December 19, 2010

Viva WikiLeaks! Baloch supporters ditto Michael Moore's reaction

December 19, 2010 | Details of Ehsan Arjemandi case in April 20, 2010 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Norwegian citizen Ehsan Arjemandi

“As it must be clear by now, Pakistan is essentially an army/intelligence establishment disguised as a country.”

– Pepe Escobar, AfPak and the new great game,

by Wendy Johnson

Subject: News regarding the location of abducted Norwegian citizen Ehsan Arjemandi

Many of us who advocate on behalf of the disappeared Baloch in Pakistan have a complaint. And with regards to veracity, it differs from that of Michael Moore's, though we both owe a great deal to Julian Assange and Wikileaks for confirming what was before only a suspicion. While Mr. Moore's movie 'Sicko' was the topic of a classified State Department cable that was a flagrant lie, the Baloch have now learned one of their leaders was an FBI/State Department whim away from becoming the victim of an ugly truth (see relevant cable details below).

And what truth is this? That countless bullets through Baloch brains have been unable to move human rights organizations, diplomats or mainstream media journalists to note anything more than weak protests over gross human rights violations committed by the Pakistani military and security agencies in the Baloch province of Pakistan.

For several years Baloch human rights activists have struggled with the question 'How do we get this information out there? How do we inform people of what is happening to political activists and even non-political activists in Pakistan?' To this end, they have written articles, set up websites and protested in a variety of locations around the world, yet only three human rights organizations have routinely spoken on behalf of the Baloch missing: the The Asian Human Rights Commission based in Hong Kong whose senior researcher, Baseer Naweed, is uncompromising in his statements related to the human rights abuses committed in Balochistan, as well as Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), andInterfaith International whom the UN Committee on NGOs ironically voted to suspend for two years in February 2010, at the behest of Pakistan, over speeches by Interfaith accredited representative Mehran Baluch regarding human rights abuses in Pakistan.

So my letter and plea today for the release of Ehsan Arjemandi is not directed to the United Nations or Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, nor am I reaching out to the Norwegian government or the U.S. State Department. They have had ample time to rally on behalf of Arjemandi and have never effectively done so. And thanks to Wikileaks we now know that UNHCR and the U.S. government are well-aware of what is happening to the Baloch in Pakistan and for reasons of realpolitik are inclined to avoid action. On the part of the U.S. government, if it serves its purposes, it will even collaborate with Pakistani perpetrators of human rights abuses. For evidence, please find the Wikileak cables below reporting the notes and musings of Ambassador Anne Patterson regarding FBI Director Robert Mueller and the possibility of turning over Baloch leader Brahmdagh Bugti in exchange for a Taliban person of interest, or the cable outlining Patterson's thoughts and advice to the UN to decline to help Brahmdagh Bugti leave Afghanistan because the Pakistan military said it "would color the Pakistan military's perception of those agencies and would affect their working relationships". Though the U.S. did not decide to apprehend Brahamdagh Bugti in Afghanistan and exchange him for a member of the Taliban, the notes reveal that they are well aware of the situation in Balochistan.

So today I plead instead to the Pakistani military itself and/or whichever agency holds Ehsan to release him or produce him in court, as last night I received news that Ehsan Arjemandi is being held in Malir Cantonment near the Karachi International Airport. He is reported to be ill and cannot stand up on his own. The fact that Pakistanis have Ehsan Arjemandi in custody was first admitted by Interior Minister Rehman Malik in aninterview with Norway Post reporter Atta Ansari on July 26, 2010, almost a year after Arjemandi's abduction from a bus en route to Karachi, Pakistan, on August 2009.

And why would I ask the Pakistan military to shoot itself in the foot by releasing Ehsan? Because it would ultimately do them no harm. In fact, the Pakistan military could release all the abducted and tortured Baloch tomorrow--all one thousand to four thousand reported missing, we don't have a correct number--and the news would die in a New York minute. Why? Even if Baloch victims described their stories, nothing will happen. Pakistan holds all the cards. The U.S., for some inexplicable reason, despite funding the Pakistan government and military with billions of dollars in aid, will not press Pakistan on human rights abuses for fear Pakistanis will decline to help them in their war in Afghanistan, despite overwhelming evidence that the Pakistan military and ISI already systematically thwart U.S. efforts anyway. Pakistan would probably disintegrate in short order were it not for U.S. aid, yet the U.S. tip toes around its wishes as though Pakistan were a superpower.

Additionally, we already have evidence that nothing would happen with regards to U.S. support should documentation of abuses come to light. On September 29, 2010, the New York Times published a story regarding the execution of youths in civilian dress. The Pakistani military later admitted the video was authentic and that admission essentially brought the story to a close. There is no precedent of any country effectively holding Pakistan accountable for anything, so should the Pakistani military and I.S.I. decide to play against type and release the enforced disappeared who are still alive, they have little to fear. On the upside, their jails and prisons could be cleared, thus lightening any budgetary constraints and most of the Baloch who have been already released are too broken and fearful to threaten the military.

Human rights organizations are charged with prodding governments to act. Why, in the case of Balochistan, do so many remain silent? In a couple of cases organizations have fallen victim to the logic of the fallacy of false equivalents. "A false equivalence fallacy occurs when someone falsely equates an act by one party as being equally egregious to that of another without taking into account the underlying differences which may make the comparison patently invalid."

In December at its Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference, Amnesty International USA killed a basic resolution that had called for more actions to help the victims of enforced disappearances in Balochistan. The resolution died before it could even be voted on. As conference participant Edwin Everhart noted, "I would not necessarily have voted for the resolution in question; the arguments in favor and in opposition are more complex than presented here," he said.

No doubt this 'complex' argument has to do with the fact that an insurgency is underway in Balochistan where intermittently, since the Khan of Kalat was forced to sign an accession agreement in 1948 forcing the Baloch to join Pakistan, the Baloch have taken up arms over numerous grievances with the government of Pakistan.

On December 13, 2010, Human Rights Watch published the first of its two-part series on Balochistan. Part one decries the killing of teachers in Balochistan, allegedly committed by Baloch militants. Under themethodology section, it notes that "Our researcher conducted interviews with 23 people, including three children ages 14 to 17. Human Rights Watch interviewed teachers from both government-run and private schools, students, victims’ family members and friends, government officials, journalists, and representatives from local and international NGOs." It is unclear whether the grand total interviewed is 23, or whether the researcher, a contractor?, interviewed 23 persons and Human Rights Watch itself conducted additional interviews. Nevertheless, without a serious criminal investigation, how can one rule out that non-Baloch Pakistani military/ISI death squads are not also involved in these killings with the intent to incriminate the Baloch? While the article quotes as a kind of evidence one Baloch leader, Brahmdagh Bugti, as expressing sympathy for the target killings, sympathy to an act is not an admission of guilt. In any case, Brahmdagh Bugti expressed himself differently in the Pakistani national newspaper Dawn interview in which he says, "Target killings are obviously wrong and I am not in favour of them in principle. However, when criticizing target killings, people are pointing toward a symptom which obviously has a cause. Target killings are reactions to the ongoing military operation in Balochistan..."

The Human Rights Watch report has set up a false equivalent. It is positioning the actions of a few actors, as yet unidentified--and presumably non-Baloch Islamists are a part of the violence--as an equivalent to the enforced disappearances and murders of Baloch activists and non-activists perpetrated by the Pakistani military and security agencies. The report falsely leaves readers with the impression that the militants generally support this type of action. HRW notes that "the security situation in Balochistan severely impaired Human Rights Watch’s ability to individually investigate each attack." It should have clarified that the Pakistan government does not allow journalists and investigators into Balochistan to conduct any such investigations, despite invitations on the part of numerous Baloch activists AND militants. The security situation that prevents HRW from conducting its investigation is NOT caused by the Baloch, but rather Pakistan's military and security agencies. It must not be ignored that 'in Balochistan militants broadly known as the "Afghan Taliban" operate without fear or hindrance.' One must be careful when attributing responsibility for radical anti-educator/education violence in Balochistan province to Baloch nationalist militants when the I.S.I.-sponsored Taliban is widely known to be present, dangerous, and proselytizing, as well as for committing such acts of violence against both women and educational facilities. Similarly, Baloch journalist Malik Siraj Akbar has written of the money coming into southern Balochistan from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab countries, allegedly to radicalize Baloch society. Baloch militants, interviewed here, for example, are not attacking teachers.

No doubt the other part of the complex argument referred to by Everhart is the kidnapping of UNHCR worker John Solecki in Quetta, Balochistan, on February 2, 2009. Mr. Solecki was abducted by the hitherto unknown Balochistan Liberation United Front (BLUF) who called for the release of 1,109 missing Baloch. With Mr. Solecki's release in April 2009, the story died, so I can't comment on it, nor can the Baloch defend themselves from the actions of a handful of people. In fact, I have yet to meet a Baloch who has any idea who comprises this BLUF. The UN and the United States government presumably know as they worked passionately to negotiate Mr. Solecki's release. Certainly Mr. Solecki knows, but for some reason, he has yet to publicly speak of his experience. A handful of Baloch likewise presumably know as they participated in negotiations, though one Baloch negotiator will most definitely not be sharing news for he was later found dead, shot in the head, along with his two activist colleagues.

In our current political environment, vast numbers of people self-censor. I know human rights and NGO workers who will not speak out because they fear losing their jobs or offending their superiors. In relation to Wikileaks, we have witnessed an astonishing phenomenon whereby corporations, including Paypal, MasterCard and Visa, responded to U.S. government statements (and in the case of at least Paypal, private direct pressure from the U.S. State Department) by discontinuing business with an organization and its leader without a trial (or conviction) ever having taken place.

In this climate of fear, the report by Human Rights Watch serves to conflate alleged criminal behavior on the part of handfuls of Baloch, with systemic and egregious human rights violations on the part of the Pakistani military and its security agencies. HRW should be applauded for publishing Part II, but Part I will discourage human rights advocates from speaking on behalf of the Baloch. This type of conflation has previously caused Amnesty International USA to vote down the addition of Baloch cases to their actions list.

I would be remiss if I didn't note that the above organizations have on occasion published an article or two on the situation in Balochistan, for example, Amnesty International's Oct 25, 2010 article: Pakistan urged to investigate murder and torture of Baloch activists, but in my opinion, one or two letters over the course of years of abuse does not a sufficient protest make.

I will not outline the details of Ehsan Arjemandi's case here; they are noted in an earlier letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Other than Ehsan's status as a Norwegian citizen, his story is similar to that of all abducted Baloch, at least those who have not yet turned up at roadsides with bullets to their foreheads and a note in their pockets.

So in closing, I am revealing the location of where our sources report Norwegian friend Ehsan Arjemandi may now be held. Can no one save him?

Click for coordinates: Malir Cantonment, Karachi, Pakistan.

Wendy Johnson
New York

If anyone would like to object to, or correct my understanding of anything above, please write me at and I will note your corrections or objections in this letter.

The Guardian coverage of below cables: WikiLeaks cables reveal Afghan-Pakistani row over fugitive rebel

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