The Political Assassination of Baloch Leader Dr. Manan

dr manan

By Malik Siraj Akbar

The killing of a pro-independent Balochistan leader, Dr. Manan, on Saturday by the Pakistani security forces in Mastung is a great setback for establishing peace in volatile Balochistan. Dr. Manan was the secretary general of the Baloch National Movement (BNM), a political party that opposes Balochistan’s [what it bills as ‘forceful’] annexation with Pakistan and calls for a free homeland for the Baloch people. He was not only an intrepid political mobilizer whose party could successfully hold shutter down strikes to protest Islamabad’s repressive policies in Balochistan but also very instrumental in furthering humanitarian causes in the insurgency-stricken region.

The Chinese are making robust investments in Balochistan under the multi-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in order to “develop” the port in Gwadar. Meanwhile, they asserted their anguish toward the Pakistanis over the slow pace of reaching consensus on the controversial project. Dr. Manan, the leader killed on Saturday, for instance, was a staunch critic of the CPEC. The ethnic Baloch people view the project as a colonizing endeavor by the Pakistani military and the Chinese to usurp the Baloch land and resources.

In order to avoid embarrassment in front of the Chinese over their failure to tackle the decade-long insurgency in Balochistan, the Pakistani authorities have accelerated military operations against the Baloch leaders who oppose these construction projects in Balochistan because of the fear that the Baloch will not be the primary recipient of the investment. They are also nervous that the Baloch, who make only 5% of Pakistan’s total population, will be converted into a minority on their own land with the influx of ‘outsiders’ on the port city.

Dr. Manan,48, was killed a day after a meeting between Sanaullah Zehri, the pro-Islamabad chief minister of Balochistan and Lieutenant General Amir Riaz, the highest official of the Pakistan army designated in Balochistan. Both of them vowed to “chase the terrorists”. The chief minister urged the security forces to work as a team and said, “I’ll be your captain.” The next day, the vocal Baloch leader was murdered in what the officials describe as an ‘operation against the terrorists’. In 2009, Dr. Manan’s party chairman, Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, was also killed after being whisked away by Pakistani security personnel, as alleged by the eyewitnesses. When his mutilated dead body was found, the New York Times reported that the Baloch leader had “played a role in helping to secure the release of John Solecki, the kidnapped United Nations official.”

Dr. Manan was widely respected in Balochistan for his work with the internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had been forced to flee their homes in different parts of Balochistan where the Pakistani military was carrying out strikes during 2004 and 2006. I met him for the first time in 2009 as an independent researcher while working on a report on the Baloch IDPs for a project of ActionAid Pakistan. He was extremely helpful in providing invaluable information about the IDPs and their challenges, especially the medical needs of women and children of the conflict.

From the conversations I had with him, I learned that the IDP crisis in Balochistan was far worse than it had been reported in the Pakistani media. In Jaffarabad district, I met with several children whose kidneys had become dysfunctional because of the contaminated water they had drunk. Doctors had taken their kidneys out. I continuously asked whether those children had been forced to sell their kidneys because of poverty or they had been instructed by doctors to do so because of water issues. Too scared to provide more information, the children said they were not ‘authorized’ to divulge more details. The Pakistani government was vehemently opposed to any journalist or members of humanitarian organizations that visited or reported on the IDPs. Unsurprisingly, ActionAid Pakistan did not publicize its IDP report fearing that the government might shut down their operations inside Pakistan. In 2011, I shared the findings of my research at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington D.C. The Baloch IDPs have not been fully rehabilitated yet.

Extrajudicial killings are commonplace in Balochistan and by carrying out more of them, the government cannot run away from its constitutional obligation to substantiate allegations against political opponents in the court. Dr. Manan was clearly denied a legal trail and the right to defend himself in a court. Extrajudicial killings are not the right way to manage political dissent. If the Pakistani government intends to pave the way for China’s economic development by killing Baloch political activists, this is a deeply disconcerting policy. This will further alert the Baloch about what the future holds for them if the Chinese increase their control over Gwadar. Attaining economic development at the cost of the local critics’ blood is an almost unachievable goal. Targeted killings of peaceful democratic Baloch activists will further strengthen the armed insurgents and increase support for them among the younger people. This will further jeopardize any prospects of peaceful dialogue and conflict resolution.

In 2012, when I researched political assassinations in Balochistan as a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Washington D.C., I was surprised to find out that all young political activists who had been subjected to political assassination were actually peaceful and trying to utilize their democratic right to free speech and assembly. They certainly had a different point of view from the government on numerous outstanding political issues but it did not give the government and the security forces the right to kill or torture political opponents merely because of the difference of opinion.

Frederic Grare, former South Asia Director at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, accurately pointed out in his 2013 report, Balochistan: The State Versus the Nation, that repressive policies on the part of the Pakistani security forces had radicalized the Baloch and leaders who had previously demanded autonomy for Balochistan but eventually wrong policies had compelled to take a harsh stand and seek outright independence.

“Many Pakistanis now view the security forces–not the separatists–as the biggest obstacle to national unity and stability,” Grare argued.

Dr. Manan’s assassination will deepen the Baloch sense of alienation. He was a liberal political leader who vocally opposed the activities of religious jihadi groups (such as Jamaat ud Dawa of internationally-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed) operating in Balochistan under the disguise of humanitarian relief. Surprisingly, Balochistan’s Home Minister has described Dr. Manan’s killing as a ‘major breakthrough’. That is actually not a breakthrough for the government. Such killings will mostly benefit the Baloch separatists in the long run because each leader killed adds a new chapter to the Baloch narrative of oppression.

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post on January 30, 2015. 

Also listen to Malik Siraj Akbar’s interview on BBC Urdu about Dr. Manan’s killing. 

A Brave Pakistani Activist Is Killed: But More Will Speak Up

The Pakistani activist Sabeen Mahmud’s murder has shocked the nation’s progressive circles. She was killed in Karachi Friday evening after The Second Floor (T2F), a social forum she directed, had organized an event to discuss forced disappearances in the country’s largest province of Balochistan. The Pakistani military and the intelligence agencies are believed to be responsible for widespread human rights abuse in Balochistan, the resource-rich province where the ethnic Baloch nationalists are fighting for a separate homeland.

Since civil conversations on Balochistan directly criticize the country’s armed forces, authorities in the intelligence services do whatever it takes to prevent or disrupt such talks. The event Sabeen’s organization had organized was actually supposed to take place at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Pakistan’s equivalent of Harvard, a top-class school for urban elite. But the LUMS management had to cancel the program because the army had objected to such events that highlighted its controversial operations against the Baloch citizens and confirmed the accusations of rights violations in Balochistan by providing a platform to families of the victims of state oppression.

While some murders remain mysterious and they leave us all speculate about the forces behind such incidents, Sabeen’s seems like an evident case wherein it should not be hard to trace the roots of her killers. Days before hosting Friday’s talk on Balochistan, Sabeen, according to her close friends, had been receiving threats to cancel the event. She was under pressure and having second thoughts whether or not she should let the event happen. All this background conversation was taking place two days before her murder in an email that was sent to the panelists of Friday’s talk and to many of her close friends, including this writer. Everyone believed that the event would go smoothly and it actually did. However, the aftermath of the event turned ugly when Sabeen was shot dead and unidentified attackers critically injured her mother.

Sabeen’s murder will hopefully open doors for even difficult conversations in Pakistan about race, diversity, equality and human rights. Pakistan has used military force, media propaganda and political proxies to keep the rest of the country ignorant about Balochistan where several journalists, lawyers, professors, students, human rights activists and politicians have been killed with absolute impunity. This tragedy should remind the educated Pakistanis that silencing people because of difference of opinion is not fiction but a reality that the people of Balochistan experience every single day. Had we stopped it the day it began in Balochistan, this madness would not come to the streets of karachi.

In most cases, the Pakistani security forces have been blamed for carrying out these killings of government opponents from the ethnic Baloch community. The voice of independent human rights organizations and local people barely reached the national mainstream debate because of Islamabad’s strong and effective propaganda machinery that it is capable to easily and immediately distract public attention from the illegal policies the army is pursuing in Balochistan. The government has discredited the indigenous people’s complaints and also succeeded in promoting a one-sided narrative that the unrest in Balochistan is only caused by ‘our enemies’ [referring to India, Israel and the United States] and the army is out there only to fix the ‘anti-nationals’.

This official narrative is gradually losing its authenticity because of increased interactions between the Baloch political activists, journalists and human rights defenders and their counterparts elsewhere in Pakistan. This nexus has produced such results that have greatly discomforted and embarrassed the army. No longer convinced that the army has no blood of the Baloch people in its hands, liberal urban educated Pakistanis have begun to side with the Baloch instead of those accused of committed human rights. Sabeen will be remembered as one courageous Pakistani activist who sacrificed her life by standing against oppression and injustice with the people of a neglected an impoverished province of her country. Support from the Pakistani liberals like Sabeen has culminated in more opportunities for the Baloch to appear on the national news channels, participate at authoritative discussions to share the actual situation in Balochistan and gain support for their demand i.e. the recovery of hundreds of missing Baloch persons and equal treatment as citizens.

The Pakistani establishment has mainly been held responsible for the attacks on Baloch intellectuals but now these attacks have been extended to the non-Baloch elite as well should they decide to stand on the side of the Baloch instead of the armed forces. Last year, one of Pakistan’s top television talk-show hosts Hamid Mir was badly injured in an assassination attempt in Karachi. He blamed the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.) for plotting the failed murder attempt because he had extensively covered the conflict in Balochistan and provided airtime to perspectives that criticized the army for misusing their official authority against the civilians. Mir is a popular journalist and the attack on him did not silence the national conversation on Balochistan but increased the intellectual curiosity across the country even among those who did not previously care much about Balochistan. Those who wanted to kill Mir had a clear message for him: If you are not with us, you are with the enemy (the Baloch) and you will be treated like them.

Sabeen’s murder will increase the national and international debate about what Pakistan is actually doing in Balochistan. The Pakistani authorities should realize that it is not possible to eliminate every single individual who questions and criticizes their policies. By bringing hard policy questions on a table for an open conversation and public debate, Sabeen proved herself as an ardent believer in democracy but by failing to defend her right to difference of opinion and protecting her life, Islamabad proved itself as an ineffective and faulty democracy.

Targeting the urban friends of Balochistan will not necessarily silence the debate on Balochistan. It will clearly push Pakistan in another age of public awareness, more public debate on human rights. Urban Pakistan has just begun to witness the same harrowing experience what rural Balochistan had been facing for decades. The response from the educated urban activists to brazen events such as the murder of Sabeen will surely be more strident than the protest of the underrepresented Baloch activists whose voice is seldom heard in the nation’s mainstream media. A brave, articulate activist has left Pakistan and this world. She will only be emulated by the future generations of young Pakistani girls who will stand heroically against injustice and oppression.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post on April 27th, 2015

Pakistan’s Yemen Gamble

Pakistan, the world’s only Muslim nation with nuclear weapons, is also the sole non-Arab country that has officially indicated to support the Saudi-led strikes against the Houthi fighters in Yemen. Pakistan is not in the Middle East nor is the conflagrations of this conflict capable of immediately crossing into its borders simply because Pakistan shares no borders with Saudi Arabia or Yemen. In spite of this, Pakistan’s response to the Saudi call for military assistance has been even faster than what was seen after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 when the United States demanded that Islamabad should either join the war on terror or, in case of noncompliance, prepare to be bombed back to the stone age.

While some see the crisis in Yemen as a proxy battle between the Sunni and Shia camps led respectively by Saudi Arabia and Iran, the people in Pakistan have already seen the glimpses of this war, although in a different form, for nearly three decades. The Pakistan-based religious schools, which are allegedly substantially funded by Saudi Arabia and several other oil-rich Arab states, have been blamed for churning out Islamic terrorists and providing sanctuary to similar local and foreign fugitives. In addition, hundreds of Shias are killed each year in Pakistan in sectarian violence.

Notwithstanding Islamabad’s blatant denials of its land being used as a ground for proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia, public weariness and discontent toward both the nations, particularly among young activists, has been increasing in the recent times. By the virtue of social media, it has become much easier to hear these dissenting voices from Pakistan that regularly call upon Islamabad to distance itself from the ideological wars of Tehran and Riyadh.

Whether the Operation Decisive Storm is about restoring democracy or containing Iran-backed Houthis, Pakistan will be blundering by joining the eight-nation coalition. Unlike Islamabad’s decision to join the war on terror that received robust resistance from the pro-Taliban religious parties, this time opposition is likely to come from liberal, educated, technology savvy young people.

Murtaza Solangi, a former Director General of the state-run Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), warned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Twitter, “Monarchs only have to worry about their fiefdoms. You will be held responsible by the people if you throw Pakistan to fire.”

Sharif cannot say no to the Saudis for obvious reasons: When General Musharraf ousted Sharif on October 12, 1999 during his second term as the prime minister and imprisoned him, the Saudis came quickly to rescue him. For the next seven years, Sharif remained a guest of the Saudis and returned to Pakistan in 2007 only on Saudi assurances. In 2003, he was elected as the prime minister for a third stint.

According to BBC Urdu, the anti-U.S. right-wing Pakistan Justice Movement (also locally called PTI), the third largest party, has expressed concerns about Pakistan’s possible participation in the operation in Yemen warning that Islamabad could not afford to face the blowback of the “U.S.-Saudi alliance” in Yemen. Even the Jammat-e-Islami, the most hardliner religio-political party, has suggested that Pakistan should let the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) assess the situation instead of committing any military cooperation. (The OIC says it backs the states supporting constitutional legitimacy in Yemen.)

Pakistanis trace back their country’s engagement in “other countries’ wars” to the war in Afghanistan that began in 1979. Since then, barring the initial years of the 1990s, Pakistan has been embroiled in these bloody, regional, religious, proxy wars.

It was only last week, on March 23rd, when Pakistan organized its first public paradeof the National Day in seven years. Terrorist attacks by the Taliban had almost completely paralyzed Pakistan to such an extent that it was no longer capable of publicly marking its national day. When the National Day parade was held for the first time after a lull of so many years, exultant Pakistanis cheered and looked at this as a landmark moment in their country’s war against extremism. The Pakistanis engaged in self-congratulatory celebrations assuming that they were finally seeing signs of their country overcoming the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Pakistanis should know that Saudi Arabia does not bomb a country to restore democracy there. Democracy is certainly not a Saudi thing nor does it care much about constitutional supremacy. We all knew that Saudi Arabia and Iran would someday end up in a military conflict. We only did not know the “when” and “where” of it. The developments in Yemen have taken us to the closest point where we are seeing those fears come true.

If Pakistan decides to join the Saudi alliance, the decision will have two adverse outcomes.

Firstly, Operation Zarb-e-Azb (OZA), a military campaign Islamabad has been carrying out against the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan tribal region since June 2014, will encounter a great setback. Even an effective military operation against the insurgents will not permanently resolve the threat of Islamic extremism. The Pakistani military needs to divorce the ambitious dream for pan-Islamism, a dangerous vision espoused by terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The proponents of OZA insist that the army has learned lessons from its past mistakes of maintaining covert relations with the Islamic extremists. But if Pakistan decides to join the battle in Yemen, it will give credence to those who argue that Pakistan is still unwilling to end its engagement in these dirty wars. When the Taliban terrorists are killed but the ideology that gave birth to them remains alive and backed officially, there is no way Pakistan can fully get out of this trap of extremist violence. Furthermore, engaging the Pakistani military in Yemen will distract attention from the ongoing operation against the Pakistani Taliban. Leaving that mission incomplete will provide the Taliban, who, according to the government, have been weakened, an opportunity to reassemble and launch new terrorist attacks.

Secondly, Pakistan’s 30 million Shias are most likely to be the first ones to face the backlash of their government’s support for Saudi Arabia. This will embolden anti-Shia terrorist groups and trigger a new wave of anti-Shia sentiments. It is known that Pakistan feels deeply insecure about India but what we don’t talk much about is what other countries, besides India, make Islamabad insecure. The answer is Iran. The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran remarkably alerted the Sunni clergy in Pakistan. Believing that the Iranians would export their “Shia revolution” to Pakistan, the then military ruler, General Zia-ul-Haq, with the support of the Saudis, accelerated orthodox Sunni Islam to guard Pakistan’s idealogical borders from the influence of the Shia revolution. While doing so, the Shia population had to pay a costly price in the sectarian war waged against them.

Pakistan should be healing the Shia wounds instead of adopting policies that will reopen fresh chapters of hatred and violence against them.

For years, Pakistanis have been complaining that their efforts to fight terrorism are under-appreciated. They complain that the world does not sufficiently acknowledge and applaud the measure they have taken in this regard. There is a straightforward answer why this is so: Pakistan has played double standards in fighting extremist groups. For every one step forward, it has taken four steps backward. Maybe Pakistan’s interest, in the backdrop of the conflict in Yemen, lies with staying totally disengaged and viewing this crisis from the balcony in order to see what transpires when religious proxy wars erupt and what lessons can be learned from their consequences.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post on March 31st, 2015

Who Should Worry About Pakistan’s School Carnage?

By Malik Siraj Akbar 

Pakistan has a unique relationship with terrorism: It is safe ground for terrorist training and offensives, it is a regular victim of terrorism, and, at the same time, it is a state that is perceived as an apologist and a justifier of terrorism. Pakistan’s complicated struggle with jihadists is no clearer than now in the aftermath of the Taliban school massacre in Peshawar that killed more than 130 children.

It is not the right time, some may argue, to point fingers at the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies, which for years have had connections with and even supported the same jihadist elements that carried out the attack. After all, most of the children who were killed in the Peshawar attack by the Taliban were presumably from military families. Some would insist that tragedies like this one should convince the world that the Pakistani army is paying a heavy price for its engagement in an operation against the Taliban – a Taliban spokesman confirmed that the attack was meant to avenge an ongoing operation against them in the country’s tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

The core problem with the army’s commitment to the fight against the Taliban is that not everyone in the ranks of the armed forces is fully convinced that this is Pakistan’s war. The soldiers are not fully motivated to fight this war because they believe that their bosses are killing “fellow Muslim brothers” on the instructions of the Americans, while the real decision-makers in the army and the intelligence agencies believe that absolute abandonment of the jihadist ideology may lead to catastrophic consequences for Pakistan’s long-term interests in Afghanistan and the disputed territory of Kashmir.

In other words, the Pakistani military strategists refuse to concede that they have lost control over the jihadists. Meanwhile, the architects of the pro-jihad policy suffer from an overconfidence syndrome and mistakenly believe that they are still fully capable of shutting down the jihadist franchise whenever they wish to do so. If that is true, then, according to the army’s standards, the Peshawar attack is not the worst that could happen.

Tragedies like the Peshawar school massacre need explanation but they do not get clear answers because their aftermath is heavily dominated by emotions. But a grand tragedy as big as the Peshawar carnage does provide the Pakistani government with a unique opportunity for self-reflection. Seen from past experience, such as the high profile shooting of the pro-education teenage campaigner Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban, the Pakistanis have missed opportunity after opportunity.

Not only are there too many distractions that always deflect attention from an earnest national debate about sincerely fighting the Taliban, there are powerful pressure groups, such as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, a right-wing party led by former cricketer Imran Khan. People like Khan, an ardent supporter of Pakistan’s negotiations with the Taliban, are highly influential in confusing the Pakistani masses, especially young people, about whether the Taliban deserve political accommodation or whether they should be eliminated. Khan and his supporters might be correct that military operations cannot solely resolve the Taliban challenge. However, Khan’s rise has taken Pakistan’s Taliban challenge to a more advanced or possibly even irreversible level where, for the first time, the Taliban have strong political supporters and defendants in mainstream politics.

The war on terror and the continued Taliban slaughter of Pakistani citizens have given birth to an educated yet highly nationalistic and confrontational youth. While they do not endorse the senseless Taliban killings of innocent citizens, they are also weary of the Western media’s reporting of these incidents. These young Pakistanis are highly agitated about their country’s depiction in foreign media outlets. I often attend events where Pakistani exchange students and visitors speak to American audiences. There is a unanimous plea in their presentations: We are not terrorists. I empathize with them but I also strongly believe Pakistanis should have brutally honest conversations about the role of Islam and Islamic religious schools in promoting these violent ideologies. Pakistan truly has a problem with Islam and it needs to be addressed.

Islamic scholars like Reza Aslan consistently argue that Islam is too diverse a religion and it is unfair to blame all Muslims for the actions of some terrorists who happen to be Muslim. If one is to agree with Aslan’s point that Islam is too diverse then we should also agree that there is something wrong with the Islam of Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. The Muslims in these countries will only inflict more pain and loss on their people if they do not start a debate about the role of Islam in their societies and how it serves as an umbrella to protect all kinds of criminal activities.

After all, in countries like Pakistan, there is a widespread support base for jihadists in the name of Islam. They are allowed to publicly collect charity for their operations and have a sophisticated infrastructure to train new recruits.

Last month, Syed Munawar Hassan, the former head of Pakistan’s largest Islamic party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, publicly called for “armed fighting for the sake of Allah.” Strangely, Pakistan has taken no action against such brazen promoters of violence among the general public. Some of the worst jihadist and sectarian demagogues, including Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the head of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the deadly terrorist attack on a Mumbai hotel, easily find airtime on the country’s top news channels.

With so much tolerance and immunity offered to hate-speech makers and inciters of violence within Pakistan’s political, social, and media circles, there is barely anything the international community can do while Pakistan fights the worst battle it has faced since its inception in 1947. There are no external solutions to end religious extremism. It is a battle the Pakistani government and the people have to own, fight, and win.

The Peshawar school attack makes clear that Islamabad not neither defeated the Taliban, nor are they going anywhere in the foreseeable future. The world, particularly Pakistan’s neighbors, should watch to see how Pakistan responds to the attack. Pakistan’s inaction or failure to fight radical Islam should genuinely worry Afghanistan, India, China and Iran – all neighbors of Pakistan who are dealing with Islamist movements of varying degrees. (Courtesy: The Diplomat)

The End of Pakistan’s Baloch Insurgency?

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Since its beginning in 2004, the Pakistan’s Baloch insurgency is caught up in the worst infighting ever known to the general public. Different left-wing underground armed groups that had been fighting Islamabad for a free Baloch homeland have now started to attack each other’s camps. If the infighting exacerbates, Islamabad will have solid reasons to rejoice the end of one of the two deadly insurgencies it has been facing for nearly a decade (the other being the Taliban insurgency).

Overshadowed by the deadlier Taliban insurgency, the Baloch resistance did not draw ample attention in the national media but it was certainly a matter of deep concern for the past three consecutive governments. The Baloch insurgents had attacked almost all prime installations of the Pakistani government, including the military cantonment in Quetta, Balochistan’s capital; important government buildings and killed senior government officials.

The Baloch had confronted the Pakistani state on at least four occasions in the past. The Pakistani government adopted numerous approaches to undermine the Baloch resistance but none of these approaches fully worked until infighting crept the ranks of the Baloch. In the past, Islamabad carried out military operations, bought the loyalties of rival tribal chiefs or empowered the so-called moderate leadership of the Baloch and also sponsored religious extremist groups in order to counter the Baloch nationalists. All such policies failed to completely uproot the resistance in the mineral-rich region. There has only been only one antidote to the Baloch movement: Infighting.

On November 3, the United Baloch Army, an underground armed organization, said the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), another armed group, had killed one of it its commanders, Ali Sher, and detained four of its ‘freedom fighters’. This was an unprecedented development as the Baloch insurgents had never attacked each other in the past although half a dozen armed groups have been operating separately for a decade to challenge the Pakistani state. The killing of a fellow Baloch commander comes in the midst of a call two days earlier by two most important pro-independence Baloch political organizations, the Baloch National Movement (BNM) and the Baloch Students Organization (BSO) that appealed to all the armed groups to refrain from fighting each other. The BNM and the BSO provide support for the call for a free Baloch land among the people through political rallies and distribution of literature among the masses. In the process of their overt public support for the idea of a free Balochistan, the BNM and the BSO have lost the largest number of political activists in Pakistan’s brutal crackdown against the Baloch political activists.

Unlike the past resistance movements, the ongoing Baloch resistance had created serious challenges for Pakistan for at least four reasons.

First, it lasted longer than any of the past resistance moment. Second, the armed struggle reached the breadth and width of Balochistan. It was expanded from rural mountainous regions to the city centers. Third, the movement involved Baloch women and children who supported the armed groups through regular protest rallies. Fourth, the Baloch resistance drew more international attention than ever before. In 2012, the U.S. Congress convened a hearing on Balochistan and supported the demand for a free Baloch land. The conflict in Balochistan has drastically influenced India-Pakistan relations as Islamabad has accused New Delhi of supporting the insurgency in Balochistan.

What suddenly caused the dramatic fall of a movement that was otherwise capable of giving Islamabad a serious headache?

While the state-sponsored killing of a top Baloch tribal leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti in August 2006, had escalated the insurgency, the natural death of another veteran nationalist leader, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri in June 2014 has caused the dramatic decline of the Baloch separatist movement.

Widely perceived as the godfather of the Baloch armed movement, Mr. Marri was a Marxist who ardently advocated the idea of a free Balochistan. I met and interviewed him at his Karachi residence in 2008. He was old and frail but said there was no way the Baloch could coexist with Pakistan. Marri was believed to be running the Baloch armed group, the Baloch Liberation Army. Islamabad had already pitted his pro-Pakistan tribal rivals against him to weaken his political position. After his death, differences broke out even among the Marri brothers on the question as to who would succeed the senior Marri. It is believed that the BLA and the UBA are loyal to two warring Marri brothers.

Currently, there is persistent tension between the two groups as to who can join and lead these organizations. In the past, the Baloch armed groups drew their manpower from the largest Baloch tribe, the Marris, only. There has been disequilibrium in the recent past as non-tribal activists from other parts of Balochistan have also joined these groups. Differences exist on how much to trust the newcomers and how much authority they should be granted. Besides the UBA, the BLA has also been criticized by another armed organization, the Lashkar-e-Balochistan, which, a recent statement published in Urdu language newspaper Daily Tawar, said the BLA was more active on social media than the actual battleground. The BLA is the oldest and the most dangerous among all Baloch groups operating in Balochistan.

Meanwhile, on another front, Baloch armed fighters struggling inside Balochistan have come out against those Baloch politicians who are currently living in exile. Those risking their lives in the battlefield in Balochistan against Pakistani forces feel somewhat betrayed that some other leaders are enjoying ‘comfortable’ lives in western capitals and capitalizing on their struggle. An awkward series of public allegations was seen in Balochistan’s local Urdu newspapers last week between Dr. Allah Nazar, the supposed head of another Baloch armed group, the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) and the Khan of Kalat Mir Suleman Dawood, a daydreamer who perceives himself as the future king of a free Balochistan. Mr. Dawood, living in exile in the United Kingdom, has been instrumental in reaching out to American and western parliamentarians to get their support for a free Balochistan.

The armed resistance gained enormous public support in mid-2000s because of Pakistan’s excessive use of force against the Baloch masses. But the insurgents failed to utilize this time to come on one single platform to put forward their demands. More and more armed groups emerged among the Baloch which made it almost impossible for them to properly coordinate with each other. The armed groups alienated the fellow moderate Baloch political parties by questioning their patriotism and commitment to the ‘national cause’. Human rights groups criticized the Baloch armed groups for killing numerous non-Baloch citizens under the allegations of spying for the Pakistani government while ordinary Baloch citizens also became victim of their attacks on similar unsubstantiated allegations.

After one year of continued fighting, the Baloch insurgents appear frustrated with the lack of international support for their movement. A decade later, even not a single country supports the free Balochistan movement. The Baloch fighters seem jaded with how moderate political parties, such as the ruling National Party of Dr. Malik Baloch, the chief minister of Balochistan, capitalize on their hard work and gain political power. Islamabad’s counter-insurgency policy can hardly be credited for pushing the Baloch insurgents to this level. Frustration, suspicion, infighting and division are the common features of the end of a guerrilla fight. Perhaps that time has come in Balochistan. (Courtesy: Huffington Post)

The Mass Graves of Balochistan

The state-sponsored inquiry committees formed in Pakistan in recent times to probe scandalous crimes have shockingly narrowed down their overall scope to one specific goal: Prove the government’s innocence. Marred with a chronic lack of public trust, the government and the military intelligence agencies are often blamed for atrocious crimes against unarmed civilians. Hence, the government, while pretending to investigate the harrowing crimes, spends substantial time contemplating how to deflect any charges against it. While the media and the general public are consistent in their demand for “independent investigations” into various cases, we are witnessing an alarming trend among the officially appointed investigators who, understandably, try their best to disprove allegations against the government.

Considering the lack of accountability mechanism and fragility of state institutions, the government always finds such probing bodies a shortcut to absolve itself from criminal charges. Once these investigative committees, often led by senior members of the judiciary, clear the government of its involvement in cases that require more transparency, the State immediately closes forever a chapter replete with numerous unanswered questions.

The findings of one such judicial tribunal about mass graves in Balochistan province are equally disappointing and consistent with the blatant pattern of shielding the actual masterminds of the mass grave scheme. In January 2014, at least three mass graves were found in Balochistan’s Khuzdar district. The actual number of the dead bodies found in these graves varied depending on who one asked. The provincialgovernment confirmed that 17 bodies were found in these mass graves while the ethnic Baloch nationalists, who are currently fighting the Pakistani state since 2004 for a free homeland, insisted that more than a hundred bodies had been found in these mass graves.

The Pakistani intelligence agencies, which had previously been castigated by the country’s Supreme Court for being regularly blamed for widely practicing enforced disappearances in Balochistan, was once again nominated by the relatives of the missing persons. The missing persons are mainly, if not always, sympathizers of the Baloch nationalist movement. Their family members suspect that the military had killed the missing persons in custody and then dumped them in desolate places presuming that no one would ever find out about them.

So, the fresh official investigation tribunal did not come up with any extraordinary revelations except for vehemently ruling out the involvement of the Pakistani army and the government. That is not an adequate response to such a shocking discovery of human dead bodies. The people of Balochistan deserve a more resounding official account of the story behind the mass graves. Isn’t it the primary responsibility of the government to protect its citizens, including those who do not share its political ideology? If the government is not responsible for the mass graves in Balochistan then who else is? It clearly seems that the Pakistani authorities are hiding the full truth and protecting the actual culprits responsible for killing and burying people believed to belong to the opposition camp.

Since the discovery of the mass graves, the government has remained unhelpful in getting to the truth behind the mass graves. The government sometimes deviated from the actual issue by disputing the actual number of the bodies found in the mass graves while, on other occasion, it blamed India for being involved in this gruesome episode. The Pakistani government has had such an irksome habit of blaming India for very trouble inside its frontiers that such official statements are no longer accepted as an alternative to the full truth.

The conflict in Balochistan has now completed one full decade. Starting from the military regime of General Musharraf, the conflict has shown no signs of resolution during the next two democratic governments led by the country’s two major political parties namely the Pakistan People’s Party (P.P.P.) and the Pakistan Muslim League (P.M.L.). The army is unwilling to change its confrontational policy toward Balochistan while the civilian governments of the P.P.P. and the P.M.L. have demonstrated insufficient enthusiasm to introduce a breakthrough in the conflict.

Following his grand success in last year’s general elections, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed a moderate Baloch nationalist, Dr. Abdul Malik, as the chief minister of the province. The appointment of a pro-Pakistan, educated Baloch nationalist as the chief executive of the province generated some unrealistic expectations about changes on ground in Balochistan. On the contrary, Sharif and the army over-burdened the poor chief minister by expecting him to solely fix the chaos in Balochistan. On the other hand, the central government simultaneously stabbed Dr. Baloch in the back by introducing such fresh laws that legalized enforced disappearances.

Islamabad’s repeated denials about its involvement in human rights abuses in Balochistan will not only perpetuate the conflict but it will also provide institutional protection to and encouragement for those who are engaged in misuse of their official power in the name of ‘national interest’. Since the retirement of former Chief JusticeIftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary and the failed assassination attempt on vocal senior journalist Hamid Mir in Karachi, the judiciary and the media have also been intimidated and pushed back to such an extent that they have begun to submit to the official stance instead of confronting it.
Pakistan does not have a reconciliatory policy toward Balochistan. Whatever the current policy is, it is not working. Islamabad is reluctant to introduce a new workable policy because it will require bringing several important allies of the military, including its former chief General Musharraf, to justice. Unfortunately, Islamabad’s current policy protects instead of persecuting those responsible for escalating tensions and violence. (Courtesy: Huffington Post)

Meeting with Noam Chomsky

Malik Siraj Akbar with Professor Noam Chomsky
Malik Siraj Akbar with Professor Noam Chomsky

Professor Noam Chomsky is indeed one of the greatest thinkers of our time. I was introduced to him for the first time by my English language teacher Sir Zahir Hussain in my hometown of Panjgur in Balochistan. He assigned me Chomsky’s book Necessary Illusions as a reading task. Mr. Hussain had previously introduced me with Bertrand Russell, the biggest philosophical influence on me.

Today, I finally had the opportunity to meet Professor Chomsky in person at his office in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It appeared like a coincidence that there was only one picture, rather a grand poster, in his office. And it was that of Bertrand Russell.

Professor Chomsky,85, was kind enough to meet and discuss the conflict in Balochistan. As we sat to talk, he began to ask questions like an eager doctor who finds a lead by following the patient’s responses. He is such a committed listener that he can make you nervous. The very thought that one of the greatest contemporary philosophers and linguists is quizzing you about the dynamics of a conflict is enough to make you nervous. He was very kind and walked me to the door as our meeting ended.

P.S: My readers may be keen to know about the contents of our discussion but I will not be writing about it since ours was an informal and off-the-record meeting.



From Balochistan to Harvard 

Malik Siraj Akbar
Malik Siraj Akbar

I was born and raised in Panjgur, a small Pakistan-Iran border town in Balochistan. Larger than France area wise, the Balochistan region is divided between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In all these three countries, Balochistan ranks as the poorest and the least developed region. My mom is from the Iranian Balochistan while my dad comes from the Pakistani side of the border. The right-wing central governments in Pakistan and Iran discriminate the secular Baloch based on their religious and ethnic identities. Each year, hundreds of Baloch citizens are killed, tortured and subjected to enforced disappearance by the governments in the Iran and Pakistan because of their opposition to the exploitation of Balochistan’s gas and gold by the central governments. The Baloch people do not receive the benefits of their mineral wealth.
In 2009, I founded The Baloch Hal, Balochistan’s first online English language newspaper, to inform the world about the untold stories of poverty, enforced disappearances, torture, political assassinations, human trafficking, drug smuggling and the rise of extremist Islamic groups. Previously, I had worked (2006-10) as the Balochistan Bureau Chief of Pakistan’s leading English language newspaper, Daily Times.

While our use of online journalism and social media to share under-reported stories at The Baloch Hal received plaudits internationally, including from the B.B.C., the Pakistani government blocked The Baloch Hal in 2010. The conflict between the Pakistani government and Baloch separatists has led to the killing of at least 22 journalists, including my several personal friends and colleagues. Considering the deadly political and security situation in my native Balochistan, the U.S. government granted me political asylum in 2011.

While in the United States, I have continued to run my online newspaper to draw international attention to the ongoing human rights abuses in Balochistan. In 2012, I served as a Regan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (N.E.D.) where I researched targeted killings, forced disappearances and attacks on the media in Balochistan. My book, The Redefined Dimensions of the Baloch Nationalist Movement, was published in 2010.

The biggest disadvantage of being an exiled journalist is the loss of one’s professional contacts, context and the gradual expiration of one’s ability to analyze the area of one’s expertise with mere intuition. The worst thing that happens to an asylee is the feeling of being a newborn baby. One has to start everything from scratch.

I choose to come to Harvard Kennedy School of Government (HKS.) because I wanted to converge my previous journalistic experiences as an international journalist with the American policy world.

The Kennedy School compels students to simultaneously think about themselves as global citizens and leaders. For instance, the Mason Seminar case studies captivated me in critical issues of development and innovation so much that I, at one point, began to have dreams about Uganda and Denmark! I continuously thought of myself as a crusader for the residents of Bujagali Falls as well as a member of the Danish Parliament.

The Kennedy School coaxes its students not to solely think about their countries but also fit think about grappling with tough roles and inconceivable situations. HKS is often described as the world’s largest group of incredibly smart and naïve people but it is also a place where I have met some of the most optimistic and passionate people ever in my life.

The Mason Program takes learning to an amazing next level where, besides the outstanding faculty, we are provided an extraordinary opportunity to learn from our own classmates who are already accomplished change-makers and top policymakers in their respective countries.

For the most of my career as a journalist, I have reported about conflict, violence, injustice and corruption whereas at the Kennedy School, I would like to explore solutions to all these pressing issues. I intend to study leadership, the art of negotiation, strategic planning and public communication. We journalists highlight too many problems and offer limited solutions. My goal for the academic year is to gain the required knowledge, skills and tools to manage and resolve conflicts through negotiations and peace building. (Courtesy: Harvard Kennedy School Admission Blog)

The Future of Baloch Nationalism After Nawab Marri

Nawab Khair Baksh Marri By Malik Siraj Akbar 

Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, the prominent Baloch nationalist leader, finally passed away without brokering a deal with any of the Pakistani governments to end the  ongoing conflict in Balochistan. The veteran Baloch leader, who passed away on Tuesday, remained firm on his demand for a free Baloch country. His commitment to his principles has transformed him into one of the most revered leaders of Balochistan ever. The respect Nawab Marri enjoyed among the young pro-independence Baloch youth could easily be felt through the widespread public mourning over his demise on social media.

If there was ever a theory of Islamabad being able to buy off a Baloch leader by bribing him or offering him a top government position, Nawab Marri refused to be  that leader. He will carry with himself a legacy that will distinguish him from his contemporaries such as Ghaus Baskh Bizenjo and Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. While Bizenjo, during the last days of his life, softened his stance against the federation of Pakistan, Nawab Bugti, on the contrary, turned into a hero after he took a strict position against Islamabad and was eventually killed in a military operation.

Nawab Marri stands different from the rest of his contemporaries as he lived all his life as a strong Baloch leader who was never apologetic about his political beliefs and demands. He did not contribute much to Balochistan’s street politics nor did he form a political party to advance his mission. His was a role of a political philosopher for the Baloch nationalist movement who continued to convince his followers through lectures and study circles as to why it was important for the Baloch to have their own country. He insisted that Pakistan had occupied Balochistan and expanded injustices against the Baloch people, in addition to exploiting their mineral wealth.

It was often believed that Nawab Marri used to control the trigger for the Baloch insurgency. If the Pakistani government could ever convince him to give up the insurgency, he would demonstrate ample influence on the  rest of the leaders, the armed groups and political parties such as the Baloch National Movement, Baloch National Front and the Baloch Students Organization (B.S.O.-Azad) to step back from their demand for a free Baloch country. The Nawab never used his influence in support of Islamabad.

Mr. Marri’s critics viewed him as a stubborn man who would neither listen to the moderate Baloch nationalists nor respect their struggle. Some believed his approach for a free Baloch homeland was catastrophic and confrontational with  the Pakistani state and it could, as it did, cause the loss of many young Baloch lives. Nawab Marri, on his part, never agreed to this notion. He was not only galvanizing the Baloch youth but also sending his children in the same dangerous battlefield. One of his one sons, Nawabzada Balaach Marri, led the Baloch liberation movement from the frontline. He was eventually killed but Nawab Marri went on to say that everyone who fought for Balochistan’s freedom was his son. Such a fatherly gesture on the part of the veteran Baloch leader encouraged many other Baloch young boys to join the liberation movement.

Nawab Marri was an educated Baloch leader who was known for his widely-attended  lecture sessions in which he would share marxist ideas with his followers. During the latest phase, the signs of state-sponsored action against him appeared during the time of General Musharraf when former Balochistan Governor Amir-ul-Mulk Mengal jailed him on the charges of killing Justice Nawaz Marri, a Balochistan High Court judge and a tribal rival of Mr. Marri. The charges were never substantiated but the Baloch leader was forced to spend a great amount of time in the jail.

With the death of Nawab Marri, an extraordinary chapter of Baloch nationalist politics has come to an end. Now the immediate question is: what is going to happen to the Baloch nationalist movement when its godfather is dead?

There are a couple of scenarios that will emerge soon after the demise of Nawab Marri and  they, in a way, bring good news for Islamabad.

As stipulated in Baloch tribal system, Nawab Marri is very likely to be succeeded by his eldest son Nawabzada Jangiz Marri. Unlike his father, the junior Marri is a staunch pro-Pakistan leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (P.M.L.-Nawaz). He is also a current minister in the Balochistan government. The senior and junior Marri hardly spoke to each other because of difference of opinion on political matters but this is unlikely to impede Mr. Marri from becoming the next chief of the Marri tribe. With a pro-Islamabad leader heading the worrier Marri tribe (which accounts for the highest number of current Baloch fighters), the prospects of anti-state resistance in the oil-rich Marri area look utterly difficult, if not impossible. Previously, the Pakistani government patronized Mr. Marri’s tribal opponents to counter his influence which did not help much but it still served the interests of the State.

However, the Marri tribe may experience a similar quandary and division that the Bugtis had to face after the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti. While the tribesmen, following their old tribal traditions, brought the pro-Islamabad Mir Aali Bugti to head the Bugti tribe, the supporters of  Nawab Bugti’s final day politics looked at Bramdahg Bugti, also a grandson of the late Nawab, as the genuine replacement for Nawab Bugti. It did not happen so and the Bugtis still continue to have tribal tensions among themselves eight years after the Nawab’s killing. Mr. Aali fears for his life and hardly spends time in his native town of Dera Bugti while his rival cousin Bramdagh  Bugti lives on exile in Switzerland from where he manages the Baloch Republican Party.

The Marri tribe is almost destained to experience a similar situation. There are clear political differences between Changiz Marri and his pro-free-Balochistan brothers Hairbayar Marri and Mehran Marri. Those supporting the nationalist movement may call for Hairbayar to replace his father but that does not seem to dim Jangiz Marri’s chances because the rest of his brothers currently reside outside Balochistan and Pakistan. If they want to return to Pakistan and control their tribe and its affairs, they will have no option but to reach a compromise with Islamabad. Otherwise, Hairbayar Marri will not be acceptable to the Pakistani establishment whom they have often accused of leading the Baloch armed groups and having alleged connections with foreign countries. Nawab Marri served as the head of the Marri tribe for a few decades and it will not be easy for any new chief to fully control the tribesmen in today’s chaotic and violent Balochistan.

Lastly, Nawab Marri’s death now puts all responsibilities of the liberation movement on Dr. Allah Nazar, the sole non-tribal leader of the ongoing Baloch struggle. With Hairbayar Marri and Bramdagh Bugti residing outside Pakistan, Dr. Nazar, the alleged head of the Baloch Liberation Front (B.L.F.), an underground armed group, will face testing times. Dr. Nazar is credited for galvanizing the Baloch middle class. It has yet to be seen  for how long the middle class movement can survive after Nawab Marri, whom all Baloch fighters looked at for guidance. The Marri tribe was also rich and armed enough to afford an insurgency. The middle class, on the other hand, lacks many of the advantages Nawab Marri enjoyed.

Nawab Marri’s death has not only closed a significant political epoch of Balochistan’s politics and nationalism but it will also open a new chapter for which some of us may not be fully prepared. At this point, it is still too early to predict how Balochistan will look after Nawab Marri. One thing is certain. Balochistan will change, either for good or for bad, after Mr. Marri’s departure. (Courtesy: The Baloch Hal)