Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Xi Visit Unites Disparate, Feuding Freedom Activists

Ahmar Mustikhan
It was all gung-ho in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi as President Xi Jinping arrived in Pakistan – the first-ever visit of a Chinese President in almost a decade--to sign projects worth almost $50 billion to get the much-trumpeted China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) rolling. The CPEC project largely hinges on connecting Kashgar with Gwadar, the port projected as a strategically important outpost located at the northern tip of the Straits of Hormuz.

Apart from the outcomes announced by both sides, President Xi’s visit helped forge a semblance of unity among the quarrelsome Baloch militant supporters after a long time. The Baloch freedom activists started focussing on various dimensions of President Xi’s visit, including the funny name of a CPEC linked think-tank launched by ISI’ blue-eyed boy Mushahid Hussain Sayed called. The think-tank named “RANDI, (a term used in the Indian sub-continent for women engaged in the world’s oldest profession).

Hitherto, supporters of various Baloch militant groups had been engaged in a frivolous war of words over “muddee” or arms that the Soviet Red Army had reportedly given to Marri tribesmen at the time of their departure from Afghanistan, according to Marri sources. Some fatalities were also reported in the “muddee war” between two militant groups. The unending bickering was creating a sense of despondency in the liberation camp since the death of icon of the Baloch resistance, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, in June last year. It was evident that the Baloch liberation movement was yet to attain organizational finesse and ideological and political maturity. Even a balance between militant actions and popular protests was missing. Moreover, feudal egos have been a detrimental factor for the movement, leading to sentimental, rigid and apolitical approaches.

On 11 April, almost 10 days before President Xi’s visit began, the Baloch Liberation Front had killed 20 workers of the Army-run Frontier Works Organization in Gogdhan, 15 miles outside Turbat. Moderate nationalists like former chief minister Sardar Akhtar Mengel did not appreciate the action. Mengel tweeted, “The result of innocent blood will lead to no destination and will only make chains of slavery and suppression stronger.” However, Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) chief Dr Allah Nazar described those killed as combatants working on an army-controlled project. His close ally Kachkol Ali, a former fisheries minister and leader of the opposition in Balochistan Assembly, chimed in and called the 20 FWO workers “mercenaries.” In an editorial, Dawn newspaper confirmed that FWO project at Gogdhan, is part of the strategic CPEC project.

Now, amid the fanfare in Islamabad over Xi visit, it is clear there will be no middle ground between Islamabad and the nationalists on the future of Gwadar. Whilst Baloch nationalists claim that they are rightful owners of the Gwadar port, Pakistan insists the port is part of the federal domain since Balochistan is the province of Pakistan and ports are a federal subject in the legislative list of the 1973 Constitution. The Baloch however, challenge Islamabad’s contention on the grounds that their homeland was occupied by military invasion and aggression by Pakistan Army on March 27, 1948, and their status is different from the three other provinces.

Baloch politicos like Kachkol Ali, who is a leader of the Baloch National Movement (BNM) insist Baloch people were not a signatory to the 1973 Pakistan Constitution. “At the time when the constitution was tabled for discussion, debate and approval, Nawab Khair Bux Marri and Dr. Abdul Hayee Baloch, who represented Balochistan in the National Assembly, did not sign the document,” said Kachkol Ali, who now lives in exile in Oslo, Norway. “The precise reason was that they disputed the constitution of Pakistan on the grounds that Balochistan was defined as a unit of Pakistan.” Incidentally, Kachkol Ali’s son Nabeel Ahmad, 22, disappeared on August 30 last year, allegedly kidnapped and killed at the ISI’s behest. Nabeel’s disappearance has failed to break Ali’s will though. The paramilitary Frontier Corps also illegally occupied his two houses in Turbat two years ago.

But coming back to the CPEC, Baloch Warna, which is run under supervision of Hyrbyair Marri, operational chief of the Baloch Liberation Army and former Balochistan communications and works minister, had predicted in February that an unprecedented increase in military operation in the region is likely because of the CPEC. The BLA-run website said since the area will be made a “free trade zone,” hundreds of thousands of foreigners will flood into Gwadar and surrounding areas, turning the Baloch people into a minority in their own homeland.

“Nonetheless the biggest hurdle in the way of Pakistan and its partner in crime, China, is the Baloch armed resistance,” Baloch Warna has said in an article. The write up said Pakistan and China have finalized an agreement under which Pakistan will provide 2,281 acres of land to China on a 40-year lease to build a “free trade zone.” Analysts argue that China will not only use Gwadar for its economic interests but it will also build a naval base as part of a “string of pearls” on the rim of the Indian Ocean to gain dominance over India and the US. As much as 654 acres have already been approved for a Chinese naval base, Baloch Warna said.

Assorted Baloch militant groups have attacked Chinese interests in Balochistan during the last decade since the first BLF attack left three Chinese engineers dead in Gwadar in 2004.Kachkol Ali recalls an incident many years ago after the killing of Chinese engineers. “I remember a Chinese official came and visited me in my office in 2004. At the time, I was leader of the opposition. He discussed with me the issue on the lines that the Chinese authorities had an agreement with Islamabad and the port is a federal subject and so on and so forth.But I categorically challenged his argument that without Baloch consent, the Balochis would not allow the port and its affiliated networks construction (roads and railway tracks).”

Kachkol Ali said the Baloch liberation movement operates within the framework of the UN`s 1960 Declaration on Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, which states that all peoples have the right to self-determination, but that this necessarily includes the right freely to determine their political status and freely to pursue their economic, social and cultural development. He says the crux of matter is that neither Pakistan nor China is sincere on upholding the UN laws. He recalls that the Chinese run Saindak gold-cum-copper project was “an eye-opener” as Balochistan was allocated just two per cent profit, but in reality Pakistan did not provide even that small share to the Balochis. China took 75 per cent and Pakistan pocketed more than 23 percent of the money.

The BNM leader, whose organization has some differences in tactics and strategy with the BLA, nonetheless echoed the same sentiment over the issue of ethnic flooding. “Actually, Pakistan means Punjab. The population of Punjab is a big problem for them and the establishment has nefarious long-term designs to somehow marginalize the Baloch population and to shift a huge population from the Punjab to Balochistan,” Kachkol Ali said. “It is their plan to change the demography of Baloch and to some extent they have succeeded in achieving this with the influx of a large number of Afghan refugees in Balochistan.”

Kachkol Ali said discovery of mass graves in Khuzdar,Panjgur and Turbat; kill and dump policy, destruction of houses without justification and killing of the innocent Baloch people as combatants substantiates that Pakistan is committing war crimes and genocide of Baloch people.

Former Balochistan Senator Sanullah Baloch in an article in The Express Tribune saidthe PPP government of President Ali Zardari, without any transparent process,hastily handed over Gwadar Port to China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC) in February 2013, even though the Supreme Court had barred the predecessor Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) from any such transfer. “Moreover, along with violation of national laws, the International Monetary Fund’s Revised Code of Good Practices on Fiscal Transparency was also disregarded by giving away a strategic jewel to the Chinese without due process,” Sana Baloch wrote in an article in The Express Tribune, adding, “Not a single detail of the contract was released to the media, neither was it published on the Gwadar Port Authority’s website.”

BLF chief Dr Allah Nazar believes China's role in Balochistan is imperialistic as it is supporting Pakistan militarily and financially to crush the Baloch freedom movement. “Now a huge Chinese army unit is present in Gwadar,” Dr Allah Nazar told OneIndia. “As the world's largest democracy India and the civilized world must realize the importance of a free Balochistan. India can never get the superiority of waters without a free Baloch state.

Sher Mohammed Bugti, who is officially recognized as a leader of the Baloch Republican party (BRP) also echoed the same sentiment. “China’s investment will only encourage Pakistan to intensify its military operations and brutality on the Baloch nation #shameonpakistan,” he said on twitter.
Now, reports say the Pakistan army is planning to extend the so-called Operation Zarb-e-Azb to Balochistan. Army chief General Raheel Sharif recently met Southern Army Commander, Lieutenant General Nasir Khan Janjua and the inspector general of the Frontier Corps Major General Sher Afgan--the troika of power in Balochistan. General Sharif warned “foreign states, intelligence agencies” against trying to destabilize Pakistan by supporting terrorists in Balochistan. In addition to India, Pakistan intelligence and security analysts have blamed countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, United States, Israel, and even Norway, of having moles in Balochistan.

The Chinese too seemed to be concerned over the fragile security situation. As if to allay their fears, late Tuesday night, army spokesman major General Asim Bajwa tweeted, “Spec Security Div for Pak-China Eco Projs will comprise of 9 Army Battalions,6 Wings Civil armed forces. Will be commanded by a Maj Gen.” Clearly, further militarization of Balochistan is now inevitable.

(Ahmar Mustikhan is a senior Balochistan journalist who now lives in exile in Washington DC area. He can be contacted on twitter @mustikhan)

Published Date: 22nd April 2015, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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