Balochistan: Pakistan’s other war – Al Jazeera

January 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Balochistan: Pakistan’s other war – Al Jazeera World – Al Jazeera English.

Who’s Threatening Whom?

January 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Who’s Threatening Whom?

As the war rhetoric towards Iran continues to heat up, here’s an instructive map of U.S. bases in the region showing who the real aggressor is (hint: it’s not Iran).

The emptiness of the term “terrorism”

December 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Although the term “terrorism” is widely used as if it had real meaning, it is always useful to remind oneself that the term is specifically constructed and used not to elucidate or analyze but to advance specific policy agendas. Glenn Greenwald’s latest column is a great reminder of how the contemporary usage of the term “terrorism” has been used to further U.S. foreign and domestic policy goals:

The FBI yesterday announced it has secured an indictment against Faruq Khalil Muhammad ‘Isa, a 38-year-old citizen of Iraq currently in Canada, from which the U.S. is seeking his extradition. The headline on the FBI’s Press Release tells the basic story: “Alleged Terrorist Indicted in New York for the Murder of Five American Soldiers.” The criminal complaint previously filed under seal provides the details: ‘Isa is charged with “providing material support to a terrorist conspiracy” because he allegedly supported a 2008 attack on a U.S. military base in Mosul that killed 5 American soldiers. In other words, if the U.S. invades and occupies your country, and you respond by fighting back against the invading army — the ultimate definition of a “military, not civilian target” — then you are a . . . Terrorist [emphasis in original].

As Greenwald notes, if responding to an attack by a military entity in a state of war – in a war that has been unilaterally launched on your country, mind you – isn’t the perfect definition of war and not of terrorism, then nothing is. Read Greenwald’s full piece, it’s worth it.

Pentagon releases latest security assessment, prepares for perpetual war

September 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Pentagon recently released its annual assessment of global security, and the report predicts an era of perpetual war in which peace is the exception rather than the norm. Of course, unsaid in the report is that the cause of war is the Pentagon itself. Instead, war is framed as the means by which to achieve peace. Somewhere, George Orwell is weeping.

An excellent analysis of the report and its coverage in the Washington Post is at Keating’s Desk. Do check out the full entry, it’s worth the read.



Strange bird-like drone found in Pakistan

August 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Perhaps file this under conspiracy-theory-that-is-revealed-to-be-true-in-due-time? A strange bird-like drone has apparently crashed and been captured in Baluchistan.

Meanwhile, the killing continues…

August 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Another day, another drone strike:

A US drone attack has killed at least 21 militants in north-western Pakistan, local intelligence officials said. The drone fired two missiles, destroying a vehicle and a compound near Miranshah town in North Waziristan tribal district, on the Afghan border. The dead militants include some foreigners and are believed to be part of the Haqqani network, officials say… “The dead included local Taliban as well as some Arabs and Uzbek nationals,” news agency Reuters quoted an unnamed intelligence official in North Waziristan as saying.

The Obama administration has stepped up the rate of drone strikes considerably. As the article notes, just last month, drones killed more than 30 people within 24 hours in North Waziristan. And of course, the dead are always, by definition, “militants.” Who needs to check, right?

Pakistan host to largest refugee population

June 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

The UN announced today that Pakistan is host to the largest refugee population in the world – 1.9 million people (source: Dawn; note that refugees are distinct from internally displaced persons). The vast majority of these refugees are Afghans who have been displaced due to the relentless wars in Afghanistan that have now spanned over three decades. The global population of refugees is also very high, at 44 million people. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of refugees are NOT flooding Western countries, as the UN report takes pains to note:

The United Nations sought Monday to debunk what it called ‘worrying misperceptions’ about movements of displaced people saying that developing countries hosted 80 per cent of the world’s refugees.

The total number of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons, had not ceased to grow with the figure reaching nearly 44 million people in 2010, the UNHCR said in a report.

“In today’s world, there are worrying misperceptions about refugee movements and the international protection paradigm,” said Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Fears about supposed floods of refugees in industralised countries are being vastly overblown or mistakenly conflated with issues of migration.

“Meanwhile it is poorer countries that are left having to pick up the burden.” The UNHCR’s annual report on refugee trends found that most of the world’s displaced were seeking sanctuary in developing countries, including those which are among the world’s poorest.

In other words, rich countries, chill. No one is flooding your societies, and no one is jumping over your borders. No, the biggest impact is being felt by those poor countries which you have exploited and bombed as you seek to advance your neo-colonial agenda.

To our fellow Pakistanis, we note this as another reminder of just exactly how the ISI and the military establishment as a whole has continued to sacrifice the people of Pakistan – and of course, most grievously, the people of Afghanistan – for the sake of advancing its own narrow institutional interests. And of course, by “narrow” we mean those most exceedingly narrow of interests: cold hard cash. It’s been almost amusing to see the Pakistani political machinery jump into gear in the aftermath of the OBL operation, to desperately try and ensure that the flow of US aid keeps coming uninterrupted, into the coffers of the Army and its friends, and of course eventually into the overseas bank accounts of high-ranking officers and government officials. Meanwhile, ordinary Afghans and Pakistanis continue to have terror rain down on them, with seemingly no end in sight.

Kill and Dump: Military Extremism in Balochistan

May 30, 2011 § 3 Comments

Guest post: Nosheen Ali

One morning, in August 2006, the dead body of Captain Zameer Abbas was brought back to Gilgit from Balochistan. At that time, I was a visiting faculty member at the Karakoram University in Gilgit, and was living in the university’s girls hostel. Captain Abbas was amongst the 21 security personnel who had died during Musharraf’s military operation against the Baloch leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti.

With everyone I met that day – students at the university, staff members at a local NGO, shop-keepers, and taxi drivers – the topic of conversation was the Captain’s death. How Zameer Abbas was just 29 years old when he died. How he had gotten married just last month, and how his mother was now in the hospital. For several days, people were mourning the tragedy that had befallen this respected local soldier and his family.

In bitterness and concealed anger, many criticized the way in which the region’s bodies were being used to implement a warped state agenda. In sheer bewilderment, they wondered how the Pakistani government could use fighter jets and gunship helicopters to openly kill a prominent leader of an already marginalized province. When I talked to the hostel’s female cook about the operation, she said, “Killing one’s own people? Where is such a principle followed? Use of force can never be a solution.”

I was shocked at the fact that this failure of logic and humanity was clearly evident to people around me, but seemed to escape so many in the big cities of Pakistan. The state has to enforce its writ, one heard from even the liberal thinkers. Why would any Balochi respect the state’s writ when the state has become synonymous with gross violations of rule of law? One also heard about the tribalism of Baloch society, and how the sardars were exploiting the poor Baloch. There are exploitations along tribal, biradari, and class lines in the whole of Pakistan. Surely, we wouldn’t advocate state violence as a policy to deal with them? Disconnected and depoliticized, many elite members of society simply didn’t bother to become informed. For them, Musharraf was a great leader who was spearheading economic growth, and must be doing the right thing.

The open killing of the 79-year old Bugti, a former governor and elected chief minister of Balochistan, was a watershed moment that radicalized even ordinary, apolitical Balochis to join the long-standing nationalist movement for regional rights and justice. More than 50,000 Baloch were displaced during the extended military operation surrounding the killing. Even worse, national and international organizations were obstructed from providing humanitarian relief to these IDPs for fear of exposure. When UNICEF came out with a report on the condition of the IDPs, its chief was asked to leave the country and other officials were pressurized to retract their words.

The military operation has only intensified over the last five years, with the most brutal forms of state terror being unleashed in the region today. Reportedly, more than 4,000 people have been illegally abducted and detained by our notorious agencies.  According to the organization Voice for Missing Baloch Persons, around 149 of those missing have been murdered and disposed in what has come to be called a “kill and dump” policy. The dehumanizing nature of the violence is evidenced not just in the ways people are tortured – with drilled holes in the head and bodies mutilated beyond recognition – but also in the way they are discarded. One note accompanying a decomposed corpse said, “Eid gift for the Baloch.”

Those who have been kidnapped, tortured, and killed are not just some armed militants hiding in the mountains. A vast proportion of them are from the urban middle class, including students, engineers, lawyers, journalists, and activists who have been engaging in civilian protest against military atrocities. For their families, the possibilities of justice have also been crushed. As the Guardian reported two months ago, a Baloch farmer went to court to file a case for his missing son but his lawyer was murdered. When he subsequently went to the media, the president of the local press club was murdered. Now, no one wishes to speak up for him.

In this devastating situation, why should we be surprised or offended if Baloch kids refuse to sing the national anthem, and local schools refuse to fly the national flag? Why do we shudder when increasing number of people in Balochistan – including women for the first time – cry “Pakistan murdabad”? Every dead body is an embodiment of Pakistani violence, and a renewed resolve to fight for independence. Burning with anger and retaliation, the armed Baloch groups have also resorted to horrific forms of indiscriminate violence. They used to blow up gas pipelines. Now they do target killings. Punjabi settlers, government servants, even Chinese engineers – any blood that the elite might care about.

To address the situation, the present civilian government had introduced the Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan package in November 2009, promising a ban on new military cantonments, a commission on enforced disappearances, and payment of overdue gas royalties. Exactly what was needed. But the civilian government remains powerless in the face of the forces that continue to run and rampage Balochistan – the ISI, the Military Intelligence, and especially the Frontier Corps (FC). US military aid was meant to train and equip the FC to fight the intrusion of the Taliban into Pakistan. Instead, the FC has given shelter and medical relief to the Taliban in Balochistan, and focused on crushing the Baloch – with the same inhumanity, impunity, and imperial arrogance that we often associate with the US in Iraq or Qaddafi in Libya.

Forty years ago, the eminent sociologist Hamza Alavi wrote that it was the Pakistani army itself which was most threatened by the Bengali demand for regional autonomy. The Awami League, which had an absolute majority in Parliament, was committed to aiding development by decentralizing economic policy-making and reducing military expenditure. Moreover, army cadres were fed the self-perpetuating delusion that Bengali nationalism was “an Indian inspired, Indian financed, and Indian engineered move to disrupt the unity of Pakistan.” This was accompanied by an added delusion – that Bengali nationalism was limited to a small number of intellectuals and politicians, and if they were eliminated, the obedience of the Bengali people would be restored.

These our precisely the twin delusions which were used to drive and justify a systematic campaign of violence against Bengalis in 1971, at the hands of our armed forces and its sponsored JI militants, Al-Badr and Al-Shams. We all know the result. These are precisely the delusions that undergird the current campaign of terror in Balochistan, with new sponsored wings such as Baloch Musla Difai Tanzeem and Sipah-e-Shuhda-e-Balochistan. Additionally, the state is steadily mobilizing extremist Islamic forces to quell the secular Baloch struggle.

Hasn’t the use of radical Islam as “strategic depth” in Afghanistan already landed us as well as our neighbors in extremist depth? Don’t we already have enough blood on our hands? The biggest threat to our sovereignty is neither India nor the US; it’s our own military extremism. We desperately and urgently need to hold our military-intelligence regime accountable, and call for an end to army rule as well as the return of all missing people in Balochistan.

The recognition of political, economic, and cultural rights for constituent regions is fundamental for any federation to survive, and is central to the functioning of a modern democracy. Yet generations of Pakistanis have been made to believe the army-backed logic that extending these rights is the vey antithesis of modern nationhood, because it is tantamount to “provincialism” and destroys Pakistani and Muslim unity. This is our fundamental problem. A positive Pakistani identity can never be based on the repression and denial of the many histories and societies that in fact embody the life and spirit of Pakistan. All we have to do is acknowledge and respect them, instead of killing and dumping them.

A version of this article was published in Express Tribune.  Nosheen Ali is a visiting scholar at the Center for South Asia Studies at UC, Berkeley. To contact Nosheen, please email her at

Osama bin Laden in English

May 10, 2011 § 3 Comments

This is the tragedy of Pakistan. It has taken the government nearly two weeks to address the country about the nighttime American raid deep inside Pakistani territory that killed al-Qaeda’s chief, Osama bin Laden. And, when it finally did do so –after speaking to the American media– it did it in English. Start at 6:21:

The point is driven home by local coverage of the parliamentary speech by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani: The chyrons (text) are entirely in Urdu; the speech is entirely in English. It’s a visual depiction of the the alienation between the rulers and those they rule. It’s also a testament to the servile obsequiousness that has become the hallmark of our government vis-a-vis the Americans. For highlights of the speech, you can see this video.

All this, while the Army was putting out a contrary message: General Kayani called the American operation a “misadventure” and warned the Americans against such future escapades. This is the military that’s actually responsible for the massive incompetence or more likely, collusion, that kept bin Laden in Abbottabad.

Politicians of all stripes are calling for the resignation of the President and the Prime Minister with little said about what is actually the Army’s mess. This includes the former Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and cricketeer turned politician, Imran Khan. Will another civilian government be unable to complete its term? Is there a coup in the making? The Army is good at making lemonade out of lemons.

Finally, here’s a link roundup, in no particular order, on OBL:

Share your links and suggestions in the comments.

The “War Economy”

June 7, 2010 § 1 Comment

Pakistan’s 2010-2011 budget was unveiled a few days ago, and there aren’t too many surprises in it. It confirms what we already knew, that the country is in deep trouble with regards to deficits, and the solution of the government is to propose more borrowing. The government also proposes increasing tax revenues, which is based on the government’s agreement to the IMF’s “recommendation” to impose a Value Added Tax in the country (the tax will be implemented starting October 1 of this year). The budget also trims the deficit by reducing some expenditures.

But of course the item that cannot be touched is military spending. That not only remains unchanged but has in fact been increased by SEVENTEEN PERCENT! No other item receives this treatment. And the justification for this outrageous increase? The finance minister, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, says that Pakistan currently has a “war economy,” which requires a singular focus on the war and presumably he means that all else must be sacrificed for its sake.

It’s hard not to fantasize about the education budget being increased by seventeen percent, or housing for poor people being increased by seventeen percent, or maternal healthcare being increased by seventeen percent… well, you get the idea. What the minister, and the government, fail to realize is that the people of Pakistan have already been living under desperate conditions, and the REAL war that needs to be declared is on poverty, on gender inequality, on the stigmatization of non-Sunnis and non-Muslims, and many, many other problems that plague the country. For example, after 63 years of independence:

The literacy rate is 55%.
Women’s literacy rate is still only a little over half that of men’s.
As many as a quarter of children do not get basic immunizations.
Women have a 1 in 74 chance of dying in childbirth.
One-third of newborns are underweight.
Malnutrition is rampant.
One-fourth of people live on less than US$1 per day.

(Data courtesy of UNICEF)

The problem is that in a “war economy,” the largest consumer of national resources, i.e., the military, will only extend its monopolization of the Treasury. We are told that this is necessary, that it is for our own good. But isn’t it necessary to increase the literacy rate? Isn’t it necessary that women stop dying in childbirth? Isn’t it urgent that children be immunized and that everyone have safe and clean water to drink? The opportunity cost of military spending, which is what we COULD be spending on instead, is very high indeed. We need to remember that if we weren’t spending on tanks and F-16s and generals’ salaries, we could provide all the basic needs of the Pakistani people. Every single one of them. For everyone.

So this latest euphemism isn’t just a “screw you” from the Army, it’s an attempt to further scare Pakistanis into allowing precious national resources to be used for the military, and for the Pakistani people to take on yet more debt to keep the Army engorged. The destinies of future generations have been mortgaged for the sake of the “war economy.”

Meanwhile, the IMF and the World Bank keep pressing Pakistan to reduce social welfare spending, reduce corruption, privatize state-owned enterprises, raise taxes, raise electricity tariffs, etc etc. The “Friends of Democratic Pakistan” group, a set of countries including the United States, which promised Pakistan US$5.3 billion in 2009, has suspended payments pending “reforms” including the implementation of the Value Added Tax (which will be disastrous for consumers, poor people, small businesses).

Yes, Pakistan can manage its financial affairs with greater efficiency. But these “friendly” sources never ask Pakistan to reduce the biggest drain on Pakistan’s economy: military spending. Instead we get euphemisms like the “war economy.”

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