The RAW Deal

RAW agent

The arrest of an alleged RAW agent in Balochistan has confirmed for many people what they already believed anyway, that India is trying to destabilise Pakistan by supporting separatist and terrorist groups inside our borders. Even though the headline will be accepted by much of the population, the details of reports raise important questions.

One important item to note is that, if reports are to be believed, there is a massive security failure on the Afghan border in Balochistan.

Yadev – a Commander in the Indian Navy – entered Balochistan through the Afghan border. He crossed the Pak-Afghan border 12 times. When the law enforcement agencies arrested him five days ago, he was in Balochistan for the last 15 days.

A RAW agent has been coming and going with no problems? Where were the security forces? If one RAW agent can do this, isn’t it expected that many others can do the same as well, and yet only one man has been caught? Are our security agencies napping again?

There is also the problem of what exactly this man was supposedly doing. According to some reports, ‘his main agenda was to sabotage the CPEC through propaganda‘. According to other reports, ‘the arrested RAW agent was in touch with the Baloch liberation parties and has been working in Balochistan’. Other reports claim that ‘The Indian spy was involved in financially supporting terrorists and also confessed to his involvement in Karachi unrest’.

Have we captured India’s James Bond? Next we will hear that he is giving weapons to TTP in Waziristan and stealing electricity also. How can one man be responsible for every one of Pakistan’s problems? Obviously it is possible that the captured man is a RAW agent who is working against Pakistan’s interests, but we should not try to make him the scapegoat for all of our troubles. We should also be asking if he is supporting Baloch separatists, why are there separatists to support in the first place?

The arrest of an alleged RAW agent in Balochistan is a serious matter and should be treated as such. It should not be used as a propaganda to whip up anti-Indian sentiments that make relations worse. If it is an authentic case, the Foreign Ministry should collect the evidence from intelligence agencies  and give it to the UN to pressurize India to stop such operations. However, it should not be used as an excuse to ignore our own problems and put the blame on India for everything under the sun.

Shahbaz Taseer’s Return and What Comes Next

Shahbaz Taseer

Shabaz Taseer has been returned after being kidnapped nearly five years ago. This is good news both for his family who have suffered immensely in recent years at the hands of extremists. However, for Pakistan more generally, Shahbaz’s rescue raises some difficult questions.

When Shahbaz Taseer was kidnapped off the streets of Lahore in 2011, no one took responsibility. It wasn’t until 2012 that TTP admitted responsibility. Two years ago, officials announced they would begin negotiations with TTP commanders that included demands for return of both Shahbaz Taseer and Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son Syed Ali Haider Gilani. Today it appears that those negotiations have paid off, at least partly. Word on the fate of  Ali Haider Gilani is now anxiously waited.

So what is wrong with it? Hopefully, there is nothing, but there are questions that are rising. For example, reports had long stated that Shahbaz was being held by TTP in Waziristan, but according to Aitzaz Goraya, head of the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) Balochistan, he was recovered from a compound in Kuchlak area of Balochistan.

This is worth noting because Kuchlak is an area that has had a strong presence of Afghan Taliban. Security forces have also arrested dozens of TTP militants in Kuchlak also. Questions are now being asked whether the kidnappings were done by Afghan or Pakistan Taliban. Whether he was moved from Waziristan also raises questions such as how Taliban are able to move so freely from Lahore to Waziristan to Quetta without being detected. People are also asking whether the close living relations between “good” Afghan Taliban and “bad” Pakistan Taliban in Kuchlak is more evidence that there is really no difference between the two.

Today, the nation is relieved that Shahbaz Taseer has been released. However, we must remember that this is not the end of the story. We still pray for the safe recovery of Ali Haider Gilani. We also pray that the state stop playing favourites and rid the country of all extremists so that no more families are forced to suffer such pain.

Army’s Anti-Baloch Operations Helping TTP?

Dr Manan Baloch

TTP suicide bomber blew himself up outside a polio vaccination centre in Quetta today. At least 15 people are killed, with many more injured. This is the third suicide attack in Quetta so far this year, but represents only a one part of the violence that is taking place. While FC personnel are facing constant threat from Taliban militants, they are also fighting Baloch separatists who are considered as anti-state and a threat to the CPEC. Last week, security forces killed separatist leader Dr Manan Baloch. Some will term this as a successful operation, but it could also be seen as a set back for security in the region. There is no question that Dr Manan is involved in separatist activities. However there is the question whether killing him was intelligent strategy.

The killing of Dr Manan reminds of the larger conflict in Balochistan.

A 20 September 2015 press statement from the Interior Ministry of Balochistan states that law enforcement agencies have killed approximately 204 “militants” in operations, and 29 have been injured. However, the State has remained tight-lipped about the identity of these militants which law enforcement agency has undertaken the killings and arrests.

In the press conference, the Minister also stated that 8,363 Balochis were arrested over the span of 9 months, and 1,800 targeted operations were conducted in the Province between December 2014 and September 2015.

Next, in a 31 January 2016 press statement, the Interior Ministry of Balochistan notes that security forces conducted 239 intelligence-based operations in Balochistan over the past two months, in which 22 militants were killed and 14 others injured.

Actually, Dr Manan joined the separatists after witnessing so many killings by security forces.

Dr. Manan, 48, was a physician by profession and a senior leader of the proscribed Baloch Liberation Front (BLF). He joined BLF after he began having to confront many dead bodies of those who had earlier been disappeared; these bodies had torture marks on them. He was a committed nationalists and he joined the movement for the independence of Balochistan.

Similarly, eight years ago, on 3 April 2009, the ex-President of the Baloch National Movement (BNM), Ghulam Muhammad Baloch, along with two other Baloch political activits, were abducted from their lawyer’s office at Turbat, at gunpoint by security officials. Six days later their mutilated and smashed bodies were found at Murghaab, 35 km from Turbat. The killing of this Baloch leader drew international condemnation.

Dr. Manan was widely respected for his tireless work for those internally displaced as a result of military and paramilitary operations in Balochistan. According to media reports, more than 178,000 persons from the Dera Bugti area – which has substantial deposits of natural gas, known as Sui gas – who were displaced as result of military action in 2005, are still not allowed to return home by the Frontier Corp. And, this is in direct violation of a Supreme Court order.

Anti-Baloch operations are the number one recruiting tool of separatist militants. Extra-judicial killings, especially of respected people like Dr Manan, gives the Baloch a feeling that they are not Pakistani, rather they are like the Bustard being hunted to extinction.

While more and more anger and resentment builds against Pakistan security forces, security forces must build capacity to carry out more operations. This means there is less capacity that can be paid to TTP terrorists who use the chaos to carry out more attacks against innocent Pakistanis.

The strategy from certain quarters is that defeating Baloch insurgency will free up the resources needed to defeat TTP, but this is backwards thinking. Rather we should be seeking a political solution in Balochistan that addresses the complaints of Baloch citizens. TTP terrorists cannot be negotiated with because they are only interested in replacing Pakistan with their own rule. Baloch separatists are not interested in taking over Pakistan, they are interested in the welfare of their own people. Till date they have been made to believe that their welfare will not be met as Pakistani citizens and the response of killing and detaining so many Baloch has only confirmed this incorrect belief. To defeat TTP, our forces must concentrate all resources on this fight. To do that, we must end our self-defeating strategy in Balochistan first.

Kill and Dump Operations Still Ongoing in Balochistan?

Missing persons protest

“Disappearances of people of Balochistan are the most burning issue in the country.”
– Supreme Court Justice Javid Iqbal

A few years ago, plight of Baloch people and the tragic stories of families desperate to find some answer about their missing family members. International Human Rights organisations released terrifying reports of atrocities by security agencies. In recent years, journalists were warned against reporting on the situation in Balochistan. Suddenly, the narrative changed and we were being fed stories about Baloch militants surrendering by hundreds to Pakistan forces. Like much of what we are told today the reality is not as clean than the official version. It is almost impossible for journalists to travel to Balochistan, but some international journalists are starting to report what they are terming as ‘the bloodiest war you’ve never heard of‘. In Pakistan, there are also beginning to be traces of the bloodstains reappearing in media reports.

A new report about Frontier Corps killing Baloch militants notes that more bullet riddled bodies are being found dumped.

Meanwhile, two bullet-riddled bodies were found in the coastal town of Pasni in Gwadar district.

The two men were killed in a shootout with the security forces in Ward No 7, Pasni SHO Imam Bakhash Baloch said.

The bodies were shifted to Civil Hospital Pasni, where they were identified as Younas Yousaf and Hanif Kulanchi.

However, the family members of the victims claimed the men had been missing for a while before they were found dead.

According to sources, Younas went missing on February 20, 2013 while Hanif had been missing since June 23, 2015.

Kill and dump‘ operations have been commonly used in Balochistan since long. After giving some small hope for justice, Supreme Court has once again turned away from. Can’t the honourable Justices feel some sympathies for the heartbroken mothers? If our Baloch brothers and sisters are denied justice, what can we expect when Army vows to ‘go to any length‘ in Karachi?

Pakistan’s ‘Untouchables’

Pakistan's untouchables

Anti-Terrorism Court in Quetta has acquitted Gen Musharraf in Akbar Bugti murder case. The outcome is not a surprise. Convicting any military officer, even those of lesser rank than General is nearly impossible. To convict a former Chief of Army Staff? Unthinkable. The fix was in since long, too, as police and other officials conveniently ‘lost’ most of the evidence.

With this acquittal, Gen Musharraf joins a long list of Pakistan’s “untouchables” – individuals who no court can convict and no amount of evidences can satisfactorily condemn. Others include Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Amir Jamaat-ud-Dawa Hafiz Saeed, Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar, and former head of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Malik Ishaq.

This inability to convict certain people has been a disaster. Diplomatically, it has cast doubt among foreign nations about whether we are honest in our efforts to fight terrorism, feeding those who accuse the state of playing double games and using militancy as a strategic asset. At home, it has deteriorated law and order by causing doubt about the willingness or the ability of security agencies to go after certain groups. This only encourages others to commit the same acts.

In the case of Akbar Bugti murder, it is a doubly dangerous outcome because it sends the message to Baloch that the estimated 21,000 missing and 6,000 killed and mutilated are worth less than one General. Anger erupted in Balochistan after Bugti was killed. Do we expect our Baloch brothers to celebrate when his killer walks scot free?