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Turning Balochistan Into a Cemetery

This is not the first time that a military operation has been carried out by the Frontier Corps (FC), a paramilitary force, in southern Balochistan’s Mashky, Awaran District. The FC launched another operation just two months ago. Unlike the current offensive, this earlier, mid-October operation was denounced from the floor of the provincial assembly by the Balochistan Minister for Agriculture, Asad Baloch. He said that the operation had been carried out without the Government of Balochistan’s consent. Their silence this time around is telling, and has caused many to speculate that they did issue their consent when the FC launched the operation on December 25th.

Whether the operation is consensual, however, might not matter. Consensual operations are not really required in Balochistan. The governor, the chief minister, the now ousted speaker, and a gaggle of ministers, are on record claiming that the Frontier Corps (FC) runs a parallel government, which I have written about, here. The FC does whatever it wants, whenever it wants. Political necessity forces it to label its actions as consensual–and at times, like this one, it appears that they are given consent, at least of establishment politicians in the province’s assembly. The FC’s actions, however, indicate that they would carry out the operations irrespective of the stance of establishment politicians. The present provincial government, riven by greed and power struggles (all members of the provincial assembly sit in the cabinet), has never had any real say in the affairs of Balochistan. When the speaker was ousted, the voting members of the provincial assembly had to show their votes to the bureaucrats to prove they weren’t deviating from instructions.

“If you cannot catch the fish, you have to drain the sea”

Mao once said, “The guerilla must move amongst the people, as a fish swims in the sea.” He knew what he was talking about, and counter-insurgencies conducting operations against the state follow this basic principle. The guerillas of Balochistan, or the sarmachars, as the Baloch call them, are no different. Dr. Allah Nazar, whose village was attacked last week, bases his tactics on the same principle.

That is, perhaps, why the Pakistani state uses the same tactic as the Guatemalan government used, when they were fighting leftist guerilla groups supported by indigenous Mayans and poor peasants from the 1960s onwards. In 1982, Guatemalan President Efrain Rios Montt said, “The guerrilla is the fish. The people are the sea. If you cannot catch the fish, you have to drain the sea.” Montt was indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity in January 2012.

The present Mashky operation, like other operations carried out by the state in Balochistan, serve the same purpose: to eliminate not only the guerillas, but the base that they thrive on.

The FC wants to destroy the social, economic and political base of the Baloch resistence. The FC wants to terrorize the people and drain the sea in which the sarmachar swims. This is an old army tactic, and it is not the first time that it is being applied. In September 1975, the army carried out a massive operation in Balochistan’s Marri areas. The operation was targeted, not only against guerilla fighters, but also against their families. The goal was to neutralize the Baloch resistance. The operation deprived people of their lives, livestock, wheat and even beasts of burden.

In his book on Baloch nationalism, political analyst, Selig S. Harrison observes that, in an attempt to destroy the Baloch economy, at least 500 camels, and 50,000 sheep and goats were taken and sold to traders in Punjab. The stored wheat was torched and water skins were slashed because these could all be used by the guerrillas. This was carried out during the 1973-1977 military operations in Balochistan, following the illegal dismissal of Ataullah Mengal’s government in February 1973.

Guerrillas live in the mountains, not in townships and villages. That means that the actual targets and victims of the current operation are the people of Mashky. The continued blockade of the area has resulted in shortages of food, medicine, and other essential items. Yet, even the physical hardships may not be the most debilitating aspect of these operations. The atmosphere of terror in the affected population is far worse. Outsiders seem to overlook and disregard this aspect. The constant threat of unbridled force affects lives adversely, especially the lives of the very young and the very old. Children, who do not comprehend the reasons for this ruthlessness, bear the brunt of the attacks.

These operations, however, cannot be succesful in destroying the political or economic support of the sarmachars. The simple lives that the Baloch lead in these areas are soon re-established, albeit with a fiercer determination to oppose the state, which is directly responsible for their misery. As hard as the FC, the army, and their collaborators may try, this sea can never, ever be drained, and the fish will continue to live in it. As long as the fish survive, the Baloch can hope that the shackles binding them will break one day.

Pakistani Media’s Apathy

News about Mashky has hardly filtered out into the Pakistani media. Though the physical blockade put up by the army plays a role, the mainstream media’s absolute apathy is also to blame. The media seems oblivious to all that transpires in Balochistan, and this neglect and unofficial blackout increases the resentment of the Baloch against the state. Baloch websites, and those sympathetic to them, are under a blanket ban.

Thankfully, news in an age of social media has made it possible for people to get access to information. This information has also allowed people to develop a deeper understanding of the state’s role in Balochistan’s violence. Take the ruthless killing of Hazaras by the state’s ”strategic assets”, namely Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other anti-Shia Islamists. The horrendous attack against Shia pilgrims in Mastung on December 30th has left at least 19 dead and 25 wounded. This year has seen more than 800 Hazaras killed in such attacks. Many in Balochistan say that the state’s continued tolerance of anti-Shia groups play a key role in the violence against Hazaras.

The Pakistani state’s policies in Balochistan seem to be in line with the policies of another Guatemalan president, Carlos Arana Osorio who governed from 1970 to 1974 and declared a state of siege in his first year. An estimated 20,000 Guatemalans died during his rule, and it couldn’t have been otherwise for a vicious tyrant who proudly said, “If it is necessary to turn the country into a cemetery in order to pacify it, I will not hesitate to do so.” (Courtesy: Tanqeed)

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at mmatalpur@gmail.com


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