Monday, December 18, 2006

Big Wigs Erasing Evidence of Their Crime?

Try hard as they may, Islamabad’s bigwigs are finding it difficult to put a lid on last year’s stock exchange scandal.

The latest news is the discovery that all the relevant financial data relating to the stock market scam that caused US 13 billion loss to small investors has been deleted not only from the records of the stock market and the brokers but also that of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP).

Apparently the data was surreptitiously deleted at the SECP shortly after Dr Tariq Hassan, its former chairman, was sacked by Shaukat Aziz in January 2006.

It’s time for a recap.

In March 2005 the share market collapsed.Quite suspiciously the KSE-100 share market index had surged from a figure of 6,218 on 31 December 2004 to a startling high of 10,303 on 15 March 2005. In a short space of two and half months the market had ballooned by 65%.

And then it crashed hitting a low of 6,939 on April 12, 2005.

The financial implosion caused a loss of some Rs. 780 billion - the losers were small middle class investors.

And yes, of course, there were mighty big winners as well. Anyone who had shorted the stock at the time of the crash reaped the windfall. And those who had used the multiplier effect of margin trading would have easily reaped well over 100% on their proffered investments. And so hundreds of billions of rupees were made.

On 18 April 2005 the SECP chairman Dr Tariq Hassan appointed an independent Task Force, headed by the ombudsman Justice Salim Akhtar, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, to investigate the allegations of market manipulation, insider trading and other market abuses which were said to have caused the stock market collapse.

Two months later on 30 June 2005 the Task Force handed over its report to Dr Tariq Hassan, the SECP chairman.

It appears that as soon as Hassan decided to proceed on the recommendations of the Task Force report he struck trouble.

According to Dr. Hassan two senior officials, namely the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Finance, Salman Shah and Minister of State Omar Ayub Khan, began obstructing his efforts to deal with the shady network of brokers. Dr Hassan even divulged that he was pressured by Shaukat Aziz to maintain friendly 'close contacts’ with the leading scamsters of the stock exchange crash.

Fed up with these shenanigans, on 4 August 2005, Dr Hassan submitted his resignation. But it was not accepted by his boss Shaukat Aziz.

Five months later when Dr Hassan had reportedly issued orders appointing forensic investigators to probe the few big brokers responsible for the crash, he was sacked. Importantly, Dr Hassan has stated on record that all the relevant data relating to the crash was in possession of the SECP at the time of his dismissal.

One might have thought that things would have ended there, but it was not to be.

In mid 2006 the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue decided to discuss the task force’s report on stock market crash.

On 7 July 2006 protesting opposition members overcame government efforts to prevent Dr Tariq Hassan from appearing before the committee. Once the sacked SECP chairman was given a chance to speak the proverbial shit finally hit the fan (see Blog: Shortcut & Co. Facing Serious Sleaze Allegations).

To protect themselves the Islamabadi bigwigs opted for a two-pronged approach to stem this sudden onslaught.

First was an attempt to frighten Tariq Hassan into silence by setting the security agencies upon him – he was followed everywhere, all his phones were bugged. Even the Commando General was brought into the act; Musharraf angrily announced that he held Tariq Hassan “personally responsible for the March 2005 crash”.

And then to placate the opposition (and also to further confuse the issue) it was announced that a US forensic team from Diligence Inc. would be flown in to independently investigate the cause behind the March 2005 crash.

Sources close to this new forensic investigation soon began warning that “The US team now knows more about Dr Hassan than (about) the powerful brokers nominated in the task force’s report on the market crash”.

And at that time even your Blogger made the following comment:
The idea, it appears, is to heap all the blame on Tariq Hassan, who now seems destined to play the role of the scapegoat for the whole debacle. Meanwhile, it will be business as usual at the Karachi Stock Exchange and the shady billionaire brokers and the badla providers will undoubtedly continue with their destructive practices.

And so it was to be.

When the US forensic investigator’s report finally came out at the end of November 2006 it was as many had anticipated: a splendid whitewash.

As Dawn reported:
The report says that the US team had not found sufficient evidence to support the withdrawal of COT that was ‘ostensibly’ responsible for the fall of market prices. It found no patterns of activity or credible evidence to support the ‘theory’ that certain influential brokers ‘systematically and manipulatively’ inflated and then deflated market prices, reaping substantial profits in the process.

The truth be told is that Diligence Inc were quite unable to get any ‘evidence’ to implicate anyone. There was little or no data left for them to examine. Probably not wishing to offend their generous paymasters the investigators took the hint and did not make any fuss about it.

As we now know that soon after Tariq Hassan was sacked in January 2006 all the data relating to the period under investigation conveniently evaporated into thin air

This was publicly confirmed last week when newspapers such as Dawn splashed the following news on the front page :

Disappearance of data gives twist to KSE saga
National Assembly’s standing committee on finance was informed that data pertaining to the booking of shares were deleted not only from the records of the stock market and the brokers but also that of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, leaving no proof for the forensic experts to ascertain anything substantial.

One of the members of last year’s investigative Task Force told Dawn:
“There is one big black hole. This (forensic report) is the cover up. You will never get the truth now. But, you can (still) find who covered up the truth”

Will we ever find the culprits who rigged the market, made their mega-billions by bankrupting thousands of small investors and then arranged for all the evidence of their crimes to vanish?

Readers, your guess is as good as mine!

In the meantime here is a list of leading 13 of the 88 brokers who have been named, in the forensic report as having profited from the ‘situation’:

Atlas Investments
AKD Securities
BMA Securities
Arif Habib
Orix Investment Bank
Taurus Securities
Abdul Jabbar Khanani
Escort Investments
Jehangir Siddiqui
Akbar Ali Cassim and Sons
Motiwala Securities
Elixir Investments

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Our Robber Baron Economy

Unlike many members of Pakistan’s so-called elite, your Blogger has not been particularly impressed by the ‘Economic Miracle’ that has been allegedly wrought in Pakistan.

Yes, many of the rich have become much richer – some astronomically so. Most noticeably, however, these new fortunes have not been created by the creation of new industry or by enhancing trade, which could have benefited the country’s overall economy. Instead these billions have been created simply by either manipulating the stock market or speculating in urban property or by grubbily indulging in both.

Recently I was told by a holidaying senior ex-pat banker that a Karachi stock broker who used to wheel around Chundrigar Road on a Honda motorbike some fifteen years ago is now purportedly worth a cool $ 2 billion (please note that I’m talking about dollars and not rupees).

Apart from these unscrupulous stock brokers, we have also had to contend with avaricious holders of black money who have prodigiously speculated on the urban property market. A property, for example, that had declined to Rs. 8 million just prior to 9/11 is currently worth more than Rs. 40 million.

While these rogues wallow in their extraordinary wealth spare a thought for 99% or so Pakistanis who have not profited from this fabulous economic windfall.

Expert opinion holds that there are some 50% of Pakistanis who still happen to live below the poverty line. One has to ignore concocted Ministry of Finance statistics which repeatedly ‘show’ reductions in poverty levels- Dr. Asad Saeed, a highly regarded economist, asserts that the current regime has beaten all its predecessors when it comes to the deliberate fiddling of economic data.


It was therefore heartening to come across someone else also raging about the wrongness of it all. According to The News Akbar Zaidi, a leading local economist, made the following noteworthy remarks while addressing a local gathering :

"The stock exchange should have no place in a developing country like Pakistan. It is not an institution to promote industrialization. In fact, it is more or less a gambling den where the savings of the middle class people are regularly siphoned off."

"No investment had been made in education, health, water and power sectors which could pull the country and its people out of abject misery while more than $20 billion had been received in foreign remittances”

"[The] large fiscal space gained due to 9/11 episode could have been used in enhancing trade and industry activity and creating employment but this money was used by the military regime for plots and stock exchange and to enrich the unscrupulous upper class, which ultimately increased the income gap in Pakistan.… [Now] property values had been pushed out of reach of even the upper middle class."

We need to hear more voices like these.

The Balochistan Folly (continued)

It becomes increasingly obvious that the simmering rebellion in Balochistan is just not going to go away - no matter what Musharraf & Co have to say on the subject.

Musharraf’s trip to Balochistan this month was met with a complete shutter-down strike in all the Baloch areas of the troubled province and led to a large spate of pre-emptive arrests of political activists.

A statement that he has ‘no regrets’ about killing Akbar Bugti (made in an interview with India’s NDTV network) hardly helped cool down matters.By making this statement Musharrah completely contradicted his previously stated position that that the Baloch Nawab had been killed unintentionally.

And by then adding that the military had to “crush [Bugti]... as you are doing in India” (in apparent reference to battles being waged by Indian troops against insurgents in the northeast, Kashmir and elsewhere) Musharraf has managed to invite ridicule.

As a political commentator noted Musharraf ‘appears to have forgotten that Pakistan has consistently maintained that India's actions in Jammu and Kashmir constitute "massive human rights violations".’

In Quetta the General, for once, actually acknowledged the Baloch rebellion in a backhanded sort of fashion by offering an amnesty to Baloch fighters.

Somehow I doubt if his belated attempt to start a dialogue in Balochistan will get any response. Ironically, as a knowledgeable journalist once told me, Akbar Bugti was the only Baloch leader amenable to negotiating with the Establishment. After villifying and then killing him, there is no one left in Balochistan willing to talk to Islamabad. All one can say is: You reap what you sow

An addendum on Akbar Bugti:
A former Governor of Balochistan - Lt. Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch (the only Baloch general so far) – apparently disclosed that ‘the Bugti area had the highest literacy rate in Balochistan’. This mocks the official version which states that the slain Bugti chief was totally averse to educating his tribes people.


In the meantime the Balochistan issue seems to be getting some international press coverage. Today The Brooklyn Rail, a monthly magazine from New York, gives a lengthy journalistic plug for Suleiman Daud, the present Khan of Kalat.

Excerpts from: A Call to Resistance: The Khan of Kalat Gathers the Tribes
"Khan of Kalat Suleiman’s country is rich in resources that everyone wants to take and he doesn’t have the power to stop them. “We sit on a mountain of gold,” he says, “and the devil sits on us.” His people, the Baluch Nation, are being indiscriminately bombed, arrested, and kidnapped, and he’s powerless to stop it. Journalist Selig S. Harrison has called it a slow-motion genocide and Human Rights groups have called it an ethnic cleansing. “We have 700 miles of coast and oil and gas and gold,” says Khan Suleiman. “We try to do something to have rights to it, we get spanked. We resist every ten years and get spanked every ten years.” For the past few years, he has been in the middle of an unseen war that few beyond the regional press are reporting.

But then something horrible happened and it radicalized his people. In August 2006 the chief of the Bugti tribe, 79-year-old Newab Akbar Bugti, was murdered by the Pakistan Army. “Bugti was buried with three locks on the coffin,” says Khan Suleiman. “They thought his soul might come back and make trouble. So the army put locks on it. None of his tribe was around to see his body. Still they’ve got a guard on his body.” The Baluch people were outraged by the murder, and Khan Suleiman had found his moment, the catalyst he needed. He called a national jirga, a meeting of the tribes, the first in 130 years. He wanted to find out if his sardars, his chiefs, the heads of tribes that have been, on and off, at war with each other for hundreds of years, could lay down personal disputes and unify for a common cause: an autonomous Baluchistan. Khan Suleiman’s allies would be his former enemies. In the way of tribes, his enemies are also his friends. He put out his call."

"Khan Suleiman’s historic jirga was attended by 1,500, including 85 sardars and 300 tribal elders. The Baluch people have always protested the Punjabi-dominated military regime of Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf that has been made rich off the Baluch province but gives so little back in terms of resources and tax revenues that the entire region still lacks the basic services that most consider human rights. The province is rich in natural gas yet only 6% of the Baluch have gas connections, less than half the children get an education, and only 2% of the population have clean water.

The answer to Khan Suleiman’s call for unification and resistance against this state of affairs was a resounding yes."

"There is a problem with autonomy for Baluchistan. As it was with the Native Americans, there are broken treaties involved. The current troubles in Baluchistan date back to the 1947 agreement between Britain and India that created Pakistan. Six million Baluch were forced to become part of the newly created country. But a 1948 treaty, in which the current Khan of Kalat (Khan Suleiman’s grandfather) acceded to Pakistan, delineates that accession in only four areas: defense, foreign affairs, currency and communications. Resource and autonomy rights were not given up, but there is an ambiguity to the language of the treaty that has been exploited by Islamabad."

"The Baluch Liberation Front and the Baluch Liberation Army, along with the more official Baluch National Party are increasingly made up of not just moderate to extreme tribals or politicians, but intelligentsia, merchants, laborers, out-of-work engineers, lawyers, and the new Baluch middle class. The Baluch Student Organization actively stages demonstrations, roadblocks and rallies."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Is Azad Kashmir azad?

Sadly it would take a national disaster for some people – such as your Blogger - to become aware of some of the realities that exist in Azad Kashmir.

For instance, I never had any idea that, at the time of the earthquake , not only mobile phone companies were not allowed to operate in Azad Kashmir but there was no PTCL telephone network there either. Instead there was a limited telephone communication system operated by something called Special Communications Organization, which was apparently a functional unit of the Pakistan army.

And then, while most of us suspected the government of Azad Kashmir to be a smokescreen, I had never truly comprehended the sheer scale of the façade.

It was shortly after the earthquake that I learnt that the so-called president, prime minister and cabinet ministers of that benighted place were more or less permanently ensconced in Rawalpindi, only making infrequent trips to the place of their imaginary governance.

Obviously the disconnect between the supposed ‘rulers’ and the ‘ruled’ was much greater than any preconceived notion I might have had.

I fear that the actual state of affairs in Azad Kashmir would probably make even a hardened cynic cringe with embarrassment.

Recently the Human Rights Watch organization published a 71-page report on ‘Azad’ Kashmir – and yes, I did squirm after reading bits like:

"...the federal government in Islamabad, the army and the intelligence agencies control all aspects of political life in Azad Kashmir...The military shows no tolerance for dissent and practically runs the region as a fiefdom.”

HRW doc: “With Friends Like These…” - Human Rights Violations in Azad Kashmir

For those interested, here is a summary of the report:

“Although ‘azad’ means ‘free,’ the residents of Azad Kashmir are anything but,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Pakistani authorities govern Azad Kashmir with strict controls on basic freedoms.”

…“There is a façade of an elected local government, but the federal government in Islamabad, the army and the intelligence agencies control all aspects of political life in Azad Kashmir,” said Adams. “The military shows no tolerance for dissent and practically runs the region as a fiefdom.”

Torture is routinely used in Pakistan, and this practice is also routine in Azad Kashmir. Human Rights Watch has documented incidents of torture by the intelligence services and others acting at the army’s behest but knows of no cases in which members of military and paramilitary security and intelligence agencies have been prosecuted or even disciplined for acts of torture or mistreatment.

Despite the Pakistani government’s criticism of human rights violations in neighbouring Jammu and Kashmir state in India, refugees from Jammu and Kashmir are discriminated against and mistreated by the authorities. Kashmiri refugees and former militants from India, most of whom are secular nationalists and culturally and linguistically distinct from the peoples of Azad Kashmir, are particularly harassed through constant surveillance, curbs on political expression, arbitrary arrest and beatings.

“The Pakistani government often pretends that the only problems faced by Kashmiris are in India,” said Adams. “It should start looking into ways of ending human rights abuses in Azad Kashmir.”

Human Rights Watch urged international donors, which have poured billions of dollars of urgently needed relief and reconstruction aid into Azad Kashmir since the earthquake, to insist on structural changes in governance and the promotion of both human rights and the rule of law. Recent corruption allegations against senior government officials highlight serious weaknesses in the rule of law and governmental accountability.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ally or Adversary?

The influential Atlantic Monthly carried out an interesting poll by asking a group of US foreign-policy authorities about Pakistan and its leader, Pervez Musharraf.

The results were published in its December 2006 issue: PAKISTAN: ALLY OR ADVERSARY?

When asked about their perceptions of General Pervez Musharraf’s role as a US ally:
68 percent said that as a partner Musharraf is “not always helpful, but is at least as good as the likely alternatives”.
23 percent said that Musharraf appeared to be unwilling to crack down on militants and was “in need of stepped-up pressure” from the US..
9 percent said that the Pakistani military leader was an “active and indispensable ally in the fight against terrorist groups”.

When asked as to what type of future government was likely to replace Musharraf’s regime:

63 percent said that it would be another military dictatorship.
22 percent said that it would be replaced by democratic rule.
15 percent said it would be substituted by an “Islamic theocracy”

Friday, November 24, 2006

Traitors Within Our Midst?

Yesterday’s Dawn reports that:
[Quetta] police have registered a treason case against Nawabzada Jamil Bugti, son of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, for speaking against the army and the government in his press conference last month.
If ‘speaking against the army and the government’ is indeed a crime then Quetta police better had start registering millions of ‘treason’ cases against the majority of people - excepting, of course, the moneyed pro-Musharraf elite- in at least three, if not four, provinces that have constituted Pakistan since 1971. (Just by the by, didn’t our erstwhile Bengal province secede from us because they were judged by Islamabad to be ‘traitors’ as well?)

It is time perhaps to briefly examine the law of treason in Pakistan.
Article 6 of the 1973 Constitution states:

1) Any person who abrogates or attempts or conspires to abrogate, subverts or attempts or conspires to subvert the Constitution by use of force or show of force or by other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.
(2) Any person aiding or abetting the acts mentioned in clause (1) shall likewise be guilty of high treason.

Having read the bit about ‘abrogating the constitution…by use of force’, not surprisingly two names instantly pop up in my mind: Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf, the two army generals who abrogated the 1973 constitution by use of overwhelming military force.

Then there are those who attempt to or conspire to abrogate the constitution by force; the only example that I can think of is Major General Zahirul Islam Abbasi, who in 1995 planned to assassinate the prime minister, the chief of army staff, senior cabinet ministers and all the corps commanders and proclaim the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in Pakistan.

And one must not forget those who conspired to subvert the Constitution by…show of force. Recently, the former minister Ch. Nisar Ali Khan - who had close connections with the GHQ during the 1990s - revealed on TV that every army chief (with the exception of Karamat and Kakar) vigorously involved himself in subverting the constitutional authority of elected civilian governments.

Were any of these military gentlemen ever charged with the crime of treason? Of course not, perish the thought - and pity our judiciary.

Instead, those who have been charged of the crime of treason have, so far, all been civilians – these include Nawaz Sharif and Javed Hashmi.

How our 'Amir ul Momineen' subverted the constitution, while using his constitutionally acquired powers to sack his COAS Musharraf, is beyond me. Even the judge, who convicted the deposed PM of hijacking the commercial airline carrying Musharraf, seemed to have baulked at convicting him for treason.

And all Javed Hashmi seemed to have done was to flash around an anti-Musharraf letter purportedly written on Army GHQ letterhead in the National Assembly cafeteria. Now how could this possibly deemed to be ‘an attempt to subvert the constitution by…unconstitutional means'? Not according to my sense of logic, but the judge, who tried Hashmi in a court set up in Rawalpindi jail, convicted him on the charge and sentenced him to 23 years of imprisonment.


Now coming back to Jamil Bugti.

The man’s father, an 80 year-old citizen of Pakistan, was killed ostensibly on Musharraf’s instructions without any recourse to legal process. Given the circumstances, I doubt if Jamil Bugti would have any kind things to say about the army or the government. And yet the police have charged him with treason for ‘speaking against the army and the government in his press conference last month’.

I guess wonders will never cease.


Apropos to the Jamil Bugti story, it seem that members of the Balochistan police will be soon be busy chappies.

Some ten months ago, on 3 February this year, DCO Dera Bugti Abdul Samad Lasi’s house in Hub suffered a bomb blast. The day after the event

Nation reported ‘that the blast damaged a wall and his kitchen but caused no injuries’.

After a lapse of all this time today’s
newspapers report that Lasi has suddenly woken up to the fact that the Khan of Kalat Suleman Daud Ahmedzai, Balochistan Assembly Deputy Speaker Aslam Bhotani and Balochistan National Party Lasbella President Wazir Khan Rind were culprits in the explosion.

Of course it has probably nothing to do with the fact that the Khan, Aslam Bhotani and Wazir Rind are vehemently anti-Musharraf these days.

Interestingly, Lasi has stated that he ‘may name more suspects in the case’. So, there can many more Baloch notables soon on the list. All I can say is: Watch out you anti-Musharraf lot in Balochistan!

Interestingly, it was reported last month that the former DCO of Dera Bugti - who, a reader informs me, got his initial post by sifarish, bypassing Provincial Govt requirements for job advertisement and competitive examination by Balochistan Public Service Commission and also failed to pass departmental examinations for promotion beyond his BS-17 grade - was
inducted in the Foreign Service of Pakistan for consequent posting abroad. No doubt having proved his diplomatic skills in Dera Bugti a great future lies ahead of him abroad.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Dilawar Khan Set Free

The BBC journalist, a bruised and shaken Dilawar Khan Wazir, was released last evening by his abductors. During his captivity he was kept blindfolded, beaten regularly and ‘repeatedly questioned about his work in the tribal areas and his sources of information’.

Without seeming to sound heartless, I do consider Dilawar Khan Wazir to be an extremely fortunate man. To my mind if his kidnapping had not resulted in the public uproar, created by concerned members of his journalist community, he would have still be in the brutal hands of his captors.

Here are some of things that took place within hours of his abduction:

  • Local journalists announced a complete boycott of parliamentary proceedings and threatened public protest.

  • International media organizations – such as CPJ and RWF – began badgering the harrassed Islamabad government.

  • BBC Urdu Service insisted on carrying the story of their missing colleague as the lead story for two days (until his release).

  • BBC World Service Director Nigel Chapman publicly called on the Pakistani government to ascertain Dilawar Khan’s whereabouts.

All the tongue tied Interior Minister, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, could do was announce:

"I am not in a position to confirm whether or not he is in government custody."

In the end, pressurized by journalists the minister reportedly resorted to angrily banging down the phone on them.

Undeniably it was the blaze of local and international publicity (but hardly a word, by the way, in all the heavily controlled TV News channels) that forced Dilawar Khan Wazir’s abductors to release him.

The last comment on the release ought to belong to Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan:
The minister was reluctant to give details about the ‘kidnappers’ who had picked up the journalist from Pirwadhai, a busy public place in Islamabad on Monday.“Do not ask more specific questions,” the minister said while replying to a question about the identity of the kidnappers.


This morning’s Dawn editorial had this to say:

…the circumstances in which [Dilawar Khan Wazir] vanished and the manner in which an attempt was made to mislead his brother deepens the suspicion that this was more than a simple case of kidnapping for ransom or personal vendetta. A series of mishaps that befell the missing journalist’s family in the last few months also confirms the fear that Mr Wazir had been put on the hit list for his professional work which evidently has aroused the ire of some agencies or groups. This is a direct attack on press freedom in Pakistan.

Wishing to suppress information that journalists like Mr Wazir have been unearthing and disseminating through their media outlets, dictatorial governments with many skeletons to hide in their cupboard have taken to harassing and persecuting media persons — four have been mysteriously murdered since 2005 in Pakistan. Obviously, these journalists were not guilty of any infringement of the law for in that case they could have been put on trial. In the absence of that option, the powers that be or their underlings have made it more convenient to resort to the arbitrary tactic of picking up journalists — as well as others who are personae non gratae for any reason — in complete disregard of legal processes.

The least one can say is that the phenomenon of ‘enforced disappearance’, of which Mr Wazir apparently became a victim, is one of the most brutal practices common to countries ruled by oppressive regimes. It speaks of a government’s arrogance and contempt for the rule of law which prompts it to act as it sees fit in a no-holds-barred fashion. In this case, there are powers who do not want any facts relating to the ‘war on terror’ being waged in Waziristan to be made public. Mr Wazir was doing just that and very professionally. Hence an attempt to suppress information. Gone are the days of press controls that tarnished the image of a country. The ‘disappearance’ of a journalist aims to serve a dual purpose: silence him and send a warning to others.


As one of those Musharraf derided ‘extremist liberals’ your Blogger believes Press Freedom to be sacrosanct. In a country where you have a historically enfeebled parliament and judiciary, the rights of the press become paramount. It is through the press, in these trying circumstances, that the public can at least hope for some modicum of accountability.

Husain Haqqani raises some pertinent points in today’s Nation:

Pakistan’s generals, beginning with the late General Ziaul Haq, learnt a lesson from the resentment built against the civilian leaders as a result of their high profile actions against the media. Both Ziaul Haq and Musharraf have shown the ability to accept personal criticism and have avoided taking action against well-known critics, especially ones whose writings are unlikely to foment a revolution in the first place.

The generals’ model of media control is to target poor but well informed reporters not known to the English speaking urban gentry. If the worst truth about regime policies does not come out from where the action actually takes place –Waziristan, Larkana, remote parts of Balochistan—then the state machinery can continue to harp on its broad mindedness. Internationally well known media personalities can criticise the regime, while at the same time securing for it high marks for allowing the criticism. But the criticism must be of the drawing room variety, covering issues that do not cause the masses to question the military’s authority.

The model of media control under this government has been to make examples of reporters on ground that would then make others toe the line. Media freedom since 1999, though considerable, has still been within well-defined parameters. The parameters for the English language media have been wider than for the vernacular press. Multiple TV channels have been opened without giving credit to the elected leaders under whom the concept of private television channel ownership was first mooted. Many more topics have been opened to discussion on radio and TV, and criticising the President has been allowed quite widely.

At the same time, key issues have still been kept out of bounds or subject to self-censorship by owners of media outlets. The government wants to arrogate to itself the right of identifying issues over which it might be criticised. Touchy subjects include discussion of the role of Pakistan’s invisible government, the intelligence services, and the corruption or self-aggrandisement of this regime’s key figures.

Human rights and sovereignty violations in the war against terrorism must be kept under wraps. The dirty war against fellow Pakistanis in Balochistan cannot be reported except in vague and general terms. Opinions critical of the military regime are allowed but facts that back up these opinions must not be revealed. That way, those in authority can keep reassuring their international backers and domestic supporters that all is well and the ranting of critics in the media is only the expression of frustration by opinionated semi-politicians bearing a grudge against them or their appointees.

Historically, the sensitivity of a regime in Pakistan to dissent and truth telling is often directly proportional to its feelings of vulnerability. Overt repression is less in days of self-confidence and more in periods of insecurity. The current rise in murder and abduction of journalists speaks volumes about the anxiety of Pakistan’s current rulers over their ability to continue to indefinitely control the unfortunate people of Pakistan.

Monday, November 20, 2006

BBC Reporter Mysteriously ‘Disappears’

Yesterday one of BBC Urdu Service’s correspondents, Dilawar Ali Khan Wazir, went ‘missing’ in extremely suspicious circumstances.
As today’s
Nation newspaper reported:

The 38-year old Dilawar Ali Wazir works for BBC-Urdu Service and came to Islamabad to see his brother, Zulfiqar Ali Wazir…[and] was last seen leaving the university hostel in a cab for Dera Ismail Khan.

The mysterious disappearance of Dilawar surfaced when some plain-clothed persons, apparently operatives of some secret agency, reached the University hostel and asked for his brother Zulfiqar, said Ejaz Mehr, a colleague of the missing journalist at BBC. The suspected visitors initially met friends of Zulfiqar and told them that Dilawar has been injured in an accident near Peerwadhai and taken to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), Mehr added.

However, the younger Wazir and his friends decided not to accompany the visitors and verify the facts themselves.

After refusing to accompany the visitors, Zulfiqar tried to contact his brother on his mobile phone but the call was attended by someone else, identifying himself as Dr Jamshed at PIMS. This person also stated that Dilawar Khan Wazir was in PIMS after being injured in the accident.

However, when the friends of Zulfiqar Ali Wazir and Ejaz Mehr reached PIMS neither Dilawar Khan Wazir was found inside nor any one with the name of Dr Jamshed could be spotted.

A hospital worker told Ejaz Mehr that there was no doctor in the hospital with such name.

I sincerely hope for Dilawar Ali Khan Wazir’s family, friends, and colleagues (and for all believers in human rights and press freedom) that he is found safe, sound and healthy in the shortest of possible time. Considering his 15-year-old brother was kidnapped and shot dead in August, this must be a particularly harrowing time for his family.

According to
IFEX Dilawar had recently returned from covering the controversial air strike on Chingai madrrassa in the Bajaur tribal. Adding:
"Even if one cannot rule out the possibility that the journalist, traumatised by the recent murder of his younger brother, did have an accident, the circumstances of his disappearance lead us to fear he was abducted. We fear he could be the latest victim of kidnappings of reporters like that of Hayatullah Khan a year ago," the organisation added.
Things aren’t particularly good for journalists in Pakistan right now. Even today’s
International Herald Tribune notes that: 'Numerous Pakistan journalists have vanished and been killed after apparently covering topics sensitive to the government and pro-Taliban militants.'


Your Blogger suggests that for those that who ramble and bluster about the healthy state of press freedom under Musharraf, it is time to shut up.


Reporters Without Borders report

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Humiliation at Gwadar

In reply to the well attended anti-regime Baloch Jirga at Kalat on 21st September, Islamabad haughtily proclaimed a counter pro-regime Baloch Jirga scheduled for 8th November.

At the time a federal minister openly boasted: ‘that the number of invitees would run into hundreds. It could be 400 or even more as "Mirs, Sardars and other notables from all districts" would attend the 'jirga'.-The News, 2 Nov. 2006

Shortly after this rather pompous announcement officialdom strangely began to dither about the location, as well as, the participants.
It would be either Islamabad or Quetta, an official told this correspondent. However, he said, its holding in the federal capital would not send out a good message. He said the president was being counselled to chair the Jirga in Quetta…Invitations are unlikely to be issued to chieftains confronting or criticising the government. All guests would be supporters of the government. However, the official effort is to wean away maximum number of tribal heads,who had attended two Jirgas, hosted by the Khan of Qalat, Mir Dawood, in the wake of killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in a military operation in Kohlu mountains on August 31.-The News
While the venue of the counter-Jirga remained unresolved, apparently it had been decided that every effort would be made to commandeer a ‘maximum number of tribal heads, who had attended two Jirgas, hosted by the Khan of Qalat’.

Shortly afterwards it was declared that the counter-Jirga would be held in Islamabad and
Sardars, nawabs and tribal elders would be arriving in Islamabad on November 6 via a special plane from Quetta’.

Amazingly for Islamabad the truth of the situation only dawned after Shaukat Aziz’s brief visit Quetta. As one commentator noted:
The prime minister's two-day visit only revealed that no notable Baloch sardar was willing to attend the pro-government jirga, although Musharraf claims to have the support of 72 out of 75 Baloch Sardars….
Now confronted with reality, the date and the location of the counter-Jirga were suddenly changed.
Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Mohammad Yousuf has said that the venue and date of a tribal Jirga of Baloch sardars and tribal elders convened by the government has been changed and now it will be held in the coastal town of Gwadar on November 16. Dawn, 4 Nov. 2006
With the postponed date and relocation of venue, all that was left of the original model was the hosting of the Grand Jirga by Musharraf. Even that was now fraught with indecision.

On 12th November a humiliated regime facing a complete boycott of the Jirga backtracked completely and the Jirga was finally scrapped.

Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Mohammad Yousaf disclosed on Sunday that President General Pervez Musharraf would only meet with “notables” from five Balochistan districts during his scheduled visit to Gwadar on November 16, rather than addressing a jirga of Baloch sardars…The chief minister told reporters at Quetta Airport that Gen Musharraf would speak to notables from Gwadar, Turbat, Panjgur, Awaran and Lasbela. (Daily Times, 13 Nov. 2006).
Last night PTV showed Musharraf addressing a small gathering of local ‘notables’ among whom your Blogger spotted one or two PML(Q) politicians imported from Sindh. That made him wonder as to how many others might also have been ‘bused in’ to add to the scanty number.

To add to the embarrassment, all of Balochistan came to a grinding halt in protest to Musharraf’s presence within the province.

Balochistan observed a black day and went on a complete shutter-down strike on Thursday as President General Pervez Musharraf paid his first visit to the volatile southwestern province since the killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti…“The call for the strike was meant to protest General Musharraf’s visit. His hands are red with Baloch blood. We can’t welcome him amid relentless military operations against our innocent people,” said one National Party leader. (Daily Times, 17 Nov. 2006)

Nearly three months after Nawab Akbar Bugti’s slaying it becomes more than obvious that the regime badly miscalculated its consequences.

Musharraf reportedly once confided to an associate that he had no intention of making Akbar Bugti ‘another Nauroz Khan’ (Nauroz Khan was idolized by the Baloch for his resistance against Ayub Khan’s regime). Ironically for Musharraf the dead Bugti is now a much bigger hero among the Baloch than Nauroz Khan ever was. The sardar of the Mengal tribe, Attaullah Khan, recently told Newsline magazine that while he lived Akbar Bugti had been the Nawab of the Bugti tribe, and now by the manner of his death he has become the Nawab of the whole Baloch race.

Reports from Balochistan suggest that the vast majority of Baloch (both Balochi and Brauhi speaking) hold Musharraf personally responsible for Bugti’s killing. And any Baloch who carries on dealing with the general is in jeopardy of being vilified as a quisling by his compatriots.

Friday, November 17, 2006

TV Station Banned by Islamabad.

On Thursday 9th November Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) banned the broadcast of Sindh TV channel by ordering all cable TV operators to stop transmitting it for public viewing.

According to a newspaper report a PEMRA official has confessed that the TV channel had been banned at the request of the federal Ministry of Interior.

Head of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Cable Television (CTV) Policy Making, Brigadier Zahid Shakeel Ahmeds aid that Sindh TV's permission to telecast programmes was taken back on a request received from the federal ministry. "It is an issue pertaining to security clearance. We received a call from the interior ministry asking us to shut their transmission because they had violated the clearance". (Daily Times)

Some opposition politicians have gone on record to state ‘that the transmission had been suspended on the orders of ISPR Director General Maj Gen Shaukat Sultan’ (Daily Times).

It is believed that the Sindh TV channel had upset the Military Regime by broadcasting “critical reports about the suicide bombing of the Army training outfit in the North Western Frontier Province, and the recent army crackdown on militants in Baluchistan province: (

IFEX reports, this is not the first time that a television station has been suspended by PEMRA or by local authorities. The Punjab police stopped cable operators from broadcasting ARY TV in September after it screened footage of police brutality


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bajaur Air Strike - Who Did What?

What can possibly be worse than a country’s armed forces pre-emptively killing 83 of its own citizens in complete disregard of the established legal system?

The answer: When a foreign country does it for you instead.


As the dust begins to settle two weeks after the missile strike of the Ziaul Uloom and Talimul Quran Madrassa in the Chingai village of Bajaur agency glaring contradictions and inconsistencies remain with us.

The simple unchallenged facts that have emerged about the actual air strike so far are:

That the US carried out the surveillance of the madrassa before the air strike. According to the
New York Times :
U.S. security officials have said that they shared intelligence of the target with Pakistan before the strike, which suggests that the surveillance footage came from a U.S. drone.

Pakistani intelligence officials have…released copies of infrared camera footage showing the compound and its inhabitants in the days before the bombing. In the film, men dressed in loose tribal clothes are seen exercising in the yard of the compound in the early morning hours.

The newspaper also informs us:
[As] the men would start their exercises at 4:30 a.m…The strike occurred shortly after 5 a.m., hitting the men as they were exercising in the open yard, causing maximum casualties.

Now when it comes to the identity of the slain there has been numerous contradictions:

Musharraf stated:
'Anyone saying innocent people were killed in the air strike was lying…“They were all militants. They were doing military training there. We were working on them for last six, seven days and we know who they were and what they were doing.'

ISPR spokesman
Major General Shaukat Sultan told a press conference:
  • The religious school…was being used as a militant training camp.

  • Up to 80 deaths have been confirmed.

  • The compound has been destroyed

  • Maulana Liaqatullah, the pro-Taliban commander who ran the madrasa, was among those killed.

  • There were no women or children present.
The Peshawar High Court Bar Association and the Peshawar Bar Association then set up a commission given the task of visiting Chingai and filing an independent report about the incident. The fact-finding team consisted of senior Peshawari lawyers: Barrister Bacha and Advocates Ghulam Nabi, Qaiser Rasheed, Khurshid Khan, Amir Zeb Khan and Karim Mehsud.

On 6 November the team of six lawyers, accompanied by journalists and an escort of Bajaur tribesmen, while heading towrds Chinai found their way blocked by armed levy jawans. According to
Dawn they were ‘manhandled’ and some journalists were actually beaten up.

A member of the legal team was quoted as saying, “The situation turned tense when levy jawans encircled us and asked us to return back. Tribesmen gathered there and told levy officials that the team would visit the madrassah at all costs”.

But in the end as
The Daily Times reported, the levy jawans had to back off when hundreds of angered tribesmen threatened to ‘begin firing in reaction’.

At the site of the destroyed madrassa the fact finding team
reported seeing the clothes and shoes of school children between the ages of eight to ten who were killed in the air strikes.

A week later the team of lawyers released a 4 page report which was based they said on their personal observations and on the accounts of eyewitnesses. According to
The News the report made the following claims:
  • ‘That the attack was carried out from Afghanistan by US planes. Pakistani helicopters appeared on the scene a good 20-25 minutes after the attack.’

  • 'Madrassa Ziaul Uloom was a seminary where religious education was being imparted to the students. Most students were between 09 to 18 years of age. Most of the students were locals, a few of them were from Swat district. '

  • 'The presence of any foreigner was vehemently denied by the local people. There was no evidence of combatant and militant training in and around the seminary.’

  • ‘That the attack was aimed at and timed to derail the peace initiative and to sabotage the peace agreement that was to be reached later on the day.’

  • ‘The seminary was only about seven kilometres from the office of the political agent and the headquarters of the levy force. The site is easily approachable by three ‘katcha’ roads.’

  • 'That no evidence of combat or militant training was found in and around the seminary. No training equipment, scaling walls, ropes, trenches and obstacles were found at the site, the report added.’

  • 'No live ammunition or any kinds of weapons were recovered from any part of the seminary after it was raided, the report concluded’.


The point made about a Waziristan-type peace agreement scheduled to be signed on the very day of the attack is most revealing. As
a leading Peshawar journalist notes:

  • 'In fact, at the time of the attack, [the slain Maulana Liaquat] was negotiating his amnesty with the Pakistani army in return for a pledge to provide neither succour nor sanctuary to foreign fighters, including the Taliban.'

  • 'The evening before the strike, Liaquat was preparing a tribal council for the signing ceremony with the government," says analyst Rahimullah Yousefzai. "So why would the Pakistan army authorise an operation that destroys the Pakistan government's main political strategy in the tribal areas?'

The highly reputable

Economist magazine suggests that the architect of the proposed Bajaur agreement, the NWFP Governor, retired Gen. Ali Muhammad Jan Orakzai, was ‘stunned’. There are reports that he has threatened to resign because of his anger at being blindsided by the sudden attack.

Hmm...All this makes one think, doesn’t it?


Many appear to believe that the US carried out the attack to prevent the Bajaur agreement from taking place. The NATO commanders in Afghanistan, faced with a resurgent Taliban, were already hopping mad about the previous Waziristan deal.


According to

one source NATO has three gripes with the North Waziristan agreement
  • 'First, so far from being "anti-Taliban", as Musharraf claimed, it had been negotiated with the express approval of Taliban leaders. As early as May, Mullah Mohammed Omar had instructed his followers in North Waziristan to comply with a ceasefire since fighting the Pakistan army "served (only) the US interest". '

  • 'The agreement was also skewed, a reflection of how strong the Taliban had become in the tribal areas. Thus in return for verbal pledges by tribesmen not to fight in Afghanistan or harbour foreign militants, the Pakistani government actually released prisoners, removed checkpoints and, astonishingly, returned arms to tribes known for their pro-Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda loyalties. '

  • 'The verbal pledges have also not been kept…A recent US Congress report, based on testimony from US NATO commanders, records a 300 percent hike in cross border militant infiltration into Afghanistan.

This is why the consensus is very strong in Pakistan that the US and NATO were behind the attack on the madrassa -- both had a clear interest in not allowing Bajaur to go North Waziristan's way.'

I will let my readers make their own judgment as to who actually pulled the trigger on Chingai that fateful day.


Final comment:

Is it merely a coincidence that the village of Chingai lies at a distance of only two kilometers from Damadola where 18 villagers were killed by a US Drone in January 2006?

Previous related blogs:

Drones, Lies and Violent Deaths

The Spin on the Missile Attack at Damadola

Thursday, October 26, 2006

This One Hits the Right Spot...

Ardeshir Cowasjee’s poorly written Sunday rambles are well-countered in the daily Yawn by the likes of Ayaz Amir (on Fridays) and Irfan Husain (on Saturdays).


Irfan Husain’s latest piece is worth poring over:

‘The Seven-Year Itch’

IN the mid-1950s, ‘The Seven-Year Itch’ was a huge hit. Starring the unforgettably delectable Marilyn Monroe, the film revolved around the theme of marital infidelity. The title comes from the idea that after seven years of marriage, the eye wanders, and partners get bored of seeing the same face on the pillow next to each other every morning.

Perhaps we do not see Musharraf quite so intimately, but for many Pakistanis, the TV screen is close enough. The big mistake people in power make is that they develop a taste for the limelight, and soon this hunger for publicity becomes an addiction that has to be fed by daily newspaper headlines, TV interviews, and in Musharraf’s case, book launches. But while they revel in this hype and hoopla, pity their poor audiences: blitzed by this self-serving propaganda, who can blame them for getting fed up after a time? And the Lord knows seven years is time enough for even Musharraf’s most ardent fans to feel bored.

Although I oppose military takeovers on principle, I must admit that I cautiously welcomed Musharraf’s coup seven years ago. My reason was simple: had he not overthrown Nawaz Sharif, the ruling Muslim League would have secured a majority in the Senate elections due the following March. Once the upper house had been won, Nawaz Sharif was determined to carry out his avowed threat of making Shariah the law of the land.

A number of Pakistanis, including this one, were concerned that given the different schools of Islamic thought active in the country, this legislation would be divisive to the point of civil war. Hence I considered a short military intervention to be the lesser of the two evils.

But as I should have known, military interventions in Pakistan are never short. The pattern has been for coup-makers to convince themselves that they are indispensable, and then bend all their energies and resources to hang on in power in the belief that their departure would spell disaster for the country. But ultimately, they all leave, one way or another, and the nation staggers on, weaker for their extended presence. Another thing we have learned is that generals last longer in power than politicians. Not because of their superior performance, but because they have the army behind them. And lending them a fig- leaf are the motley crew of political hacks who could not get into power through elections.

Beyond the obvious weakening of political institutions, what else do Musharraf’s seven years in power teach us? For starters, even for a military dictator, there are strict limits to power. As we have seen time and again, Musharraf has been forced to retreat where a politician might well have succeeded. So although I have few doubts about his good intentions on a number of issues, his ability to follow through is decidedly shaky.

Take his praiseworthy desire to dilute the more vicious aspects of the Hudood Ordinance. Like any decent person, he was motivated by the shocking injustice of this Zia-inspired, anti- woman law. Indeed, most of the civilised world is appalled by this unique piece of legislation. Although he was supported by the PPP and the MQM in his effort to amend the law through a bill in parliament, he was thwarted by both the MMA and ultimately, by his own faction of the PML. While the opposition from the clerics was expected, the stab in the back from his own creation must have penetrated even his Kevlar flak jacket. But he has had to put up with this double-cross because he has no alternatives, and the opportunistic Muslim League members know it.

Or take his oft-repeated decision to build the controversial Kalabagh dam. Here, after a major campaign on every front, he simply could not force the smaller provinces to go along with Punjab on the issue. This is despite the fact that Sindh is being run by a coalition that reached power only thanks to Musharraf. Nevertheless, they said ‘no’ when it came to this highly divisive issue because it would have been political suicide for them to have agreed. So when push came to shove, Musharraf was unable to convince the smaller provinces to drop their deep mistrust of Punjab.

His loudly proclaimed concept of ‘enlightened moderation’ lies in tatters, hacked to bits by the mullahs of the MMA whose support he has courted so assiduously. Part of this stillborn policy was the registration of madressahs, and the introduction of modern subjects there. One growl from the mullahs was enough to lay this ambition to rest. Then there was the debacle over the decision to drop the religion column from the new machine- readable passports. Even this innocuous step to bring our travel documents in line with international norms was blocked by our religious parties, and Musharraf had to back down yet again.

On the international front, Musharraf has had limited success, despite his enhanced profile after 9/11. Although he made a U-turn on Pakistan’s pro-Taliban policy, he continues to be pressed to do more on the Afghan border. And more than ever, he is under pressure to rein in the ISI. In spite of his efforts to present a progressive view of Pakistan to the rest of the world, he is frequently frustrated by his own party, courts and intelligence agencies.

The problem he faces is a common one for military dictators around the world. Lacking legitimacy, they make deals with groups and parties to broaden their base beyond GHQ. But as they face resistance from legitimate political forces, they squander their time, energy and the little moral authority they possess to hang on to power. In Musharraf’s case, he has had to curry favour with fundamentalists to win their support. He cannot then take on their militant wings with any conviction or credibility. It is this politics of expediency that neuters the most well-meaning dictator.

One major aspect of the seven-year itch is the intractable nature of problems faced by developing countries like Pakistan. Leaders, whether elected or not, simply cannot meet the rising aspirations of a growing population. So they are forced to repeat promises they cannot keep, and the rest of us can only sit back and yawn each time they appear on TV to offer us pie in the sky tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Pakistan Hits Near Bottom on Press Freedom List

Fact: Pakistan came at 157 out of 168 countries in Reporters Sans Frontières Worldwide Press Freedom Index for 2006.
Now note the slide over the past five years:

In 2002 Pakistan came 119 out of 139 countries

In 2003 Pakistan came 128 out of 166 countries

In 2004 Pakistan came 150 out of 167 countries

In 2005 Pakistan came 150 out of 167 countries

In 2006 Pakistan came 157 out of 168 countries


Our regime leadership has made it a habit to effusively praise the ‘press freedom’ that it claims exists in Pakistan. ‘’ At the 2006 awards ceremony of the All-Pakistan Newspapers Society Musharraf blithely announced : ‘I am for total freedom of the media, which is the fourth pillar of the state and is the first line of defence in today’s world.’

Not to be out done, Shaukat Aziz regularly blathers on about our press freedom. On one occasion the Business Recorder quoted him as saying, "There is a democratic environment in the country and that the press is free. We believe in the freedom of the press." But then inadvertently Shaukat Aziz came closer to the truth by adding, "We give permission for criticism…."

Yup, you are right Shortcut, but we also know that this permission is often forcibly withheld.

Now many readers of daily Yawn and some other English-language newspapers will probably disagree with me and point to the trenchant criticism of the military regime found in many of the Op-Ed columns.

My rejoinder to them is that there is no such ‘animal’ as part freedom. Either you have press freedom or you don’t. Here are some realities about the freedom of the English language Press:

  • Of a country of over 165 million people, due to shockingly low literacy rates, only some 2 million read newspapers and English language papers account for only a fraction of those readers. Take Dawn for example, according to one of its own editors, M. Ziauddin, the newspaper ‘can write whatever it wants these days, but that's because hardly anybody reads it’.

  • Secondly, the regime does not regard potentially hostile views of the English-speaking elite as posing any threat to its existence. And so allowing the English language press to be relatively free makes little difference as far Islamabad is concerned.

  • On matters sensitive to the regime - such as AQ Khan, the Balochistan insurgency, etc. - even the English language press is regularly prevented from printing newsworthy stories.

While the regime may largely leave the English language newspapers alone, the same is not the case for the vernacular press and the local TV news channels.

According to Reporters Sans Frontières’s 2006 Report:

Pakistan remains attracted to control and censorship. Omnipresent military secret services continue to harass investigative journalists, while the Urdu-language press is closely watched.

A former editor of The News Beena Sarwar has described the activities of these agencies:

Among the tactics of intimidation used are phone taps, surveillance, threatening or interrogating phone calls, or visits from intelligence agency personnel.

At times the regime moves swiftly to prevent ‘harmful’ news from spreading, as was the case in late 2005 when it closed a local FM Radio relaying a BBC World Service Programme, which began providing independent news on the earthquake relief efforts.

However the coercive effort of the regime to control the large number of TV news channels is much more significant.

Unlike the newspaper circulation which is restricted by high rates of illiteracy, cable TV news channels, such as Geo, ARY, Aaj, Roshini, KTN, etc., are watched widely in urban areas and have acquired viewership running in tens of millions.

Consequently all these news channels are very closely monitored by the secret agencies. As the news editor of GEO News TV once told your Blogger, “Agency control is always just another phone call away”.

To illustrate this rigid control I need just give one glaring example.


Look at the photo up above. It was taken at the Grand Baloch Jirga which took place in Kalat, Balochistan on 21 September this year.

It was the first time Baloch tribal elders have all gathered together in 125 years.

And what prompted the Jirga? The killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti - a leading tribal chief, politician and possibly the best-known Baloch in Pakistan – at Musharraf‘s behest.

In view of Bugti’s death and the ongoing Baloch insurgency, the Jirga was a major news breaking story.

Now examine the picture closely. The man in the centre of the photo is the Khan of Kalat and in front of him are some two dozen microphones from every TV news channel in Pakistan - with the unremarkable exception of PTV. (Later from a person present at the Jirga confirmed that there were at least 25 to 30 news cameras present at the scene).

That evening the Baloch Jirga was the lead story on BBC Urdu News service. It was covered live by an on-the-spot BBC newsman. Listening to his radio your Blogger was startled to hear live chants from a reported assembled crowd of hundreds of armed Baloch youth loudly demanding ‘Azadi, Azadi’- much, I imagine, to the fury of Islamabad.

This certainly was news as far as I was concerned.

But did any of the news channels play their Jirga recording on their news programme that night (or even, for that matter, the next day)?

Not one.

The story was aggressively killed by a military agency and there wasn’t a peep from anyone of the two or so dozen channels.


The irony is that it has been recently announced that Musharraf plans to hold a counter-grand jirga of the Baloch on 8th November. At first it was to be held at Quetta but subsequently The News reported that the venue was as yet undecided:

It would be either Islamabad or Quetta, an official told this correspondent. However, he said, its holding in the federal capital would not send out a good message. He said the president was being counselled to chair the Jirga in Quetta…Invitations are unlikely to be issued to chieftains confronting or criticising the government. All guests would be supporters of the government. However, the official effort is to wean away maximum number of tribal heads, who had attended two Jirgas, hosted by the Khan of Qalat, Mir Dawood, in the wake of killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in a military operation in Kohlu mountains on August 31.

Umm...I like that bit about the effort underway to ‘to wean away maximum number of tribal heads, who had attended two Jirgas, hosted by the Khan of Qalat’.

Most likely it will be case of a plenty of stick rather than any carrots.

The latest news now is that the Grand Jirga will be held in Islamabad and the pressurized
‘Sardars, nawabs and tribal elders would be arriving in Islamabad on November 6 via a special plane from Quetta’.

One thing your Blogger can guarantee is that unlike the earlier media-throttled and genuine Baloch Jirga, this Hollywood-Jirga in Islamabad will take place in the full glare of press publicity and every TV news channel will be ordered to cover it extensively.

That, my readers, is the freedom of the press in Pakistan today.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Balochistan Revisited Yet Again

Many years ago in the 1970s Henry Kissinger famously said, ‘I wouldn’t recognize the Balochistan problem if it hit me in the face’.

Much to the chagrin of Baloch nationalists the situation largely remains the same as the focus of Western governments, driven by international terrorist concerns, has sidestepped the Balochistan issue almost completely. However, unlike the 1970s, there are a number of NGOs and foreign specialists keeping a much closer eye on the latest rebellion in Balochistan.

One of the best known experts on Balochistan is Selig S Harrison, formerly a senior correspondent of the Washington Post and senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment and currently director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy. To his credit twenty-five years ago he authored a book on the previous Baloch insurgency (In Afghanistan's Shadow: Baloch Nationalism and Soviet Temptations, Carnegie Endowment, 1981).

In his most recent article
Pakistan’s Baloch Insurgency published in the Le Monde Diplomatique Harrison has this to say about the current situation:
  • In the current fighting, which started in January 2005, the independent Pakistan Human Rights Commission has reported that indiscriminate bombing and strafing by F-16s and Cobra gunships are again being used to draw the guerrillas into the open. Six Pakistani army brigades, plus paramilitary forces totalling some 25,000 men, are deployed in the Kohlu mountains and surrounding areas where the fighting is most intense.
  • Musharraf is using new methods, more repressive than those of his predecessors, to crush the insurgency. In the past Baloch activists were generally arrested on formal charges and sentenced to fixed terms in prisons known to their families. This time Baloch spokesmen have reported large-scale kidnappings and disappearances, charging that Pakistani forces have rounded up hundreds of Baloch youths on unspecified charges and taken them to unknown locations.
  • The big difference between earlier phases of the Baloch struggle and the present one is that Islamabad has so far not been able to play off feuding tribes against each other. Equally importantly, it faces a unified nationalist movement under younger leadership drawn not only from tribal leaders but also from an emergent, literate Baloch middle class that did not exist three decades ago. Another difference is that the Baloch have a better armed, more disciplined fighting force in the BLA. Baloch leaders say that rich compatriots and sympathisers in the Persian Gulf provide money needed to buy weapons in the flourishing black market along the Afghan frontier.
  • President Musharraf has repeatedly accused India of supplying weapons to the Baloch insurgents and funds to Sindhi separatist groups, but has provided no evidence to back up these charges.

In his final analysis Harrison warns that:

unless the military regime is willing to grant the provincial autonomy envisaged in the 1973 constitution, which successive military regimes, including the present one, have nullified… the prospect… is for a continuing, inconclusive struggle by the Baloch...against Islamabad that will debilitate Pakistan.


While on the topic of Balochistan today’s Daily Times (hardcopy October 21, 2006, page B3 – no link available) carried a statement from Akbar Bugti’s missing grandson Brahamdagh which evidently was given to Online [News?] via telephone.

According to this report Brahamdagh denied that he had left the country and declared that ‘I am amongst my people and endeavouring for the defense of my motherland’ and that ‘governmental claims of control over Marri and Bugti areas are baseless and false, because resistance has gained intensity more than ever before’ and a ‘large number of Baloch youth is gradually becoming part of the resistance’.

If Brahamdagh Bugti’s claim, that a ‘large number of Baloch youth’ are joining the resistance movement is true, then it would tend to support Selig Harrison’s assertion regarding ‘a unified nationalist movement under younger leadership drawn not only from tribal leaders but also from an emergent, literate Baloch middle class’.

The future is looking distinctly troublesome.