Thursday, December 29, 2005

MUSHARRAF INTENSIFIES AIR STRIKES ON BALOCHS: NAPALM USED?

by B.Raman

Foiled in his attempts so far to drive a wedge between the Marri and the Bugti tribes of Balochistan, Pakistan's military dictator President General Pervez Musharraf has ordered not only an intensification of the air strikes against the members of the revolting Marri tribe in the Kohlu and adjoining areas of Balochistan, but also an extension of the ground and air mounted operations against the members of the Bugti tribe in the Dera Bugti and adjoining areas.

2. Apart from rushing army and para-military reinforcements to the Marri and Bugti areas, he has also shifted four more helicopters, hitherto deployed on quake relief work in the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), to Balochistan for use against the Marris and the Bugtis. Now, 12 helicopters are being used as gunships to quell the spreading second war of Baloch independence, spearheaded by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA). Of these, eight are being used against the Marris and four against the Bugtis. In addition to the use of helicopters, there have been three more air strikes against Marri youth. Representatives of the Balochs have alleged that the helicopters have also been using napalm against Baloch youth.

3. As a result of these intensified operations, the casualties have been mounting. At least 160 Balochs have been killed since December 18, 2005---- 120 Marris and 40 Bugtis. A large number of injured Balochs has been prevented by the security forces from seeking medical assistance. The security forces have shut off electricity and water supply to many Marri and Bugti areas and blamed the BLA for having done so by firing rockets at electricity transmission towers and water supply lines.

4. Musharraf and senior Army officers as well as leaders of the Musharraf-created Pakistan Muslim League (Qaide Azam), which is the only political formation supporting the military action, have denied undertaking any military operations against the Balochs. Instead, they have been projecting it as a law enforcement operation undertaken by the para-military forces against "fararis" (criminal absconders) who, according to Musharraf, have been trying to obstruct the economic development of Balochistan.

5. At the same time, they have also been projecting the operations as directed against the clandestine training camps of the BLA located in Marri territory in the Kohlu area. The army has claimed to have destroyed at least six so-called training camps and says seven more are still functioning.

6. It is learnt that the decision to extend the operations to the Bugti area was taken by Musharraf following an ambush of a convoy of the Frontier Corps in which over 15 para-military personnel were killed. There have been at least two ambushes of security forces convoys in the Marri area too, resulting in the death of about 20 members of the security forces. The Army has imposed an iron curtain in the areas where the war of independence is raging and has not been allowing details of the fighting to be disseminated by the media.

7. Even while projecting the operations as law enforcement action against absconding criminals, the military spokesmen have not denied that the action was provoked by a recent incident in which rockets were fired at a meeting addressed by Musharraf in the Kohlu area. The BLA has denied firing any rockets on Musharraf's public meeting and has accused the Musharraf regime of stage-managing the incident in order to use it as a pretext for ordering air strikes against the Balochs fighting for their independence.

8. Replying to statements made by military spokesmen and some members of the Government that no Government can sit quiet when the head of state is sought to be assassinated by criminal elements, Baloch and other political leaders belonging to the minority communities such as Mr. Afsandyar Wali Khan, the Pashtun leader of the Awami National Party of the North-West Frontier Province, have pointed out that even if the Government's contention was correct, it did not call for air strikes on the Balochs. They have referred to the two attempts to kill Musharraf in December, 2003, and the subsequent attempts to kill Mr. Shaukat Aziz, the present Prime Minister, and the Corps Commander of Karachi in which Punjabis were involved and asked whether Musharraf ordered air strikes against the Punjabis after those incidents.

9. In response to the military operations, the BLA has confined its tactics to guerilla actions directed against train and other means of transport, gas production and pipeline facilities and ambushes of military and para-military convoys. It has avoided a frontal confrontation with the security forces, in which it will be the loser. It has been trying to extend its guerilla operations to Punjab. It has also sought networking with the revolting Shias of Gilgit and Baltistan and the Sindhis, who have been angered by the attempts of Musharraf to force through the implementation of a project for the construction of the much controversial Kalabagh dam. The dam is meant for the benefit of the Pubjabi farmers. The Sindhis are strongly opposing it on the ground that it would reduce the water available for Sindhi farmers.

10. The Baloch nationalist elements have appealed to the international community and the United Nations to take cognisance of the ant-Baloch military operations and force the Army to stop them. They have also appealed to international human rights organisations to send their observers to Balochistan and to have the issue raised before the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva during its forthcoming meeting in February.

11. The Baloch nationalists have assured the international community that an independent Balochistan would put an end to the activities of Al Qaeda and the Taliban from its territory and co-operate with it in the war against international jihadi terrorism. It has also assured the international community that an independent Balochistan would not become another Bangladesh---- a hotbed of Wahabi/Salafi fundamentalism.

12. Pro-Independence Uighur elements based in the West and in Pakistani Punjab have made overtures to the BLA and offered to co-operate with it in a joint freedom-struggle against the Punjabis in Balochistan and the Han Chinese in the Xinjiang region of China. The BLA has not so far accepted this offer since it does not want to be seen as anti-Chinese despite its opposition to the Gwadar project being constructed by the Chinese in Balochistan.

13. Despite this, there is considerable nervousness among Chinese engineers and other experts working in Balochistan. Measures for their physical security have been strengthened by the Pakistani authorities, who had also kept the Chinese informed of their decision to launch air strikes on the Balochs.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: itschen36@gmail.com)

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