Musharraf and Bush seem to be twinned mentally as their mouths tend to wander where other brains fear to tread.
Simply recall 1 May 2003 when international news channels showed Bush flamboyantly stepping off a naval jet on the US aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and enthusiastically announcing a US victory in Iraq.
Well then move three years forward to 19 June 2006 one finds Musharraf brazenly announcing: 'all terrorists have been wiped off from Balochistan’ and declaring “the Baloch rebellion over”.
Hang on a moment, if the insurgency is truly over in Balochistan, then the following news items must a load of codswallop:
26 June, 2006 – Daily Times : Dera Bugti pipeline blown up
26 June, 2006 – Dawn : Rocket hits hotel on main road in Quetta
1 July, 2006 – Daily Times : Violence intensifies in Balochistan
2 July, 2006 – Gulf News : Baloch rebels blow up railway track to Iran
5 July, 2006- Dawn : Two large pylons blown up in the Kohlu/Barkhan area
5 July, 2006 – Daily Times : 110 Rockets fired at check posts as violence escalates in Balochistan
5 July, 2006 – Daily Times : Tribesmen claim 45 soldiers killed in Dera Bugti
Despite Musharraf’s tall claims the Balochistan insurgency is still searingly hot. Latest reports indicate that a dozen plus Cobra gunships are currently engaged in stifling the insurgent activity in the Dera Bugti area, and for once they are targeting Akbar Bugti directly. The will the first time they have attempted to kill the Bugti chieftain since their unsuccessful attempt in early 2005.
One may conclude from this that Musharraf has lost all semblance of tolerance and is now determined to crush the rebellion. Perhaps the rising international interest in Balochistan has pressurized him to act even more impetuously. In any event Pakistan will end up paying a heavy price for this example of unintelligent commando-mentality.
Seeing we are on the topic of Balochistan, here is a UK viewpoint of the crisis given by one of their foreign affairs academics published today on UK Guardian’s website. The British are obviously worried about their 3,000 troops in Helmand and it is written with that perspective in mind.
This lawless province is key to understanding what British troops will face in southern Afghanistan.
July 4, 2006
There is an awkward pause when you mention Baluchistan to someone for the first time. Even members of staff in Britain's leading think tank on global affairs, the Foreign Policy Centre think they may have misheard. As Margaret Beckett might have put it, "Where the f**k is Baluchistan?"
But you shouldn't confuse ignorance with irrelevance. There are many reasons why Baluchistan warrants more than an occasional reference in an article on Pakistan. As the British Army prepares to send hundreds of extra troops to southern Afghanistan, we need to understand what is happening in Baluchistan in Pakistan - this lawless province, desperate for autonomy from Islamabad.
Some brief background: Baluchistan is effectively the "Kurdistan of Central Asia" - the Baluchsprincipally live in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan so are divided by what they see as arbitraryborders implemented by colonial powers.
Pakistani Baluchistan occupies over 40% of Pakistan's landmass as the largest province in the country. The Baluchi people are distinct from the Panjabi elite that dominate Pakistani politics - they are Muslims but more secular in their outlook (in a similar fashion to the Kurds) with their own distinct language and culture. The Baluchi people believe they have been oppressed in many ways by the Pakistani government. Feudal systems of government, corruption and incompetence have lead to socio-economic backwardness and extreme poverty. In addition, the army has led many incursions into the region, with the latest in 2005 coming after an assassination attempt on President Musharraf. Baluchis are desperate to be recognised as autonomous people, and to gain self-determination. They feel that Baluchistan existed as a nation, and has merely been occupied by Pakistan, a situation that the international community continues to ignore, focusing its relations with Pakistan on the war on terror, and the vexed issue of Kashmir.But why should the UK and the rest of the international community care about what happens in Baluchistan?
Firstly, it is the frontline in the war on terror. Quetta, the capital of the province is a known Al-Qaeda stronghold, as Colonel Chris Vernon, a Senior British Army Officer in southern Afghanistan and President Hamid Karzai have said. The Taleban use Baluchistan and Waziristan as a chance to rest, rearm, regroup and recruit for the battles across the border in Helmand in Afghanistan. Mullah Omar is believed by some to be in Baluchistan, and Bin Laden has travelled through Quetta. The province is mountainous, dangerous, and remote, so provides an ideal hiding place for a guerrilla army. Those who've visited lawless provinces such as Helmand, report seeing more Pakistani fighters under the black and white flag of the Taliban than Afghans.
The Baluchs have no links with Al Qaeda, but their suspicion and mistrust means they are less likely to help in the battle against the Taliban, while their situation is so uncertain. As Tarique Niazi of the Jamestown Foundation puts it, "The Baluch insurgency and Pakistan's restive western borders with Afghanistan are absorbing almost one-third of Pakistan's military resources, which relieve some pressure from al-Qaeda and the Taliban."
The 700 military checkpoints in the region are used to intimidate Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) fighters rather than stop the Taliban soldiers clad in black salwar kameezes and turbans. In the 1970s and 80s the Pakistan government encouraged thousands of Pashtun refugees to settle in the area as a bulwark between the Baluchs and Afghanistan, who they suspected of supporting the BLA. Islamabad armed and supported the Taliban, backing the mullahs of Jama'at -i-Islami and Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam. Some of the Pashtuns continue to provide support and cover for Al Qaeda operatives crossing the border.
The Durand line which supposedly separates Pakistan and Afghanistan, has still not been officially recognised, and was considered to have lapsed in 1996. Durand was the product of an agreement in 1893 between the then ruler of Afghanistan, Abdur Rahman Shah, and Sir Mortimer Durand, the foreign secretary of the colonial government of India. But Pashtun tribal leaders won't acknowledge the border, and it has been a constant source of tension between the two governments. As such, the Taliban are free to cross a border so porous it is said to be 'marked out on water'.
Baluchistan was never really part of the Great Game between Britain and Russia - it was too far South and seem to contain little of any interest. That mindset changed in 1952, when gas was discovered in the Sui area. The Baluchs believe that they have been robbed of some of their fair share of this natural wealth, receiving insufficient royalties, and a low development budget, which is allocated by population rather than need, holding back a sparsely populated but poor region.
The Chinese and the Iranians have realised the potential there. The possible Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline was opposed by the Bush administration, but is making slow progress. Resource-hungry China has gained a foothold in the province, by sending engineers and security officials to construct a port at Gwadar for a possible oil/gas pipeline connecting Gwadar with Xinjiang. The Chinese are accused of using Gwadar as a listening post for monitoring US military activities in the Persian Gulf. In return, the Chinese are giving $350 million for an upgrade to the Karakoram Highway and providing assistance to Pakistan's nuclear industry. In 1998, Pakistan escalated the regional arms race by detonating 6 nuclear weapons near Chagai, also in the province of Baluchistan.
In addition to these major geo-political and security concerns, the international community should be aware of human rights abuses in Baluchistan. The Pakistani army is accused of killing civilians. Human Rights Watch has raised concerns of political incarceration and torture of Baluchi political activists such as Rasheed Azam. The military dictatorship in Islamabad are not alone, there are also human rights violations committed by the Shi'a theocracy in Iran.
These facts and claims make a compelling case that Baluchistan should at the very least be on the radar of the international community, and some countries should even reconsider their stance towards the Pakistani government, due to hold elections in 2007. This should stem not just from empathy toward the Baluchs, but out of a self-interested security dilemma. It is now up to Baluchi leaders to express what that stance should be.