Posts Tagged ‘ Nawab Akbar Bugti ’

Pakistani journalist given U.S. Asylum Tells of Threats, Disappearances in Baluchistan

By Pamela Constable for The Washington Post

Siraj Ahmed Malik, an ambitious young Pakistani journalist, was enjoying a stint last fall on a fellowship at the University of Arizona when he started getting chilling messages from home.

One after another, his friends and colleagues were disappearing, he learned, and their bodies were turning up with bullet holes and burn marks. A doctor’s son from his home town was arrested and vanished. A fellow reporter was kidnapped, and his corpse was found near a river. A student leader was detained, and his bullet-riddled body dumped on a highway. A writer whose stories Malik had edited was shot and killed.

“These were kids I had played cricket with, people I had interviewed, younger reporters I had taught,” Malik, 28, said in an interview last week in Arlington County, where he now lives. The final straw came in early June, when one of his mentors, a poet and scholar, was gunned down in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, Malik’s native province.

On Aug. 19, Malik applied for political asylum in the United States. In his petition, he said that his work as a journalist and ethnic activist in Baluchistan, where he had exposed military abuses, made him likely to be arrested, tortured, abducted and “ultimately killed by the government” if he returned.

Two weeks ago, his petition was granted. It was a highly unusual decision by U.S. immigration officials, given Pakistan’s status: a strategic partner in Washington’s war against Islamic terrorism; a longtime recipient of U.S. aid; and a democracy with an elected civilian government and vibrant national news media.

“I never wanted to leave my country, but I don’t want to become a martyr, either,” said Malik, a soft-spoken but steely man who spends his days hunched over a laptop at coffee shops in Clarendon, checking with sources back home to update his online newspaper, whose name means “Baluch Truth.”

“What’s going on in Baluchistan is like the dirty war in Argentina,” he said. “I need to be telling the story, but I can’t afford to become the story.”

Baluchistan is the Wild West of Pakistan — a remote desert province, larger than France, that is home to a mix of radical Islamic groups, rival ethnic and refugee gangs, rebellious armed tribes, and security agencies that have long been reported to kidnap, torture and kill dissidents with impunity.

Living under constant threat

Yet this ongoing violence and skulduggery receives scant international attention. Foreign journalists are banned from visiting the region alone, while headlines about Pakistan are dominated by a separate, high-stakes border conflict in which American drones and Pakistani troops are battling the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

As a result, a handful of local journalists such as Malik have been left to investigate and report the news without big-city patrons or visiting foreign delegations to give them cover.

“The threat of disappearance was always lurking in the back of our minds,” Malik wrote in his asylum petition. “My friends, colleagues and I lived with the knowledge that yesterday it was him that disappeared; today it is someone else; tomorrow it could easily be me.”

As Malik recounted over coffee, pressure and threats from unidentified intelligence agents were a daily hazard. According to his asylum file, agents accosted him in airports and hotels, detained and questioned him, and repeatedly threatened to “teach me a lesson.”

Malik acknowledges that as an advocate for the Baluch nationalist cause, his journalism is hardly neutral. The ethnic minority movement, which seeks autonomy from the central government, includes armed groups. Malik claims that he does not condone them, but he describes their stance as a “defensive” response to official abuse.

Still, his case for protection was bolstered by reports from human rights groups and letters from university officials in Arizona, who called him “nothing short of brave.” In a July report, Human Rights Watch described a “practice of enforced disappearances” of Baluch leaders and intellectuals, often by security agencies, and listed 45 abductions or killings since 2009.

Activists including Malik assert that more than 5,000 Baluch have vanished in the past decade, but the issue has never been seriously addressed, while the government has both co-opted and persecuted Baluch tribal chiefs. In 2007, Pakistan’s military president fired the head of the Supreme Court, who sought to probe the disappearances. In 2008, a civilian government took office and an investigative commission was established, but little action has been taken.

“The authorities have no answers because there is no accountability,” said one Pakistani diplomat, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject. He suggested that Malik had exaggerated his fear of persecution as a “ploy” to remain in the United States, but he also called disappearances “the tip of the iceberg” in a society where security forces hold sway behind the scenes. Even a chief justice, he added, “knows there are lines he cannot cross.”

Driven to speak out

Najam Sethi, a newspaper publisher and titan of Pakistan’s liberal media establishment, was Malik’s boss from 2006 to 2010, when he worked as a correspondent in Quetta. For the past few months, Sethi has been on his own sabbatical at the New America Foundation in Washington, partly to escape the pressure he faces at home.

At a public forum here last week, Sethi described Pakistan’s news media as free to snipe at politicians and expose financial scandals but said it remains cautious about reporting on military and intelligence institutions, partly out of respect and partly out of fear.

“The media are scared, because there is no one to protect them,” Sethi said.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 40 Pakistani journalists have been killed since 1992. In May, a well-known investigative reporter, Saleem Shahzad, was abducted and found murdered. Shahzad had received threats after writing about al-Qaeda infiltration of the military, and a senior U.S. military official said his killing had been “sanctioned” by the government.

Asked about Malik, Sethi said he thought his former staffer had been too aggressive and outspoken. As Malik’s editor, he said, he had intervened several times with military authorities to protect him. “I wish he hadn’t gone so far,” Sethi said. “He crossed too many red lines.”

Malik, however, said he felt “betrayed” by such liberal media leaders, saying they have avoided speaking out against oppression in Baluchistan. He recounted how Baluch groups had been galvanized by the 2006 army slaying of the legendary tribal chief Nawab Akbar Bugti.

“For us, the killing of Bugti was Pakistan’s 9/11,” Malik said. After that, he said, he stepped up his exposure of the violence and abuses. His activities drew increasing attention from government agents, who, he said, called him a “traitor” and threatened to kill him if he did not stop.

Instead, Malik persisted. In early 2010, he attended a conference in India and denounced the disappearances. From his fellowship perch in Arizona last winter, and then while working briefly at the Center for Public Integrity in Washington in the spring, he wrote and spoke out at every opportunity.

But as the deaths of other Baluch journalists and friends began to mount, Malik said last week, he began to hesitate about returning.

“Baluchistan needs a messenger to the world,” he said, itching to get back to his reporting. “Here in the United States, I don’t have an office or money, but at least I can stay alive and get the message out.”

Pakistan’s Secular Martyrs

By Beena Sarwar for The News International

The murder of professor Saba Dashtiyari in Quetta last week, coming on the heels of the killing of investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad, is yet another sign of an ongoing ‘genocide’ of progressive Pakistani intellectuals and activists. ‘Genocide’ generally means the deliberate destruction of an ethnic group or tribe. In this context, it applies to the tribe of Pakistanis who have publically proclaimed or implicitly practiced the enlightenment agenda of freedom of conscience. They may have very different, even opposing, political views but they are people who are engaged knowingly or unknowingly in spreading ‘enlightenment’ values. Perceived to be out to undermine or eliminate members of this tribe are sections of state long engaged in establishing Pakistan’s “Islamic” identity and determining the “national interest”. They decide who is a patriot or a Muslim. Most of those killed in mysterious circumstances over the years were critics of this sate of affairs.

Let’s list some of them (a complete list is not possible here), starting with the former governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, murdered by an official bodyguard. Contrary to standard operating procedures, the other guards did not open fire on the assailant – who had been assigned to this duty despite his “extremist views” due to which the Special Branch had earlier dismissed him. Barely two months later, two human rights defenders were gunned down — former federal minister for minority affairs Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad, and Naeem Sabir, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s former coordinator in Khuzdar, Balochistan.

The assassins “may perhaps belong to different groups,” said the HRCP, but the murders were “the work of militants out to eliminate anyone who raises his voice against persecution of the vulnerable people”. Naeem Sabir, associated with the HRCP since 1997, had been targeted off and on “by minions of the state” for his coverage of human rights abuses. A shadowy group calling itself the ‘Baloch Musala Defai Tanzeem’ (Armed Baloch Defence Committee) claimed responsibility.

Saba Dashtiyari was not exposing human rights abuses but he was doing something more dangerous – opening young minds to progressive thought. Although he received his basic education in the slums of Lyari he shared a wealth of knowledge, running “kind of a (liberal) university within the (strictly controlled) university,” writes his former student Malik Siraj Akbar. The disparate group of students around him often comprised “progressive and liberals”; they clutched books by “freethinkers like Bertrand Russell, Russian fiction by Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky,” and writings of Pakistani progressive intelletuals like the late Syed Sibte Hasan and Dr Mubarak Ali. Their discussions revolved around “politics, religion, revolutions, nationalism” and also included social taboos like sex and homosexuality. He contributed his salary “to impart cultural awareness and secular education”.

The state, on the other hand, is “constructing more and more religious schools to counter the liberal nationalist movement” which only accelerates the process of right-wing radicalisation (Obituary: The Martyred Professor, June 2, 2011, Baloch Hal).

Prof Dashtiyari had lately become “a staunch backer of the Baloch armed resistance for national liberation” (‘The Baloch Noam Chomsky Is Dead’, Baloch Hal, Jun 2, 2011). Although he himself had not taken up arms, his views were anathema to the ‘establishment’ as defined above.

In April last year, another professor at the University of Balochistan, Nazima Talib was murdered — the first time a woman was target-killed in the province. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) said it had killed her in response to the security forces’ killing of “two Baloch women in Quetta and Pasni and torture of women political workers in Mand and Tump”. Security forces routinely pick up Baloch youth for questioning. Far too often, mutilated bodies are found in what Amnesty International has termed as “kill and dump” operations. Since July 2010, the rights body has documented “the disappearances and killing of at least 100 activists, journalists, lawyers and teachers in Balochistan, with victims’ relatives often blaming the security and intelligence services”.

One can empathise with the anger of the Baloch. But revenge killings cannot be justified or condoned. When victims become oppressors, it becomes even harder to emerge from the downward spiral.

The murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti in Gen Musharraf’s military operation of August 2006 contributed to this downward spiral, sparking off a wave of target killings of non-Balochis, particularly educationists and civil servants. Those killed since include former education minister Shafique Ahmed and Hamid Mehmood, former secretary of the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education.

Although shadowy groups with long names sometimes claim responsibility, it is usually “unidentified assailants” who are said to be behind the murders, like those who gunned down former senator Habib Jalib of the Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) last July.

Journalists remain vulnerable, walking a tightrope between the military and the militants, as Saleem Shahzad did. At least half-a-dozen Baloch journalists have been target-killed over the past nine months alone: Rehmatullah Shaeen, Ejaz Raisani, Lala Hameed Hayatan, Ilyas Nazar, Mohammad Khan Sasoil, Siddiq Eido and Abdus Rind. These murders have not been investigated, nor has the mainstream media taken any notice of them.

Many compare the situation to 1971. Just before Bangladesh’s liberation (albeit with foreign intervention), extremists trying to kill progressive ideas in the new country massacred progressive intellectuals. Is a similar mindset at work in what’s left of Pakistan? Extremists know they cannot win the argument so they silence the voices that make the argument.

Musharraf’s “moderate enlightenment” led to an escalation of violence against those who are genuinely enlightenment partisans from all shades of political opinion. This is not just a series of “incidents” but a tacitly agreed upon plan operating under a culture of impunity for both the state and the insurgents, fostered, it must be noted, by non-elected arms of the state. All demands for accountability, and for these acts to be tried and punished as criminal offences have so far come to naught.

There are signs of hope in the unprecedented number of people speaking out, in the Supreme Court’s seeking of the past three-year record of targeted killings in Balochistan, and in the Aghaz Huqooq-i-Balochistan (“the Beginning of Rights of Balochistan”) introduced by the government in November 2009. It is essential to build on these moves and urgently address Balochistan’s long-standing grievances about economic and political disenfranchisement, and human rights abuses.

As mentioned above, the genocide of Pakistan’s progressives is not limited to Balochistan. After educationist Latifullah Khan was murdered in Dir in November last year the Communist Party of Pakistan noted that since the start of the Taliban insurgency in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa, systematic elimination of the enlightened and educated people had been underway. Terming it ‘rampant ‘intellecticide’, the CPP urged the international community to take note as not a day passed without a university professor, chancellor, doctor, enlightened teacher or a progressive political worker being target-killed or kidnapped.

Saba Dashtiyari is the latest in a long line of such ‘enlightenment martyrs’ in Pakistan. They include those fighting the land mafia – like Nisar Baloch (of Gutter Bagheecha fame, Karachi), and the fisherfolk Haji Ghani and Abu Bakar who spearheaded a movement against the destruction of the mangrove forests along the coast.

Let this blood not have been spilt in vain.

The writer is a journalist working with the Jang Group

Pakistan must stop treating India as ‘biggest enemy’: Nawaz Sharif

As Reported by The Economic Times

As Pakistan’s powerful military held out threats to India, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called for reappraisal of ties with its neighbour to move forward and progress, saying Islamabad must stop treating New Delhi as its “biggest enemy”.

Sharif, who was earlier involved in talks with India when the Kargil crisis erupted, also sought a probe into the 1999 conflict with India.

The former Prime Minister, who is the chief of main opposition PML-N party, is currently on a three-day visit to southern Sindh province where he made the remarks during an interaction with the media in Karachi yesterday.

He called on the government to also conduct an inquiry into the 2006 killing of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti in a military operation and the carnage in Karachi on May 12, 2007 that killed over 40 people who tried to rally in support of then-deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Sharif, whose government was deposed in a military coup led by former President Pervez Musharraf in 1999, reiterated his demand for the budgets of the military and the ISI to be placed before Parliament for scrutiny in line with the practice in other democracies.

He said one of his biggest regrets was not taming the powerful military when he was Prime Minister in the 1990s.

The Parliamentary resolution calling for an independent commission to investigate the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a US raid on May 2 was the first step towards making Parliament a sovereign body, Sharif said.

“We need structural changes and this inquiry has provided an opportunity to move forward and put the country on the right track, correct its direction by putting our house in order, establish the rule of law and bring all institutions under civilian control,” Sharif said.

If the government fixes responsibility for the Abbottabad incident and punishes those found guilty, a message will go out to the world that the people of Pakistan will not brook another embarrassment like the US raid, he said.

Sharif spoke out against the recent alliance forged by the ruling PPP and the PML-Q, both of which are rivals of his PML-N in Punjab and at the centre.

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