Friday, January 21, 2005

Is Musharraf Threatening to Nuke Baloch Nationalists

By Tarique Niazi

WISCONSIN, January 22: Pakistan's military dictator General Pervez Musharraf has thought up the “Final Solution” to the problem of Pakistan’s ethnic minorities: Nuke them.

On January 4, he took to the national airwaves and delivered an apocalyptic threat to Baloch nationalists: “Don’t push us. It is not the 1970s. This time you won’t even know what hit you.”

Pakistani media dismissed his menace as “intemperate” rhetoric. Even observers of the country’s strategic affairs failed to underscore its destructive undertones that re-echoed the military establishment’s enduring obsession with nuclear weapons to seek Pakistan’s security.

Military leaders have long assumed that if Pakistan had possessed nuclear weapons in the 1970s, neither Bengalis would have revolted, nor India could have dared cross into Pakistan in their aid. Absent nuclear weapons, the assumption goes, Pakistan had to swallow the loss of East Pakistan and endure the most humiliating military defeat.

What’s more, the tragedy of Pakistan did not stop at its break-up in December 1971. Instead, the break-up set in motion a train of events that further unnerved the military leadership. It emboldened Baloch nationalists into taking up arms against “Pakistan,” which led to the longest (1973-77) and most lethal (22,000 lives are believed to be lost on both sides) insurgency since the fall of Dhaka. Yet years of pounding in massive ground and air assaults failed to make any dent in Baloch resistance, let alone tame it.

Instead, nationalists’ resilience spilled over into cross-border threats to Pakistan. Afghanistan, which, to this day, has not backed off its territorial claim to Pakistan’s Pakhtun-dominated areas in northern Balochistan and Pakhtunkhaw, was overjoyed to see the Baloch rise in revolt.

Suddenly, Pakistan felt more vulnerable on its western borders with Afghanistan than on its eastern borders with India. Pakistan’s increased vulnerability in the west was rooted in the disaffected population of Balochistan and Pakhtunkhaw that, as it is believed, was willing to welcome Afghans from across the border as their co-ethnics coming home. This was not the case on the eastern borders, which are hedged against by the Punjabis who, as the dominant ethnic group, are believed to be enthused with state-defined patriotism.

These concerns drove Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to mend his fences with Afghanistan. His diplomacy yielded highest-level exchanges between the two countries, which, at least on the surface, dampened the spirit of Baloch nationalists who were using Afghanistan’s Baloch-dominated provinces – Helmand, Nimroz and Farah –as their staging posts for their operations in Pakistan.

The Baloch’s relations with Kabul have long been ambiguous, however. They would envision Afghanistan as a potential ally that could readily choose to sit on the sidelines as well. The nature of such relations was predominantly determined by the nature of relations between Balochs and Pakhtuns living in Balochistan. As Pakhtuns were cool to Baloch insurgency in the 1970s, so was Kabul.

But Baloch resistance fell apart in the late 1970s, which also had to do with Afghanistan. Pakistan was still finding its feet in its defiant western province, when the Soviet Union blundered its way into Kabul in December 1979. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan turned out to be godsend for Islamabad, which provided it a much-needed breather from a “militant Balochistan.”

The decade since Pakistan counter-armed itself with two weapons to fight off Baloch insurrection: Islamic nationalism and nuclear capability. Both worked, but with unintended consequences. Islam has, now, turned on the state itself, while nuclear weapons have compromised its democratic legitimacy. As a result, these consequences have locked the ethnic majority represented in the military and ethnic minorities into an ever-present antagonistic relationship.

This antagonism runs so deep that Gen. Musharraf’s threat of use of nuclear weapons against “ethnic others” in Balochistan becomes all the more plausible. This plausibility is further enhanced by contemporary events of ethnic animus.

Not too long ago, Hutus in Rwanda acted out this hatred by “literally” hacking to death almost a million of their fellow Rwandans, mostly Tutsis. In pursuit of their destructive power, Hutus transformed a technology of food production – machete -- into a weapon of mass destruction. The loss of lives in the actual use of nuclear weapons against Japan was a fraction of what the world saw in horror in Rwanda. Similarly, Tsarist Russia and the subsequent Stalinist Soviet regime repeatedly and unrepentantly committed genocidal crimes against the ethnic minority of Chechen Muslims, which many believe continues to this day.

These global events of state-sponsored ethnicide and Gen. Musharraf’s unabashed use or threat of use of nuclear arms to achieve his political ends make his nihilistic challenge to Baloch nationalists all the more horrific.

Since his takeover in October 1999, he has threatened 25 times the use of nuclear weapons to settle the Kashmir dispute with neighboring India. In April 1999, he initiated Kargil on the assumption that Pakistan’s nuclear shield would keep India’s offensive and defensive initiatives well-measured. This assumption was, however, vindicated both in the Kargil operation and subsequent massive Indian troop deployment along the Line of Control (LOC) in December 2001, which did not cross into Pakistan as apprehended.

In the same vein, he welcomed the western media’s characterization of Kashmir as a “nuclear flash point.” He was especially overjoyed by President Clinton’s designation of Kashmir as such during the latter’s state visit to India in March 2000. The Indian President, however, publicly disagreed with President Clinton’s formulation.

Rhetoric aside, Kashmir remains integral to both India and Pakistan for its critical resource: Aqua. India’s attempts to dam water on Chenab River in Kashmir and Pakistan’s resistance to such attempts have further amplified what I call “hydrology of the ideology on Jammu and Kashmir.”

Resource conflicts between states are generally fraught with lethal consequences, which have the potential for nuclear confrontation as well. Yet intra-state use or threat of use of nuclear arms is simply unheard of. Strategists in the South Asian region, however, don’t find such a happenstance unthinkable.

A senior Indian military officer, as reported in a mass circulation Pakistani newspaper, has recently predicted that Pakistan’s bottomless thirst for its already dwindling supplies of water resource will push its ethnic groups into a nuclear confrontation in which nuclear-armed Punjabis will roast alive their contenders.

Although such a prediction may sound too dire to be absorbed, water conflicts between Punjab and the rest of the provinces are becoming lethal by the day. Balochistan, which is worst-hit by water scarcity, is vehemently opposed to the construction of a multi-billion dollar Kalabagh Dam, which will be sited in Punjab. Besides Balochs, Pakhtun and Sindhi nationalists are also resisting its construction that is fervently supported by the Punjabis, and more so by Gen. Musharraf.

Riding on the destructive power of nuclear weapons, Gen. Musharraf remains undaunted by the ethnic opposition to his dam building, which he rejects as “unpatriotic.” Instead, he is more receptive to the planned use of nuclear weapons for “resource enhancement.” Since his takeover, Pakistani media have often reported his military government’s loud thinking on nuclear blasting of Himalayan glaciers to melt them into water to meet Pakistan’s needs.

Nuclear weapons have, indeed, far worsened the marginalization of ethnic minorities in Pakistan, and fueled their much-dreaded “Punjabization.” Ironically though, quest for nuclear weapons was begun by members of ethnic minorities in the power structure: Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (a Sindhi) and Dr AQ Khan (a Mohajir). Instead, the acquisition of such weapons strengthened the hands of already strong Punjabis whose power is institutionalized in the military.

Pakistan’s ethnic minorities are so conscious of this nuclear-arms-caused shift in power that none had the heart to own such arms as theirs or Pakistan’s. On the contrary, their leaders resented the making and testing of nuclear weapons. Then sitting chief minister of Balochistan, Mr Akhtar Mengal, quit his office in protest in May 1998, when Pakistan tested nuclear weapons. He was miffed at the Federal Government that went over his head to choose a test site in Balochistan to which he was opposed. As the proverbial last straw, he was kept out of the loop on setting the test dates for “security reasons.”

In the case of Gen. Musharraf, what makes this man even madder is the fact that he is both thirsty and out of gas, an explosive mix of physiological hunger that could drive him into doing the unthinkable.

His immediate concern is to keep the country’s industrial machine (i.e. central Punjab and urban Sindh) running. Baloch nationalists, having the only lever of power in natural resources to get heard in Islamabad, are putting pressure on the gas fields and gas installations, which has prompted Gen. Musharraf’s implicit threat of nuclear strike against them.

If Gen. Musharraf, a Mohajir, uses nuclear weapons in Balochistan, another irony of “minority-on-minority” will be born. It is time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued a joint statement declaring unequivocally that Gen. Musharraf will be tried as war criminal for threatening Balochistan with a nuclear strike.


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