Pakistan’s Secret Jihad In Balochistan Is Likely To Get Bloodier After Xi’s Visit

Intellectual bankruptcy knows no limit when it comes to Islamabad’s narrative of what’s going on in blood-soaked Balochistan; the actual story on the ground is replete with unimaginable brutalities.

So, it comes as no surprise when one newspaper said Pakistan army may officially extend the Zarb-i-Azb, a military operation named after the famous sword of Prophet Muhammad, to Balochistan. The operation is now being undertaken in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The announcement of this possibility came just five days before the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Islamabad, with nearly $50 billion in his suitcase.

On Friday, following Xi’s visit, a human rights crusader and activist Sabeen Mahmud, 40, was shot dead minutes after she organised a talk titled “Unsilencing Balochistan” at her intellectual boutique and art gallery called The Second Floor or T2F in Karachi. Mahmud, described in a media report as the bravest Pakistani woman, had defied the ISI who had warned her not to hold the “Unsilencing Balochistan” event.

A protest against Mahmud’s killing in Karachi. (Credits: AFP PHOTO / Farooq NAEEM) A protest against Mahmud’s killing in Karachi. (Credits: AFP PHOTO / Farooq NAEEM)

“I would squarely and emphatically put it at the doors of the ISI,” Burzine K. Waghmar, a scholar at the Center for the Study of Pakistan in the School of African and Oriental Studies in London, told the BBC Sunday. London-based Baloch patriotic leader Hyrbyair Marri, condemning the incident, said,

“Pakistani ISI and Military Intelligence are the judge, the jury and the executioner and they are a law onto themselves – they consider themselves accountable to none.”

The reason for killing Mahmud was simple: the ISI does not want the rest of Pakistan to know the horrendous situation in the killing fields of Balochistan. It also wants to teach an unforgettable lesson to Pakistanis like Sabeen Mahmud who show the temerity to question the raison d’etre of the Deep State — the ISI, military intelligence, generals and top security related bureaucrats — for the Baloch killings.

In the Karachi killing, the main problem was not Sabeena Mahmud herself, but two of her guest speakers: Mama Qadeer and Farzana Majeed. Mama Qadeer, who is also called Baloch Gandhi, lost his son Jalil Reki to the enforced disappearances and kill-and-dump policies of the Deep State, while Farzana Majeed has no clue if her brother Zakir Majeed, who was abducted six years back, is dead or alive. There are about 20,000 victim families of enforced disappearances in Balochistan and the two are detested by the Deep State as they publicly articulate the made-in-Pakistan human tragedy that has fallen on them and those families.

Mama Qadeer is acting president and Farzana Majeed is general secretary of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons. For six years now, their daily struggle revolves around protests, marches and press conferences for recovery of those still suffering in Pakistan’s torture camps.

Three weeks earlier, ISI chief, General Akhtar personally got the LUMS “Unsilencing Balochistan” event cancelled. In early March, ISI also did not allow Qadeer and Majeed to fly from Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport to go to New York to speak at a human rights conference. Pakistan put them on the Exit Control List for their “anti-state” activities though they have no cases against them. Last year, famous journalist Hamid Mir was attacked and nearly killed as he reportedly refused to listen to the ISI orders and conducted an interview of Mama Qadeer for the Capital Talk television show. Possibly under duress, Hamid Mir’s family and supporters retracted their charge that ISI was involved in the attack.

As the “all-weather friend”, China moves south, towards the warm waters,  while Pakistan’s secret, dirty jihad in Balochistan has assumed greater urgency for the Deep State as they think the Baloch resistance may prevent their fingers from going into the Chinese cookie jar. On the other hand, Baloch resistance organisations are resolved that China’s desire to connect Kashgar with Gwadar can happen only on their dead bodies. They insist that Baloch are rightful owners of the Gwadar port as their homeland was occupied by Pakistan army on March 27, 1948.

The state narrative from Islamabad, or more exactly the Aabpara headquarters of the ISI and the GHQ in Rawalpindi, is that since the main problem in Balochistan is foreign hand, sponsored largely by RAW and other intelligence agencies, only the army and the ISI have the capability of combatting the “enemy designs.” This has been the official line of thinking for many years now. During the transfer of power after President Pervez Musharraf’s military rule ended, then army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani had bluntly told Asif Ali Zadari, who later became president, that he could manage affairs of the three other provinces, but Balochistan will remain strictly in the army’s domain.

There are quite a few indications, Sabeen Mahmud killing was one of them, that the Pakistani jihad is likely to gain steam in Balochistan in the months ahead. As Pakistan wants to sell Gwadar port to China over Baloch heads, Balochistan analysts fear an unprecedented increase in military operations because “the biggest hurdle in the way of Pakistan and its partner in crime, China, is the Baloch armed resistance,” according to London-based Baloch Warna. Pakistan has reportedly provided 2,281 acres of Gwadar land to China on a 40-year lease to build a “free trade zone” in Gwadar, where a naval base will also be built as part of China’s strategy of building a “string of pearls” on the rim of the Indian Ocean. As much as 654 acres have already been allotted for the Chinese naval base.

Baloch Liberation Front chief Dr Allah Nazar believes China’s role in Balochistan is imperialistic as it is supporting Pakistan militarily and financially to crush the Baloch freedom movement. “Now a huge Chinese army unit is present in Gwadar,” Dr Allah Nazar told OneIndia. “As the world’s largest democracy India and the civilized world must realize the importance of a free Balochistan. India can never get the superiority of waters without a free Baloch state.”

The week before Xi’s arrival, the BLF attacked a camp of the army-run Frontier Works Organization in Gogdhan, 15 miles outside Turbat, killing 20 laborers. Following the attack, the government announced a grand operation, dispatch of thousands of more troops and 10 fighter helicopters. Pakistan’s most powerful man, army chief General Raheel Sharif warned “foreign states, intelligence agencies” against trying to destabilize Pakistan by supporting terrorists in Balochistan. However, Baloch patriots say the biggest foreign interference in Balochistan affairs is none else but Pakistan army, the world’s largest jihadi organization. It is apparent that Pakistan generals want a military solution to squash the Baloch struggle, but the civilian leaders are averse to the idea.

While President Xi was being feted in Islamabad, Pakistani soldiers were busy in their jihad in Balochistan. A spike in custodial killings has been reported in towns like Mashkay, which has been a militant stronghold as BLF chief hails from this town.

When President Xi was in Pakistan, his itinerary reportedly included an unannounced trip to Gwadar to inaugurate the port, but Baloch guerrillas or Sarmachars staged daredevil attacks on Pasni airport and Gwadar, foiling Xi’s visit plans. That day while armed clashes were taking place in Balochistan, army spokesman Major General Bajwa, through tweets, announced the creation of a Special Security Division for CPEC Projects, which he said will comprise of nine army battalions and six air force wings and civilian armed forces. The division will be commanded by a major general. Many view this new division as a ploy to make fast bucks over Baloch bodies.

What is the ISI exactly trying to hide in Balochistan? Mir Mohammed Ali Talpur, who is a prominent intellectual who took part the 1973-77 Baloch uprising, told a seminar that “Pakistan zindabad” is being carved on the bodies of the Baloch victims of ISI’s enforced disappearances policy. Declan Welsh, The New York Times bureau chief in Islamabad, who is an unwanted person in Pakistan, in an article some time back, described the conditions of the Baloch victim bodies thus:

“Arms and legs are snapped; faces are bruised and swollen. Flesh is sliced with knives or punctured with drills; genitals are singed with electric prods. In some cases the bodies are unrecognizable, sprinkled with lime or chewed by wild animals. All have a gunshot wound in the head.”

These Baloch bodies began being dumped in large numbers in Balochistan during the last five years, though enforced disappearances were also practiced during the 1973-77. Today, Balochistan has replaced Chile and Argentina of the 1980s as the world capital of enforced disappearances. Last year alone, 435 Baloch became victims of enforced disappearances and 455 dumped bodies were found, of which 348 cadavers were beyond recognition. “Pakistan’s horrific crimes are unimaginable,” says Kachkol Ali, a former Balochistan fisheries minister, who now lives in self-exile in Oslo, Norway. Last year, his son Nabeel Ahmed became a victim of enforced disappearance on August 30—International Day of the Disappeared.

Though unspoken, there is a strong suggestion that what Pakistan army is doing in Balochistan is an unannounced, secret jihad against Baloch apostates. “This is not counterinsurgency – it is barbarism and it needs to end now,” Brad Adams, Asia Director of the Human Rights Watch, fumes over the situation in Balochistan.

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