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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John McDonnell interview: "We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility"

The shadow chancellor on the Spending Review, Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and why trade unions will have to break the law. 

When I interviewed John McDonnell in March, before the general election, he predicted that Labour would be the largest party and confessed to a “sneaking feeling that we could win a small majority – because I think the Tory vote is really soft”. As the long-standing chair of the Socialist Campaign Group, McDonnell anticipated leading the resistance inside Labour to any spending cuts made by Ed Miliband. Eight months later, he is indeed campaigning against austerity – but as shadow chancellor against a Conservative majority government.

I meet McDonnell in his new Westminster office in Norman Shaw South, a short walk down the corridor from that of his close friend and greatest ally, Jeremy Corbyn. The day before George Osborne delivers his Spending Review and Autumn Statement, his desk is cluttered with economic papers in preparation for his response.

“The message we’re trying to get across is that this concept of the Tories’ having a ‘long-term economic plan’ is an absolute myth and they’re in chaos, really in chaos on many fronts,” he tells me. McDonnell points to the revolt against cuts to tax credits and policing, and the social care crisis, as evidence that Osborne’s programme is unravelling. On health, he says: “He’s trying to dig out money as best as he can for the NHS, he’s announced the frontloading of some of it, but that simply covers the deficits that there are. Behind that, he’s looking for £22bn of savings, so this winter the NHS is going to be in crisis again.”

Asked what Labour’s equivalent is to the Tories’ undeniably effective “long-term economic plan” message, he said: “I don’t think we’re going to get into one-liners in that way. We’ll be more sophisticated in the way that we communicate. We’re going to have an intelligent and a mature economic debate. If I hear again that they’re going to ‘fix the roof while the sun shines’ I will throw up. It’s nauseating, isn’t it? It reduces debate, intellectual debate, economic debate, to the lowest level of a slogan. That’s why we’re in the mess we are.”

Having abandoned his original support for the Chancellor’s fiscal charter, which mandated a budget surplus by 2020, McDonnell makes an unashamed case for borrowing to invest. “The biggest failure of the last five years under Osborne is the failure to invest,” he says. “Borrowing at the moment is at its cheapest level, but in addition to that I’m not even sure we’ll need to borrow great amounts, because we can get more efficient spending in terms of government spending. If we can address the tax cuts that have gone ahead, particularly around corporation tax, that will give us the resources to actually start paying again in terms of investment.”

He promises a “line-by-line budget review” when I ask whether there are any areas in which he believes spending should be reduced. “My background is hard-nosed bureaucrat . . . we’ll be looking at where we can shift expenditure into more productive areas.”

From 1982 until 1985, John McDonnell, who is 64, was chair of finance at the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone. After vowing to defy the Thatcher government’s rate-capping policy he was sacked by Livingstone, who accused him of manipulating figures for political purposes. “We’re going to look like the biggest fucking liars since Goebbels,” the future mayor of London told him. McDonnell, who later described Livingstone’s account as “complete fiction”, has since resolved his differences with the man now co-chairing Labour’s defence review.

After his election as the MP for Hayes and Harlington in 1997, McDonnell achieved renown as one of New Labour’s most vociferous opponents, rebelling with a frequency rivalled only by Corbyn. His appointment as shadow chancellor was the most divisive of the Labour leader’s reshuffle. “People like Jeremy even if they don’t agree with him. People don’t like John,” one MP told me at the time. Mindful of this, McDonnell has sought to transform his image. He has apologised for his past praise of the IRA and for joking about assassinating Margaret Thatcher, rebranding himself as a “boring bank manager”. But there are moments when his more radical side surfaces.

He told me that he supports workers breaking the law if the trade union bill, which would limit the right to strike, is passed. “It’s inevitable, I think it’s inevitable. If the bill is introduced in its existing form and is used against any particular trade unionist or trade union, I think it’s inevitable that people will resist. We established our rights by campaigning against unjust laws and taking the risk if necessary. I think that’s inevitable and I’ll support them.”

“Chaos” might be how McDonnell describes Osborne’s position but the same term is now daily applied to Labour. The party is riven over air strikes in Syria and the renewal of Trident and MPs are ever more scornful of Corbyn’s leadership.

While Corbyn has so far refused to offer Labour MPs a free vote on Syria, McDonnell says that he favours one and would oppose military action. “My position on wars has always been that it’s a moral issue and therefore I veer towards free votes . . . We’re waiting for Cameron’s statement; we’ll analyse that, there’ll be a discussion in shadow cabinet and in the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] and then we’ll make a decision. I’m still in a situation where I’ve expressed the view that I’m opposed to the bombing campaign or engagement. I think the history of the UK involvement in the Middle East has been a disaster, to say the least . . .This isn’t like the Second World War where you have a military campaign – you defeat the enemy, you sign a peace agreement and that’s it – this is asymmetric warfare. In addition to the risks that are in the battlefield there’s a risk in every community in our land as a result of it.”

Would he want any of the 14 former shadow cabinet members who refused to serve under Corbyn to return? “All of them, we’re trying to get them all back. We’ve got Yvette [Cooper] helping us on a review we’re doing about the economy and women . . . It’s an open door policy, I’m trying to meet them all over these next few weeks.”

Livingstone, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, recently called for Simon Danczuk, who revealed details of a private meeting with Corbyn in the Mail on Sunday, and Frank Field, who told me that MPs should run as independents if deselected, to be disciplined. But McDonnell takes a more conciliatory line. “With Simon [Danczuk] in particular and the others, it’s just a matter of saying look at the long-term interests of the party. People don’t vote for a divided party. They’ll accept, though, that within a party you can have democratic debate. As I said time and time again, don’t mistake democracy for division. It’s the way in which you express those different views that are important. All I’m saying is let people express their views, let’s have democratic engagement but please don’t personalise this. I think there’s a reaction within the community, not just the party, against personalised politics. It’s not Jeremy’s style, he never responds in that way. It’s unfortunate but we’ll get through it. It’s just minor elements of it, that’s all.”

McDonnell disavows moves by some in Momentum, the Corbyn-aligned group, to deselect critical MPs. “What we’re not into is deselecting people, what we want to try and do is make sure that everyone’s involved in a democratic engagement process, simple as that.

“So I’ve said time and time again, this isn’t about deselection or whatever. But at the same what we’re trying to say to everybody is even if you disagree, treat each other with respect. At the height of the debates around tuition fees and the Iraq war, even though we had heated disagreements we always treated each other with mutual respect and I think we’ve got to adhere to that. Anyone who’s not doing that just lets themselves down, that’s not the culture of the Labour Party.”

In private, the 90 per cent of MPs who did not support Corbyn’s leadership bid speak often of how and when he could be removed. One point of debate is whether, under the current rules, the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged or be forced to re-seek nominations. McDonnell is emphatic that the former is the case: “Oh yeah, that’s the rule, yeah.”

McDonnell’s recent media performances have been praised by MPs, and he is spoken of by some on the left as a possible replacement if Corbyn is removed or stands down before 2020. His speech to the PLP on 23 November was described to me by one shadow minister as a “leadership bid”. But McDonnell rules out standing in any future contest. “No, no, I’ve tried twice [in 2007 and 2010], I’m not going to try again, there’s no way I would.”

Despite opinion polls showing Labour as much as 15 points behind the Conservatives, McDonnell insists that the party can win in 2020. “Oh definitely, yeah, you’ll see that. I think this next year’s going to be pivotal for us. We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility over the next six months. But more importantly than that, we can’t just be a negative party . . . we’re going to present a positive view of what Labour’s future will be and the future of the economy.

“Over the next 18 months, we’ll be in a situation where we’ve destroyed the Tories’ economic reputation and we’ve built up our own but we’ll do it in a visionary way that presents people with a real alternative.”  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.