Pakistan's Secret Dirty Little War
March 29, 2011 10:21 PM   Subscribe

I've been following Pakistani politics for a while now. It's not a huge secret in their domestic press that there's an ethnic Baloch independence movement that wants absolutely nothing to do with Islamabad, Lahore or Karachi. These killings do seem to be an escalation of recent events...
posted by thewalrus at 11:00 PM on March 29, 2011

The forces of law and order also seem to be curiously indifferent to the plight of the dead men. Not a single person has been arrested or prosecuted; in fact, police investigators openly admit they are not even looking for anyone.

For a moment there, I forgot it was about Pakistan.
posted by grounded at 11:09 PM on March 29, 2011

Partition was a huge mistake.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:50 PM on March 29, 2011

@thewalrus, FTFA:
Two conflicts are rocking the province. North of Quetta, in a belt of land adjoining the Afghan border, is the ethnic Pashtun belt. Here, Afghan Taliban insurgents shelter in hardline madrasas and lawless refugee camps, taking rest in between bouts of battle with western soldiers in Afghanistan. It is home to the infamous "Quetta shura", the Taliban war council, and western officials say the ISI is assisting them. Some locals agree. "It's an open secret," an elder from Kuchlak tells me. "The ISI gave a fleet of motorbikes to local elders, who distributed them to the fighters crossing the border. Nobody can stop them."

The other conflict is unfolding south of Quetta, in a vast sweep that stretches from the Quetta suburbs to the Arabian Sea, in the ethnic Baloch and Brahui area, whose people have always been reluctant Pakistanis. The first Baloch revolt erupted in 1948, barely six months after Pakistan was born; this is the fifth. The rebels are splintered into several factions, the largest of which is the Balochistan Liberation Army. They use classic guerrilla tactics...But this insurgency seems to have spread deeper into Baloch society than ever before. Anti-Pakistani fervour has gripped the province.
So the author of the article states there are two fundamental conflicts in Balochistan, not one, and both are increasing in complexity for a variety of reasons, not recessarily all to do with Pakistan (wink wink).
posted by asymptotic at 12:14 AM on March 30, 2011

I was quite well aware of the Quetta shura Taliban and the pashtun heartland around the area on the Balochistan side of the Spin Boldak border crossing... I spent 4 years living in Kabul and Islamabad and paid keen attention to the regional issues. The uptick in violence in non-taliban-related killings in southern and SW balochistan is the new news.
posted by thewalrus at 12:22 AM on March 30, 2011

The only secrecy here is that western media have mainly ignored this. BBC had a story in January. Kudos to Declan Walsh for writing about it.
Crisis Baluchistan is a good place to get more information.
More resources are to be found here.
Both Ahmed Rashid (pdf) and Nicholas Schmidle have previously written about Baluchistan's problems. Tribalism, Gold and Copper and Oil Pipelines all have their part in the theatre as does the Chinese construction of a deep water, all weather port at Gwadar which will also service Iran's oil and Gas industry.
posted by adamvasco at 12:24 AM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

This really isn't a secret to anyone who pays any attention to Pakistani news. On preview, adamvasco has linked to some really good resources.

Partition was a huge mistake.

Care to elaborate on how that's relevant here?
posted by bardophile at 12:28 AM on March 30, 2011

Partition was a huge mistake.

Not for India.
posted by atrazine at 12:28 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was in Pakistan recently and this was being covered in the domestic press, I haven't seen much about it internationally though.
posted by atrazine at 12:31 AM on March 30, 2011

(I predict that there won't be many people commenting in this thread familiar with Pakistani domestic politics due to the match)
posted by atrazine at 12:33 AM on March 30, 2011

One thing the international press isn't paying attention to is the near daily political killings in Karachi. It's a regular thing now.\03\21\story_21-3-2011_pg1_7\02\22\story_22-2-2011_pg7_26\03\28\story_28-3-2011_pg7_3
posted by thewalrus at 12:35 AM on March 30, 2011

I see it as relevant this way.

There wouldn't be a Kashmir issue, and then there wouldn't be Indian interference here in Balochistan in a tit-for-tat way. Maybe a more decentralized democratic government (i.e., Greater India) with more autonomy would keep the nationalists better under control. And of course, duh, there wouldn't be the same mini Great Game being played out across the border between Pakistan and India.

95% of the current fuckedupness of South Asia traces back to partition. The place would be a massive economic powerhouse and world power by now if it had held together in 1948 and hadn't pissed all this treasure down the toilet fighting itself.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:37 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Indian interference here in Balochistan in a tit-for-tat way

As in?
posted by vidur at 1:19 AM on March 30, 2011

"Partition was a huge mistake."
posted by Meatbomb at 7:50 AM on March 30

twice recently i have seen problems in india/pakistan blamed on partitioning. give me a break, England had just been bombed, our people were starving, water was in shortage and rationing was in effect. millions of tommies were coming home to a ruined country. so i doubt partitioning india was a priority. and since then we have gone on to form a european union with france and germany, we have stopped killing one another, yet india/pakistan have problems and it is blamed on something that happenend over 60 years ago? they have had 60 years to sort this stuff out and haven't. maybe that is related to the recent thread about india't ruling elite and how their country is run. but to continually blame things on partition (and by assumption on the UK) is lame after 60 years.
posted by marienbad at 2:31 AM on March 30, 2011

Despite apparently causing you so much upset that you forgot how to use capital letters, nobody mentioned England, partition happened largely because of political movements within the subcontinent.
posted by atrazine at 3:30 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Marienbad, It's probably because Partition is what defines India and Pakistan. The concept of India(referring to the colony) in itself was an abstraction for the British administration. In modern India there are 21 official languages plus a whole lot of other languages and dialects that don't officially show up. New states are routinely made by breaking up old ones based on linguistic or ethnic lines. For example Bangladesh being created out of Pakistan. There are tons of ethnic based insurgency in India. The problem is not just in Pakistan. The lines the British drew like the Durand line were completely arbitrary.
Partition itself was messy in terms of lives and utter slaughter of people by people who were their neighbors in years past. Think Bosnia or Yugoslavia you can't pretend Europe is all pleasant since the end of WW2. Heck Belgium is thinking of splitting apart, but it probably be relatively calm. The nation-state concept was slapped onto the region, which had no concept of a nation-state prior to Partition. And yes the British did have a role,but an indirect one. To pretend that 400 years of British picking winners and losers, playing divide and conquer in an area with a huge number of ethnicities/religons/linguistic groups did nothing is a bit ignorant. But in the end the people of the region are the one responsible for stopping the violence. That probably won't happen until the internal politics in Pakistan are somewhat stabilized, which I'm not sure is ever going to happen.
Sorry for the tone/rant its early and I get irritated when political issues are reduce to "get over it".
posted by roguewraith at 4:13 AM on March 30, 2011 [6 favorites]

"To pretend that 400 years of British picking winners and losers, playing divide and conquer in an area with a huge number of ethnicities/religons/linguistic groups did nothing is a bit ignorant. But in the end the people of the region are the one responsible for stopping the violence"

posted by marienbad at 7:35 AM on March 30, 2011

Indian interference here in Balochistan in a tit-for-tat way

As in?

As in RTFA where that is stated. Sorry I am not there on the ground with a first hand account.

it is blamed on something that happenend over 60 years ago? they have had 60 years to sort this stuff out and haven't. maybe that is related to the recent thread about india't ruling elite and how their country is run. but to continually blame things on partition (and by assumption on the UK) is lame after 60 years.

I never mentioned the UK, and if you are familiar with the history it was mainly Jinna and the Muslim League who forced it down everyone else's throats.

1948 Partition (60 yrs ago) ->
1965 War over Kashmir (couldn't agree whose it was since Partition) (45 yrs ago) ->
1971 Pakistan Civil War / Indian intervention / split off of Bangladesh (40 yrs ago) ->
1989 Kashmir Insurgency ramps up (with tonnes of Pakistan assistance) (20 yrs ago) ->
nukes on both sides, both sides fucking with Afghanistan, little border wars, etc etc.

So yeah, I see a pretty clear causal chain and a whole tonne of misery and war that resulted from the Partition. But at least Jinna and the Muslim elites got their own little fief to run for themselves, eh? And what is Pakistan, really, aside from "not India"?

See, I say that nation states and nationalism is one of the lingering diseases from the 19th century, and the smaller and more nation-y the state, the worse. Big federal states like Canada, Brazil, ex-USSR and ex-Yugo have to balance different minorities, allow for regional autonomy, and also don't allow the petty tribes within their borders go to war with each other. And when they fall apart the little tribal chieftains like to swing their dicks and get their people hating on their ex-brothers next door.

Executive summary: partition has fucked up South Asia big time.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:53 AM on March 30, 2011

Not too tired to colonize the region violently and exploit it, eh marienbad? The sheer number of ongoing ethnic conflicts in ex British empire colonies is mindblowing. Wonder why.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:02 AM on March 30, 2011

Big Bang was a huge mistake.

In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move. - Douglas Adams
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:07 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

So we're going to trivialize this by statements such as partition was a bad idea
and The big bang was a bad idea. Because you know what is happening now is nothing to do with the problem.
You know what's a bad idea. It's a bad idea that the US and its allies are rattling around in Afghanistan not knowing how to get the fuck out.
The US is fighting a covert war in Pakistan and pouring billions into the coffers of the army and thus the ISI a state within a state
with absolutely zero accountability. That's what's a fucking bad idea, and has consequences which are probably not in the allies interests but the crazy runs strong.
The media’s censoring of the Balochistan issues is probably not being done by itself. This blackout of news is very much reminiscent of 1970/71 when the East Pakistan debacle took place.
posted by adamvasco at 9:04 AM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was born in Quetta, have visited there a few times and still have relatives there. This situation in some sense is not new; the lack of civil infrastructure, the raw materials pillaging, the government's disinterest in giving the people a fair shake in their rule. But it has steadily disintegrated over the past quarter century with the arrival of millions of Afghan refugees, the cross-border skirmishes, the Pakistani Taliban and US intervention. Add in a long history of smuggling operations and a huge ethnic divide and it's a powder keg.

This is not related to the Partition but to the creation of the Durand Line. Baluchistan is more Afghan than it is Pakistani. You can drive from Quetta in pretty much a straight shot to Kandahar. The Pakistani government has treated the area like an afterthought for a long time. They only care about the mineral riches and getting their greedy hands on them. What better way to impose full control than denying autonomy or any hint of an independence movement. I don't believe for a second that the profits from any these ventures will benefit the province in any meaningful way.

Then there is the ethnic snobbery. We're like the hillbillies of Pakistan.
posted by nikitabot at 9:29 AM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

On one side is a scrappy coalition of guerrillas fighting for independence from Pakistan; on the other is a powerful army that seeks to quash their insurgency with maximum prejudice.

I wonder which side the Guardian is rooting for.

I don't know all the rights and wrongs but a balanced article would be nice. I mean not every government is going to grant control to every armed group that wants it, so as a reader the team haven't really made a case for it.

No offense to anyone involved, maybe the cause is right but this article doesn't help.
posted by Not Supplied at 10:24 AM on March 30, 2011

Not Supplied; I suggest you read some of Declan Walsh's previous articles. He is the Guardian correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan and has been for the last five years so I think he has a pretty good grip on things.
Here is what Fatima Bhutto has to say about Baluchistan:
“One wonders why the issue has raised no concerns among the allies of Pakistan who seem concerned about almost anything that happens in Pakistan. There are eight to ten thousand Balochs missing, as claimed by Baloch nationalists, since 2001 but very few have been resurfaced.”
“Balochistan is the richest province of Pakistan in terms of natural resources and half the country in area and if its resources are properly utilized it could have a GDP similar to Switzerland.”
and here: The Baloch people did not want to join Pakistan but their rulers were bribed and they joined Pakistan. Ever since Baluchistan, rich in mineral resources, has been plundered by successive Pakistani rulers. Earlier in Ayub's time the butcher General Tikka Khan carried out a massacre in Baluchistan. General Tikka won a double crown as butcher when he committed genocide in Bangladesh in 1971. In 1972, the Baloch found themselves pushed against the wall once more. They had voted alongside the Awami League and were further isolated when East Pakistan broke away from the union.”ZA Bhutto also sent the army at the instigation of the Shah of Iran, who had been apprehending armed attacks from Baluchistan. In the resultant encounter, ten thousand Baloch people were killed. Fatima Bhutto's narrative continues: “The army was sent into Balochistan once more.
posted by adamvasco at 10:51 AM on March 30, 2011

Indian interference here in Balochistan in a tit-for-tat way

As in?

As in RTFA where that is stated. Sorry I am not there on the ground with a first hand account.

I wasn't trying to be snarky. Just asking. I did indeed RTFA.

In the article, the interference is alleged by a Pakistani official ("The Punjabi general offers no proof for his claim"), hardly an unbiased source. The article also says that "US and British intelligence broadly agree, according to the recent WikiLeaks cables" but I don't see any link to such Cables, nor can I find them (I looked here).

I did find news reports from Pakistani media that say that a Cable mentions that Pakistani intelligence briefed Pakistani MPs about Indian (and Russian and UAE) interference in Balochistan. While I couldn't find that Cable either, the claim is very different from "US and British intelligence broadly agree" as the claim is actually said to be made by one Pakistani organization to another Pakistani organization. I also found something on Crisis Balochistan. Clearly, I am not the only one who is puzzled by this.
posted by vidur at 10:51 AM on March 30, 2011

adamvasco thanks I have been having a read. this one is quite interesting about the region.

His writing still seems to me like he takes for granted that people fighting for independence are in the right and should get it, when in reality I'm sure it must at least be more complex as it always is. Maybe he has layed the groundwork elsewhere but it is buried somewhere and I don't know about it as a reader.
posted by Not Supplied at 11:04 AM on March 30, 2011

Executive summary: partition has fucked up South Asia big time.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:53 AM on March 30 [+] [!]

I think it would have been all good, if those lilly white brits had never landed there looking for their precious tea.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:45 PM on March 30, 2011

If we're going to get into the Durand line debate, accepting that the durand line is morally illegitimate and was drawn by British/Russian imperial lackeys leads to the conclusion that most of NW Balochistan and almost all of the western side of the NWFP is part of Afghanistan. Ask any patriotic Pashtun Afghan to draw an oval on a map defining the area known as "pashtunistan" and you'll get an idea of where the new border might be. Pakistan is unlikely to accept carving off the western one third of its land mass and giving it to Afghanistan as a new border.
posted by thewalrus at 1:53 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wikileaks cable:On February 16 92010) Senator John Kerry met with Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani and spoke about the state of Indo-Pakistani relations. Gilani said that Pakistan was willing to resume talks with India but indicated that in order to gain Pakistan’s trust India would need to decrease its footprint in Afghanistan and stop interfering in Baluchistan.

inside Balochistan's Ravaged Heartland Harried by the Taliban on one side and the State on the other, Balochis remain hunted in their own land. An eighteen month old blogpost fom Baluch Sarmachar and a little more : Inside Balochistan Crises.
posted by adamvasco at 2:29 PM on March 30, 2011

adamvasco, thanks for the links, especially to the cable. Much appreciated.

I note, once again, that the source of the allegation is the Pakistani Prime Minister. There is no indication that US/British intelligence support it. One of the other links has "[Pakistani] Officials say" as the source and the other is written by one "Zaresh Khan" who seems to specialize in writing about conspiracies without much attention to facts ("It goes without saying that India has no legitimate role in Afghanistan but the dream to confront Pakistan" - really?).

All this is not to claim that India is doing nothing in Balochistan. I have no idea, but I'd like to know more from better sources. Anyway, this issue seems rather tangential to the central points of the FPP article, so I'll stop the derail here.
posted by vidur at 5:12 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Balochistan question is very complicated because of a few factors including Afghanistan and the Taliban, the Quetta Shura, the Gwadar port, mining including Reko Diq, and Jundullah and Iran.

However, there is a quasi-separatist movement that is ongoing. One of its leaders has recently sought exile in Switzerland. He is the grandson and heir of Nawab Akbar Bugti who was assassinated in cold blood by the Musharraf regime.

In the meantime, the current democractic government in Pakistan has passed a comprehensive Balochistan Package (the Aghaaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan), which translates into the Commencement of Balochistan's Rights and Privileges.

The Balochistan Package addresses issues such as an amnesty for separatists, missing persons, greater development funding for Balochistan. It is an important step in improving the socio-economic situation in Balochistan from a governance perspective. The problem is that armed forces of Pakistan may wish to solve the issue militarily, which will be disastrous.
posted by Azaadistani at 3:03 AM on March 31, 2011

vidur: Some cursory Googling points me to this clarifying interview with Christine Fair, a RAND corporation analyst. There was quite a buzz over her statement that "Indian officials have told me privately that they are pumping money into Baluchistan."

What did Indian officials mean when they told you they were pumping in money into Balochistan?

It was intended to cultivate assets. That's all I ever implied. I have no evidence for explicit support for terrorism. There is nothing in my Foreign Affairs comments that actually says that.

But when you have analysts say India is doing nothing, I don't think that is helpful because I don't believe that is true. India has a competent intelligence agency; India is doing what every other country that is involved in Afghanistan is doing - that is, developing information, developing contacts, trying to assert itself politically. So when people say "Oh, India is not doing anything," that is really not true.

Obviously, this is not hard evidence, but it sounds an awful lot like she spoke less discreetly than she should have, and then had to do some back-pedaling. I also don't think it's going to be easy to find hard evidence on something like this.
posted by bardophile at 11:40 PM on April 1, 2011

bardophile, I agree. Getting hard evidence on something like this (involvement/interference) can't be easy. And Indian intelligence agencies would not be doing their job if they weren't doing something in Balochistan.

However, up-thread, the comment that was made was that India is doing tit-for-tat stuff in Balochistan (for Kashmir). But if Indian-trained terrorists were blowing up hotels in Karachi for the Baloch cause, I think hard evidence would be available by now. It is quite well-known that India is indeed capable of supporting extremists (LTTE in early years). So, the comment made me wonder if I had missed out on some news coverage.
posted by vidur at 1:22 PM on April 3, 2011

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