How Pakistan uses US military aid as a cover

The US is withholding $800m in military aid. This money - ostensibly funding anti-Talbian operations

As sardars, or princely chiefs of Balochistan, they were the Sean Connery-look alikes: gentlemen of smart moustaches, clipped tones, an Enfield rifle under their arm, as at home on a horse as in a battered Mercedes, and educated at Aitchison College, Pakistan's (and prior to 1947, India's) Eton, where the western subcontinent's old-fashioned, non-military ruling elite got their grounding.

Time was also when you couldn't be a hip young radical Pakistani of the 60s and 70s unless, like commentator Ahmed Rashid, you were involved in the Marxist Balochistan liberation movement. But since the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006 by Pakistan's agencies -- his grandson was killed in Karachi at the end of June -- the sardars and the ageing lefties have no longer been able to protect their people and their dreams of a self-governing Balochi state.

The Pakistan army offensive around Quetta, funded by the US with the stated purpose of defeating the Taliban, is cover for a more far-reaching policy of ethnic cleansing of Balochis.

Put bleakly, it is a question of which is more valuable to the Pakistan's military state. On the one hand is the 12.5 per cent increase in their military budget, which is umbilically tied to Washington ($800m of which is to be withheld, it was announced today) for taking on the Taliban in south Waziristan and around Quetta. On the other is the opportunity to exploit long-term the mineral wealth of Balochistan -- gas, oil, copper, coal -- with Chinese partners, in a highly strategic area close to the Straits of Hormuz, perhaps on the proviso that the tactics used in the region will not be too disimilar to those used in Tibet. That is to say, the destruction of nationalism, and the repression of a 150 year independence movement.

Wild, beautiful and eccentric, Balochistan has always had an edgy history. It is a vast area west of Sindh and south of Afghanistan that occupies just under half of Pakistan's landmass and about 4 per cent (just under 7 million) of its population. Like the princely nizam state of Hyderabad in India, it held out under the Khan of Kalat against the central governments of newly founded Pakistan and was absorbed under intense military pressure (hangings and killings) in 1948.

The full strategic importance of the region became clear when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. In a rare display of US interest to prevent a Soviet advance to the "warm waters" of the Gulf, it became a destination of World Bank projects and developments, even if projects were just a brief respite in what can only be described as "terror". An insurgency against the sacking of the left-wing Balochi government in 1973 by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto resulted in the army being brought in to suppress an insurgency in which 10,000 Balochis were killed.

In the last ten years, an estimated 14,000 Baloch men have been spirited away by the Pakistan intelligence agencies, their mutiliated bodies turning up every few days in the mountains passes around Quetta, in the barren deserts that lie north of the Makran coast and in urban Karachi. Many are considered to be the cream of Balochi society, and the carriers and bearers of its culture: professors and teachers, lawyers, political activists, sportsmen, student leaders, singers and poets. A report by Zofeen Ebrahim for IPS News shows the action is tantamount to ethnic cleansing. It has also included media blackouts.

Pakistan Telecommunications Authority blocked the online news service the Baloch Hal in Pakistan at the end of 2010, having banned another Baloch newspaper, Daily Asaap, and harassed the staff of Daily Azadi and Balochistan Express. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has been petitioning the Supreme Court on missing persons since 2007. Some have been returned safely to their families, but there is a lack of resolve in the state to deal with the thousands of cases of torture and murder. Balochistan's chief minister, Aslam Raisani, said in a BBC interview last year that Pakistan's security agencies were behind the abductions and killings. A recent report by the HRCP found that "agents of the state, as well as the insurgents and extremists operating in the province, share a common disregard for rights of the citizens".

For organisations such as Unrepresented Nations and People Organisation (UNPO) and Crisis Balochistan, the concern is that China -- which is expanding the deep port close to the Iranian border at Gwadar for both naval and merchant berths and is thought to be reconnoitering the area for mineral deposits outside the Sui gas fields -- may recommend to Pakistan's state that methods similar to those employed in Tibet be used to suppress the people and destroy their culture.

In the last month, high profile murders have included Professor Saba Dashtyari of Balochistan University, a distinguished scholar and teacher and the third member of the staff of the university to be shot, the boxer Abrar Hussain, who represented Pakistan at the Olympics, 22-year-old Shafi Baloch, leader of the Baloch Students Organisation, whose body was found two weeks ago in the area of the Bolan pass, and Sanghat Sana Baloch, the leader of the Balochistan Republican Party. Ordinary Balochis are being kidnapped by Pakistan's state agencies in their hundreds each week, tortured and their mutilated bodies left in the wild landscapes for families and relatives to reclaim.

The loss to the Baloch people of their cultural torchbearers as well as their husbands and sons is devastating. Pakistan's ordinary citizens, fed a diet of media misinformation that India and Afghanistan are funding Balochi nationalism, simply wash their hands.

It is high time that the persecution of Balochis is taken up again at the United Nations. Of secondary importance only is that a complicated melee of military Pakistan, Chinese and Iranian interests are swirling around the borders and the Makran coast. Those "warm waters" are up on the international agenda again.

 

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue