Posts Tagged ‘ The Baloch Liberation Army ’

Militants blow up historic Pakistan building linked to Mohammad Ali Jinnah : officials

As Reported by The AP

Jinnah

Separatist militants blew up a historic building linked to Pakistan’s founding father in the country’s violence-plagued southwest after shooting dead a guard in a predawn attack on Saturday, officials said.

The attackers, armed with automatic weapons entered the 19th century wooden Ziarat Residency after midnight and planted several bombs, senior administration official Nadeem Tahir told AFP.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the driving force behind the creation of the Pakistan, spent his last days in the building which was declared a national monument following his death, one year after the country’s independence in 1947.

The building is in Ziarat town, 80 kilometres southeast of Quetta, the capital of insurgency-hit Balochistan province. “They shot dead the guard who resisted the intruders,” Tahir said. Police official Asghar Ali said militants planted several bombs and detonated them by remote control. “The Ziarat Residency, which had its balcony, floor and front made of wood, has been totally gutted,” he said.

At least four blasts were heard in the town, he said. The building caught fire and it took five hours to bring the blaze under control as Ziarat, a small hill station, has no fire brigade. A separatist-group later claimed responsibility for the attack.

“We blew up the Ziarat Residency,” Meerak Baluch, a spokesman for the Balochistan Liberation Army said from undisclosed location. “We dont recognise any Pakistani monument.” No one has been arrested, officials said.

Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest but most undeveloped province on the Iranian and Afghan border, is racked by Islamist and sectarian violence as well as a long-running separatist insurgency, and attacks on official buildings and security forces are common. The attack came after the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party of prime minister Nawaz Sharif won the May 11 elections in the country.

Sharif appointed Baloch nationalist leaders as governor and chief minister, raising hopes that a coalition between PML-N and nationalist parties could address some of the long-held grievances in the province about its treatment by the federal government.

Prime Minister Sharif and several political leaders strongly condemned the attack while Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar promised arrest of the attackers. Hundreds of people including, some party leaders and students staged a protest rally in the town demanding “exemplary punishment of culprits involved in the attack,” witnesses said.

Provincial Chief Secretary Babar Yaqoob told reporters that “people involved in the colossal destruction of our national monument will not be spared”. “The government has ordered immediate steps to rebuild the Ziarat Residency in its original form,” he said.

“It was an undisputed structure, it had never received any threat in the past. Local people had special love for this site because it had been attracting local and foreign tourists,” he said. Ziarat, located at more than 2,500 metres above sea level and surrounded by Juniper trees is a popular tourist site.

The two-storey structure was built in 1892 and was formerly used by officials from the British Colonial rule in India. The furniture used by Jinnah and kept at its original place as national heritage since his death in September 1948, has also been destroyed, officials said.

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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.

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

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