Posts Tagged ‘ militants ’

Pakistan’s Balochistan: Minerals, Militants, and Meddling

By Mahvish Ahmad for The Christian Science Monitor

balochistan coast

Balochistan is a key province in Pakistan that is filled with natural resources as well as a volatile mix of Afghan Taliban leaders, anti-Shiite militants, and ethnic separatists.

Why is Balochistan important?
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province in terms of size, and its smallest in terms of population. The province has always been seen as occupying a geo-strategic position. It has the country’s longest coastline, with a lucrative deep-sea port at Gwadar in the south, and a shared border with Afghanistan and Iran. Balochistan also has extensive tapped and untapped resources, including copper, gold, oil, lead, and zinc.

The province has always been seen as a strategic asset, first by the British colonial power who saw it as a buffer zone holding off Afghan and Russian forces. Today, it is a key source of gas and minerals for Pakistanis across the country, and seen as a strategic transport route.

An on-going separatist uprising and the continued presence of Islamist groups in the north has made this strategic province especially restive.

Who are Balochistan’s separatists?
A section of the province’s ethnic Baloch are calling for the outright independence of Balochistan, after the 2007 assassination of Akbar Bugti, the head of the Bugti tribe and a former Interior Minister in the provincial government. The demands of the separatist Baloch have prompted the deployment of thousands of Pakistani troops across the province, who have been accused of extra-judicial kidnappings, torture, and killings of Baloch activists. Baloch separatists have also been accused of carrying out attacks against members of Pakistan’s powerful Punjabi ethnicity as well as Baloch who take a more pro-Pakistan line.

Who are Balochistan’s Islamists?
Islamist groups hold sway in areas close to the Afghan border. The province’s capital, Quetta, was once known for the notorious Quetta Shura – a congregation of top leaders within the Afghan Taliban. Sources say that the Shura disbanded in 2010, but many suspect that members of the Taliban live among Afghan refugees close to the provincial capital. Other Sunni militant groups also operate with impunity, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an outfit that has taken public responsibility for deadly attacks against Balochistan’s Hazaras – a primarily Shiite Muslim minority group easily identifiable because of their distinct Mongolian features. Almost 1,000 Hazaras have been killed over the last five years.

What recent political developments are important to watch?
A protest held by the Hazara community in January prompted the federal government to dismiss its provincial counterpart. After two bombs killed 130 people on Jan. 10 – most of them Hazaras – thousands sat in protest for four days, refusing to bury their dead until the government guaranteed that their community would receive necessary security. According to Islamic tradition, the dead must be buried as soon as possible – the protests were a powerful message to a provincial government that had been accused of gross negligence. The imposition of a form of direct rule in the province has, however, been met with criticism from the province’s majority Baloch, who believe it is a sign of a central government once again meddling in the province’s autonomy.

What international players are involved?

The Chinese are mining in various locations throughout the province. The Arabs are known to use parts of the province for recreational hunting. Indians are accused of providing support for Baloch separatists, but there is no evidence supporting this claim. Various Western countries have provided Baloch political activists asylum, in light of the heavy hand exercised by the Pakistani security forces. This prompted US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher to introduce a bill in Congress, calling for US support for the outright independence of Balochistan. The prospect of the bill caused an uproar in Pakistan, prompting politicians to accuse the US of meddling in the country’s internal affairs, but it did not go far. And the State Department has made it clear that the US respects Pakistani sovereignty when it comes to the question of Balochistan.

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Clinton, With Initiatives in Hand, Arrives in Pakistan

By Mark Landler for The New York Times

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived here Sunday for high-level deliberations with Pakistani leaders, the latest in a series of encounters that the Obama administration hopes will chip away at decades of suspicion between Pakistan and the United States.

Hillary Rodham ClintonMrs. Clinton will announce a raft of initiatives to help Pakistan in public health, water distribution and agriculture, to be funded by $500 million in American economic aid. Among other things, the United States will build a 60-bed hospital in Karachi and help farmers export their mangoes.

Yet these projects, however beneficial to this economically fragile country, do not disguise several nagging sources of friction between the two sides. American officials still question Pakistan’s commitment to root out Taliban insurgents in its frontier areas, its motives in reaching out to war-torn Afghanistan and its determination to expand its own nuclear program.

Pakistan plans to buy two nuclear reactors from China — a deal that alarms the United States because it is cloaked in secrecy and is being conducted outside the global nonproliferation regime. Administration officials said they did not know if Mrs. Clinton planned to raise the purchase.

Relations could be further tested if the Obama administration decides to place a major Pakistani insurgent group, the Haqqani network, on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Islamabad maintains ties to the group through its intelligence service, and it is seeking to exploit those connections as a way to extend its influence over Afghanistan.

For all that, tensions between the two sides have ebbed since Mrs. Clinton’s last visit here in October, when she was peppered with hostile questions in public meetings and bluntly suggested that people in the Pakistani government know the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

“We needed to change the core of the relationship with Pakistan,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “The evolution of the strategic dialogue, and the fact that we are delivering, is producing a change in Pakistani attitudes.”

Mr. Holbrooke noted a U-turn in Pakistan’s policy on issuing visas to American diplomats. For months, Pakistani officials had held up those applications, creating a huge backlog and frustrating the United States. But Pakistan issued 450 visas in the last five days, he said.

Mr. Holbrooke conceded that public-opinion polls toward the United States had yet to show much of a change. Mrs. Clinton may receive more criticism on Monday at a town-hall meeting in Islamabad. Her visit, which was not announced due to security concerns, is being conducted under tight security.

Vali Nasr, a senior advisor to Mr. Holbrooke, said it was unrealistic to expect “to change 30 years of foreign policy of Pakistan on a dime.” But he said, “On foreign policy issues, we’re seeing a lot more convergence.”

The United States is encouraged by the burgeoning dialogue between President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Pakistani leaders, including the chief of the staff of the army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Any resolution of the war, Mr. Holbrooke said, must involve Pakistan.

While American officials would like to see a more aggressive Pakistani military push in North Waziristan, the stronghold of the Haqqani network, they praise the military’s campaigns in South Waziristan and the Swat Valley, where Taliban insurgents had also made gains.

Pakistan’s battle against insurgents has exacted a fearful civilian toll. Last week, a suicide bomber killed 45 people, and injured 175, in an attack on a 1,000-year-old Sufi shrine in Lahore. Many Pakistanis blame the American-led war in Afghanistan for fomenting anti-Pakistan terrorism.

A coalition of protest groups issued a statement Sunday, timed to Mrs. Clinton’s arrival, which calls for an end to the war in Afghanistan and for Americans and Pakistanis who are involved in clandestine air strikes on Pakistani targets to be tried for war crimes.

Mrs. Clinton is to meet General Kayani on Monday, after meetings on Sunday with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. She was also scheduled to meet Pakistani business leaders and the head of the Pakistani opposition, Nawaz Sharif.

Mrs. Clinton has brought a shopping-bag full of commitments for Pakistan, drawn from the $7.5 billion in non-military aid, over five years, pledged by Congress last year. The emphasis is on basic services like electricity and water, politically-charged issues in this country, particularly during the hot summer.

“Our commitment is broad and deep,” said Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, who is with Mrs. Clinton. “We will not do what we’ve done in the past.”

Administration officials said the project to upgrade Pakistan’s creaky power grid, which involves building hydroelectric dams and rehabilitating power plants, had helped reduce chronic power outages. But on the day Mrs. Clinton landed, television reports here warned of further outages.

Pakistan Suicide Bombing Death Toll Jumps to 102

By Riaz Khan and Nahal Toosi for The Associated Press

The death toll from twin suicide bombings in Pakistan jumped to 102 with 115 people wounded on Saturday, making it the deadliest attack this year in the country.

Authorities continued to remove debris from the site of the attack in the village of Yakaghund in a northwest tribal region, after two bombers struck seconds apart Friday near a government office.

One of the bombs appeared fairly small but the other was huge, officials said. At least one bomber was on a motorcycle.

The attackers detonated their explosives near the office of Rasool Khan, a deputy Mohmand administrator who escaped unharmed. Tribal elders, including those involved in setting up militias to fight the Taliban, were in the building, but none was hurt, according to Mohmand chief administrator Amjad Ali Khan.

Video footage showed dozens of men searching through piles of yellow brick and mud rubble for survivors. Women and children were among the victims.

Mohmand is one of several areas in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt where Taliban and al-Qaida members are believed to be hiding.

Abdul Wadood, 19, was sitting in a vehicle at the time of the bombings.

“I only heard the deafening blast and lost consciousness,” said Wadood, who was being treated for head and arm wounds in Peshawar, the main city in the northwest, about 15 miles (25 kilometers) away. “I found myself on a hospital bed after opening my eyes. I think those who planned or carried out this attack are not humans.”

Some 70 to 80 shops were damaged or destroyed, while damage to a prison building allowed 28 prisoners — ordinary criminals, not militants — to flee, said Rasool Khan, who gave the casualty figures.

Friday’s was the deadliest attack this year in Pakistan. On New Year’s Day, a suicide car bomber struck a sports event near a meeting of tribesmen who supervise an anti-Taliban militia near the South Waziristan tribal area, killing 96 people.

Near the attack site, officials had been distributing wheelchairs Friday to disabled people and equipment to poor farmers, Amjad Ali Khan said. It was unclear how many participants in that event were among the victims.

Pakistani Taliban spokesmen could not be immediately reached after the attack. There were scattered reports the militant group’s branch in Mohmand had claimed responsibility and said it was targeting the elders.

The Pakistani army has carried out operations in Mohmand, but it has been unable to extirpate the militants. Its efforts to rely on citizen militias to take on the militants have had limited success there.

Nevertheless, there have been fewer attacks in Pakistan this year than in previous years — most notably in the northwest. In the last three months of 2009, more than 500 people were killed in a surge of attacks in the country.

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