June 20, 2018

Mapping Belt and Road Initiative

https://www.merics.org/en/bri-tracker/mapping-the-belt-and-road-initiative

*The BRI has a growing security component*

It is clear by now that the BRI is about much more than gaining market access and shares, securing trade routes and energy supplies as well as exporting Chinese industrial overcapacities to far-away construction projects. The initiative is a key part of Xi Jinping’s grand foreign policy design to increase China’s influence in its regional neighborhood and beyond.

Over the past year, three themes have emerged that provide the context for Xi’s signature initiative: the BRI is a long-term project, it has a global scope, and it is not limited to economic goals, but also has a growing security component.

✔First, the BRI is here to stay. Initial doubts about the initiative’s longevity have been dispersed. In the fall of 2017, the BRI was introduced into the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) constitution. The CCP is also ensuring a flow of financing into BRI projects. Even as it introduced capital controls that make it harder for Chinese companies to invest abroad, it still channels funds into specific sectors and regions – and BRI policy goals are a strategic priority. The excessive debt levels of many target countries receiving Chinese loans have, however, sparked concerns about the BRI’s financial sustainability and have made mobilizing private investments and commercial lending a priority for Beijing.

 

*The geographical scope of the BRI is constantly expanding*

✔Second, rather than remaining limited to initial target regions along historic land and maritime routes between China and Europe, the geographical scope of the BRI is constantly expanding. Last year, the “Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative” introduced a new so-called economic passage through the Arctic to Europe (as marked in the map above). Beijing also signaled its intention to further expand the BRI into Latin America. The increasingly global scope of the BRI underlines that Beijing uses the initiative as a vehicle to frame and market its overall foreign policy. MERICS’ tracking efforts reflect this trend.  

✔Third, BRI is no longer limited to economic goals. The “Vision for Maritime Cooperation” includes a sub-chapter devoted to security issues as one of Beijing’s cooperation priorities. In view of China’s ballooning investments and growing Chinese expat communities in risk-prone countries, Beijing has become convinced that it has to take security concerns along the BRI routes in its own hands. In 2013, China adopted an anti-terrorism law allowing for foreign missions of PLA units, and it opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, a hub of the Maritime Silk Road. A new industry of Chinese private security companies is rapidly developing, providing protection to BRI projects. Beijing also touts its technological, law enforcement and military capabilities to countries covered by the BRI on security-related issues like satellite navigation, disaster management and combating crime.

 

🔴 *The BRI is not without controversy, for economic and political reasons*

✔First, the MERICS BRI database shows an uneven track record as to whether and when projects proceed from the planning and MoU stage. Blanket allegations that China fails to deliver on promised investments have proven to be unfounded. But China found some environments more difficult to operate in than expected, and expectations of fast results were disappointed in many target regions. Many initially enthusiastic governments, such as in Central Eastern Europe, now view the BRI more soberly.

✔Secondly, the BRI has raised suspicions about China’s global agenda and has provoked increasingly assertive counter-initiatives by other countries. The United States as well as regional powers in Asia and Europe have grown concerned about rising Chinese influence, partly built on Beijing’s propaganda outreach, partly on concrete infrastructure outcomes. Japan presented the “Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure” (2015), and together with India launched the “Asia-Africa Growth Corridor” (2017). Joined by the United States and Australia, these countries now discuss harmonizing their efforts within the so-called “Quad,” initially a security dialogue format. The EU is working on a response strategy, which will likely be presented in October 2018. Lastly, Russia put forward its own “Greater Eurasia” economic integration concept with the aim to include member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and potentially ASEAN countries.

Building on a database that already contains more than 1,000 project entries – only projects above a 25 million USD project value threshold are included – MERICS aims to continuously monitor all these developments. In the months and years ahead we will publish a series of analytical pieces highlighting successes, failures and consequences of China’s BRI-related activities. Several thematic and regional maps will illustrate these articles and complement the above-shown BRI map

One Bill One Ruin (OBOR)  / Bankrupt Ruin Initiative (BRI)

Posted on June 19, 2018 by Nepal Matters for America

“One Bill One Ruin (OBOR)  / Bankrupt Ruin Initiative (BRI)”

Jennifer Loy interviews Priyajit Debsarkar, author of Pakistan’s Atlantique Attack & Arbitration  and the previous book The Last Raja of West Pakistan,  on China ’s OBOR/BRI and the motivations behind it.

In a simple way, can you explain China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR)/Belt Road Initiative (BRI)?

My honest candid explanation would be one Belt of Debt, Road to nowhere. One Road Multiple traps. One Bill One Ruin (OBOR)  / Bankrupt Ruin Initiative (BRI).

Do you believe Xi Jinping’s intentions are truly economic and almost nation-building, or do you think there are military motives as well?

Most certainly martial myth of double digit growth to keep the deep seeded socio- economic issues at bay. Domestic debt, poverty and climate change linked pollution are the key spheres that President Xi should concentrate on.

The BRI is an incredible endeavor, a modern Silk Road.  How is the Chinese government funding this project?

Estimates for the capital needs of projects under its scope range from US$4 trillion to US$8 trillion over an indefinite period. China will try to provide concessional funding through institutions like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road Fund, But Chinese banks alone will not be able to fully fund these Belt and Road projects as the scale of the initiative expands. That’s when private capital will come in and public-private partnerships (PPP) have an important role to play. Port in Pakistan, Bridges in Bangladesh and Railways to Russia can’t be conceived out of thin air.

4. How do the Chinese people view such an extensive project?

I really doubt how much information the common Chinese has access to make an educated assessment of the entire project. It’s highly likely they will not have access to any real-time debt to GDP figures at best they can guess.

BRI projects would truly benefit the host nation if locals are employed.  Where are examples that they have been?

The best example is Tibet were locals have been involved in Chinese sponsored infrastructure development model.

6. In Xi Jinping’s first address to the UN in 2013, he stressed, “We should build partnerships in which countries treat each other as equals, engage in mutual consultation, and show mutual understanding.”  I feel this does not prove true today with Sino-Indian relations, especially as China is gaining influence in South Asia.  What can you say to this in terms of the BRI?

Delhi-Beijing aligning can work to Kabul’s advantage; this was reportedly decided at the informal summit in Wuhan on April 27-28 between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. If this gets operationalized, it has the potential to reshape the geopolitics in and around Afghanistan.

India appears to be losing influence in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.  What do they need to do to regain this, or should they wait and see how the BRI aids the region?

India must show pivotal role to ensure Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation emerges the prime alliance in South East Asia a beacon of hope in the region.

A couple months ago, India and China “reset” their relations. Was this for show or do you think it has worked?

China inaugurated its first overseas military base in Djibouti, increasing India’s anxiety about China’s growing profile in western Indian Ocean; maybe the Reset Button is made in China.

It appears Nepali Prime Minister Oli is interested in increasing relations with China.  Besides China Telcom Global and a Beijing funded railway into China, what other projects will Nepal benefit from with the BRI?

India and Nepal agree on key infrastructure and agriculture projects, two countries agree to expand rail links from Raxaul to Kathmandu apart from key Electricity projects. It’s not all doom and gloom. India and Nepal are connected by the same umbilical cord after all.

With positive and seemingly strengthening Sino-Nepali relations, it is odd that in early May Nepal withdrew from the Budhi Gandaki hydroelectricity project. Can you elaborate?

“Political prejudice or pressure from rival companies may have been instrumental in the scrapping of the project. But for us, hydropower is a main focus and come what may, we will revive the Budhi Gandaki project”, these are Nepal PM K P Oli’s own words; it can rise as a phoenix.

How far do you think Sino-Nepali relations can extend before India intervenes, perhaps militarily?

The historical angle of Gorkha war, an invasion of Tibet by Nepal from 1788-1792 should be made more accessible to the youth of today to understand the founding stone of Sino- Nepali Relationships.

In 2017 at the World Expo in Astana, Kazakhstan, the China Pavillion was concerned with clean, green technology. How have they already taken steps to implement this within the BRI?

Yes they have progressed – A new report released by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) delves deep into the country’s efforts to lead the world in laying an international foundation for renewable energy generation.

Chinese tourists make up the largest percentage in the Maldives.  How will the BRI improve the Maldivan economy besides tourism?

Ex-president Mohamed Nasheed said Chinese interests had leased at least 16 islets among the 1,192 scattered coral islands and were building ports and other infrastructure there, they are on route of becoming the Sri Lanka 2.

Besides the 99-year lease on the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota, how else will the BRI affect the island nation?

Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport is a perfect example of Ghost town developmental model which will benefit the Island Kingdom.

The landlocked Kingdom of Bhutan is secluded and unique because of its geography as well as its environment and lifestyle.  Will the BRI affect it?

The taste of Doklam dim sums along with a fuzzy Beijing bluff  will live in the memories of Bhutan for a long time to come.

Bangladesh is often a forgotten South Asian nation.  It is poor and suffers from great infrastructure concerns and it would greatly benefit from the BRI.  Are there any such projects?

The Dhaka Stock Exchange is the most recent Sino-progress in Bangladesh. It will not benefit in the long run as China has aggressively in recent times come up with export oriented finished garments. The political leadership in Bangladesh has resolved a 70- year old land dispute with India in the most amicable way possible. They are working closely to implement the Indira Mujib Accord signed in 1971.

What are the prospects for Gwadar and Kyaukphyu as Indian Ocean ports for China to decrease sea shipping?

The string of Pearls from Myanmar to West Pakistan might not be beneficial to the dreams of Deep Sea shipping alternatives for China. With regards to Pakistan the entire region from Kashgar to Gwadar is plagued with security concerns and runs into foreign sovereign disputed territory. With an impending IMP bailout package with high premium of FATF black list its most likely to derail.

How is the “China Model” affecting nations in Africa?

Offer the honey of cheap infrastructure loans, with the sting of default coming if smaller economies can’t generate enough free cash to pay their interest down. It’s a road of multiple traps.

The BRI will extend to Europe eventually. Explain those that are and are not interested and their reasoning.

Only if it succeeds to lift off in Asia and Africa, which looks highly unlikely at the present time.

Xi described the BRI as a “win-win” for the nations involved.  I understand it is too soon to truly tell.  Regardless, what needs to happen for it to be a “win-win” for those involved?

Win for some, Multiple Debt trap for all.

Jennifer is a Research Associate at Nepal Matters for America, Washington DC.

Photo Courtesy: South China Morning Post

https://nepalmattersforamerica.org/2018/06/19/expert-interview-priyajit-debsarkar/

World Security Update: JustSecurity

Be sure to visit www.justsecurity.org throughout the day for the latest analysis from the Just Security team. 

   

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is visiting China today and tomorrow,according to Chinese state media. The trip follows Kim’s summit with President Trump in Singapore last week and is his third visit to China in three months, Jeremy Page and Chun Han Wong report at the Wall Street Journal.

The announcement of the visit marked a departure from protocol, as Beijing usually waits until after North Korean leaders have left to acknowledge their visits. Lucy Hornby and Charles Clover report at the Financial Times.

It is expected that Kim will discuss sanctions and – at least in general terms – the commitments towards denuclearization that he made at the Singapore summit, the BBC reports.

“We hope this visit can help to further deepen China-North Korea relations, strengthen strategic communication between both countries on important issues and promote regional peace and stability,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing. Ben Blanchard and Christine Kim report at Reuters.

Details of Kim’s itinerary have not been released, but the timing of the visit serves as an indication of Beijing’s key role in diplomacy on the continent, with one Beijing policy analyst commenting that “although it seems there is a booming romance between Kim Jong-un and Trump, Kim understands the hierarchy, he knows that [Chinese President] Xi is the Asian Godfather.” Emily Rouhala reports at the Washington Post.

Kim’s visit will allow China to highlight its crucial role in U.S. efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, with the U.S. having long hoped that China will exert its influence on the North. Christopher Bodeen and Dake Kang report at the Washington Post.

Kim’s visit coincides with a major trade conflict between the U.S. and China, enabling Kim to play one side against the other. Kim appears to arrive in Beijing with some degree of leverage; although China has backed U.N. sanctions against North Korea, it has recently indicated it is willing to offer Pyongyang economic assistance – in a move some see as intended to anger Washington, Jane Perlez reports at the New York Times.

China’s priorities for talks with Kim will be to ensure that Beijing is included in any peace treaty talks, and to move towards creating an environment on the Korean Peninsula that will make it unnecessary for U.S. troops to remain. Al Jazeerareports.

The Pentagon announced yesterday that it had agreed with South Korea to cancel the major Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint exercise scheduled for August,in keeping with Trump’s pledge to halt “war games” while negotiations are in play with North Korea. Gordon Lubold and Michael R. Gordon report at the Wall Street Journal.

“Consistent with President Trump’s commitment and in concert with our Republic of Korea ally, the United States military has suspended all planning for this August’s defensive ‘war game,’” commented Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White in a statement released last night. White added that “we are still coordinating additional actions … no decisions on subsequent war games have been made,” Eric Schmidtt reports at the New York Times.

South Korea presented a united front with the U.S. with Seoul’s defense ministry claiming that the decision was necessary to support ongoing talks both countries have with the North. Ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo comment “South Korea and the U.S. made the decision as we believe this will contribute to maintaining such momentum,” Kim Tong-Hyung reports at theWashington Post.

“If you are not attending to your security and continuing to advance your capabilities, then you’ll be in danger … security is a temporary condition,”cautioned Chief of U.S. Forces Korea and U.N. Command Gen. Vincent Brooks, the general who is ultimately responsible for South Korean security. Demetri Sevastopulo and Bryan Harris report at the Financial Times.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday that he will likely travel back to North Korea “before too terribly long,” in an attempt to flesh out the commitments made at the Singapore summit last week. Pompeo made the remarks at a speech to the Detroit Economic Club, and added that it was “hard to know” whether a second summit would be required between Trump and Kim, David Brunnstrom reports at Reuters.

Pompeo said yesterday that Trump agreed to “alter the armistice agreement” that brought Korean War fighting to a close in exchange for denuclearization,adding that Kim “has made very clear his commitment to fully denuclearize his country… that’s everything, right. It’s not just the weapons systems. It’s everything. I return for that, the president has committed to making sure that we alter the armistice agreement, provide the security assurances that chairman Kim needs.” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said that he appreciated the reasons for the decision to cancel the exercises, but stressed the need for the two countries to continue their other joint drills which he described as “important pillars” for maintaining regional peace and stability, adding that plans for U.S.-Japan exercises have not been affected. Kim Tong Hyung reports at the A.P.

The Russian Foreign Ministry today welcomed the suspension of the drills,according to Interfax news agency. Katya Golubkova reports at Reuters.

An explainer on U.S.-South Korean “war games” is provided by the A.P.

It is a moral and strategic imperative for the U.S. to stand with North Korean dissidents, Natan Sharansky comments at the Washington Post.

   

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) Inspector General Michael Horowitz disputed Trump’s claim that his report exonerated the president with regard to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, saying during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday that he “didn’t look into collusion questions” and his investigators did not look at the Russia probe being led by special counsel Robert Mueller. Sadie Gurman and Del Quentin Wilber report at the Wall Street Journal.

Horowitz will issue a report on former F.B.I. Director James Comey’s handling of memos detailing his conversations with Trump, the Inspector General said at the hearing yesterday. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said that his demand for the Mueller investigation to be suspended following the release of the Inspector General’s report was just for show, explaining yesterday that his calls for Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to “redeem themselves” was what he’s “supposed to do” because he’s not a “sucker.” Darren Samuelsohn reports at POLITICO.

“I have spoken voluntarily to Congress and I also cooperated with the special counsel,” Erik Prince, the Trump ally and founder of the private security company Blackwater, has said in an interview with Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast, defending himself after coming under scrutiny for his reported meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Lebanese American businessman George Nader and the Israeli social media specialist Joel Zamel at Trump Tower in August 2016, and his meeting with a senior Russian official during the presidential transition.

   

YEMEN

Yemeni government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition today entered the airport compound in the port city of Hodeidah following intense battles with the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels currently in control of the city. The storming of the airport comes amid the ongoing pro-government forces and Saudi-led coalition offensive on Hodeidah which, if captured, would mark a turning point in the Yemeni conflict, Mohammed Ghobari reporting at Reuters.

Around 26,000 people have sought safety during the offensive on Hodeidah,the spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, Stephane Dujarric, said yesterday, adding that “the number is expected to increase as hostilities continue.” Al Jazeera reports.

“There can be no conditions in any offers to withdraw,” the U.A.E.’s Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash told reporters yesterday, explaining that the coalition’s approach “is one of gradual, calibrated and methodical pressure designed for unconditional withdrawal of Houthis.” Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

“The crisis in Yemen should be resolved through political channels … a military approach will fail,” the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a phone call to Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani yesterday, according to Iranian state media. Reuters reports.

   

SYRIA

The Turkish Armed Forces and U.S. Armed Forces have begun “independent patrol activities” in northern Syria as per the Manbij roadmap agreed by the two countries, the Turkish military said yesterday, referring to the tensions over the U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish Y.P.G. militia in the area, which Ankara deems to be a terrorist organization, and an extension of the separatist Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.). Reuters reports.

Turkey has expanded its military, political and economic influence in northern Syria. There is speculation that its deepening hold is intended to revive imperial territorial claims to Syrian provinces and to increase its standing when it comes to negotiating Syria’s future, Sarah El Deeb reports at the AP.

Israel was behind Sunday’s attack on pro-Syrian government forces near the southern city of Albu Kamal, a U.S. official said yesterday, making the comments after Syrian state media accused the U.S.-led coalition of being responsible for the airstrikes near the Iraq-Syria border, which caused multiple casualties. Barbara Starr, Ryan Browne and Oren Liebermann report at CNN.

“We are not commenting on foreign reports,” a spokesperson for the Israeli military said today in response to the claim by the U.S. official. The AFP reports.

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry condemned the airstrike near Albu Kamal in a statement issued today, after Iraqi Shi’ite militias and Syria accused the U.S.-led coalition of carrying out Sunday’s airstrikes. The AP reports.

Talks in Geneva between representatives of Russia, Iran and Turkey will begin today to discuss establishing a committee to draft a new constitution for Syria,however the U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura conceded that he does not expect “a major breakthrough” but is “confident progress is possible.” Barbara Bibbo reports at Al Jazeera.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 26 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between June 11 and June 17. [Central Command]

   

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday that the Palestinian leadership rejects the Trump administration’s plan to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip, as it believes the U.S. intends to create a diplomatic rift between Gaza and the West Bank. A statement issued by Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh accused the U.S. administration of working with Israel to separate Gaza from the West Bank under the pretense of “humanitarian aid or rehabilitation,” with the goal of ending Palestinian attempts to establish an independent state, Jack Khoury and Amir Tibon report at Haaretz.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in the Jordanian capital of Amman to discuss regional developments, with Netanyahu’s office announcing yesterday that “Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s commitment to maintaining the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem.” Al Jazeera reports.

President Trump became the fourth consecutive U.S. president to uphold a decades-long commitment – contained in a secret letter – not to press Israel to give up its nuclear weapons, after a delegation of senior Israeli officials met with the then-national security adviser Michael Flynn at the White House in 2017, according to a report published in The New Yorker yesterday. The delegation including ambassador Ron Dermer met with officials at the White House to discuss signing the letter, but Flynn resigned amid the Russia scandal later that day, Haaretzreports.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has said that the intensification of violence in Gaza is “a warning to all how close to the brink of war the situation is,” and is urging leaders on both sides to recommit to the ceasefire that ended the 2014 war. Edith M. Lederer reports at the Washington Post.

A 24-year old Palestinian man was killed yesterday when a section of Israel’s fortifications on the Gaza border blew up as he tampered with it, according to the Israeli Defense Forces. Nidal al-Mugrhabi reports at Reuters.

   

IRAN

The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will travel to Switzerland and Austria next month, the Swiss and Austrian government have said, with the visit to the neutral European countries coming amid attempts to save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal after President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in May. Reutersreports.

Iran has no plans to extend the range of its missiles, a commander for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari said today, also reiterating that Iran would not negotiate with President Trump over Iran’s regional influence and that Iranian politicians and activists who favored a new round of talks were “traitors and anti-revolutionaries.” Bozorgmehr Sharafedin reports at Reuters.

The former Israeli government minister Gonen Segev was indicted by state prosecutors last week for allegedly spying for Iran, the Israeli Security Agency and the Israeli Police said in a statement yesterday. Ruth Eglash reports at theWashington Post.

   

AFGHANISTAN

At least four members of Afghanistan’s security forces were killed today by Taliban fighters targeting checkpoints in northern Kunduz province, according to a provincial official. The AP reports.

Uzbekistan has invited Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban to hold peace talks on its territory, the Uzbek foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday, explaining that it was ready to “create, at any stage of the peace process, all the necessary conditions for setting up direct talks.” Reuters reports.

   

U.S. SPACE FORCE

“We must have American dominance in space … I’m hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish the Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces,” President Trump said yesterday at the White House during a meeting of his National Space Council, describing the new force as being “separate but equal” to the Air Force. Betsy Klein reports at CNN.

“We don’t want China and Russia and other countries leading us … We’re going to be the leader by far,” Trump said yesterday, framing the new force as being important for U.S. national security. Andy Pasztor reports at the Wall Street Journal.

An act of Congress is needed to create a new branch of the military, experts have said in response to Trump’s announcement. Geoff Brumfiel and David Welna explain at NPR.

   

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

Former C.I.A. coder Joshua Adam Schulte has been indicted for computer hacking and espionage, allegedly having passed on the agency’s computer intrusion secrets to WikiLeaks, the Justice Department announced yesterday. Schulte was already in federal custody in Manhattan on child-porn charges and if convicted, he likely faces decades in prison, Kevin Poulsen reports at The Daily Beast.

“Schulte utterly betrayed this nation and downright violated his victims,” F.B.I. official William Sweeney Jr. said in the Justice Department press release, adding that “as an employee of the C.I.A., Schulte took an oath to protect this country, but he blatantly endangered it by the transmission of Classified Information.” Avery Anapol reports at the Hill.

   

U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke on the phone yesterday to discuss Syria and North Korea. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the two senior politicians also discussed “some aspects of bilateral relations, including the schedule of political contacts between Russia and the U.S. for the near future,” the A.P. reports.

Pompeo “re-emphasized the U.S. commitment to the southwest ceasefire arrangement that was approved by President Trump and President Putin one year ago,” according to the U.S. State Department, which also claimed in a statement that Pompeo “noted that it was critical for Russia and the Syrian regime to adhere to these arrangements and ensure no unilateral activity in this area.” The statement did not mention whether the two diplomats talked about the Korean Peninsula, Katya Golubkova reports at Reuters.

The Austrian capital of Vienna is under consideration as the location for a potential summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, two sources familiar with the discussions said yesterday. The sources added that the meeting could take place in advance of a July 11-12 N.A.T.O. summit in Brussels that Trump is expected to attend, the comments following Trump’s assertion to reporters on Friday that it was possible that he would meet Putin this summer, Steve Holland reports at Reuters.

The Kremlin said today that there are no plans for a meeting between Trump and Putin ahead of the N.A.T.O. summit, according to Interfax news agency. Katya Golubkov reports at Reuters.

The State Department yesterday urged Russia to release more than 150 political and religious prisoners, accusing Moscow of returning to “cruel Soviet-era practices” to suppress dissent, with one senior State Department official commenting that “the number of these cases involving Russia is growing rapidly…we have seen a threefold increase since 2014.” The renewed concern largely relates to Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Senstov, who opposed the Russia annexation of Crimea and is currently on a hunger strike in a Russian prison where he is serving a 20-year sentence on terrorism charges, Michael R. Gordon reports at the Wall Street Journal.

 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Tensions between the U.S. and Turkey have increased after the U.S. Senate voted yesterday to prohibit the transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey. Katrina Manson and Laura Pitel report at the Financial Times.

The Senate yesterday voted 85-10 to pass the annual defense policy bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.), which provides for around $716bn in spending. Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

June 19, 2018

Balochistan: Tales from the dungeon

Tales from the dungeon: Haji Naseer

Sajid Hussain June 19, 2018

Featured In the Tales from the Dungeon series of Balochistan Times, former victims of enforced disappearance recount their ordeal. Haji Naseer was one of the first political activists to be whisked away by Pakistan military from Balochistan in 2004. He now lives in Germany as a refugee.

 

My name is Haji Naseer, and I am one of the first victims of enforced disappearances in Balochistan.

I was one of the founding members of the Baloch National Movement (BNM), a political party formed in 2004 to campaign for an independent Balochistan. We, under the leadership of Ghulam Mohammed Baloch, believed that the forcible annexation of Balochistan into Pakistan in 1948 was the main factor behind the poverty and misery of the Baloch people.

At the time of my forcible disappearance, I was serving as the Finance Secretary of the BNM. The finances of the party were meagre that mostly came from donations by small business owners and the Baloch diaspora. So I did not have to do a lot of record keeping. Most of this money was spent on seminars and public awareness campaigns.

My role in BNM was more about running awareness programs rather than worry about book keeping. Those programs were generally about creating awareness among the Baloch about their basic rights – their right to self-determination, education and human rights.

General Pervaiz Musharraf had recently staged his coup d’etat and was in the process of strengthening his power. We knew that it was during the dictatorships that Pakistan turned more brutal to Baloch nationalist voices. It was also during dictatorships that Baloch became more vocal about their rights.

Being a leader of the BNM, a party openly refuting Pakistan’s rule over Balochistan, I knew that my actions tended to annoy the powerful military. Yet I expected some sort of concession for being the Nazim (mayor) of the Mand town in the nascent local government system recently introduced by Musharraf. I understood that I could be arrested or trialled in a court, but I had no idea whatsoever that this military regime was going to introduce a more brutal policy to curb dissent: enforced disappearances. I had heard of a couple such random cases, but that was it.

On July 24, 2004, I arrived at my hometown, Mand, from a trip to Karachi. Next day, I along with some friends and relatives sat in front of my auto parts shop discussing the recent visit of the National Party (NP) leaders in Mand.  Both BNM and NP had been born out of the Balochistan National Movement in 2004. I knew the NP leaders well as they had been my former colleagues.

As we criticized NP’s politics, I saw four vehicles of the Frontier Corps (FC) approaching at around 16:30. They cordoned off the area in no time. The FC is a paramilitary force meant to guard the borders, but it has lately been used by the army to intimidate, arrest or even kill political activists in Balochistan.

At the time, Major Nasar was the face of the FC in Mand and he was quite well known in the town. He walked up to me while his men kept guard. We knew each other because I was Mand’s Nazim and he was the military’s representative, who practically ran all the affairs of the town.

He informed me reluctantly that he had been sent by the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s feared intelligence agency, to arrest me.

Hundreds of people were busy shopping in the bustling market of Mand, and they were all puzzled by the FC’s raid to arrest the town’s Nazim, but no one intervened.

I knew better than to resist. It would have been futile to resist against a bunch of heavily armed soldiers. I only hoped that Nasar, for the past’s sake, would not be severe with me. It was, in fact, because of him that no one misbehaved with me as long as I remained in the FC’s custody in Turbat, but incommunicado detention is a torture in its own right.

The harshest retribution I expected from the government was to be framed in a false case and some years of imprisonment until the courts sorted things out. I believed that the FC or the ISI did not have any constitutional power to arrest anyone. All the while I was in their custody, I could not stop thinking how Pakistani army was flouting the country’s constitution. It strengthened my belief for an independent Balochistan

I was taken to the FC camp and put in a cell. Approximately after two hours, I was blindfolded and taken to Major Nasar’s office. He asked his guards to remove the blindfolds and ordered them to wait outside.

When we were left alone, he expressed his regret over my arrest saying he knew I had not committed any crime. He informed me to my relief that the FC’s intelligence department that spied upon every single person in the town had no case against me. He said he was helpless and asked for my forgiveness.

“I know you’re not involved in any criminal activity, but if you have any information about the attack on the FC camp you should give it to me, so that I can save you from the ISI,” he then asked me in a friendly tone.

A few weeks earlier, residents of Mand had been waken up at around 3 in the morning by thunders and tremors. The sky had by lit bright as rockets flying from hills landed on the FC camp. We had never seen anything like this before. It was the first attack by the newly-formed Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) on the military. The BLF claimed the attack the next day saying they were fighting for an independent Balochistan.

“I don’t have a clue,” I told Major Nasar to his disappointment.

He told me an ISI team was to arrive to interrogate me. He was still apologetic and kept saying his hands were tied. “I can’t stop them from torturing you,” he said.

I was taken back to the room which was about six feet long and five feet wide. A bulb hanging outside illuminated the room. It was quite hot as the cell didn’t have any window or fan.

At noon on July 26, I was once again taken to the Major’s office. A group of interrogators were already there. They asked me about the attack on the FC camp. They accused me of harbouring the attackers and letting them fire the rockets from my house.

No sensible man would let someone fire rockets from his house, but ISI interrogators are not very fond of arguments. I could only plead with them that they were mistaken and that the rockets did not come from my house. I told them that everyone in the town knew that the rockets had been fired from the hills outside the town. Yet, the interrogators insisted either I proved myself innocent or named the attackers.

Then they noted down the names of all of my family members – children, siblings, cousins, cousins’ cousins.

They also asked me about the relation between the BNM, and the BLF and BLA.

After the interrogation, they handed me over to the civilian Levies force in the night of July 26. I was relieved, as I was no longer a missing person. My friends, relatives and political colleagues visited me at the Levies lockup. The general public also came to see the town’s Nazim in the prison. There was sort of a circus around the Levies office. Surrounded by people, I felt secure. July 27 was spent talking politics with the people. I fell asleep that night hoping to be produced in the court next day.

But I could not be produced in a court as there was no FIR against me. I had to be locked up for another day until the ISI prepared an FIR against me. Visitors kept pouring in.

At 9pm, FC personnel came again for me, dashing all my hopes of a quick and painless release. The Tehsildar (top administrator of Mand), Muneer Ahmed, a cousin of former Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Malik, feared that he might lose his job if I was not presented to the court. I suggested that if he was letting FC personnel take me, he should at least make FC admit in writing that I was in their custody. This would help him defend himself in the court and ensure that I would not be killed in the torture cells. The Tehsildar miraculously succeeded in getting a transfer letter from the FC. All my hopes were now on that piece of paper which would help the court in pressurizing the FC to produce me in a court of law.

The FC soldiers took me to their district headquarters in Turbat. We reached there at about 12 o’clock in the night. I was put in a small cell. But, at around 4 in the morning, they bundled me into a Toyota Cruiser and drove away. Two Toyota stout pick-up trucks escorted our vehicle. After two hours of drive, they stopped and unfolded my eyes. It was the FC camp in Hoshab. I was served tea.

The journey continued. The next time my blindfolds were removed, I was in the Panjgur FC camp. I was handed over to the FC officials in Panjgur who welcomed me with a few punches and slaps. The FC Panjgur was supposed to transport me to Quetta. I was being posted to one postman to another like a package.

We reached Quetta early morning after a fortnight’s journey, featuring occasional beatings and frequent threats, on dirt roads. I was repeatedly told that no prisoner had returned from Quetta. I was taken to the Quetta cantonment. I was blindfolded but I could hear cries and screams of other prisoners.

It took me some time to getting used to be spoken with a distinct version of Urdu riddled with profanity and swearing.

They took my clothes off and made change into khaki shalwar kameez. I was put in a small, square cell, about four feet wide and four feet long, coloured white and black in circular patterns. My guts screamed to throw out whenever I saw those zebra strips.

I was hanged at a corner of the cell with a chain attached to my handcuffs. I had already lost the sense of time. I did not remember how long I was hanged there. It seemed forever.

The next time they came to visit me was when they dragged me to a torture chamber which I believed was in a basement as I was made to climb down stairs. I was once again hanged by my hands. I could tell that a group of people were present there but only one asked me most of the questions. Others spoke only occasionally.

I was again asked about my name and details about my family and relatives. Other questions included:

Who attacked the FC camp in Mand?

Who is funding the BNM?

Which government officers are BNM members and which of them paid membership fees or donations?

Why are you against the army and Pakistan?

Why do you people seek help from Iran, India and the USA? Are they better than us?

Have we not given you enough freedom?

Have you visited Dera Bugti?

I told them I had in fact visited Dera Bugti to meet Nawab Akbar Bugti.

“Why,” the main interrogator asked.

“Akbar Bugti is a senior Baloch politician. Our meeting was covered by the press. There was nothing to hide,” I replied.

He said they had information that the BNM was receiving money from Balach Marri, the then leader of the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) who was killed in an encounter with military on November 21, 2007. They asked me about any meeting between Balach Marri and BNM leader Chairman Ghulam Mohammed? I told them I had no information about such a meeting.

On this, they beat me with a leather belt to make me confess to BNM’s collaboration with Marri.

Being hanged by hands, I had not slept for days. I had to switch the weight of my body from my wrists to toes in intervals. When my wrists refused to bear any further pain I stood on my toes, and vice versa.

I guess this constant torture of being hanged in days and beaten at nights continued for eight to nine days. Later, I was shifted to another cell where I was allowed to sit for half an hour a day without being tied to the ceiling. They had perhaps noticed the swelling of my legs.

I was allowed one toilet visit a day. They had given me a bucket to urinate in the cell, but since my hands were always tied to the ceiling, I had to cry and beg them every time I needed to urinate. The guard would level the bucket under me and lower my pants, so that I could pee without being untied. I could tell that the guard did not enjoy this part of his job as much as he enjoyed the beating part. I realized I should drink water only when I was extremely thirsty in order to minimize our problems, mine and the guard’s.

No matter what different food they gave me, I could never tell the taste due to the overbearing smell of the urine and vomit in the room.

Within few days, two other Baloch from Dera Bugti were brought in and hanged in the same manner in the same cell. We were all stumbling upon each other due to lack of space. So one of them was taken back. Although torture continued, I was happier as I had someone to talk to. But he too was shifted to another cell after a few days and I was once again left alone.

Every night I was asked the same questions. Only occasionally they asked a new question which would mostly be about the BNM or my colleagues. I figured they had arrested more people from Makran and wanted me to confirm the information they were getting from the new prisoners.

One day the Kashmiri guard, who was sympathetic to me, told me that a new prisoner from my hometown of Mand had been brought to my neighbouring cell. The new prisoner was Gwahram Saleh whom I knew quite well. I now understood the purpose of the new questions the interrogators asked me. They wanted me a second opinion on the information they had obtained from Gwahram.

The Kashmiri guard kept me updated about the happenings of the outside world. He told me that my case was being heard in the court. I remembered the paper I had made Levies officials obtain from the FC. I felt proud of myself.

The guard also informed me that there was a mic placed at the roof of my new cell to which I was going to be soon transferred. Long before I was shifted to the new cell which was located across Gwahram’s. Since the guard had tipped me that my transfer near Gwahram was on purpose so that they record our conversation, I tried to keep silence to avoid unnecessary problems. Who knows what statement raised suspicion?

The next night I was brought down to the torture cell in the basement, I found the interrogator high on alcohol. I was blindfolded but I was conveniently allowed to smell the interrogator’s breath. He slide-racked a pistol saying it was loaded and he would not hesitate to shoot me.

“You don’t want to upset me. I’m drunk and short-tempered. I won’t think for a second before shooting the life out of your fat ass,” he warned me.

Every time the pistol was slide-racked, my heart pounded like a galloping horse.

He was not satisfied with my answers, so, at the end of the interrogation, he ordered the guards to beat me with the cheter as hard as they could. I was beaten till I fainted. When I regained consciousness, I found myself hanged again with my arms tied to the ceiling.

One day, a young boy was thrown into my cell. He was not tied to the ceiling like me. During our conversations, I found out that he was a close relative of a high-level judge. He was arrested tipsy while walking near a bomb-attack site. He was beaten and questioned about his presence at that specific place at that specific time. He was released the next day.

A few days later, an officer burst out at me, making use of every single profanity Urdu language is capable of producing.

“So your people have gone to the court. Today is the hearing of your case. But you should know that we don’t listen to fucking courts. We don’t listen to any fucking one. We’re our own judge, and we’ll release you only when we wish it,” he said.

I did not say anything. I had no control over the people in the outside world. I could not stop them from taking my case to the court.

The torture continued without them showing any sign of tiredness. I could not see an end to it. No matter how hard I tried, I could not imagine a life without torture. During this state of hopelessness, I was one day presented before an official who told me he was the in-charge of the dungeon.

“Congratulations, you’re being released,” he said, handing me over my clothes. After I wore my clothes, he gave me a farewell speech.

He tried to make me believe that our movement was being funded by foreign powers and that we were playing to their tune. In rather a polite tone, he called me a pimp serving these foreign powers.

Sensing freedom, I all again became capable of showing anger. Taking offense at being called a pimp, I gave a counter speech.

“We are not pimps. We’re protesting and agitating for our basic rights. For a just cause. We are no pimp of no foreign power,” I blurted.

He ordered me out of his office. As I was being escorted out, I heard him making a phone call and bringing to use all the profanities of the Urdu language against me.

A few minutes later, I was dragged back into his office. He welcomed me with more profanities. He ordered me to remove my clothes and wear the prisoners’ uniform. My release had been suspended.

They took me back to the cell and resumed the beatings with renewed energy. I first repented misbehaving with the in-charge, but then I thought they perhaps never wanted to release me. Why would they suspend my release for an innocent argument? Or perhaps it was because of language barrier that they took my argument as dissent.

After about one week, I was once again taken to the in-charge’s office and ordered to wear my clothes. This time the in-charge did not bother to give his farewell speech.

I was made to sit in the back seat of a small car and two guards sat on each side. The vehicle took speed slowing down only at a few check posts. After half an hour, I was taken out of the car, blindfolded and told to walk straight without removing my blindfolds. They told me that they were watching over me and I must at all costs keep walking. They threatened me if in case I removed my blindfolds I would be shot from the back. I complied.

After walking for a while I felt someone was following me. He pushed me all of a sudden making me collide with something. I later learned that I had fallen on a biker who started punching me and tearing my clothes. He also removed my blindfolds and I found myself in the middle of a road in the middle of night being punched by an unknown man with a bicycle. Within minutes, some police officers arrived and took me to the police station which was just a few meters away.

The police locked me up in a cell with some drug addicts. The Pakistan police is notorious for killing people in fake encounters, so I feared I had been handed over to police to be killed.

No one said a word to me the whole night. I was clueless about what was happening. Despite the fear of being killed in a fake encounter, I had a good night’s sleep.

In the morning, I learnt I had caused the addicts some trouble. The police station had been put on high alert due to my presence and the friends or relatives of addicts could not steal in drugs. The addicts gave me hateful stares, yet some of them shared their breakfast with me.

On August 28, 2004, at around the noon, the SHO asked me to sign a charge sheet. I tried to read it but I could not understand the scrambled writing. After signing the paper, they took me to the court and presented me to Judge Qadir Mengal’s chambers. It was in the court where I learned about my crime for the first time. I had been arrested for assaulting a policeman on his bike and breaking his fingers. The judge sent me to the Huda jail on remand.

I was welcomed like a celebrity by the Hudda jail prisoners. My enforced disappearance had made headlines in the local press due to the persistent protests of my political colleagues. After greetings with prisoners, I took this opportunity to use the washroom and take a bath after about two months. I was still in the washroom that I heard someone calling my name. I hurriedly washed myself clean, wore my dirty clothes and hurried to the meeting room.

Agha Zahir was waiting there. He told me he was my lawyer. I did not believe him, so I asked the jail superintendent to connect me to someone from my family. After some initial reluctance, he allowed Agha Zahir to call Chairman Ghulam Mohammed who confirmed to me that Agha Zahir was my lawyer in the high court against my enforced disappearance.

The supposed policeman whom I had assaulted was also present in the room along with Agha Zahir and the jail superintendent, but he was not the same guy with the bicycle. This guy’s fingers were in fact broken but I did not know how.

The jail superintendent told me that since the high court had ordered my release and the “assaulted” policeman was ready to forgive me for breaking his fingers I was being released. The policeman signed an agreement withdrawing his case and I was allowed to walk out of Huda jail.

Agha Zahir took me on the back of his motorcycle but soon he realised two-up riding was banned in Quetta for security reasons. He, therefore, called a rickshaw for me.