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Balochistan: A Case of Forgotten Promises

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In Pakistan, political instability and socio-economic factors coupled with uneven resource distribution and weak governance have played their role to fester terrorism and crime in marginalized parts like FATA, Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and Balochistan.

Though menace of Taliban insurgency has been at the top of internal threat matrix and gained premium attention in main stream media; the nationalist insurgency in Balochistan has long been concealed deliberately by the state from public exposure. The geostrategically located resource rich troubled province of Balochistan makes 44% of the Pakistan by landmass, bordering all the three provinces and sharing boundaries with Afghanistan and Iran. The ethnic Baloch population has long felt disenfranchised due to indifferent attitude of federal government as well as brutal british-era Sardari system leaving the region one of the most impoverished in the world. Since independence in 1947, some headstrong Baloch leaders were at odds with the state of Pakistan who viewed federation as a threat to their centuries old unique cultural identity, autonomy and free rule.

Historical studies reveal that in post-independence Pakistan, Qalat the then princely state ruled by Mir Ahmed Yar Khan initially insisted to remain independent but later it was annexed to Pakistan. In March 1948 The Khan of Qalat in an agreement ceded his territory to Pakistan which he later confessed to have done under duress. The move was so unpopular among local Balochis that Prince Karim Khan, the brother of Khan of Qalat not only repudiated the accession but also launched first insurgency in Balochistan against the state. The defiant prince initiated subversive activities through guerilla warfare while taking refuge in neighboring Afghanistan, forcing federal government to send in Pakistan Army as a mean to subjugate the warring tribes. Later on, the armed insurrection of Nawab Nowroz Khan against one unit policy in 1958 marked the second insurgency in the province. The third insurgency led by legendry Sher Muhammad Bijarani Marri’s against establishment of Pakistan Army garrisons and naval establishments in 1963-1969 was more ferocious in scale and magnitude. The Marxist Marri aligned resistance forces with Bugti and Mengal tribes after establishing Parari movement which later gave birth to Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) to carry out unconventional subversive activities against security forces. Later in 1973, the political crisis of Balochistan resulting in dissolution of provincial government of Sardar Attaullah Mengal and imprisonment of NAP leadership by egoistic Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto led towards much bigger insurgency which lasted for four years. Subsequently again army was called in to quell the rebellion in the mountains supported by thousands of guerilla fighters. However the military operation forced Baloch leaders to take refuge in Afghanistan. Meanwhile the government in Islamabad did not budge to overcome the deep sense of deprivation and alienation in Baloch population fuelled by decades of marginalization, denial of due share in resources, repressive policies and indifference to local cultural sensitivities. In addition, powerful Sardars who remained loyal to federation took millions in royalties but denied development and even basic amenities in their area of influence and in the end when central government would deny them increase in their shares they would blame Islamabad of all the ill poor were facing.

Such is the gory situation of the province that most of the less than 8 million of population has no access to clean drinking water, education and health facilities and the region remains one of the world most under developed. Then came the fifth phase of insurgency in early 2000s as incidents like Dr. Shazia rape case, establishment of military cantonments and continued feud over Sui gas royalty with central government infuriated belligerent Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti who eventually declared war on the state leading to his demise in a controversial military operation ordered by then military ruler General Musharraf. Bugti was widely respected for his nationalist ideas in Balochistan hence his killing proved to be final breaking point ruining any chance of reconciliation between the government and nationalists. Over the next decade militant groups mushroomed in rugged terrain of Kohlu, Dera Bugti, to Awaran, Panjgur and Gawadar engaging security forces in a low level but complex insurgency. Today, prominent among these separatist groups are Bloch Liberation Army of Hyrbyar Marri, Baloch Republican Army of Brahamdagh Bugti, Baloch Liberation Front of Dr. Allah Nazar and Lashkar-e-Balochistan of Javed Mengal fighting for varied objectives such as from provincial autonomy to absolute independence from Pakistan.

These outfits rely on terrorist activities such as ambushes, bomb blasts and IED attacks on gas piplines, power pylons, railway tracks, security and civilian infrastructure, assassination of prominent pro-state figures and Punjabi settlers. Since 2006, scores of civilians have been killed in this conflict but myriad of Balochistan problems still remain unresolved. Today dynamics of insurgency are not that simple as the arms raised against the state of Pakistan for greater autonomy, royalty of resources, share in province’s development and opposing demographic changes by constant non-baloch exodus in the province are now focusing on outright independence from Pakistan. In due course, Pakistani spy agencies blame that these centrifugal forces have aligned with India and other European and regional countries to harm Pakistani interests in its own backyard. Moreover, In last years a number of factors like paramilitary Frontier Corps vigilance, improved management at Pak-Afghan border, less venomous government in Kabul, departure of US and NATO forces and subsequent decline of Indian footprint in south east Afghanistan has improved over all security in the province. The insurgency has lost legitimacy and local support is fast waning for armed struggle and cessation from state.

It is high time for Islamabad government to shun decade old iron hand approach towards non-violent disgruntled Baloch leadership and build confidence among local by adopting serious measures to rectify the past. Military solution alone is no remedy for composite socio-economic problems that stem from decades of alienation, deprivation and miss-representation. Dialogue should be initiated with all dissident political forces who raise issues of provincial autonomy, share in development and resources, missing persons and electoral rigging which they allege is “Selection” rather than election. Provincial government should be allowed to freely implement mega projects like Reko Diq and operation of Gawadar port this will enhance Sense of ownership among people.

Although geo-strategic necessities and security linked apprehensions of federal government are genuine as the region is destined to become economic hub due to proposed $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Hence role of security establishment to protect vital interests in the province against multifaceted internal and external threats cannot be denied. Likewise, the armed groups vying for independence and unwilling to join political process must be coerced militarily to break their strength and given incentives to reconcile as the provincial minister Changaiz Marri has successfully pursued influential commanders of BLA, BRA, United Baloch Army, Lashkar-e-Balochistan and Balochistan National Movement to surrender to the state for amnesty and financial support. The journey of peace and tranquility in Balochistan is long and tortuous but this is the time every one should adjust compass and move on.

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South Asia

The “Neo-Cold War” in the Indian Ocean Region

Kagusthan Ariaratnam

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Addressing an event last week at London’s Oxford University, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing “imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka. Whereas the Hambantota Port (in southern Sri Lanka) is a commercial joint venture between our Ports Authority and China Merchants – a company listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.”

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has denied US’ claims that China might build a “forward military base” at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port which has been leased out to Beijing by Colombo. Sri Lanka failed to pay a Chinese loan of $1.4 billion and had to lease the China-developed port to Beijing for 99 years. Both New Delhi and Washington had in the past expressed concerns that Beijing could use the harbor for military purposes.

Image courtesy of Google

The USA, China, and India are the major powers playing their key role in the “Neo-Cold War” in Central Asian landmass and the strategic sea lanes of the world in the Indian Ocean where 90% of the world trade is being transported everyday including oil. It is this extension of the shadowy Cold War race that can be viewed as the reason for the recent comment made by the US Vice President Mike Pence that China is using “debt diplomacy” to expand its global footprint and Hambantota “may soon become a forward military base for China’s expanding navy”.

According to some analysts, the deep-water port, which is near a main shipping route between Asia and Europe, is likely to play a major role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

In his book “Monsoon” Robert D. Kaplan (2010), a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security notes the following:

[…] the Indian Ocean will turn into the heart of a new geopolitical map, shifting from a unilateral world power to multilateral power cooperation. This transition is caused by the changing economic and military conditions of the USA, China and India. The Indian Ocean will play a big role in the 21st century’s confrontation for geopolitical power. The greater Indian Ocean region covers an arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Its western reaches include Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan — constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug trafficking […]

Two third of the global maritime trade passes through a handful of relatively narrow shipping lanes, among which five geographic “chokepoints” or narrow channels that are gateway to and from Indian ocean: (1) Strait of Hormuz (2) Bab el-Mandab Passage (3) Palk Strait (4) Malacca and Singapore Straits and (5) Sunda Strait.

While Lutz Kleveman (2003), argues that the Central Asia is increasingly becoming the most important geostrategic region for the future commodities, Michael Richardson (2004) on the other hand explains that the global economy depends on the free flow of shipping through the strategic international straits, waterways, and canals in the Indian Ocean.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)  report published in 2017, “world chokepoints for maritime transit of oil are a critical part of global energy security. About 63% of the world’s oil production moves on maritime routes. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are the world’s most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit” (p.1). These channels are critically important to the world trade because so much of it passes through them. For instance, half of the world’s oil production is moved by tankers through these maritime routes. The blockage of a chokepoint, even for a day, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and thus these chokepoints are critical part of global energy security.  Hence, whoever control these chockpoints, waterways, and sea routes in the Indian Ocean maritime domain will reshape the region as an emerging global power.

In a recent analysis of globalization and its impact on Central Asia and Indian Ocean region, researcher Daniel Alphonsus (2015), notes that the twists and turns of political, economic and military turbulence were significant to all great players’ grand strategies:

(1) the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), China’s anticipated strategy to increase connectivity and trade between Eurasian nations, a part of which is the future Maritime Silk Road (MSR), aimed at furthering collaboration between south east Asia, Oceania and East Africa; (2) Project Mausam, India’s struggle to reconnect with its ancient trading partners along the Indian Ocean, broadly viewed as its answer to the MSR; and (3) the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor, the USA’s effort to better connect south and south east Asian nations. (p.3)

India the superpower of the subcontinent, has long feared China’s role in building outposts around its periphery. In a recent essay, an Indian commentator Brahma Chellaney wrote that the fusion of China’s economic and military interests “risk turning Sri Lanka into India’s Cuba” – a reference to how the Soviet Union courted Fidel Castro’s Cuba right on the United States’ doorstep. Located at the Indian Ocean’s crossroads gives Sri Lanka the strategic and economic weight in both MSR and Project Mausam plans. MSR highlights Sri Lanka’s position on the east-west sea route, while Project Mausam’s aim to create an “Indian Ocean World” places Sri Lanka at the center of the twenty-first century’s defining economic, strategic and institutional frameworks. Furthermore, alongside the MSR, China is building an energy pipeline through Pakistan to secure Arabian petroleum, which is a measure intended to bypass the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca altogether.

A recent study done by a panel of experts and reported by the New York Times reveal that how the power has increasingly shifted towards China from the traditional US led world order in the past five years among small nation states in the region. The critical role played by the strategic sea ports China has been building in the rims of Indian Ocean including Port of Gwadar in Pakistan, Port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh clearly validates the argument that how these small states are being used as proxies in this power projection.

This ongoing political, economic and military rivalry between these global powers who are seeking sphere of influence in one of the world’s most important geostrategic regions is the beginning of a “Neo-Cold War” that Joseph Troupe refers as the post-Soviet era geopolitical conflict resulting from the multipolar New world order.

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South Asia

IMF bail-out Package and Pakistan

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Pakistan may approach IMF to bail-out the current economic crisis. It is not the first time that Pakistan will knock the doors of IMF. Since 1965, Pakistan has been to IMF 17 times. Almost all of the governments has availed IMF packages. Usually, IMF is a temporary relief and provide oxygen for short time so that the patient may recover and try to be self-sustained. The major role of IMF is to improve the governance or reforms, how the ill-economy of a country may recover quickly and become self-sustained. After having oxygen cylinder for 17 times within 5 decades, Pakistan’s economy could not recover to a stage, where we can be self-sustained and no more looking for IMF again and again. This is a question asked by the common man in Pakistan to their leadership.  People are worried that for how long do we have to run after IMF package? The nation has enjoyed 70 decades of independence and expects to be mature enough to survive under all circumstances without depending on a ventilator.

The immediate impact of decision to approach IMF, is the devaluation of Pakistani Rupees. By depreciating only one rupee to US dollar, our foreign debt increases 95 billion rupees.  Today we witness a depreciation of rupee by 15 approximately (fluctuating), means the increase in foreign debt by 1425 billion rupees. Yet, we have not negotiated with IMF regarding depreciation of Rupees. Usually IMF demand major depreciation but all government understands the implications of sharp devaluation, always try to bargain with IMF to the best of their capacity. I am sure, Government of Pakistan will also negotiate and get the best bargain.

IMF always imposes conditions to generate more revenue and the easiest way to create more income is imposing tax on major commodities including Gas, Electricity and Fuel. Pakistan has already increased the prices of Gas, Electricity and Fuel. It has had direct impact on basic necessities and commodities of life. We can witness a price hike of basic food, consumer items and so on. Except salaries, everything has gone up. While negotiating with IMF formally, we do not know how much tax will be increased and how much burden will be put on the common man.

We believe, our rulers know our capacity and will keep in mind the life of a common man and may not exceed the limit of burden to common man beyond its capacity. We are optimistic that all decisions will be taken in the best interest of the nation.

It is true, that Pakistan has been to IMF so many times, so this might be a justification for the PTI Government to avail IMF package. But, there are people with different approach. They have voted for change and for “Naya” (new) Pakistan. They do not expect from PTI to behave like previous several governments. If PTI uses the logic of previous governments, may not satisfy many people in Pakistan.

Especially, when Pakistan was in a position to take-off economically, we surrendered half way, may not be accepted by many people in Pakistan.

The government has explained that other options like economic assistance from friendly countries was also very expensive, so that they have preferred IMF as more competitive package. I wish, Government may educate public on the comparison of available options, their terms and conditions, their interest rate, their political conditions, etc. There might be something confidential, Government may avoid or hide, one may not mind and understand the sensitivity of some of the issues. But all permissible information on the terms and conditions of all options in comparison, may be placed on Ministry of Finance’s website or any other mode of dissemination of knowledge to its public.

Against the tradition, people of Pakistan have voted Imran Khan, who so ever was given ticket of PTI, public has voted him or her blindly in trust to Imran Khan. A few of his candidates might not be having very high capabilities or very good reputation, but, public has trusted Imran Khan blindly. Imran Khan is the third most popular leader in Pakistan, after Jinnah the father of nation, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the Former Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1970s.

People of Pakistan have blindly trusted in Imran Khan and possess very high expectations from him. I know, Imran Khan understands it very well. He is honest, brave and visionary leader and I believe he will not disappoint his voters.

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South Asia

Now India denies a friendly hand: Imran Khan debuts against arrogant neighbors

Sisir Devkota

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Imran Khan is facing the brunt for overly appeasing its arch rival-India. On September 22, Khan tweeted that he was disappointed over India’s arrogant reply to resume bilateral talks in the UNGA and that he had encountered many “small men” in big offices unable to perceive the larger picture.I am observing a south Asian order changing with Khan’s rise in Pakistani politics. We in Nepal need to grasp the possible reality before circumstances shall engulf our interests.

Observation 1

Narendra Modi was undoubtedly “The Prince”of South Asia from Niccolo Machiavelli’s 16th century classic political narrative. I sense the old prince acting in distress over the rise of a new one. Imran Khan’s invitation for a ministerial level meeting in New York; amidst the eyes of foreign diplomats could not have been a better approach by Pakistan in a long time. Instead, Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj dismissed the offer, blaming Pakistan’s double standard in killing Indian forces and releasing Burhan Wani’s (India’s terrorist and Pakistan’s martyr) postal stamps. Khan did not sanction the postal release, but as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, he must be held accountable for failing to stop the killings,just when talks were supposed to happen. He should have addressed the highly sensitive Indian government. But, I do empathize with Khan’s statement, “small men in big offices”; as he clearly outlined the exact problem. He directly called upon the Indian government to think bigger and escape circumstances to solve historical problems. Narendra Modi has developed a new rhetoric these days; that India is not going to keep quiet over Pakistan’s actions. It fits the nature of Machiavelli’s Prince as an authority which can maintain national virtue. Unfortunately, I do not buy Modi’s rhetoric. The Prince has come a bit late in his tenure to act for Indian virtues. I am sure many at the UNGA would have noticed India’s apprehension in the same manner. I suspect that the ex-prince is facing insecurities over the fear of losing his charisma. Nepal, in particular was charmed by his personality when he first visited our capital, with promises that flooded our heart. And then, we faced his double standard; right after the massive earthquake in 2015. Nobody in Nepal will sympathize with Swaraj’s justification of cancelling the meeting.

Observation 2

Let me explain the source of insecurity. Modi has thrived by endorsing his personality. A tea man who worked for the railways under great financial hardships, became the poster man of India. He generated hope and trust that his counterparts had lost over the years. His eloquent stage performance can fool the harshest of critics into sympathizing his cause. People have only realized later; many macro economists in India now argue that demonetization was, perhaps, one of the worst decisions for India’s sake. Narendra Modi is India sounds truer than Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of India.

Imran Khan, a former cricketer does not spring the same impression as Modi. Khan, a world champion in 1992, is known for his vision and leadership in Cricket. Comparatively, Khan does not need to sell his poster in South Asia. He does not cry over his speeches to garner mass euphoria. Ask anybody who’s into the sport and they will explain you the legend behind his name. I suspect that Modi has realized that he is going to lose the stardom in the face of Pakistan’s newly elected democratic leader. After all, the Indian PM cannot match Imran’s many achievements in both politics and cricket. I suspect that Modi has realized the fundamental difference in how his subjects inside India and beyond are going to perceive Imran’s personality. I expect more artificial discourses from India to tarnish Imran’s capabilities.

Nepal & Pakistan

You will not find Pakistan associated with Nepal so often than with India. Frankly, Nepal has never sympathized with Indian cause against Pakistan. We have developed a healthy and constructive foreign relations with the Islamic republic. However, there has always been a problem of one neighbor keeping eyes on our dealings with another. Indian interests have hindered proximity with past governments. Now, Imran Khan has facilitated the platform for deeper relations. He does not carry the baggage of his predecessors. He is a global icon, a cricket legend and a studious politician. He is not the result of mass hysteria. Imran Khan has pledged to improve Pakistan’s economy, reinstate foreign ties and boost regional trade. For me, he is South Asia’s new Machiavellian prince; one that can be at least trusted when he speaks.

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