Mekran — real battleground for nationalists Symbols of Pakistan disappearing fast
By Amir Mateen
TURBAT: The first news that I was told when I landed in Turbat was that there had been a rocket attack a day earlier on the Navy camp next to the airport.
On the way to this town of roughly 300,000 largely Baloch population, which is the second biggest city after Quetta in Balochistan, I was informed about more scary details: that roughly 10,000 Punjabi settlers have been forced to leave the town; that anybody could be shot anytime, particularly when wearing a trouser like I was; that 16 people, including eight policemen were ambushed in target killings in one year, two of them in July; that grenades were hurled at a police station a fortnight ago; that Pakistani anthem could not be recited in schools or the national flag hoisted in colleges; that any office symbolising the federation like the NADRA, PTCL or the National Bank could not be operated without the Frontier Corps (FC) protection. The drive to the city, such ghastly images in mind, felt longer than the 30 minutes that it took.
Yet, like always, it was not as bad as they tell you, particularly when one is in the protected company of local elders. The first impression that one gets is the contrast in economic disparity. Either one sees the wretched majority that cannot afford two meals a day or the huge mansions mostly in the outskirts that were reportedly owned by the gentry or smugglers of diesel and drugs.
On the surface, it seems just another shabby, pot-holed town that pockmark the barren, mountainous wilderness of Mekran. However, beneath this deceptive expanse lies the key to a myriad political problems that bug not just Quetta and Islamabad but ring alarm bells as far as Tehran, Kabul, India, Oman and even London and Washington. It is only 150 km from both the Iran border in the west and Gwadar on the Arabian Sea in the south — one route planned to link Iranian gas pipeline to the rest of Pakistan and the other proposed to open the Arabian Sea to China and the Central Asia through roads and railways.
The impediment to this grand agenda is that this town happens to be the most violent town in Balochistan after Quetta. “The Baloch issue cannot be resolved without appeasing the aspirations of our people,” said National Party’s President Senator Dr Maalick, whose party boycotted the last elections. “We need to be satisfied that we get a fairer share out of our ancestral largesse and we should be treated as equals in every respect.”
Mekran and its divisional capital Turbat happen to be the intellectual and political centre of Baloch nationalism. It has always had a political culture and shunned the repressive Sardari system of the rest of Baloch areas. And it is here that the battle between the moderates and extremists of the Baloch nationalism is being fought.
The moderates, in local parlance, are those like National Party (NP) and to some extent Akhtar Mengal’s Baloch National Party (BNP), who want the realisation of Baloch aspirations while working within the framework of Pakistan. The extremists are the Baloch separatists who want to win independent Balochistan through an armed struggle. On top of the separatists list is Nawab Khair Bux Marri’s Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). After the death of his son Balaach Marri, the younger Marri, Harbiar, is believed to be running the BLA. However, military sources insist that the grand old Nawab K B Marri despite his age remains the guiding spirit behind the BLA. Another militant outfit, the Balochistan Republican Army (BRA), is run by Nawab Akbar Bugti’s grandson Brahmadagh Bugti, allegedly from Qandahar.
However, the person who impacts the militant Baloch youth more than K B Marri and Brahmadagh is somebody that people in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi may not even know about. The new kid on the bloc is Dr Allah Nazar. “He has become a mythical figure among the young militants as he dares the Sardars like K B Marri and Brahmadagh Bugti,” said a local journalist on condition of anonymity. “This goes well with the middle class politics of Mekran and Khuzdar.”
Originally from Mashkay in Avaraan district, Dr Allah Nazar is believed to be the person calling the shots among the Baloch militants, particularly in Mekran, Khuzdar and Avaran. He is also accused of the recent killings of moderate Baloch leaders like Maula Bux Dashti, Liaquat Mengal, Rehmatullah and Khalil Tufail. Some nationalists allege that he may also be involved in the killing of BNP leader Habib Jalib in Quetta. However, intelligence sources say that Jalib may have been shot by the BLA, which avenged the killing of Balaach Marri, who was allegedly killed by Jalib’s Qaimkhawani tribe.
Whatever the truth, Dr Allah Nazar’s message to the moderates is clear: “I’ll come after anybody who talks about Pakistan.” He recently owned the killing of Turbat’s Nazim Maula Bux Dasti, saying that he was targeted because, one, he had sought a military operation against the militants and, two, he was rewarded as the best Nazim in Pakistan. The second count was seen as a proof of his closeness towards the establishment. His word or message is seen as a death warrant in Mekran and even senior Baloch leaders like Senators Dr Maalick and Hasil Bizenjo are believed to be on his hit list. He is the only one among the Baloch separatist leaders who is fighting it out while living in the mountains. This fits into the popular imagination of the Baloch way of fighting and puts him one up on Khair Bux, Harbiar Marri and Brahmadagh, who are operating from posh mansions in Karachi, London and Qandahar.
Military sources acknowledge that Musharraf went overboard in controlling the Baloch issues. But they also allege that Dr Allah Nazar too has an Indian connection. “We have proof that he is in competition with Brahmadagh and Harbiar in taking money from the Indians,” claimed an intelligence source. “What makes the present Baloch conflict different from the earlier insurgencies is the Indian factor.”
The Pakistan Army is trained to fight India. Any linkage with India transforms them into an action mode, as in the movie ‘Terminator,’ where they see the militants as the infra-red enemy that they have to terminate. Perhaps somebody needs to add the abort mode in the khaki robots, which should differentiate between the ‘enemy’ and the local political elements gone awry because of wrong actions. While security forces are capable of overkill when it comes to the Indian link, Dr Allah Nazar’s terrorism is not winning him any admirers among the ideologically driven nationalists either. In fact, most nationalists think that his extreme actions devoid of any humanism and ideology are harming the Baloch cause.
For that, see tomorrow’s newspaper.
PS: The Balochistan government has accused me of not listening to their side and not meeting who could give the official version. This is incorrect, as I had sought meetings with the chief minister and his entire top brass in writing. Chief Minister Aslam Raisani was out of the province, despite the crash floods, in the five days I was in Quetta. But I met all the relevant politicians and government officials including the provincial chief secretary. The new press secretary appointed after my reports should first check his facts before issuing such statements. I thank the CM’s invitation for a meeting and would like to avail the offer soon.
Sunday, August 08, 2010
Time to mend fences in Turbat, but is Islamabad cognisant?
By Amir Mateen
TURBAT: A Baloch, they say, has a long memory. In any political discussion, they take a long perspective starting from the days when the Khan of Kalat was ‘coerced’ to accede to Pakistan, the betrayal of Nauroze Khan to the insurgencies of the 1960s and 1970s and, finally, the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti.
This discourse takes place on roadside cafes of Turbat where Baloch nationalists, mostly young, share their numerous conspiracy theories, the cases of missing persons, the alleged brutalities of the state. It is here on the streets of Turbat, sitting on wicker charpoys and sipping tea from cracked crockery that the Baloch grand narrative shapes up. The cycle of current violence, it seemed, accelerated after the killing of three prominent Baloch Nationalists — Baloch National Movement (BNM) President Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, Lala Munir, also of the BNM, and Sher Mohammad Baloch of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP) in Turbat last year.
The three were picked up by unidentified armed men from the chamber of Advocate Kachkol Ali on April 3, 2009, and were found dead 40 miles outside Turbat six days later. The mystery of the killings remains unresolved.
The plot thickens as Ghulam Mohammad Baloch was also a member of the 10-member committee constituted by BLA’s Hyrbyar Marri to negotiate the release of UNHCR’s American official, John Solecki. Balochistan Liberation United Front (BLUF) had owned the kidnapping of Solecki. Both Khair Bux Marri and Brahmadagh Bugti were involved in negotiations as the UNHCR approached them.
Solecki was released, reportedly after paying a ransom, a day after the three Balochs were abducted. Theories abound on this issue. While most people point fingers at the ‘agencies,’ a Baloch website, Sardar Watch, blames Khair Bux Marri for the killings. Others say it was all about the ransom money. Still others say that the BLUF vanished after the incident, and it is operating under the name of Dr Allah Nazar’s BLF now.
“It is possible that Ghulam Baloch was deeply involved in some of the investigations regarding the missing persons and had uncovered something crucial,” a cousin of Ghulam Mohammad was quoted as saying in the press. “Maybe that is why he and his colleagues were killed.”
Whatever the truth, it threw the entire Mekran into a tailspin of violence. Mand, a town close to the Iranian border, remains a no-go-area even to this day. Former Federal Mnister and now PML-Q MNA, Zubeda Jalal, who hails from Mand, says that the conditions are so bad that she has not been to her hometown in over two years now. She opened a model school in Mand but had to evacuate its 80 percent settler staff to Karachi. “Most girls from my school now participate in demonstrations and are led by the widow of Ghulam Mohammad,” said Jalal.
A political vacuum exists as the popular parties of the area, Dr Malick’s National Party (NP) and Balochistan National Movement (BNM), are out because they boycotted the last elections. Those who got elected, reaping the windfall, hardly come to the area.
Others who command local respect, Dr Maalick, Hasil Bizenjo and Manzoor Gichki, are scared of extremist threats. The border trade (read smuggling) with Iran, which is the main livelihood, has lessened because of tighter border controls. One sees lots of unemployed people as Balochistan has the highest number of youth under 25 in Pakistan. Rival gangs of various factions of Balochistan Students Organisation (BSO) keep fighting on the streets of Turbat. This is a perfect ground for extremists to breed militancy.
One hardly sees any evidence of the government’s writ. The local administration is all about making money out of issuing permits (rahdaari) for the border trade. Almost 100 percent vehicles in town, actually the whole division, are stolen or smuggled without any registration. Fuel is smuggled from Iran and there are lots of indoctrinated youth to ram them into easy targets, the most vulnerable being the three Frontier Corps pickets.
The city that was home to Punnu of the Sassi ballad fame, Turbat is a political and administrative mess. Only one police station in the 15km radius of Turbat copes with the barrage of frequent target killings, rocket and grenade throwing. The regular police force in the strategically placed second biggest town of Balochistan consists of just 120 constables. The rest 400 plus levies force has not been paid any salary. Reason: The issue over the bifurcation of the police and levies has bequeathed total confusion among the administration and nobody knows who is under whom.
The settlers among the police have all gone on long leave, perhaps forever, after eight of them were ambushed in a year. If this was not enough, half of this limited police force is deputed on protocol and security of politicians and the city Wajas as these local elders like to be addressed.
Local politicians are scared to visit the area, the provincial government apathetic and the establishment in Islamabad too far away and unconcerned with the consequences of ignoring this strategic intellectual and political hub of Balochistan. “Actually, the time may be ripe for making a beginning as the people are dismayed by the recent killings of the cream of moderate politicians,” said a local politician on the condition of anonymity. “The moderates need to be protected so that they come out in the open to resist the extremists.”
Signs of strong reaction against the killings of Kech Nazim Maula Bux Dasti and others are obvious. BNM stands divided on the issue as its acting President Asa Zafar has resigned. NP President Dr Maalick and Hasil Bizenjo have also taken a strong stand against the inhuman acts.
“We always had an moral basis of our cause which was supported by intellectuals from all over, including Lahore and Karachi,” said Dr Maalick. “Nobody can justify the inhuman target killings of not just the Baloch intellectuals but also the settlers.”
Most nationalists argue that the extreme terrorism has damaged the high moral ground that the Baloch nationalists always carried. Others favour a more peaceful resolution of the problem. “We have been down the path of violence many times earlier causing the loss of many generations of Baloch youth,” said analyst Ghazanfar Baloch. “The state is much more powerful and our leadership much less united and capable. In this day and age, new countries are out of fashion.”
The argument goes that the LTTE in Sri Lanka was much more organized and powerful and yet it collapsed in the end. “I think there is a change in the air for a better realization for our objectives, but our leadership does not have the capacity to reap it,” argued PPP’s Rahim Zafar.
Another feature of Baloch in Pakistan is that because of their secular nature, they do not join hands with, say, Taliban. This is different from the Baloch nationalism in Iran, which is based on Sunni resistance against the Shia domination. Interestingly, both of them share an element of the American backing.
“The Jundullah in Iran has obvious pat from the Americans but Brahmadagh Bugti could also not have operated from Afghanistan without the consent of the yanks,” said PML-N’s Anwaar Kakar. “Much higher stakes are being played by multiple international forces in Balochistan.”
The youth at Turbat’s roadside cafes have a fairly good understanding of such factors. The question is whether Islamabad realises the situation in this far outpost of Turbat.