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Musharraf’s hidden war

As Pakistani ruler General Pervez Musharraf completed his diplomatic-cum-book-tour of Western capitals he raised many eyebrows with his blunt talk. But there was one subject that wasn’t part of his shoot-from-the-lip candour – the current conflict in Balochistan. ‘The army is on the offensive,’ according to Hasil Khan Bizenjo, former member of the National Assembly and General Secretary of the National Party, a grouping of moderate Baloch nationalists. ‘They are beating us non-stop,’ Bizenjo said on the phone from the regional capital Quetta. The sensitive and strategic Pakistani province of Balochistan is in a state of war following the extra-judicial killing of former Governor and Chief Minister of the province, Nawab Bugti. ‘More than 4,000 people have been arrested in just one week,’ said Bizenjo. ‘The crazy army generals of Pakistan are out of control.’ Violence escalated after the 26 August killing of the 79-year-old cowboy-hat-wearing Bugti, who needed a walking stick and the support of his loyal guards to get around. As many as 90 tribal chiefs and 300 notables met at a traditional assembly, called a _jirga_, on 21 September to take stock of the escalating violence. The _jirga_, the first in 126 years, was held in the Baloch town of Kalat, which used to be the capital when Balochistan was independent. The Texas-sized state got its independence at the time of partition of India and Pakistan in August 1947. It was annexed by Pakistan on 27 March 1948 under an agreement which the Baloch claim Islamabad never honoured. The Baloch, who are culturally very similar to the Kurds living further west, and are similarly denied statehood, have risen up in arms against Pakistan’s central government at least four times in the past – in 1948, 1958, 1962 and 1973-77. More than 5,000 Baloch people and 3,000 Pakistani troops have been killed in the clashes over the years. This year alone 250 people, including 80 belonging to Pakistan’s law-enforcers have died in the fighting. Bugti is the highest political official to be killed by the Pakistan army. Unconfirmed reports say the strategic region, that forms the upper lip of the Straits of Hormuz, houses the world’s third largest oil and gas reserves. According to Baloch nationalist sources the US has supplied Cobra helicopters and fighter jets to counter the Taliban, but these were used in the attack that killed Bugti. The _jirga_ petitioned the International Court of Justice at The Hague, seeking its intervention. However, Baloch dissidents in the US and Europe have been told by the Court that the ICJ can only mediate between states.

New Internationalist issue 396 magazine cover This article is from the December 2006 issue of New Internationalist.
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