January 17, 2006

NEED TO DRAW US ATTENTION TO BLOODSHED IN BALOCHISTAN

The Government of India should draw the attention of the US to the bloodshed in Balochistan and impress upon it the need to raise this issue with Mr. Shaukat Aziz. Baloch nationalists, including their activists in their diaspora, should also draw the attention of US officials and Congressmen to bleeding Balochistan. Carrying the details of the situation, including dramatic pictures, on their web sites, as they are already doing, is important and they should continue to do it, but that alone is not sufficient for educating the international community. More pro-active initiatives are called for such as constantly keeping policy-makers, parliamentarians and Congressmen and opinion-moulders in different countries informed and seeking their initiative in raising this issue with Pakistan and its military dictatorship.




NEED TO DRAW US ATTENTION TO BLOODSHED IN BALOCHISTAN

by B. Raman

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz of Pakistan would be visiting the US for a week from January 18, 2006. During his stay, he is due to meet President George Bush, Ms. Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, and other US leaders and officials.

2. As he embarks for the US, the new phase of the military operation launched by Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf against the Baloch people in order to suppress their freedom struggle would have completed one month. It was launched on December 18, 2005, following two incidents in which unidentified elements allegedly fired rockets at a public meeting addressed by him in the Kohlu area of Balochistan and also later fired at a helicopter carrying the Inspector-General of the Frontier Corps (FC), a para-military unit.

3. More than a month after the military operation was launched under the cover of a law enforcement operation to arrest so-called miscreants and criminal absconders and destroy their training camps and sanctuaries, the freedom struggle of the Baloch nationalists, spearheaded by the Balochistan Liberation Organisation (BLO), continues unabated despite the use of aircraft, helicopter gunships and tanks against them by Gen. Musharraf. It is a no-holds-barred operation against the Balochs for demanding freedom, their birth-right.

4. Unmindful of international opinion, Gen. Musharraf has intensified acts of State terrorism against the Baloch nationalists in general and the leaders and members of the Marri, Bugti and Mengal tribes in particular. More military and para-military reinforcements have been rushed to the province to suppress the nationalists and put an end to their guerilla operations directed against the gas installations supplying gas to the other provinces while depriving Balochs of their due benefits. The total number of military and para-military troops now deployed against the Balochs has been estimated at six Brigades plus. Fourteen plus helicopter gunships are also being used against the nationalists.

5. These reinforcements and intensified air strikes have not been able to subdue the nationalists as would be evident from some of the latest incidents reported in the Pakistani media. On January 15, resistance-fighters blew up a gas pipeline in the Dera Murad Jamali area, shutting supplies to a US and British-owned power plant for the second time this month. A blast damaged a 24-inch diameter pipeline, cutting off gas supply to the nearby Uch private power plant. The resistance-fighters had carried out a similar attack in the same region earlier this month, shutting down the plant. A Government spokesperson said that the 586-megawatt Uch power plant would remain closed until the pipeline, which is not owned by the power plant, was repaired, but could not say how long this would take.

6. On the night of January 14, 2006, resistance-fighters fired 16 rockets at the Pirkoh gas field that landed and exploded near gas well No 10, destroying the rig installed at the well. The gas well was also damaged. In another incident the same night, the resistance fighters blew up the main pipeline of water supply, suspending the supply to a gas purification plant. The resistance fighters also fired at least four rockets at the officers’ mess of the Oil and Gas Development Corporation in an adjacent area.

7. Earlier in the day (January 14, 2006),the Government's para-military forces launched another operation in the Marri area using helicopter gunships and heavy weapons while unidentified people fired rockets at a Frontier Corps camp in Kohlu. Baloch nationalist leader Mir Balach Khan Marri, a member of the Balochistan Assembly, said that security forces had been lobbing mortars and rockets at the small township of Kahan for the last two days in which 25 people, mostly women and children, had been killed and several others injured. He said that the residents of Kahan and other areas had left their houses and moved to safe places and added: “The entire town is empty but mortar and rocket lobbing continues from the FC (Frontier Corps post) Qila. Over 2,000 rockets and mortars had been fired by security forces. "The resistance fighters fired eight rockets at the FC base camps in the Kohlu and Babar Tak areas of the Harnai tehsil on January 14 morning. Four rockets landed and exploded near the FC camp in Kohlu town.

8. Musharraf has extended his military operation to intimidate the Hindu Balochs also. The Pakistan Army, which looks upon Balochistan as a sensitive area of strategic importance because of its location, natural resources and the location of its nuclear-testing and missile-targeting grounds in the province, has been over the years forcing the Hindus either to leave for India or to shift to Sindh. After the post-Partition anti-Hindu massacres which resulted in the large-scale exodus of Hindus from the then Western Pakistan to India, Balochistan and Sindh were the only provinces still having a Hindu population of a little over a million. The Sindhi and Baloch nationalists looked upon them as their ethnic brothers and sisters and protected them.

9. So did the Baloch Sardars. Baloch Sardars such as Mr. Khair Bux Marri, Mr. Akbar Bugti and Mr. Ataullah Khan Mengal looked upon the Hindu Balochs as their own, treated them with respect and affection and protected them.

10. In the early 1970s, the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, who looked upon these Hindus as security threats, started forcing them to leave Balochistan. This policy continued under the Governments that followed. After inviting the Chinese to construct the Gwadar port and the Mekran Coastal Highway, Musharraf started forcing the remaining Hindus, whose numbers had considerably dwindled, to shift to Sindh.

11. The Baloch Sardars took under their protection those Hindus, who resisted Musharraf's attempts to re-settle them outside Balochistan. Nearly 250 Balochs were thus enjoying the protection of the Bugtis in their area. Similarly, there were small clusters of Hindus, who were living under the protection of the Marris and the Mengals. All these Hindu Balochs are now being forced to leave Balochistan since Musharraf launched the present phase of the military operation on December 18, 2005. According to the Balochistan Chapter of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the number of Hindu Balochs living in the Bugti area has come down from 250 to two.

12. Addressing a press conference at Quetta on January 14, 2006, Malik Zahoor Shahwani, the Vice-Chairman of the Balochistan Chapter of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, said:

The Commission's visiting team, led by Ms. Asma Jahangir, the Chairperson, witnessed serious violation of human rights by the security forces in Dera Bugti.

Information collected by the team revealed that 53 civilians have been killed and 132 injured during an outbreak of hostilities in the remote area from the last week of December till January 8.

“No law permits custodial killing and no law-enforcement agency is above the law and entitled to award death sentence to citizens who are in their custody. The Government should act according to constitutional requirements and uphold rule of law to ensure protection of fundamental rights of the people. If those arrested in Dera Bugti were involved in illegal activities, they should be presented before courts for trial."

A war like situation existed in Dera Bugti "where Government offices are empty, the district coordination officer has shifted his office to Sui, schools are not functioning and vehicles not plying and the bazaar has been closed."

"A majority of the residents of Dera Bugti town have migrated. Only two persons out of the 250 members of the local Hindu community are still living in the town."

He had seen regular troops taking positions on both sides of the mountains along the 35-km route between Sui and Dera Bugti town.

13. Addressing a Press conference at the Karachi Press Club on January 15, 2006, Nawab Akbar Bugti, the chief of the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) of Balochistan and the legendary leader of the Bugti tribe, said that he would welcome the United Nations if the world body played a role against what he called “the genocide in Balochistan”. He added: “If you (the government) become an aggressor, the United Nations is the sole international body to stop you.” He drew the attention of the international community to the similarities between the genocide in African countries and the situation in Balochistan. “We welcome whoever supports us. This was my statement,” he said when asked if he had welcomed India’s support.

14. He added: “They (armed forces) started an operation on March 17 last year. Then came the ruling PML (Pakistan Muslim League) chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and General Secretary Mushahid Hussain, to hold talks. Both sides withdrew from their positions as a result of the talks. A new series of attacks started. On December 17 last year, the armed forces re-occupied old posts and claimed new positions as well. Air force fighter aircrafts and gunship helicopters bombarded areas of the Marri tribe, while army tanks were also used. The Bugtis’ areas were targeted after that. The military operation was conducted on the pretext that it was against “miscreants”. Eighty to eighty-five per cent of the dead and injured victims of the military operation were women and children, and a majority of them non-combatants. Kahan, an area of the Marri tribe, is being hit now. Some mortar rounds have been fired on Dera Bugti to warn the Bugti tribe and eight to 10 houses of a sub-tribe have been razed. The fort of the Marri tribal chief was also damaged. Three or four army personnel were killed in the area. In retaliation, the military took away around a dozen people and killed them in reprisal."

15. After 9/11, the US has supplied to the Pakistan Army a large number of helicopter gunships, telecommunication equipment and arms and ammunition for use for counter-terrorism purposes against the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, who have taken shelter in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and from there have stepped up acts of terrorism in the Afghan territory. These remnants are also orchestrating acts of terrorism in other parts of the world. South Waziristan has practically become the "liberated area" of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

16. Instead of using the helicopter gunships and other equipment given by the US for counter-terrorism operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Musharraf has diverted a large quantity of them for use against the Baloch nationalists fighting for their independence. He has set up his own Guantanamo Bays in the remote and uninhabited areas of Balochistan, where the arrested Baloch freedom-fighters are being detained and tortured without access to lawyers and human rights activists and without trial.

16. The Government of India should draw the attention of the US to the bloodshed in Balochistan and impress upon it the need to raise this issue with Mr. Shaukat Aziz. Baloch nationalists, including their activists in their diaspora, should also draw the attention of US officials and Congressmen to bleeding Balochistan. Carrying the details of the situation, including dramatic pictures, on their web sites, as they are already doing, is important and they should continue to do it, but that alone is not sufficient for educating the international community. More pro-active initiatives are called for such as constantly keeping policy-makers, parliamentarians and Congressmen and opinion-moulders in different countries informed and seeking their initiative in raising this issue with Pakistan and its military dictatorship.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: itschen36@gmail.com)

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