Abdulmalek Rigi-- Al Jazeera's Dan Nolan reports.
By Ahmar Mustikhan
A key conference on the situation in Balochistan is taking place in Washington DC next week, --organized by the Brussels based Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) – to highlight the plight of Baloch people but its success largely depends on whether or not it will condemn the politics of Islamist violence. France-sized Balochistan, southwestern province of Pakistan where the omnipotent army has been calling the shots since the takeover of the territory in March 1948-- called Occupied Balochistan by Baloch freedom lovers--, has been the world capital of enforced disappearances for more than six years now. In addition, Pakistan army, the infamous Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence and Frontier Corps have been conducting crimes against humanity with impunity for the last more than ten years. These crimes include burning freedom fighters in coal tar, forced feeding of feces to Baloch youths, burning of entire villages, killing and abductions of women and children, cutting of genitals and sodomy. The discovery of mass graves in Khuzdar district was testimony of Pakistan war crimes, according to human rights groups. Pakistan has also been castigated by Amnesty International for its kill and dump policy. According to the UNPO, the conference is entitled ‘Land of Forsaken Voices: The Geo-politics of Justice, Impunity and Human Rights in Balochistan’. The event has been planned “to draw attention to the deteriorating human rights and security situation in Balochistan, as well as to the geopolitical complexities,” a UNPO announcement on its web site reads.
“Gross human rights violations, such as torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings are still the order of the day in Pakistan’s westernmost province, Balochistan,” the UNPO says on its web site. “Despite local human rights defenders’ struggle to address these systematic abuses, Islamabad uses intimidation tactics to silence anyone who dares bringing these heinous crimes to light.”
Without mentioning the Obama administration by name, the UNPO said, “Meanwhile, Pakistan’s partners in the West pay mere lip service to changing the horrendous status quo. Their half-hearted approach oscillates between public allegiance to international human rights norms and realpolitik based on considerations of power and economic interests.”
The UNPO is right about the US collusion. In fact, a recent report by Greg Miller in the Washington Post said the ISI tried to poison CIA chief in Pakistan Mark Kelton after the bin Laden raid fivers ago. “Mark Kelton retired from the CIA, and his health has recovered after he had abdominal surgery. But agency officials continue to think that it is plausible — if not provable — that Kelton’s sudden illness was somehow orchestrated by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as the ISI,” the Washington Post investigative report reads. However, CIA continued business as usual with Pakistan and the agency's chief John Brennan met with the ISI chief Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar in February. Brennan had also met Akhtar’s predecessor Lt Gen Zaheer ul Islam as part of the traditional US exchange of Intel with the deadly Pakistani spooks. These invites to the ISI chiefs violates the Leahy Law which states “No assistance shall be furnished … to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” The ISI is a unit of Pakistan army, the world’s largest Muslim army, armed with nuclear weapons.
The UNPO president is Nasser Bolladai who hails from Western Balochistan, or the province of Seistan o Balochistan in Iran. Saudis have reportedly pumped in millions of dollars to engender and encourage Islamist militants, with Islamabad’s support. More than ten years ago during the Bush administration the Saudi support saw the meteoric rise of the Jondullah, or “Army of Allah” which was declared a terrorist outfit by the Obama administration. The terror outfit’s founder Abdolmalek Rigi had massacred countless civilians in terror attacks in Seistan o Balochistan, while operating from his base in Pakistan. Rigi invited disgust of Baloch secular and progressive forces as he was seen on a video chanting Allahu Akbar and slaughtering his own brother-in-law on suspicion he was a snitch. Baloch intellectual and poet from Western Balochistan, Dr Malek Towghi had been highly critical of the Saudi and neo-conservative backing of Baloch Islamists in Iran and also Boladai.
After the State Department banned the Jondullah organization it adopted a new name Jaishul Adal “Army of Justice.” The terror outfit is still believed to be working closely with the Pakistani intelligence services. According to India media reports Jaishul Adal was involved in kidnapping of alleged Indian spy Kulbushan Yadav.
India’s premier newspaper India Today reported, “India's intelligence agencies suspect that a group named Jaishul Adil is responsible for the kidnapping of Indian businessman Kulbhushan Yadav from the Iran-Pakistan border. Jaishul Adil is an extremist Sunni radical group, which is headed by Salahuddin Farooqui. This Salafist-jihadist group owes its allegiance to the Al Qaeda and is reported to have around 500 fighters. Jaishul Adil has in the past killed Shia pilgrims from Iran and has been accused of targeting Iranian border guards along the country's border with Pakistan's Balochistan province.”Pakistan tried to use Yadav’s alleged arrest to tarnish India’s image by charging it was fomenting unrest in Balochistan. Islamabad claims Yadav is a serving naval officer, a charge denied by New Delhi.However, the India Today report pointed out the glaring inconsistencies in Pakistan version of the Yadav arrest. At first home minister Sarfaraz Bugti said Yadav was arrested from Chaman. Later on army spokesman Lt Gen Asim Bajwa said Yadav was arrested from Sarawan.
At least two scholars and book authors Tarek Fatah, from Toronto, and Prof Christine Fair, from Washington DC—staunch critics of Islamic extremism and two of the most hated persons on the ISI’s global radar -- have confirmed, they will speak at the event. This has raised expectations the conference will put Jaishul Adal and other Islamist outfits on the mat so that the traditionally secular image of the Baloch liberation movement is not tarnished. While backing Jondullah and Jaishul Adal in Iran, Pakistan has spawned or strengthened a large number of religious death squads to crush the Baloch liberation movement. Islamabad had done the same in the erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, by creating Al Shams and Al Badr death squads
The UNPO press release is silent over the main demand of the Baloch people that they want a separate homeland for more than 25 million fiercely independence minded people who adhere to the honor code of chivalry and a famous adage, which says a person of character dies for his honor while a weakling sells out. The press release also does not mention the Chinese takeover of Gwadar, which has resulted in heightening of the military operation in Balochistan. A large number of close relatives of Baloch guerriilla leader Dr Allah Nazar, who was spearheading the resistance against the Chinese project at the key Gwadar port and the so-called China Pakistan Economic Corridor were killed and their bodies tied behind trucks and dragged through towns to create scare. Rank and file leaders of the lower and middle class Baloch National Movement (BNM) -- a secular organization opposed to the Islamists-- have almost been completely wiped out. The party's secretary general Dr Mannan Baloch and his four comrades were killed executions style, but the Pakistan media published stories they were killed in an encounter.
The UNPO Press statement reads, “However, even if the systematic abuse of power by Pakistan’s security forces against the Baloch people were to stop immediately, this would still leave unaddressed the question of justice – the gigantic task of addressing the legacy of decades of widespread human rights abuses in order to facilitate a peaceful transition to a democratic society, where fundamental rights are fostered and protected.”
The UNPO said the conference will provide a survey of the non-adherence to human rights norms in Balochistan, offering insights into the geopolitical factors under lying this ongoing tragedy and discussing ways forward, i.e. the question of how justice and reconciliation can contribute to sustainable peace, stability and development in Balochistan. The event will will be also open to the press.
Confirmed speakers include T. Kumar International Advocacy Director.of Amnesty International USA; Bob Dietz Asia Program Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists; Kathryn Cameron Porter, who heads the Leadership Council for Human Rights, Senior Advisor for Iran, Iraq and Syria to Senator Mark Kirk; Washington DC Senator Paul Strauss; former Balochistan assembly speaker Waheed Baloch; journalist Michael Hughes and Malik Siraj Akbar, Communications Specialist at the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
One of the most controversial among UNPO speakers is Akbar who just a couple of days back attacked Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his webzine the Baloch Hal. “Modi is indeed a communal and divisive political figure who plays the Hindu religious card as objectionably as many Pakistanis do to justify their oppression of the Baloch.” The young communications specialist also attacked India’s human rights abuses in Kashmir – a charge mostly levelled by Islamabad against the world’s largest democracy. In the past Akbar had also called this writer “divisive” after he had heckled prime minister Nawaz Sharif by raising free Balochistan slogans. Tarek Fatah, who is a news celebrity in India was extremely anguished by Akbar’s attack.
The main leader of the UNPO from Pakistan-occupied Balochistan, Dubai based young multimillionaire Noordin Mengal, is unable to attend. Mengal needs US visa though he is a UK national. Mengal was arrested, handcuffed and deported when he had come to the US a few years ago and his US visa exemption was revoked. Pakistan accuses Mengal of leading the militant Lashkar-i-Balochistan, a charge he vehemently denies.
The conference will take place at the Carnegie Endowment Conference Center, Washington DC, on Tuesday 10 May 2016 from 9am to 1pm. The address is 1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036. The nearest metro station is Dupont Circle on the red line.
This will be the second major Balochistan conference in Washington DC in six and half years. In November 2009, the American Friends of Balochistan organized the first day-long conference in the nation's capital with support of now estranged Marri brothers, Hyrbyair Marri and Mehran Marri.
To register for the UNPO event please fill in this form.