Ahmed Rashid on Balochistan

A really timely article about the deterioriating situation in Balochistan by Ahmed Rashid:

Amid the unceasing political turmoil in Pakistan, the Baloch insurgency has been virtually forgotten.

It had been running for several years before President Asif Ali Zardari and Baloch groups declared a ceasefire last year. The insurgency resumed when the government failed to follow up the truce with meaningful talks.

The wide-ranging political and economic grievances of the alienated Baloch people remain forgotten and unaddressed.

Prominent Baloch leaders who are sympathetic to the insurgents have strongly denied that any Baloch group was responsible for the kidnapping and have also issued appeals for Mr Solecki’s release.

Baloch groups have denied their involvement in the kidnapping
They include the chiefs and clan leaders of the powerful Marri, Bugti and Mengal tribes which have been in the forefront of the insurgency.

The kidnappers unsubstantiated and opaque demands, the fact that their group has never been heard of until now, their refusal to get in touch with the UNHCR and the fact that Baloch insurgents have never targeted Western officials before this incident, has raised serious questions among the Baloch public about who exactly the kidnappers may be.

Many fear it could be the Taleban who are trying to dirty the name of the Baloch nationalists.

The government seems to have no such doubts.

On 26 February, the head of the Frontier Corps in Quetta, Maj Gen Saleem Nawaz, said that he knew roughly where Mr Solecki was being held, back door negotiations were underway with the kidnappers and that those involved were the same old Baloch insurgents using a new name.

The military has also long insisted that the US government place Baloch insurgent groups on their list of groups that sponsor terrorism – something neither the Bush nor Obama administrations have so far declined to do.

Moreover, Balochistan is also a hotbed of tensions between India and Pakistan, with Pakistan insisting that Indian intelligence agencies are arming and funding the Baloch insurgents in order to break up Pakistan. India has denied the charges, but for decades both countries have used covert agencies to undermine the other.

The kidnapping has highlighted the growing insecurity in Quetta and other Baloch towns where insurgents have resumed their bombing and assassination campaign against the army and politicians loyal to the government.

There is seething unrest in the province with the public angry with both the army and the federal government. The failure of President Zardari to extend the ceasefire by conducting meaningful talks with the insurgents has come in for particular criticism.

By the way, Malik Siraj Akbar’s blog has a lot of other excellent articles and links about Balochistan, especially this blog post about the February 23 attack on the Baloch intellectual and civil servant, Jan Dashti, responsibility for which was later claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

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