic artists. There is little doubt that Kashmiris, emboldened by the Arab spring, will again stage massive demonstrations in their towns and villages. The chances of a third intifada in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel are just as high, as Binyamin Netanyahu devises ever greater hurdles to self- determination for his Arab subjects. In the next few months we will see more clearly than before how India and Israel— billed respectively as the world’s largest, and the Middle East’s only, democracy—respond to unarmed mass movements. Certainly, they have shown no sign of fresh thinking, even as the victims of their occupations grow more inventive. India’s security establishment fell back last summer on reflexes conditioned by two decades of fighting a militant insurgency during which more than 70 ,000 people, mostly civilians, have died; 8 ,000 have ‘ disappeared’, often into mass graves; and innumerable others have been subjected to ‘systematic torture’, according to a rare public outburst by the Red Cross. Last summer soldiers fired at demonstrators, killing 112 civilians, mostly teenagers (Kashmir has many of its own Hamza al-Khatibs). The government imposed round- the-clock curfews (one village was locked in for six weeks) and banned text messaging on mobile phones, while police spies infiltrated Facebook groups in an attempt to hunt down demo organisers. Faced with non-violent Palestinian protesters, who correctly deduce that their methods have a better chance of influencing world opinion than Hamas’s suicide bombers, Israel hasn’t varied its repertoire of repression much. For years now the West Bank village of Bil’in has campaigned against the Israeli government’s appropriation of its lands. Israel responded by jailing its leader, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, often called the Palestinian Gandhi, for 15 months—‘solely’, according to Amnesty International, ‘for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and assembly.’ Encouraged by Egyptians and Tunisians, masses of unarmed Palestinians marched last month to the borders of Israel to mark the dispossession of 750 ,000 Palestinians in Mandate Palestine. Israeli soldiers met them with live gunfire, killing more than a dozen and wounding scores of others. Of course, occupations damage the occupier no less than the occupied. Revanchist nationalism has corroded democratic and secular institutions in both India and Israel, which, not surprisingly, have developed a strong military relationship in the recent decade. Hindu nationalists feel an elective affinity with Israel for its apparently uncompromising attitude to Muslim minorities. In 1993 the then Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, reportedly advised the Hindu nationalist leader LK Advani to alter the demographic composition of the mutinous Kashmir valley by settling Hindus there. Advani, later India’s deputy prime minister, fondly quoted from Netanyahu’s book on terrorism, given to him by the author. Israeli counter- insurgency experts now regularly visit Kashmir. India and Israel, both products of botched imperial partitions, were the Bush government’s two most avid international boosters of the catastrophic ‘war on terror’, fluently deploying the ideological templates of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—democracy versus terrorism, liberalism versus fundamentalism—to justify their own occupations. Aggressively jingoistic media helped hardliners in both countries to demonise their political adversaries as terrorists or terrorist sympathisers. Meanwhile, liberal opinion grew almost inaudible. Writing recently in the New York Review of Books, the Israeli scholar and activist David Shulman lamented: ‘Israeli academic intellectuals as a group have failed to mount a sustained and politically effective protest against the occupation.’ This is also true of the Indian intelligentsia. So the burden of non-violent protest in India and Israel has fallen almost entirely on the victims of the occupation. Indeed, many liberal commentators try to condone their passivity by deploring the absence of non- violent protests in Kashmir and Palestine (never mind the fact that the first intifadas in both places in the late 1980 s turned violent only after being savagely suppressed). The moment of truth is fast approaching for those powerful men who preach the high morality of non-violence to the powerless. Only an American veto seems likely to prevent the member states of the UN from declaring a new Palestinian state in September. But Palestinians may rise up against their colonial overlords well before this expected rejection. And, as the political philosopher Michael Walzer points out, Israel would then confront ‘something radically new. How can it resist masses of men and women, children too, just walking across the ceasefire lines?’ The tactics of young tech-savvy Kashmiris have already confused and bewildered the Indian government, whose recent actions—censoring the Economist, forcing spying rights out of BlackBerry and Google—evoke the last-minute desperation of the Arab world’s mukhabarat (secret police) states. The mass movement in Kashmir, which has emerged after two decades of a futile militant insurgency and has no compromising links to Pakistan, poses, as the Kashmiri journalist Parvaiz Bukhari writes in Until My Freedom Has Come, an unprecedented ‘moral challenge to New Delhi’s military domination over the region.’ The stage is set, then, for a summer of protests, of unarmed masses rising up to express, in Obama’s words, ‘a longing for freedom that has built up for years.’ They may well meet with live bullets rather than offers of negotiation and compromise. It will be fascinating to see if Obama makes good his claim last month that the United States ‘opposes violence and repression’ and ‘ welcomes change that advances self-determination’. Certainly, as the corpses of the Palestinian and Kashmiri Hamza al-Khatibs pile up, there will be the usual flurry of intellectual rationalisations—the bogey of Islamic terror will again be invoked. And we will witness how the ‘enormous mountains of tyranny’ in the world’s greatest democracies do not blow away like cotton.