Friday, August 12, 2011

Get Out of Afghanistan. We've Seen This Movie Before

It's like a geo-political take on one of those slasher movies in a haunted house.  Danger lurks behind every door.

The haunted house is Pakistan.  Danger lurks everywhere - along its border with Afghanistan, in the disputed Kashmir region, along its border with China and in the Baloch territory in the south.

Not many of us Westerners like to watch more than one game at the same time.  It's not surprising then that we've become fixated on our war with the Pashtun home team, the Taliban, to the exclusion of all the other nationalist conflicts, insurgencies and uprisings in the neighbourhood.   One of these is the Baloch liberation movement that, until recently, had been simmering along in the most resource rich part of otherwise impoverished Pakistan.

Asia Times reports that the low-level insurgency in Balochistan has picked up and is turning into a civil war between the Baloch people and the Pakistan military sent to suppress them.

Balochistan has historically had a tense relationship with the central government, mainly due to the touchy issues of provincial autonomy, control of mineral resources and a consequent sense of deprivation.

A recently-released fact-finding report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that "The Pakistani security services are brazenly disappearing, torturing and often killing people because of suspected ties to Baloch nationalist movement". Another fact-finding report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) observed, "In the cases of enforced disappearance of the Baloch men which were brought before the commission, there were credible allegations of the involvement of the state security forces." 

For the past few years, the number of missing persons in Balochistan has increased alarmingly. Tortured and bullet-riddled bodies of Baloch nationalists are often found dumped randomly. The victims are usually shot in the temple once. Known locally as "mutilated bodies", the signs of torture are often hard to determine because many of the bodies have already begun to decompose when discovered.

According to HRW's report:

The inability of the Pakistani law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system to tackle the problem of disappearances is exacerbated by the continuing failure of the Pakistani authorities at the national and provincial level to exert political will to address the issue of disappearances in Balochistan. The authorities have failed so far to send a strong message to the security forces and intelligence agencies and to implement a set of concrete measures that would put an end to the practice of enforced disappearances.
This is exactly what the Baloch nationalists have been saying for years. No one is willing to take action against the security forces and the intelligence agencies for the abuses being carried out in the name of "national interest". 
...Almost prophetically, noted writer and scholar Abul Maali Syed, while writing on evolving scenarios for Pakistan almost 20 years ago, predicted in his book The Twin Era of Pakistan: Democracy and Dictatorship:
Who would have believed that Balochistan, once the least populated and poorest province of unified Pakistan, would become independent and the third richest oil-producing country after Saudi Arabia and Kuwait? ... Development in Balochistan was neglected and whenever a tribal chief spoke about the plight of their people, the Pakistan government shoved the barrel of a gun at him and silenced him. Today, having lost East Pakistan [now Bangladesh], Balochistan, Sindh and part of the Seraiki belt [in Punjab province], Pakistan is still entangled with Pashtun tribes on her northern border and is no more in a strong position to hold onto the Pashtun area much longer.
While this scenario is still far from realization, a cursory glance at the Balochistan of 2011 clearly shows that the situation in this strategically important largest province - by area, constituting approximately 44% of the total land mass of the country - of Pakistan is following an ominous path, with Baloch nationalist violence escalating into what is becoming a major insurgency. 

So, why should we get out of Afghanistan because of a nascent  civil war in Pakistan's southernmost province?   Because, as the locals have known for centuries, in this region unrest fuels further unrest in a weird type of symbiosis.  We can't win anything in Afghanistan without a stable Pakistan next door and that isn't going to happen when the country is wracked with its own tribal rivalries among Baloch, Sindh, Punjabis and Pashtun.   Some things are just too damned broken to fix.  South Asia is one of them.

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