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The Dirty War in Pakistan

Balochistan is again in rebellion against Islamabad, waging an insurgency marked by assassination and reprisal.

world Updated: Feb 12, 2012 01:32 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times

Two weeks back, in a dark alley of Karachi’s upscale defence neighbourhood, three people were dragged out of their car and shot in cold blood. One of those killed Jhumar Domki, 34, was the wife of parliamentarian Bakhtiar Domki. More significantly Jhumar was the sister of Brahamdagh Bugti, the leader of the shadowy Balochistan Republican Party, presently waging a full scale insurgency in Balochistan. The other victims were Jhumar's daughter, 13-year-old Jana and their driver.

Bugti, now living in exile in Switzerland, is the grandson of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the legendary Baloch politician and leader who was killed in a military operation in 2006 at the orders of then president, Gen Pervez Musharraf.

Police blamed the killing on a tribal feud, but Bakhtiar Domki said his wife and his daughter were killed to send a warning to those fighting for Baloch rights. He said in tribal feuds women are never targeted.

The next day, in seeming retaliation, 15 members of the paramilitary Frontier Corps were killed near a border town. The outlawed Baloch Liberation Army was blamed for the attack. The stakes in the Baloch war of independence are getting higher.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimates at least 300 people being killed by security forces in 2010-11, and fears more deaths in 2012. In response, over a hundred people — mainly members of the forces and non-Baloch settlers — were killed by different militias fighting for Balochistan.

This week, members of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations heard human rights activists and scholars detail abuses in Balochistan. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher said Balochistan is a turbulent land marked by human rights violations “by regimes that are against US values”.

Pakistan has taken strong exception to it. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman,on Friday said the move to hold hearings was ill-advised and her government took strong exception to them. Back in Islamabad, Pakistani senators asked why the country's internal issues were being discussed in the US Congress. During the hearing, Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch termed the Pakistan military's role “brutal and occupying”.

Analyst and scholar Professor Christine Fair added Pakistan's abuse of human rights have served US interests.

But she also noted that nationalist groups in Balochistan were also targeting those belonging to other provinces for purely ethnic reasons. “Many of those teachers (who have been killed) have been singled out because they’re Punjabi, and it’s not just teachers, also providers of other human services, police in particular are very vulnerable.”

Many in Pakistan feel that the Baloch unrest is being orchestrated from abroad.

“There are two factors to consider. First, the US maintains that Mullah Omar and the Taliban shura are based in Quetta. Other factor is that Balochistan borders Iran, from where we plan to import natural gas,” said Balochistan CM Sardar Aslam Raisani. The province’s immense natural resources and its strategic location overlooking the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz has made it a focal point for both the US and China. Beijing maintains a widespread presence in the province, from building a port to extracting gold and copper.

India has also been blamed time and again, a charge Delhi denies.

The deteriorating situation has scared away mineral exploration companies, bringing economic activity to a halt. Zardari government has been trying to negotiate a settlement with the insurgents but has got little success. Chaudhry Shujaat, who led a political initiative, said until the military stops calling the shots, “the situation will get worse not better.” Pakistan will bear the burden of fighting the latest reincarnation of its oldest regional insurgency at a time when it is fighting on other fronts.

First Published: Feb 11, 2012 23:11 IST