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Pakistan: Balochistan: the foreign hand?

Thursday 3 March 2022, by siawi3

Source: https://www.dawn.com/news/1677136/balochistan-the-foreign-hand

Balochistan: the foreign hand?

Pervez Hoodbhoy

Published February 26, 2022 - Updated 2 days ago

WITH the present uptick of attacks on security forces, we are back to a familiar routine. Between when a terrorist incident occurs and blame is assigned, the separation is no more than a few minutes. The investigation-free and evidence-free conclusion never changes; whatever happened is the work of foreign forces. Domestic political opponents — even if perfectly peaceful and totally unconnected with the incident — can conveniently be labeled as foreign agents and stomped upon hard. It is hoped that fear will leave them paralysed and speechless.

This may explain why Hafeez Baloch was forcibly disappeared three weeks ago by armed men who alighted from a black pickup. This bright young man is an M.Phil candidate in particle physics in my department at Quaid-e-Azam University. The incident happened in front of his terrified students and fellow teachers while he was teaching at a small private school in Khuzdar, his hometown. Hafeez had used the winter vacations to take a short trip home and earn some desperately needed cash. Just days away from returning to Islamabad for submitting his final thesis, his teachers and fellow students tell me he was a bookworm not known to have the slightest connection with any violent group.

Fearful of how the security forces might react, the local police balked at registering an FIR. While in their captivity, Hafeez will doubtless have been accused of being a foreign agent. Like countless other young Baloch men arbitrarily picked up in the past, he too will be deeply scarred emotionally — and perhaps physically — during this ordeal. One does not even know if he will ever be seen alive again. The mounting sense of Baloch grievance will go up yet another notch.

Pakistan’s external enemies are claimed to be behind its problems of national integration. But those who play secret games under the guise of national security bear far greater responsibility. It is they who made our country suffer so grievously from terrorism between 2001 and 2014. Although inimical foreign powers have undoubtedly sought to inflict hurt, Pakistan’s wounds during that terrible period were largely self-inflicted.

Forcibly disappearing Baloch students won’t eliminate terrorism but will weaken the federation of Pakistan.

In the years following 9/11, terrorist attacks became a daily occurrence once Gen Pervez Musharraf sided with America and joined its so-called war on terror. Earlier, Pakistan had been the Taliban’s principal supporter and, as is well known, that support continued secretly. However, publicly Pakistan had declared itself on the side of the Taliban’s enemy. In retaliating against this perceived betrayal, religiously inspired young boys from madressahs blew themselves up in bazars, hospitals and schools. The establishment, however, claimed all terrorists were either foreigners or foreign supported. The common refrain was: how could killers of Muslims be Muslim?

The loudest advocate of the foreign hand theory was the late Gen Hamid Gul. My first encounter with this famous general was after he addressed an audience sometime around 1998 in the physics auditorium at Quaid-e-Azam University. There he urged Pakistan to lead jihad around the world. During the Q&A session he was flattered at my calling him Adolf Hitler’s brother. We then sparred frequently on various TV channels. My last televised encounter with him was in early 2014, just after a horrendous back-to-back suicide attack some hours earlier. The general declared that the bombers were non-Muslim because they had not been circumcised. He angrily refused to provide proof.

The truth, however, had started leaking out soon after the bloody capture in 2008 of the Swat valley by Mullah Fazlullah’s forces. The powers that be of those times approvingly watched him — and the infamous Mangal Bagh — from a distance. Their U-turn came much later. After the 2014 massacre of 149 children and their teachers at the Army Public School in Peshawar, the denial mode was switched off. Thereafter the Pakistan Army launched Operation Rad-ul-Fasaad. The word ‘fasaad’ is a term strictly used for internal conflict only, not war against an external enemy.

Suddenly Pakistanis began to see TV propaganda video clips of PAF jets pounding targets in North Waziristan, artillery firing into the mountains, or, perhaps, some other celebration of these military operations. You rubbed your eyes in disbelief — how could aircraft of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan bomb Taliban fighters whose stated goal was to establish Pakistan as an Islamic state? How could they ever have been portrayed as non-Muslims?

It took a very long time to admit that Fazlullah’s TTP was actually a Muslim force. Now that the Afghan Taliban government in Kabul continues to harbour and protect the TTP, that delusionary bubble has finally burst. But has it? I don’t know. One day TTP is denounced as India-funded and, on the next, embraced as brothers. The confusion continues.

For now, let’s leave that as it is. What about Balochistan. Where lies the truth? How deep is India’s involvement?

India has certainly not been unaware of Pakistan’s difficulties in Balochistan. As a general rule, whenever a population is angry and alienated, for external enemies to find domestic allies is easy. India believes that Pakistan recruited Kashmiris on India’s side of the LOC to attack Indian security forces. Back in 1971, India could successfully exploit Bengali alienation to cut Pakistan in two. Today, Baloch alienation leads many Indians to talk about Balochistan as an arrow in India’s quiver against Pakistan.

Also read: Editorial: Cycle of distrust and disaffection must be broken to deal with renewed insurgency in Balochistan

Indian spymasters Vikram Sood and Ajit Doval, as well as PM Modi, have often spoken about doing a tit-for-tat for perceived Pakistani involvement in Kashmir. Meanwhile strategists like Pramit Pal Chaudhuri suggest the retribution could come through fanning Pakistan’s exaggerated fears of Baloch secession. India should hope, he says, that the Pakistan Army’s angry overreaction to dissent will keep Balochistan aflame.

The abductors of Hafeez Baloch — and of other young missing Baloch men who number in the hundreds — have taken the bait dangled by Pramit Chaudhri and others. Throughout the Baloch community of students in Islamabad, anger and fear run deep. The flagrant violation of Baloch constitutional rights is weakening the national spirit and harming the federation. Before the self-appointed guardians of Pakistan’s security cause further damage to our country through their illegal actions, they must be brought to task.

The writer is an Islamabad-based physicist and author.

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Source: https://www.dawn.com/news/1674118/growing-security-concerns

Growing security concerns

Zahid Hussain

Published February 9, 2022

THE latest surge in terrorist attacks in the country is ominous. Last week’s coordinated assaults on security posts in Balochistan marked a shift in the strategy of Baloch insurgent groups — from hit-and-run operations to frontal attacks. There have been at least three such incidents targeting security installations in different parts of the province in the past week.

While details of the simultaneous attacks in Panjgur and Naushki remain hazy, they nevertheless demonstrate the growing capacity of the Baloch militants to launch high-profile attacks. They seemed better trained and better armed now, with highly sophisticated weapons in their armoury. But it is unlikely that such daring actions could have been possible without a strong internal and external support network. The intensification in violence has accompanied reports of various Baloch militant groups coming together.

Intriguingly, the surge in militant activities in Balochistan has coincided with the escalation in terrorist attacks by the TTP that is targeting Pakistani security forces in the former tribal areas. There may not be a direct connection between the two. Yet the increasing violence in two different areas involving groups with completely different agendas has complicated our security predicament.

Also read: Editorial: Govt needs to revisit its counterterrorism and internal security policies

A major challenge is how to deal with the two different kinds of militancy in strategically located areas. According to the federal interior minister, there has been a 35 per cent increase in terrorist attacks over the last few months. Pakistani security officials see an Afghan connection in both insurgencies. Interestingly, there has been a steep rise in militant violence after the return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan last August.

Attacks by the Baloch insurgents have coincided with increasing TTP militancy.

While the TTP connection with the Afghan Taliban is not a secret, the Baloch militants operating from Afghan soil is intriguing. Pakistani security officials said the attackers were in contact with their handlers in Afghanistan and in India during the assaults.

India’s role in the terror attacks in Pakistan is evident. But the continuing use of Afghan soil in planning and execution of cross-border attacks is alarming. The weapons used by the Baloch militants in the recent attacks reinforce suspicions about foreign linkages. Regional geopolitics and rivalries too play a huge role in fuelling the Baloch insurgency. This area has long been a hotspot of regional power games. CPEC and the development of the Gwadar port has further intensified the conflict.

More worrisome is the fear of tactical cooperation between the TTP and Baloch militant groups. Such a possibility makes things complicated. In recent months, the TTP has reportedly extended its activities in northern Balochistan; this is a security nightmare in terms of the land mass of the country’s largest province.

There may be little doubt about the involvement of external elements in the Baloch separatist movement but it is an enabling environment that allows their dangerous interference. What is most alarming is the number of young recruits being drawn into the militancy. A large number of them come from educated backgrounds; they feel politically alienated and see little hope for their future.

For the past many years, Balochistan has been in the grip of a low-intensity conflict, and has experienced four insurgencies since independence. The latest phase of the conflict began around two decades ago, after a period of relative calm from 1980 to 1988 when civilian rule was restored bringing Baloch nationalists back into the political mainstream.

It is true that the major demands of the Baloch for political autonomy and a fair share of federal resources were not fulfilled but democracy did provide some sense of political participation to the people. Military rule returned in 1999 after the Musharraf coup, and ended that period of calm. As the new regime started tightening its federal control, tensions grew, coming to a head with the killing of Akbar Bugti in 2006 in an army operation. Once again unrest, which had always been simmering under the surface, spilled over leading to a fresh uprising.

For long, the Baloch people have had very genuine grievances, but, instead of these being addressed, force has been deployed to suppress their protests. It is in these circumstances that many among the Baloch, who had lost hope in the political struggle, made the decision to join armed groups. No longer is the insurgency confined to the tribal areas; its centre of gravity lies in a region free of feudal and tribal hold.

Even the nationalists who sought political and economic rights within the framework of the federation were sidelined. Extrajudicial killings and the illegal detention of political activists by the intelligence agencies have further fuelled alienation.

The situation had improved after democracy returned in 2008 and most nationalist parties had joined the mainstream; they took part in the 2013 polls defying the militant threat. But political engineering that brought to power a pliant leadership in the province eroded the people’s confidence in the political process. With little investment in the economic uplift of the population, the province remains the most underdeveloped region in the country despite being rich in natural wealth. That has provided militant groups with an enabling environment to attract disgruntled youth, giving a fresh impetus to militancy in the province.

Most Baloch nationalists had rejected the idea of secession and struggled for autonomy within the constitutional framework of the federation. But state repression had the effect of pushing many moderates towards radical elements, as a result of which the province now stands dangerously polarised. These divisions can even be seen among the ranks of the influential Baloch tribal elite. The state’s authority has clearly eroded in large parts of the province.

The use of kinetic power may contain the insurgency but will do little to win the trust of an alienated population or effectively establish the state’s authority, making it a conducive ground for external forces. Winning the confidence of the people is the only way to defeat the militancy and shut the door to meddling from outside. Militancy must be dealt with firmly but it is equally important to redress the Baloch people’s grievances.

The writer is an author and journalist.