|Washington DC: March 7, 2010. (Ahmer Mustikhan) A Pakistani air force officer who by his very looks is a Punjabi and most possibly an operative of the infamous Inter Services Intelligence lied at a gathering of intellectuals and writers in Washington DC that Pakistan army has never used U.S.-supplied F-16 jets and Cobra helicopters in the restive Balochistan province, scene of a bloody insurgency that the Baloch call the fifth war of liberation.
Group Captain Ahmer Shehzad, an air attache at the Pakistan embassy in Washington DC took offense to an event organized by a premier U.S. think-tank in association with the American Friends of Balochistan to highlight the dangers of Talibanization in Balochistan.
Shehzad complained that the Middle East Institute had organized a talk on “Drone attacks on the Quetta shura? pros and cons” that opened up a discussion on the atrocities of the Pakistan military in Balochistan.
The speakers included Selig S. Harrison, Andrew Eiva, Ashraf Kakar, and Baloch notables Maqbool Aliani and Zain Magsi, while professor Marvin Weinbaum moderated the Friday noon event.
The serving air force officer defended the role of the infamous Inter-Services Intelligence and denied that Pakistan military has ever used F-16 jets or gunship helicopters against Baloch freedom fighters, who are demanding a timetable for Pakistan troop pullout from Balochistan.
Baloch patriots aleege that paid agents of the ISI attacked an event organized by students at the Balochistan University of Engineering and Technology in Khuzdar on March 2 that left two students, Junaid Baloch and Sikander Bangulzai dead. Two others Bebargh Zehri and Malik zain Zehri were critical among the 35 wounded.
The PPI news agency said a spokesman for the Baloch Armed Defence Army has claimed responsibility of bomb explosions. Speaking on phone with correspondents at the Khuzdar Press Club form an unknown location, Mir Jang Baloch warned BSO Azad and the Baloch resistance parties in the Baloch National Front, that it will continue to target them.
The spokesman also warned correspondents not to publicize news of the resistance or his army would target them as well.
The spokesman said that they would offer more resistance and target BSO, Baloch National Front and BRP in every nook and corner of Balochistan
Observers in Khuzdar said the pro-Pakistan terror group is headed by former cartaker echief minister of Balochistan, Mir Naseer mengal, whose ISI links are wellknown all over Balochistan.
Group Captain Shehzad also misled the seminar that he is a Baloch — he later told some participants he did have some Baloch in him.
“You can see from his face he is a Punjabi,” said Rashid Baloch, presiding council member of the American Friends of Balochistan.
Group captain Shehzad conceded that Pakistan military has used rocket-propelled grenades against the Baloch and also admitted Pakistan treated the Baloch people unfairly.
Use of F-16s and Cobra helicopters on Baloch freedom-fighters have been widely reported in world newspapers, including the Washington Post.
In a report on February 17, 2006 the late U.S.-based journalist Khalid Hasan wrote in the daily Times newspaper:
Army heavily deployed’ to fight Baloch insurgency
WASHINGTON: According to US intelligence sources, six Pakistani army brigades, plus paramilitary forces totalling some 25,000 men, are battling Baloch Liberation Army guerrillas in the Kohlu mountains and surrounding areas.
This and other figures are quoted in an analysis by Selig S Harrison, published on Wednesday by the Washington Post. The writer also quotes the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan as having reported “indiscriminate bombing and strafing” by 20 US-supplied Cobra helicopter gunships and four squadrons of fighter planes, including US-supplied F-16 fighter jets, resulting in 215 civilian dead and hundreds more wounded, many of them women and children.
Mehran Baluch, who represents Balochistan at the United Nations Human Rights Council, said Pakistan military officers are well-known for their lies. “They even deny there is a military operation in Balochistan,” Mehran Baluch said.
The uniformed Pakistani officer further alleged that Baloch national hero Brahumdagh Bugti travels from Kabul to Kandahar in an M17 helicopter of the Indian air force.
It was not sure if Group Captain Shehzad acted on his own or was deputed by Pakistan Ambassador Hussain Haqqani. Generally, Pakistan military officers do not answer to civilian authorities and Haqqani is widely despised by the I.S.I. as he had formulated the idea of bringing the rogue agency under civilian control at the time of the first official visit o Premier Yusuf Raza Gilani to the United States in 2008.
U.S. scholar Stephen P. Cohen, who has a soft corner for Pakistan soldiers, felt uncomfortable about the characterization of the Pakistan military as “Taliban in uniform” and questioned the role of the Baloch chieftain in their drive for independence.
At this, Maqbool Aliani drew a parallel between the American systematic annihilation of the Native Americans on the grounds that they were uncivilized and giving a license to Pakistani occupation force for a genocide of the Baloch tribesmen.
Zain Magsi, a self-made technological entrepeneur, said the Pakistan military as it exists today was created by the British as an anti-people force to check the freedom aspirations of the people. One of Magsi’s ancestors Nawab Yusuf Ali Magsi is regarded as the founder of the Baloch nationalism. He was killed in a devastating earthquake that struck Quetta in 1935.
The premier pro-independence American Friends of Balochistan in a statement released on the occassion said:
Let me first go to Khuzdar, a Baloch town about 300 miles southeast of Quetta. It is March 2, 2010 soon after dusk and one the largest students body, the Baloch Students Organization, is holding a Baloch cultural day at the campus of the Balochistan University of Engineering and Techonolgy, Khuzdar.
All of a sudden, paid agents of the Pakistani state, most probably the ISI, descend on the gathering and hurl three grenades on the cultural show.
BSO Azad member Junaid Baloch dies on the spot; another member Sikandar Bangulzai is wounded and shifted to a hospital in Karachi where he succumbs to his injuries. Both were in their early twenties. As many as 35 students and some faculty members are injured. Two are in critical condition. Their names are Beebargh Zehri and Malik Zain Zehri, a member of the central committee of the BSO Azad informed me on the phone yesterday afteroon.
This mourning apart, most Baloch are gungho over the prospects of U.S. drone attacks on the Taliban homes and hideouts in Quetta. They think it will be a day of reckoning for the Pakistani ISI and military. As much as some U.S. liberals dread these drone attacks, Baloch seculars say these are compulsory if the unfinished agenda of the war on terror is to be brought to its logical conclusion.
The relationship between Quetta and the AfPak war theatre is not new. Ribbon-shaped Quetta, the capital of restive Balochistan — scene of a bloody insurgency that Baloch nationalists call a liberation war –, was once a part of greater Kandahar. It finally came under British occupation in 1876. Due to its geo-strategic importance, the British built Quetta as a garrison town. They extended the roads and railway network to Afghanistan and Iran.
Quetta is also the only bone of contention between the Baloch and Pashtuns, the two dominant groups that have a population of roughly half million each in the Balochistan capital. There are also about 0.3 million Hazaras, who are shias, and nearly 100,000 recent migrants like Punjabis, Urdu-speaking people and even some Bengalis.
More recently, Quetta has earned itself the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s largest Afghan refugee cities. The refugees outnumber the local Pashtuns and Baloch taken together. Quetta was home to the present Afghan president Hamid Karzai for nearly two decades from 1983 to 2001. Ahmed Rashid in his book Descent Into Chaossays just two weeks before 911 Karzai was told by the infamous Inter Services Intelligence that he and his family will have to leave Quetta. He writes the orders came from none else but Taliban leader Mullah Omar. In 1999, Karzai’s father and 12 other prominent Afghans were murdered by the Taliban in Pakistan, with the collusion of the ISI.
Quetta may now also imminently become known worldwide thanks to the U.S. infotainment channels and the datelines of global newspapers if Vice President Joe Biden’s pet idea of drone attacks are launched there to take out Taliban insurgents creating a nightmare for the International Security Assistance Force in neighboring Afghanistan.
The Taliban are also bent upon imposing their own brand of Islam on one of the most modern cities closest to Kandahar. But don’t get me wrong, western trousers are not the norm and even when male wear pants they get strange, side looks from other males in baggy trousers.
Chaddor is compulsory for most women.
Talking with me on the phone from Quetta, senior journalist Shahzada Zulfikar said officially the population in Quetta is still cited at 0.7 million, but the local municipal sources say they can add as much as 2 million to this figure., thanks to the at least 1.2 million Afghan refugees in Quetta.
The areas where the Afghan refugees live are Pashtunabad, Khrotababad, Kuchlak, Ghousabad and Panjpai, which houses the infamous Mullahkhel Afghan refugee camp, that U.S. intelligence says is one of the nerve centers of the Taliban movement.
The Taliban are all over the place, says journalist Zulfikar. He said Baloch nationalists and militants are today the biggest supporters of the drone attacks on the Taliban leadership in Quetta. Their main concern is not the growth of the Pashtun population, but because they are fearing Talibanization of the Balochistan capital.
The Taliban have made no secret that they want shariah laws in Quetta, and if they succeed in this goal Balochistan will be on fire.
The Baloch are anguished over the posibility of the Taliban takeover of their capital and openly stated they support the drone attacks. Nawab Brahumdagh Bugti, president of the Baloch Republican Party clearly stated that drone attack is not a Baloch issue, as they battle the Pakistani army control of Balochistan. One of Balochistan’s main resistance leaders Mir Hyrbyair Marri, who now lives in London, said if the U.S. and NATO target the religious extremists, who are mostly Pashtuns, the Baloch would have no issue. “Even if there are a handful of Baloch in the Taliban ranks, they need to be eliminated,” Marri told me recently from London.
“The use of U.S. weapons would not be anything new in Balochistan,” Hyfrbyair Marri said. “U.S.-supplied weapons have been used by the Pakistan army against the Baloch for many decades now. It would be the first time forces allied with Pakistan army will be at the receiving end.”
He said this was the main reason why there is no much frenzy and furore over the drone attacks in the Pakistani media.
Marri has expressed his deep anguish over a report in the Wall Street Journal that said the Pentagon will transfer laser-guided-bomb kits to Pakistan. The WSJ report by Yochi J. Dreazen, published on March 2, said that Pakistan will soon receive equipment capable of converting 1,000 traditional munitions into “smart bombs.” Marri fears the reconfigured bombs will help Pakistan battle the Baloch in Balochistan, not the Taliban. Many Baloch say the Taliban are a “B team” of the Pakistan military. They call the Pakistan military the Taliban in uniform. Despite these allegations Pakistan will also soon take possession of a dozen American-made surveillance drones and 18 late model F-16 jets fighter jets to help Pakistan military track and strike targets deep inside Balochistan, Marri cited from Dreazen’s report.
Mehran Baluch, a younger brother of Marri, who has represented the Baloch voice at the U.N. Human Rights Council for a decade now, in a phone talk said Pakistan has used heavy duty ground missiles, traditionally used when two standing armies are at war, against the Baloch civilians in Marri and Bugti areas. He accused the Pakistan military of using incendiary bombs and phophorous bombs, probably belonging to the family of mustard gas, in the killing of former governor and chief minister ofbalochistan, Nawab Akbar Bugti. He said U.S. supplied F-16s with mountain capabilty have been used to target the Baloch.
According to US law (the Leahy amendment), no US military aid maybe provided to any unit of a foreign security force if there is credible evidence that such a unit has committed gross violations of human rights. Yet, military aid from the USA to security services and armed forces with a persistent record of human rights violations continues. Significant violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in some of these countries are carried out or facilitated by paramilitary and armed forces equipped courtesy of US military assistance.
A wide array of U.S. weaponry for the Pakistan military includes Cobra gunship helicopters, that are being used against the Baloch on their native land, Balochistan.
Mehran Baluch said there have been widespread unconfirmed reports of use of anti-personnel mines in Balochistan.
In this backdrop, it is not only the resistance, but even pro-federation politicians like Senator Dr. Malik Baloch support the drone attack idea. When Secretary of State, Madam Hilary Clinton, visited Pakistan last fall, the lone voice of support for the drone attacks came from this Baloch senator, who is also the president of the Balochistan-based National Party.
According to Balochistan National Party (BNP) Information Secretary and former senator Sanaullah Baloch supporters of Taliban have captured land worth Rs 2 billion in the eastern and western parts of Quetta with the covert support of the Pakistani agencies to undermine the Baloch nationalist movement and promote Talibanization of Balochistan.
Baloch in a recent communication said several locations in the provincial capital have become ‘no-go areas’ where the Taliban and their supporters have consolidated their position. Baloch said the government was fully aware of the illegal land grabbing but was looking the other way as it wants to use the Taliban against the Baloch nationalists.
Baloch said the Afghan refugees, besides being a burden on the economy of Balochistan, have become the biggest cause of lawlessness and terrorism in the country’s arewise largest province, Baloch said.
To see what the Baloch diaspora is thinking about the drone attacks, I sent out a questioner on the Baloch yahoo groups about the pros and cons and also posed the question on a Facebook page of the American Friends of Balochistan, which has nearly more than 900 mostly Baloch members from all over the world. By the way the American Friends of Balochistan is a target of attacks by the Pakistani counterpart of Bill O’reilly, named Zaid Hamid.
To my query, an official in the education department on a condition of not being named said, “I am in favour of the drone attacks on Taliban in Balochistan; I am waiting for the good news of the drone attackes. But Pakistan is against the drone attacks because they have sheltered the Taliban leaders in the city and even in sensitive places like the military cantonment. The attacks will expose the Pakistani dual policies on Afghanistan and on the war on terror”
Said a second Baloch, “I think there should be drone attacks on Taliban hideouts. I think we all know Pasthun areas are under the mullas and we Baloch are very secular. We don’t want the Taliban to take over Quetta like other cities of Pakistan.
Said a third, “We as Baloch residents of Quetta do not have any problems with the drone attacks as long as they are based on American intelligence and not on Pakistani information. If the Pakistanis are involved in this process, they would most certainly ask the Americans to bomb the Baloch civilian population rather than the Al Qaeda or Taliban strongholds.”
Says a fourth: “Yes the drone attacks will help because Quetta will become even more like a war zone, like Bangladesh in the 1971 war, and more Baloch will join the freedom struggle.”
Says a fifth: “I think these drone attacks will not help Baloch cause, but if they are done on Punjab they will help us.”
Says a sixth: Drone attacks are good for the Baloch living in Quetta as it may force the Taliban, who have already obtained Pakistani documents, to go back to Afghanistan and prevent turning the Baloch into a marginalised minority. But it may affect the populairty of the Baloch resistance for siding with the U.S. designs in the region.”
Fears run high Pakistan will use the drone attacks to target Baloch seculars.
Said one opponent: “Well, whenever the U.S. wants to attack surrounding areas of Quetta no one can stop them because Pakistan always gives in to U.S. demands. I think Pakistan will get the best out of a bad deal by misleading the U.S. and divert its anger toward the Baloch resistance movement.”
Says a second opponent: “As a human rights activist I am totally against drone attack or any type of attack to any part of Balochistan.
Saeed Ameeri, a senior Baloch activist, now based in the Gulf, who had set up a Baloch government in exile in the early 1960s in Iraq along with another veteran Jumma Khan — Selig knows them, I believe –, says it will be naive to think that Pakistan will allow drone attacks on the Taliban. Ameeri fears any drone attack in Balochistan will result in killing of innocent Baloch and Pashtun women and children. “Taliban are safe in sanctuaries in Balochistan under the protection of Pakistan,” Ameeri said. “There is a danger that Pakistan will mislead Americans with wrong intelligence to attack Baloch sarmachars or freedom fighters instead of the Taliban.”
Ameeri said he is with veteran Baloch leader and founder of the Baloch liberation ideology Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, 80, who said the drone attacks will turn the bleeding wounds of Balochistan into a cancer. Ameeri adds we must condemn any such attack on Baloch and Pashtun civilians in Balochistan. But people close to the veteran Baloch leader said he believes the drone attacks will not augur well for the baloch masses if the Pakistani military becomes a partner in the enterprise.
But Baloch intellectual Hafeez Hassanabadi, who has been close to Nawab Marri since his days in Afghanistan in the 1980s, says the veteran leader is against these attacks if Pakistani military and intelligence are involved but is open to the idea of U.S. and NATO attacks if Pakistanis do not have a say. This scenario is unlikely, however.
“Before an attack on shura, the Pakistani ISI will inform their ‘friends’ to move away from the targetted place,” Ameeri said.
The governor of Balochistan, Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi some months ago said Pakistan cannot oppose U.S. drone strikes in Balochistan as Washington can do “whatever it pleases” because it is “paying money” to Islamabad. Magsi says Pakistan does not have an option in this matter. “You cannot oppose someone who pays you money. The U.S. is paying money to Pakistan. How can we oppose it? It will do whatever it pleases.”
The American Friends of Balochistan is deeply anguished that premier U.S. policy making and implemeneting bodies, such as the Congress, State Department and Pentagon, have failed to take the most important stake-holders in so-called AfPak region — the Baloch –, while devising policies such as drone attacks. The Baloch feel proud of their secular politics and the myopic U.S. policy of putting all its eggs in the basket of the Pakistan military and intelligence services will gravely endanger the lives of the young men and women of the United States who are now serving in Afghanistan.
Through the MEI, established 1942, I urge Admiral Mike Mullen and Madam Secretary Hilary Clinton to personally meet the main resistance leaders Mir Hyrbyair Marri, Nawab Brahumdagh Bugti, Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch and other respectable Baloch national leaders such as the Khan of Kalat, Mir Suleman Daud and Baloch Nelson Mandela former chief minister Sardar Akhtar Mengal to see what the U.S. options are in the region before the U.S. embark on a policy of raining drones on Quetta.
Without further delay, I urge establishment of the Balochi language service of the Voice of America. This will cost less than what it costs the U.S to maintain two soldiers in Afghanistan each year and will go a long way in winning the battle of hearts in a region of great strategic value.
Without taking these baby steps, playing cheap, down and dirty and launching drone attacks might as well backfire.
I understand even secular and nationalist Pashtuns also want hellfire missiles from the drones to rain on the Taliban which have destroyed the national fabric of Pashtun society; these nationalists have been turned into sitting ducks by the Taliban, thanks to the ISI.