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South Asia

Geopolitics magnify sustained political violence in Balochistan

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Twin attacks earlier this week on Pakistani security forces in the troubled province of Balochistan cast a light on a sustained and violent campaign against police and paramilitary units as well as Shiite and Christian minorities.

The attacks by groups, some of which have had links to Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence apparatus as well as Saudi Arabia, spotlight the Pakistani state’s inability to implement a coherent security policy that makes a clean break with the employ of militants as proxies.

They also raise questions about security in a part of Pakistan that is core to the development of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a China-funded, $50 billion plus infrastructure and energy programme that constitutes a crown jewel in the People’s Republic’s Belt and Road initiative and its single largest project.

Finally, the attacks in which Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an outlawed, supremacist, anti-Shiite Sunni Muslim group, figures prominently, raises the spectre of Pakistani militants playing a role in potential future attempts to destabilize Iran by stirring unrest among its ethnic minorities, including the Baloch in the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan that borders on Pakistani Balochistan.

Six policemen and paramilitary soldiers were killed and 15 others wounded in the attacks earlier this week in the Balochistan capital of Quetta executed by three suicide bombers.

Militants in Balochistan earlier this month killed six members of Pakistan’s tiny Christian minority community, four of them from the same family, and two people from its Shi’ite Muslim minority. In December two suicide bombers stormed a packed church, killing at least 10 people and wounding up to 56.

No one has claimed responsibility for this week’s attacks, the latest in a wave of assaults on security force targets since 2012 that have included tit-for-tat killings of scores of policemen and operatives of Lashkar-e- Jhangvi that in recent years has forged ties with the Islamic State as well as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban, groups that have been targeted by the Pakistani military.

Nevertheless, doubts remain about the severity of the crackdown on Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an offshoot of Sipah-e-Sahaba, an anti-Shiite group with a history of chequered Pakistani and Saudi backing that like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, has been banned, but continues to operate under different names.

In interviews, Sipah-e-Sabaha leaders said Pakistani military and intelligence had advised them in 2016 to tone down their inflammatory anti-Shiite language but maintain their basic policy.

The group’s leader, Ahmad Ludhyvani, a meticulously dressed Muslim scholar whose bank accounts have been blocked by Pakistani authorities, told reporters summoned two years ago to his headquarters in the city of Jhang that was protected by Pakistani security forces, that Sipah as well as Saudi Arabia opposed Shiite Muslim proselytization.

“Some things are natural. It’s like when two Pakistanis meet abroad or someone from Jhang meets another person from Jhang in Karachi. It’s natural to be closest to the people with whom we have similarities… We are the biggest anti-Shiite movement in Pakistan. We don’t see Saudi Arabia interfering in Pakistan,” Ludhyvani said at the time in an interview over a lunch of chicken, vegetables and rice.

Former Balochistan police chief and ex-head of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency Tariq Khosa blames the violence in Balochistan on the state’s use of religious militants as proxies in efforts to crush nationalist insurgents.

“The decision to use Shafiq as a proxy against certain Baloch separatist organisations allowed proscribed sectarian organisations to regroup in and around Quetta,” Mr. Khosa said, referring to Shafiq Mengal, a Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader.

Maulana Ramzan Mengal, an Islamic scholar, fellow tribesman of Shafiq’s and leader of Sipah-associated groups in Balochistan, has, according to sources close to the militants, been the funnel for large sums of Saudi money flowing into ultra-conservative madrassas in the province in the past two years.

Mr. Khosa said the government’s policy was abetted by divvying up responsibility for security in Balochistan between the police and the Balochistan Levies, a force recruited from local tribesmen in each district. The two forces as well as the military’s Frontier Corps (FC) maintain separate lines of command and have no mechanism to share intelligence.

Unlike the police, which is bound by Pakistani law, the Levies, moreover, operate according to tribal laws and practices that protect militants from arrest and/or prosecution.

The ambiguity of government policy and security arrangements in Balochistan complicates the task of a 15,000 men-strong Pakistani military force deployed to protect thousands of Chinese nationals working on energy and infrastructure projects in the province and elsewhere in the country.

Unidentified gunmen earlier this year shot and killed a Chinese shipping company executive in the violence-plagued financial hub of Karachi. A Chinese engineer working on an energy project in Rawalpindi vanished and is believed to have been kidnapped while a Chinese couple, both teachers, were last year abducted in Quetta and killed.

The Chinese embassy in Islamabad warned its nationals in December of the threat of imminent attacks on Chinese targets. The embassy advised “Chinese-invested organizations and Chinese citizens to increase security awareness, strengthen internal precautions, reduce trips outside as much as possible, and avoid crowded public spaces.”

While Pakistan has made progress in its so far selective crackdown on militancy, a restoration of the kind of security that will give confidence to foreign investors and squash creeping doubts in China is likely to depend on political reforms that put an end to the country’s perceived distinction between ‘good and bad terrorists.’

“Nobody will come and invest in this climate of fear,” quipped Muhammad Zafar Paracha, director at the Pakistani partner of MoneyGram International during a recent visit to the heavily fortified Baloch port city of Gwadar.

“Without courageous political reform, Pakistani leaders are incentivizing the internationalization of Balochistan and sowing the seeds for a dangerous harvest,” added Pakistan expert Emily Whalen.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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South Asia

India may attack Pakistan under false flag operations

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Prime Minister Imran Khan once again stressed that India is gearing up for false flag operation to divert the entire world’s attention from the genocide it is committing in its part of Jammu & Kashmir.

India is accustomed to attacking Pakistan on lame excuses to divert world attention to its crimes. Last year, in February, using the self-designed Pulwama incident, committed surgical strikes deep into Pakistan. Just after the hours of Pulwama incident, without conducting any inquiry or collecting evidence, the Indian Prime Minister blamed Pakistan and threatened with surgical strikes. Pulwama was pre-planned and used as a lame excuse only. A similar trick can be repeated by India again.

In fact, India is facing a massive economic crisis, internal insurgencies, mass-protests, ethnic divides, and religious discrimination. Poor agriculture declined Industrial output, and lack of economic activities, the country is facing enormous challenges.

Due to its poor records of Human rights and religious discrimination, the world reaction is intensified. Human rights watch’s reports, or the US commission on religious freedom’s story, or EU reports, all are condemning India. Islamophobia has distanced India from the Muslim world too. India is facing isolation internationally.

Having disputes with all its neighbors, India is under immense pressure. Indian territorial disputes with Nepal had taken a new turn, when Nepal issued a new Map, showing its whole territory, parts of Indian Occupied territories too. Amended Citizenship Act may impact two million Muslims and may face deportation to Bangladesh, and water disputes make two countries (India-Bangladesh) enemies. With Mayanmar, territorial disputes and refugee issues also made odd-relations between them. By supporting Tamil insurgents, India spoiled its relations with Sri Lanka.  Over-interference in domestic politics, its ties with the Maldives soared. The Illegal occupation of Jammu & Kashmir, Gurdaspur, Juna Ghar, is the real cause of tension between India and Pakistan. Denial of right of Self-Determination of Kashmiri people for seven decades and non-implementation of UN resolutions passed in 1948 on Kashmir are genuine concerns for Pakistan. Frequent violation of line of control and cross-border terrorism is a matter of serious attention. Indian occupation of Chinese territory and border clashes are getting severe recently. India hosts the Dalai Lama’s exiled government of Tibet, and openly opposing BRI is causing discomfort between two countries. The over-tilt toward the US and Indian attempts to compete and contain China may be a genuine issue of concern for Beijing.

The recent tension with Nepal and China may become a catalyst, and India makes another false flag operation against Pakistan. India is using spy-drones against Pakistan, one of such was shot down by Pakistan 650 meters inside Pakistani territory.

Indian frequent violations of Line of Control (LoC) and cross border terrorism, are the tools to incite Pakistan and force to a full-fledged war.

Pakistan is in the hands of visionary leadership, and the people of Pakistan are peace-loving in nature. Pakistan has been observing restrains and patience because we know the consequences of war, especially when both India and Pakistan are nuclear states and posses enough piles of weapons to eradicate each other. If India is crazy, we are not.

It is an appeal to the international community to intervene and force India to cool down its war-craze. UN and P5 may notice an aggressive Indian attitude toward all its neighbors, especially with Pakistan. Timely intervention may avert a big disaster. 

However, our love for peace may not be mistaken as a weakness. If war imposed, Pakistan is in a position to surprise India. We did surprise India last year on 27 February and can surprise in a much stronger way if a situation arose in the future.

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South Asia

Afghan Peace Process and Indian Involvement

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The Afghan peace process initiated in 2018, marred with episodic halts, finally witnesses an agreement between the US and Taliban on February 29, 2020, in Doha. Both signatories Taliban and the US agreed to some core conditions and compromises to be made. Afghanistan, a land known as the Graveyard of Empires has become a huge quagmire for the US forces and now even after 18 years of war they are still nowhere close to defeating the Taliban. Eventually Taliban had to be accommodated in the US strategy for Afghanistan. The Taliban are still stronger on the ground. There have been occasions even after the deal when Taliban were found to carry out attacks to show off their military strength and presence. This sends out a message to the US that a reduction in violence may not be confused with complete termination of attacks. Taliban being fully aware of their limitations as a disciplined troop, realize it would be hard for them to bring back their militia into the region if peace process doesn’t settle desirably. Geographically Afghanistan is at the crossroads of Central Asia and South Asia and is also bordered with Middle Eastern states. Such geographical presence makes everything happening in Afghanistan reach a dozen of adjacent countries with great intensity and magnitude. Recently concluded agreement in February this year has offered a world to witness a historic moment in which parties at dispute are finally making adjustments to end this protracted war. This agreement will have far reaching impact on many regional countries which will be compelled to respond according to their interests and likely benefits.

Most recent development in the Afghan Peace process is the induction of a “Power sharing Deal” between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. The power sharing deal is a political settlement wherein both Ghani and Abdullahare looking forward to sharing the burden together in a hope to pave a path to peace, improved governance, human rights, laws, values eventually moving towards successful materialization of Afghan Peace Process to have stable Afghanistan.US secretary of state Mike Pompeo also supported this political settlement to end the conflict. In the meantime, Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg applauded the deal between Ghani and Abdullah.

This however wasn’t an easy feat. US had to nudge the naysayer: India in this case;for its negative and its covert activities to derail the peace process. India finds a stable Afghanistan unfavorable to execute its illicit activities and propaganda. There would be less chances to exploit the soil of Afghanistan for its vested interests. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation had a meeting with India’s External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar in New Delhi and conveyed the firm message for India to shun its anti-peace role in Afghanistan. Chief Negotiator of Taliban, Abbas Stanikzai also criticized India stating “India has always played a negative role in Afghanistan. India supported traitors in the country.” Such Taliban sentiments are prevalent but rarely expressed. Afghan government/NDS and RAW has consistently opposed peace with the Taliban as both stands to gain from discrediting the Taliban. Therefore, depicting Taliban as violent and active propaganda showing them as unreliable to firmly handle the evolving situation, serves Indian interest. Coupled with all this, a delayed withdrawal of US troops and attacks still being carried out in Afghanistan fueled the violent situation to the relief of spoilers of peace that want to see the peace deal completely derailed.

India’s Afghanistan policy is very much  Pakistan-specific. India doesn’t want peace in Afghanistan because unrest on Pakistan’s western border makes it doubly challenging for Pakistan to secure its borders on two fronts. India backed anti-separatist elements get free flow across the porous Durand line into Baluchistan.  This is the very reason India never favored a peaceful political settlement between Taliban and Afghan government. Some Indian analysts such as former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran openly argue that Indian policy should aim at preventing complete Taliban takeover of Kabul, provoking Taliban towards a broad-based government.

While India remained active in hampering the peace process, globally Pakistan’s key role in the entire peace process has been highly appreciated. Zalmay Khalilzad US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation praised Pakistan’s efforts for the deal. Moreover, Pakistan’s role in the peace process is also recognized by Russia, China, and the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has made several efforts to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table with the US which eventually resulted in the much awaited peace agreement and has become a ray of hope for the stability of Afghanistan and region as well. There is no doubt this peace deal is in the interest of Pakistan and peace of region because stable Afghanistan means stable Pakistan. Moreover, there are now brighter prospects for lesser clashes near Durand Line between Pakistan Armed Forces and Afghan Forces .Afghan forces have been time and again attacking Pakistani forces near the Pak-Afghan border.  It is hoped that the new political regime will also help in maintaining border peace between the two neighboring countries. However, one has to keep looking out for possible Indian mischief as it doesn’t want peace to prevail in Afghanistan.

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South Asia

World Must React to Hindutva Terrorism

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The Hindu ideology has transformed into the crude discourses of anti-Muslim platitudes and therefore, existing language of local stereotypes in India has been reinforced with modern offensive terms of intolerance especially against minorities. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, Hindu nationalism has erupted as a dominant power and this power has been executed by rightwing forces to implement the agenda of ideology based on Hindutva. V.D. Savarkar in 1923, used this term to accentuate that Hindutva was not synonymous with Hinduism. Hindutva is a racial ideology to establish Hindu identity while disposing of Indian nationalism in favour of Hindu nationalism. Hindutva’s aspiration is not only restricted to the ballot box, but its magnitude has also started to fabricate societal bondage in India. Through its offensive means “Hindu Renaissance” has made inroads into schooling, developmental initiatives, business activities, community, and virtually every other area of public life. What has transpired is that Hindutva has been growing and expanding well beyond the traditional sphere to explicitly or partially linked organizational network of its militant wings like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Hinduism is considered to be a nonviolent faith but unfortunately, racists mindset of Hindutva activists, who just perceive the material aspect of religion, exploited this faith. The aim of Hindutva is to create Hindu political dominance over non-Hindus through violent means while reducing demographic aspects of minorities to second-class citizens. Hindutva has embodied in the financial, social and cultural realms of India and its most influential incarnation is the sphere of radicalism and militancy. Signature activities of militant Hindutva include violence such as deliberate anarchy; the closure of 100 churches in 2018;the bomb blast of Samjhauta express; the anti-Muslim genocide in Gujarat 2002; thousands of deaths during anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984; vicious assaults on lower caste Dalits and the brutal death of India’s revolutionary leader Gandhi. Despite having strong evidence in most instances, victims of such crimes mostly avoided the repercussions of their acts. Now Indian society has accepted the alteration of glorifying Hindu extremism. The most prominent instance is two times election victories of the current Indian Prime Minister Modi, who was the driving force behind the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom.Hindutva’s extremist philosophy is once again capable of dictating the sociopolitical existence of India when Narendra Modi, who once operated as the main Hindu nationalist leader, gained power.

During the recent Delhi Riots, Indian government immediately claimed that the bloodshed was random as the neighbourhoods in India’s capital were burning and bloodletting engulfed about 40 bodies, most of them Muslim. The killings were neither accidental nor unwarned but they were inevitable due to continuous detest by Hindutva extremists towards Muslims. The initiatives of PM Narendra Modi have imposed tyranny, seized organizations and fostered religious hate. Methodically, the persistence of Modi’s policies is producing a toxic Hindu extremist environment.BJP government has appointed most heads of the major universities and cultural institutions from factions of extremist Hindu nationalist allies. Place names have been modified – even in the curriculum – to play down the connection of Muslims to India and to give Hindutva ideology most prominent position. With these policies in hands, it was just being a matter of time before everything blows up and Delhi riots are just a genesis of future religious conflicts in India. Several Muslim Indians have already claimed that they never feel so oppressed.

The official policy is skewed towards Indian Muslims and the whole society is at the crossroads. Terrorist activities and Muslims are often associated with each other because that is the natural understanding propagated by Hindu nationalists. BJP’s leadership has openly categorized Muslims as terrorists and suggested: “to feed them bullets, not biryani.”There are numerous, profound and long term implications of this witch hunt for Muslims. Hindutva outfits act in secrecy to carry out their dark plans with a veil of tradition. The false flag operations, the Malegaon Blast by Abhinav Bharat, Hement Karkare’s assassination and death of Advocate ShahidAzmi are major instances of Hindutva terrorist activities.

India is also at the brink of a new form of religious polarization in the latest crisis created by Covid-19. Thanks to the efforts of Hindutva nationalists, the Indian government is also scapegoating Muslims for the spread of the coronavirus. BJP’s leaders in India are calling for a boycott to do business with Muslims by spreading rumours that Muslim vendors are infecting vegetables with saliva. The pandemic has offered Hindu nationalists a fresh chance to suppress an otherwise vulnerable minority community and Indian Muslims are sensing more terror against them by Hindutva fanatics. 

Although the social inequalities in India remain a cause for alarm, the senseless aggression of its military is getting increasingly worrisome. PM Modi upset the whole India as he denied the decade-old tradition of giving the Indian army baton to the senior general as head of military forces; rather, by superseding two well-regarded generals in December 2016, he appointed hardcore Hindutva nationalist General Bipin Rawat. Subsequently, Modi has also created the Department of Military Affairs and institutionalised the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to further adjust General Rawat into mainstream military decision making. Given the hawkish approach to Kashmir and other current insurgencies in India by General Rawat and the spreading of BJP’s nationalist narrative, the change was perceived as a politicizing the army.The infamous release under bail and reintegration into the Army of an intelligence officer after completing nine years incarcerated for violence and terrorism indictments further illustrate India’s military alliance with ultra-right-wing nationalist terrorism. Lt. Col. ShirkantPurohit is claimed to be the creator of another radical Hindu extremist party, Abhinav Bharat and he was also active in many militant assaults targeting Muslims under the influence Hindutva or Saffron terrorism.

As India aims to reach the global community and prove its international superiority, the world must be mindful of the transformation of India from a democratic and thriving society into a suffocating repressive religious ideology. The world must take note of the 2020 Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which recommends entitling India as “country of particular concern” for instituting national level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims, and much more. Whereas in India Muslims are being murdered, the majority of the world is too sluggish to denounce these atrocities. Increased regional radicalisation and terror threats would be motivated by the Modi regime’s ability to carry on with its ideology of Hindutva. The international community must start paying more emphasis on countering Hindutva and saffron terrorism.

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