Quetta - A City of Contradictions

Discussion in 'China' started by Flint, Nov 9, 2009.

  1. Flint

    Flint Senior Member Senior Member

    Mar 10, 2009
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    Very, very enlightening piece. Take a cup of coffee and enjoy....
    Inside Balochistan’s Ravaged Heartland

    Harried by the Taliban on one side and the State on the other, Balochis remain hunted in their own land, reports QURRATULAIN ZAMAN

    IF YOU want to know what is happening in Pakistan’s troubled province of Balochistan, just go to Sariab Road, in its capital, Quetta. Most people who live on its 6-km stretch are Baloch. For the Hazaras, Punjabis and Pashtuns — the other groups in this multi-ethnic city — Sariab Road is ilaqaghair (a no-go area).

    After crossing the railway tracks that separate Sariab Road and Quetta Cantonment — or “Pakistan”, as the Baloch nationalists call it — the first thing you notice is an army tank to welcome you, next to a chauki or fortified post. Nationalist slogans and the emblems of banned militant organisations such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) adorn the walls: “We want freedom from Pakistan!” “No to Gwadar port!” “Red salute to the martyrs of Balochistan!”

    Vehicles of the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) are parked on both sides of the road. Opposite Sariab Road police station stands the new red brick building of Asaap newspaper. “Asaap” is a combination of the Balochi words for “fire” and “water.” “Our commitment to the land is so strong, we’ll cross both fire and water,” is emblazoned next to the entrance. Below, in bold letters: “If you want to know, understand, think or speak Balochistan, read Asaap.”

    The building is quiet and empty. There is no furniture or human presence on the ground floor. On the first floor, Asaap’s editor, Abid Mir, is sitting in a small corner room. He is reluctant to talk. “We closed down the newspaper because of tremendous tremendous pressure and intimidation from the Pakistan government and security agencies.” The last edition of the newspaper came out on August 18. But Abid Mir still comes to the office everyday. One of the most influential Urdu newspapers in the province, Asaap has been denied government advertisements for the last four years. As there is little commerce or industry in Balochistan, few advertisements come from the private sector. Once, Asaap would publish Baloch writers and run stories about missing people. Now, Abid Mir the proud Baloch earns a living by teaching Pakistan’s national language, Urdu, at the nearby Balochistan University.

    The university’s main gate is on Sariab Road, too. However, immediately behind it lies another gate – a sandbagged army post. However, it is the grey vardee (uniform) of the FC that can be seen all over the place. A whopping 500 FC troops are posted here to maintain law and order in Balochistan University.

    The university, which was closed for two months because of the “law and order situation,” reopened recently after Eid. Amjad, a 24 year-old former president of the Baloch Student Organisation (BSO) is one of the few students who has returned. “You feel you’ve entered a garrison, not a university,” he remarks, adding, “The FC took away 26 Baloch students last week. My friend Mujeeb was among those kidnapped. Pakistan’s security agencies have left no political option for us. They have turned all liberal forces into radicals by torturing them.”

    According to him, the BSO serves as a nursery for nationalists who are in hiding or fighting in the mountains. The student leader’s father was an active member of the established Balochistan National Party (BNP), which has traditionally stood by Pakistan, demanding more rights for the Balochis. But he and his brothers advocate a “free” Balochistan. “We have convinced our father after many long fights and arguments; today, he is a radical like me.”

    Amjad remembers when he was a patriotic Pakistani. As a teenager, he proudly put up a poster of Kargil war hero Captain Karnal Sher Khan. “Pakistan needs to reflect upon what made me hate Pakistan,” he says. “They make us feel like slaves. If I wear western clothes, I can move freely in Quetta city. However, if I wear my baggy Baloch salwar, I am sure to be strip-searched.”

    FRIENDLY AND polite, law student Shahzeb Baloch says he was picked up by the intelligence agencies in March. “They tortured me everyday,” says Shahzeb. “During interrogation, my hands were tied and I was blindfolded. They kept accusing me of being a RAW agent and insisted that I had provided weapons to militants. Their aim is to terrorise Balochis, but after this episode I have no fear left in me. Earlier, I had 80 percent hatred for them; after my return, it’s 100 percent.” The Baloch students say that the Pakistani authorities have no idea how to tackle the militancy and that is why they started picking up politically aware students who demanded more rights.

    “The BSO is a progressive student organization,” says Shahzeb. “We have no connection with militant organisations like the BLA or the BRA, but we do support them politically. That is why many of our leaders are detained by security agencies. They are trying to weaken the movement and kill the idea of azadi (freedom).”

    The BSO has an active women wing, with 700 registered female members. For the offence of treason, 25-year-old Karima Baloch was fined Rs 150,000 and sentenced to three years in jail by an antiterrorist court; her appeal is pending. “Baloch women have come out to fill the gap created when our men were taken away or killed,” says Karima, who has been campaigning for missing Balochis. Her own family members have disappeared.

    Advocate Kachkol Ali’s house is also on Sariab Road. Ali is well known in Quetta. He was the opposition leader in the last Provincial Assembly and represented another moderate party, the National Party (NP). In April 2009, three of his clients — well-known Baloch separatist leaders — were abducted from his office in the town of Turbat. Five days later, their mutilated corpses were found. Ali accuses Military Intelligence (MI) and the ISI of the abduction. Today, he is bitter. “We hate Pakistan so much that it is better we separate.’’

    HOWEVER, A host of moderate Baloch political parties advocate more autonomy and more rights for Balochis over the huge natural resources in their province. All of them boycotted the 2008 elections. Possibly the most influential of them is the BNP’s Mengal group, which has boycotted parliamentary politics for the last decade.

    The BNP demands only that which Pakistan demands for Kashmir: “We want the UN to conduct a referendum here,” says party general secretary Habib Jalib. “The people will decide whether we want to stay with Pakistan or not. We don’t demand anything from Pakistan. They have made us into a colony. But unfortunately, some Balochis are working with the colonial rulers.”

    After the 2008 elections, the provincial government has been headed by the Pakistan People’s Party, with a Baloch, Aslam Raisani, as chief minister. “Separatist leaders keep demanding independence for Balochistan, just like it was demanded for Bangladesh, but we won’t let it happen,” says Suraya Ameeruddin, PPP senator from Balochistan. “Our president Asif Ali Zardari asked for forgiveness from the Balochis for the murder of Akbar Bugti and other slain leaders. It is a fact that the Balochis have been deprived of their rights. But how can we give away such a big province with so many national resources?” The PPP government has promised to bring development to the impoverished province. Says Ameeruddin, “Once these frustrated young Baloch get jobs and facilities, they’ll stop joining the ranks of the BLA or the BRA. They will stand with us.”

    The Baloch Republican Party (BRP) is considered to be the political face of the underground, separatist BRA. Hundreds of BRP activists have disappeared. Party chief Brahamdagh Bugti, a grandson of Akbar Bugti, is in hiding. For many youngsters, the handsome 28-year-old Brahamdagh is a Che Guevara-like figure. Officials say he is in Afghanistan and have accused India of supporting him through its consulates there. But party leader Dr Abdul Hakeem Lehri rubbishes all claims that the movement is run by a “foreign hand”: “If Pakistan had any real evidence that India supports us, would they have spared us? Every Baloch household has a reason to fight with them. The story of a foreign hand is just to satisfy the Pakistani elite.”

    Like many Baloch separatist leaders, Lehri is disillusioned and bitter. “Our fight is with the establishment in Islamabad. They think they have seven lakh soldiers. But Russia had 20,000 warheads. Do they think this rotten nuclear bomb is going to work for them? Someone is going to steal it soon anyway!”

    To add to this, the Afghan Taliban’s central command is reported to be in Quetta. While the Pentagon is sure enough of their presence there to mull drone attacks on them, Pakistan has officially denied any Taliban presence in the province. However, a top security official in Quetta admits that the Afghan Taliban leaders are relaxing there. “They are in the opposition these days in their country, so they are here. If Karzai could live in Quetta for ten years, what’s wrong with it? They are not a threat to us until and unless we disturb them. American drone attacks will only provoke them,” he warns.

    Malik Siraj Akbar is the bureau chief of the English national newspaper Daily Times and is intimately familiar with Balochistan and its people. He says that Islamabad has always focused on curbing Baloch nationalism and the separatist movement in the province and has ignored the influx of Taliban. “For Islamabad, a Baloch is a trouble maker and a Talib is a friend. They have always been protecting the Taliban and Afghan refugees in order to create a demographic imbalance.”
    ‘If I wear my traditional Baloch clothes in Quetta city, I am sure to be strip-searched,’ says a student

    However, let alone the Baloch, local Hazaras and even Pashtuns are perturbed by the strong presence of the Taliban. Hazaras are mainly Shiites and came to Quetta because they were persecuted in Afghanistan. Now, regular targeted killings of Hazaras in the city have intimidated them.

    One Hazara who is working with an NGO in the city says, “We can easily be identified as Hazaras by our appearance. Sunni extremists kill us because we are Shias. Every morning, I set out for work, not knowing if I will return home in the evening.”

    Slain Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti’s son Talal Bugti, who heads his father’s Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), says, “The Taliban are outlaws and dacoits. I am in favour of drone attacks on them but they have been given protection by the army’s Corps Commander, Quetta.” Contrary to his nephew, the guerrilla fighter Brahamdagh, Talal Bugti and his party are agitating for more autonomy within Pakistan and a higher rent for the Bugti land under which the massive Sui gas fields lie. He however, believes that the Baloch issue will not be solved under the current dispensation. “Their bosses and godfathers in the intelligence agencies have not given them the authority. It is beyond their power to talk about our interests,” says Talal.
    ‘How can we give away such a large province with so many natural resources?’ asks a Pakistani senator

    MUKHTAR CHALGIRI is regional director of the Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO), a leading Pakistani NGO. “No one is as frightened by these target killings as we are, because they are targeting the educated, enlightened and progressive voices of Quetta. Some people don’t want progressive thought in Balochistan. So far, 35 intellectuals have been killed in Quetta city.”

    Chalgiri says security forces and intelligence agencies have strong economic and political interests in Balochistan. And they still believe they can manage the situation. “The ISI and MI are overconfident. They say that they broke the USSR and played well in Afghanistan,” he says.

    Even after a year and a half of democracy in Pakistan, Balochistan is still waiting for President Zardari’s promises to be fulfilled. The Balochs still feel that they are governed by the army and treated as second-class citizens. Their hatred for the centre and the big brother Punjab is growing. The divide between the various “nationalist” parties is being bridged by their radicalization. The calls for an independent Balochistan are getting louder, not only from feudal sardars but from the educated middle and lower middle class. But in Islamabad nobody seems to hear them as Pakistan is pre-occupied with its war in Waziristan.
  3. Flint

    Flint Senior Member Senior Member

    Mar 10, 2009
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    Pakistan's Taliban dilemma

    Despite being relatively few in number, the Afghan Taliban are thriving in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as they take advantage of Islamabad's apparent ambivalence towards them, the BBC's Hugh Sykes reports from Kabu

    Despite their fierce reputation, Afghans are mostly gentle, thoughtful people - deeply courteous, with warm humanity that radiates from luminous eyes.

    They are also tolerant and very patient.

    There was clear evidence of barefaced election fraud, implicitly insulting people who went out to vote believing that their ballots would count. But there has been peace on the streets.

    One man said to me this week: "This is all so crazy I've just stopped thinking - and most of my friends are now simply depressed."

    And Afghanistan struggles on.

    Despite eight years of international assistance, many places in Kabul are a mess.

    Simple demands

    Major road intersections are pitted with pools of filthy water as wide as streams, and nearly all the deep concrete gutters by the roadside, that I have seen, are stagnant with waste water and rubbish.

    And all along these unhygienic streets, food vendors sell their wares from rickety wooden carts. Bananas on many carts, grapes and pomegranates on others.

    Almost everyone I have spoken to here on three visits in less than a year has said their demands are very simple: employment, an end to the corruption that's endemic in the Afghan system, and - security.

    Security should be simple, one man pointed out: "The Taliban are a small force compared to the British and American armies…you could beat them if you really want."

    There is a suspicion here that the entire Western presence is Afghanistan is deeply cynical, misguided, and fundamentally confused.

    The Afghan Taliban leadership and sources of supply are not even in Afghanistan, they are in Pakistan - in Quetta, a city just across the mountains from Kandahar where so many British and American troops have died.

    The charge of cynicism arises because the Americans and the British support the Pakistan government - and the Pakistan government at the same time provides sanctuary in Quetta for the Afghan Taliban who are killing US and British troops.

    It is like fighting off the enemy at the front door of your home, but leaving the back door unlocked.

    Or - imagine the Chicago Police in the 1920s fighting Al Capone, but turning a blind eye to the gun shops where he buys his weapons and ammunition, and even paying protection money to the owners of those shops.

    Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan's Centre for Research and Policy Studies, told me he cannot understand why this surreal situation is tolerated.

    "Pakistan gets away with impunity. And instead of being punished, they are rewarded with US aid."

    "Why is American public opinion silent about this?"

    What the American public have been hearing on their TV networks has been Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declaring that the United States stands "shoulder to shoulder" with Pakistan.

    They have not heard her complaining that Pakistan provides safe haven for the Afghan Taliban who are killing American and British troops.

    This double-dealing has to stop, in the opinion of the independent Afghan MP - Dawood Sultanzoy.

    He told me that Pakistan should realise that they are creating a "boomerang effect".

    "The Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban are twins," he said, "and America must now get Pakistan to decide if they are an ally or an enemy."

    Supply lines

    At the moment, Pakistan is both ally and enemy to the USA - ally in the fight against the Pakistani Taliban, but enemy so long as they continue to protect the Afghan Taliban.

    Quetta is the crucial element. An entire suburb of that Pakistani city is effectively occupied by the Afghan Taliban and their "Shura" ruling council - including their leader Mullah Omar.

    The Afghan Taliban get many of their basic supplies in Quetta - their motorbikes, for example, and their mobile phone SIM cards.

    And their supply lines cross the mountains into Afghanistan to the north.

    Afghanistan is caught in the middle. Nothing will really change here until this has been resolved.

    Pakistan could deny the Afghan Taliban their safe haven in Quetta just across the border from where British and American troops and Afghan civilians are being killed.

    The question here in Afghanistan is - why don't they?

    One answer is that Pakistan has to hedge its bets. As more and more British and American troops die, pressure from the public in Britain and America to withdraw their forces could become irresistible.

    The future of the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, already stained by election fraud, would then be uncertain. And the chance of the Taliban returning to power here would sharply increase.

    They are already waiting in the wings.

    On Friday, Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) troops from Poland went to a village in Ghazni province south of Kabul. They distributed blankets, and some radios, and they left.

    Twenty minutes later, a dozen Taliban arrived on motorcycles and seized the blankets; they set fire to some of them, and took the rest away for themselves.

    The Afghan Taliban are well-organised, well-resourced, patient - and they have good sources of intelligence. They should not be under-estimated.

    Pakistan needs smooth relations with whoever is in power in Kabul.

    Islamabad was one of the very few capitals where the previous Afghan Taliban regime had an embassy. Only two other countries recognised the Taliban government - Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

    And after 11 September 2001, the only nation that continued to recognise the Taliban government in Kabul was...Pakistan.
  4. Flint

    Flint Senior Member Senior Member

    Mar 10, 2009
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    Such a remarkable situation: The headquarters of Afghan Taliban and Baluchistan Separatists, both exist in the same city.
  5. Flint

    Flint Senior Member Senior Member

    Mar 10, 2009
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    On top of all this, the city of Quetta houses a large cantonment of the Pakistan Army. Strange.
  6. Daredevil

    Daredevil On Vacation! Administrator

    Apr 5, 2009
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    While Pakistani Army acts only against Balochis and denies the presence of Quetta Shura (Afghan Taliban or Good Taliban of PA). I think Balochis are biding their time for an opportune moment to secede from Pakistan with help of foreign powers. If Pakistan continues its present down spiral both politically and economically then that time is not too long for it to happen.
  7. sob

    sob Moderator Moderator

    May 4, 2009
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    New Delhi
    It was indeed so sad to read about the present city of Quetta.

    My Grandparents used to live in Quetta, and my father also did his primary schooling there. I have grwon up hearing tales about the beauty of the city, the nearby hills. The Afgan influence at that time used to be the fresh fruits from Afganistan which were much in demand.

    I still have cousins in Pakistan, though they do not live in Quetta, but in their own village, in Punjab province. They plan to be in India next month, will get first hand updates.
  8. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

    Feb 23, 2009
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    Quetta has a majority Pathan population.
  9. thakur_ritesh

    thakur_ritesh Administrator Administrator

    Feb 19, 2009
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    Land of the GODS - "Dev Bhomi".
    and that is precisely what is worrisome.

    with the us pushing the pak military to include quetta and other parts of balochistan in clean up drive off the taliban from pakistan, it is suspected the only people going to face the wrath of the pak army are going to the local baluchis.

    we have seen how villages after villages have been razed to ground by the pak army with no concern for the human rights and values, they will not find a better time to completely do away with the separatist baluchis in disguise of taking action against the taliban. both political activists and people who have taken to arms will be done away with.

    world might feel it is the taliban being targeted but when the same taliban is being protected by the army’s corps command, quetta and is seen as good then there is no way they will target them.

    atrocities of pak army will continue, unhindered and perhaps with the backing of the international community, all in the name of taliban.
  10. Energon

    Energon DFI stars Stars and Ambassadors

    Jun 3, 2009
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    This is the core of the Pakistani claim (most vociferously presented by Musharraf) that the Afghan Taliban and AQ leadership is not in Pakistan, and they are certainly not running the Quetta Shura (28:20).

    On the flip side multiple sources (NATO, US, Afghan*) make a claim to the contrary. For the US, Quetta is virtually impenetrable operational zone. Due to the long standing internal conflict with the Baluchis, the Pakistani establishment has a very strong hold over the city (which has also served as one of the launching ground for the suppressive military campaigns). The CIA has relatively very little freedom and is primarily limited to joint operations alongside the ISI. On account of a large military installation, the highly volatile state of the non- Pashtnun inhabitants and unreliable intelligence sources, drone strikes are simply not an option. The consequence of a missile strike based on planted evidence targeting the wrong party would be catastrophic.

    *It must be noted that Musharraf has proclaimed the Afghani establishment to be an extension of RAW, and responsible for misleading the world vis a vis this information at the behest of their masters. He also claims to have provided "documentary evidence to everyone." He doesn't however explain why other intelligence sources make the similar claim (30:25).
  11. Flint

    Flint Senior Member Senior Member

    Mar 10, 2009
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    First they denied that it exists, now they claim that they have destroyed it!
    Quetta shura no longer poses threat: Ahmad Mukhtar
    Friday, 11 Dec, 2009 | 12:41 PM PST |

    QUETTA: The government has admitted the existence of the Afghan Taliban's Quetta shura for the first time, and says it has taken them on.

    In an exclusive interview with DawnNews, Defence Minister, Ahmad Mukhtar said security forces have taken on the Quetta shura and have damaged it to such an extent that it no longer poses any threat.

    A recent report by General Stanley McChrystal, the top US Commander in Afghanistan, alleged that the top Taliban leadership was in Quetta and that they were master-minding attacks on international forces in Afghanistan.

    However, until this admission by the Defence Minister — the government has so far denied the existence of any Taliban leadership or the Quetta shura — in Balochistan's capital. — DawnNews

    DAWN.COM | Pakistan | Quetta shura no longer poses threat: Ahmad Mukhtar

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