Monthly Archives: November 2014

Interview: The India-Pakistan Water Dispute

Can the decades-long tensions over access to diminishing water resources ever be solved?

Muhammad Akbar Notezai speaks with New Delhi-based freelance journalist and scholar Amit Ranjan on South Asian water issues, the Indus Waters Treaty, and Pakistan’s water crisis.

How do you view the water dispute between India and Pakistan?

The water dispute between India and Pakistan is serious not only because of water, but also due to the political rivalry between the two countries. Their rivalry made things more complicated than they really are. The water dispute between them started soon after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. Until the Indus Waters Treaty, arrangements  to share east and west flowing rivers were ad hoc.

Unfortunately, over the years the IWT, too, has failed to pacify the water conflict. Hindu right-wing groups in India call on [the government] to stop flow of water to Pakistan or flood it. In the meantime, Islamic radicals in Pakistan call for water jihad against India. Moreover, the water dispute between the two countries is embedded in their political relationship.

Pakistani Islamic radicals must realize that their water security depends on India given that Pakistan is a lower riparian. And their water jihad will only damage their national interest as well as their agriculture-based economy.

As far as the Hindu right-wing groups are concerned, they must also remember that India cannot unilaterally abandon a treaty mediated by the World Bank. Nations must abide by the treaties they have signed with each other.

Do you think the Indus Waters Treaty served the interests of India and Pakistan?

Yes. At the time, it was the best the two countries could get. It took eight years of negotiations to reach a conclusion both accepted. The IWT is not the best treaty, but it is the best treaty the two rival countries could get. Over time, things have changed because of growing water pressure on the both countries. To address the current situation, a few amendments are needed, but cannot be made because of bilateral tensions and intermittent conflicts.

Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif has said that the Indus Waters Treaty is not in Pakistan’s interest. Is his objection valid?

Khwaja Asif may say that but he must realize that the IWT is going to remain. Neither country can scrap it unilaterally. So, instead of making the cry that it is not in the interests of Pakistan, he should improve Pakistan’s management system and try to engage with India to make the IWT a source of cooperation instead of conflict. As has been said, both countries are destined by geography to live together and share resources. It is up to them how they do it. To date, they have fought and gained nothing. In the future, they will fight again and will gain nothing. This sounds cynical but it is true.

Pakistani officials say that India has violated the Indus Waters Treaty many times by constructing 3200 dams and barrages on the river Jhelum, which deprives Pakistan of this major source. What are your thoughts?

Not only India but all upper riparian states try to make maximum use of water in their catchment areas. This does leads to problems in lower riparian areas. Generally, when the two riparian states have good relations, these problems are resolved through negotiations. Under the IWT, India can use 1.50 MAF of water from Jhelum for its own use to fulfill the demands of catchment areas. This gives it the right to construct run-of-river multi-purpose projects. The problem here is how much water is being diverted through those projects and in which season. These two factors are what leave Pakistan feeling aggrieved.

In 2010, when the two countries had relatively good bilateral relations, India allowed Pakistan to inspect several Indian hydro-power projects then under construction on the western rivers. The two countries also agreed to set up a telemetry system to measure river flows.

How much impact do you think the water dispute has had on ties between India and Pakistan?

As Stanley Wolpert wrote: “In 1947, India and Pakistan were born to conflict.” I would suggest that it is many other conflicts that have had an impact on the India-Pakistan water relationship. Also, the entire Kashmir issue is being seen through the prism of water resources. For example, in 1948, Pakistan wanted Kashmir partly for its water security. Ayub Khan has mentioned this in his book. Today there is no change in Pakistan’s position. But yes, when other conflicts are being discussed or taken into account by the two governments, the water issue certainly exacerbates the degree of conflict.

What do you think are the factors behind Pakistan’s water crisis? And why is India not to be blamed?

Being a weak lower riparian is certainly one reason for Pakistan’s water woes. Also, Pakistan does not have a good supply side management structure, which means it loses 35 percent of its water resources. There is also an imbalance in the distribution of water in Pakistan. Punjab diverts more water to its region than others. This is because of the Punjabization of Pakistan, which is still strong.

Some analysts worry that the diminishing availability of water may actually culminate in a war between India and Pakistan in the future. What are your thoughts about this?

Of course, water stress will certainly lead to tensions between India and Pakistan. But it will not lead to a full blown water war between them. As both countries are suffering from water stress, they are taking steps in areas such as drip-in irrigation, desalination plants, and adaptation. But as I have said, water issues will emerge again and again between them because of political reasons.

If border skirmishes escalate or an all-out war takes place between them, the water issue can be counted as a factor but not the sole reason. Not just water stress, even floods create tensions between them. Due to climate change and deficiencies in supply side management, the intermittent floods are causing destruction to the lives and properties of people living in the catchment areas of the Indus Rivers System. These floods could be controlled if the two countries cooperated. The IWT has not talked about such cooperation but there are provisions in articles IV and VII that, if used, could help them in controlling destruction caused by floods.

What do you think India and Pakistan need to do to resolve their water dispute?

The water that was partitioned in 1960 has to be viewed as a single unit and a plan developed to utilize the resources objectively for the benefit of people living in the catchment areas. This is only possible when relations are cordial.

The Indus Water Commissioners meet regularly and the institutions are active but trust is absent. It is important to build that trust to resolve the water issues. There is also a need to change the water narrative. Instead of always calling it a cause of conflict, one must start calling it a source of cooperation. This may not have a major impact but it could certainly change the thinking for the better.

(Courtesy to: The Diplomat)


Factionalism Has Always Marked National Struggles: A Reply To Malik Siraj Akbar

By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

On November 3, 2014, Malik Siraj Akbar, a Baloch journalist settled in the USA, critically analysed the Baloch nationalist movement in his piece on Huffington Post blogs. Titled, “The end of Pakistan’s Baloch insurgency?”, this essay deserves attention for bringing the Baloch nationalist movement into global focus. However, in my opinion, that is, perhaps, the only merit of his blog post. Even its very title seems immature, raw and unidimensional.

To start with, Siraj Akbar circumscribes and reduces the long history of Baloch nationalism to the armed struggle, which, according to him, began in 2004. He completely overlooks the roots of the Baloch nationalism that reach back to the British encounter in 1839. In fact, some Baloch intellectuals go even further back in history in tracing the roots of modern Baloch nationalism, claiming that Balochs have always resisted foreign invasions and defended their land, language, culture, literature and resources. This resistance continues today.

However, even as the Balochs fought British colonialism tooth and nail, the assaults by the colonial power proved devastating for them after 1839. The infighting and divisions among the warring Baloch guerillas, which Siraj Akbar discusses in his piece about present day Balochistan, marked the struggle back in the 19th century as well.

It has been claimed that the Marri guerillas engaged the British colonial troops in 400 skirmishes. Besides the armed struggle, journalists and intellectuals such as Mir Yousaf Aziz Magsi, Mir Abdul Aziz Kurd and Mohammad Hussain Anka, educated the middle class Balochs through the press and their various publications. That is why they faced the wrath of the British colonial government, which imprisoned and incarcerated them on many occasions. The struggle for Baloch rights gradually and slowly continued till 1947 when the Partition of India resulted in the birth of Pakistan.

This phase of Baloch resistance finds absolutely no mention in Siraj Akbar’s piece. On March 27, 1948, when the Khan of Kalat affixed his signature to the Agreement of Accession to Pakistan, his brother Prince Abdul Karim revolted with his 700-strong militia force. He did not accept the Agreement of Accession. So, suspicion and frustration over the Agreement of Accession provided an impetus to a long-lasting Baloch struggle in Pakistan. Prince Karim’s armed struggle, however, was confined to Kalat. The other front of the Baloch struggle was the district Khuzdar. It was led by chief of Zehri tribe, Nawab Nauroz Khan Zehri. These two fronts, however, remained relatively isolated from each other.

The second phase of the Baloch movement was catalyzed by the imposition of the One Unit in 1955. Under the One Unit, all the provinces of West Pakistan were merged into One Unit.The third phase of the movement commenced in 1962, led by Marxist guerilla Sher Mohammad Marri alias General Sherof. The impetus was the Pakistani intention of establishing military bases in Balochistan. This struggle too, however, remained confined to the Marri areas. Yet it did much to popularize Marxist ideology in Balochistan.

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw peaceful political activities gaining momentum in Balochistan. This is the period when the Baloch Students’ Organization (BSO), was founded, which further popularized Marxist ideas in Balochistan. When elections were held, the Baloch nationalists formed the first ever democratically elected government in Balochistan in 1972.

This was, however, not to last long. Under false pretenses, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto undemocratically toppled Balochistan’s first elected government incarcerating and torturing seasoned Baloch politicians, intellectuals and writers under the so-called Hyderabad Conspiracy Case. This led to the fourth phase of the armed conflict in Balochistan. This time, the resistance was fierce in the Marri areas. Compared to previous phases, this phase was much more organized. The period, however, also saw grave differences arising between leadersNawab Khair Baksh Marri and Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani. Sher Mohammad Marri, the Marxist guerilla fighter of the 1962-1968, sided with Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani. Despite their common Marxist antecedents, they continued to be at loggerheads. Yet, despite these differences, the resistance continued.

Gradually, in the 1980s, more Balochs got active in politics and subsequently a few Baloch political projects were initiated. Sardar Attah Ullah Mengal, for instance, after his return to Balochistan in 1995, formed the Balochistan National Party (BNP). It soon emerged as Balochistan’s largest political party. It formed provincial government in Balochistan in 1997, headed by Chief Minister Akhtar Mengal. However, his government, only after nine months in power, was removed by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1998.  This undemocratic move contributed to the alienation of Balochs. The situation was further aggravated when Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, in 2000, under the Musharraf dictatorship, was arrested.

These events led to the fifth phase of the armed struggle. Post-2000, the situation took an even uglier turn. Nawab Bugti’s assassination in 2006 and Balach Marri’s murder in 2007 fueled further conflict. Since then, the resistance has only grown in strength.In the past, the various movements for resistance were led by the tribal chieftains. This was one reason for the fractious nature of the struggle. Today instead the struggle has evolved into a national movement and is led by a nationalist vision.

At the same time, there is no doubt that infighting and discord among various factions of the nationalist movement continue to mark Baloch resistance.  Siraj Akbar claims that “frustration, suspicion, infighting and division are the common features of the end of a guerilla fight.” These features, however, are not unique to Balochistan. Indeed they have been evident in the case of Palestine ever since the 1930s. Kashmir and Kurdistan can also be mentioned in this context. In South Africa, ANC suffered splits and factionalism. Moreover, this infighting has been a constant part of the Balochistan resistance movement. How can Siraj Akbar then claim that the present schism in Baloch underground organizations will lead to an end of insurgency now, when the conditions that first gave birth to militancy are yet to be addressed?

What is even more unfortunate in Siraj Akbar’s essay is the parallels he draws between the Baloch insurgency and Talibanization. He has, in his previous writings, described Talibanization as the “by-product of the establishment”. Before drawing the unfortunate comparison, he should have at least taken a look at the co-educational schools in his hometown, Panjgur, which have been forcibly closed by the Taliban.

On the one hand Siraj Akbar claims that the current Baloch struggle has drawn more international attention than any previous struggle. On the other hand states that Baloch insurgents appear frustrated over the lack of international support for the current movement. This clearly exemplifies the contradiction in his argument.

He further writes, “Islamabad carried out military operations, bought the loyalties of rival chiefs or empowered the so-called moderate leadership of the Baloch and also sponsored religious extremist groups in order to counter the Baloch nationalists. All these policies failed to completely uproot the resistance in the mineral-rich region.” Despite declaring these attempts as failures, he then writes that the Baloch fighters are jaded by moderate political parties such as the ruling National Party of Dr. Malik Baloch.

There are a few more points in his essay that one can argue about. However, let me conclude by saying that a well-informed journalist should at the very least not twist facts regardless of whatever views he or she holds. We can argue about the prospects of ongoing guerrilla movement in Balochistan. However, let us not decontexulize it. Also, let us respect the facts.

(Courtesy to: Viewpoint Online)

The dilemma of Balochistan’s Zikris

The dilemma of Balochistan’s Zikris

Muhammad Akbar Notezai

Having lived with the Baloch for centuries, members of the obscure Zikri sect are leaving in fear

The dilemma of Balochistan’s Zikris

The recent threats to Balochistan’s Zikri community are compelling a large number of its followers to leave the province.

On August 28, six Zikris were shot dead in their place of worship in Awaran district by unidentified assailants. In July, Zikri passengers of a bus were attacked in Khuzdar district of Balochistan. Seven of them were injured.

“Before the attack in Awaran, threatening messages were inscribed on the walls in the area, said a local resident. “The messages, signed by Lashkar-e-Khorasan, asked Zikris and Hindus to convert to Sunni Islam or die.”

An off-shoot of the Mahdavi community, the Zikris live mostly in Balochistan’s Makran division. They also have a considerable population in interior Sindh, Seistan Balochistan, Karachi, and other parts of the Balochistan province. According to unofficial estimates, the global population of the community is 750,000, most of which resides in Balochistan.

Zikris are followers of the Indian Sufi Syed Muhammad Jaunpuri. According to them, Jaunpuri founded the sect in the 15th Century when he claimed to be a Mahdi. The Zikri offshoot of his followers flourished in Balochistan in the 16th century. There is very little historical evidence of their arrival or history in Balochistan, but Mullah Murad is reputed to be the first local apostle of this sect. Some writers say they migrated with him from Hyderabad, now in India, where they were not allowed to practice their faith. Other scholars claim he came from Persia, because a considerable number of Zikris also dwell in Iranian Balochistan. Most of the Zikris in Makran are fishermen.

The Zikris have been living peacefully and harmoniously with the rest of the Baloch for centuries, who they call ‘Nimazi’. “They even have marital relations with the majority Baloch,” according to Dr Shah Mohammad Marri. “In some families in Makran, the mother is a Zikri and the father is a Nimazi Baloch.” A local Zikri said such ties were becoming rare because of discrimination against the community.

Koh-e-Murad in Turbat, Balochistan

The first major attack on the Zikris in the history was orchestrated by Nasir Khan, the Khan of Kalat from 1749 to 1794, who progressive writers call the most “fundamentalist ruler” in Balochistan’s history. He invaded Makran, which was under the rule of Zikri Buledi rulers at that time. “He was not only vicious to Zikris due to their beliefs, but also to Hindus whom he treated badly,” says Dr Marri. Siddique Baloch, a veteran journalist based in Quetta, says that Nasir Khan also started a movement to convert all Zikris to Sunni.

In the era of military ruler Gen Ziaul Haq, Zikris suffered because of their faith again. Hundreds of Zikris were killed by one Shahmurad in the Zia regime, they community claims.

“The messages asked Zikris and Hindus to convert to Sunni Islam or die”

“Shahmurad was a Nimazi Baloch who first threatened Zikris in Panjgur who were forced to migrate,” a Zikri Baloch said, asking not to be named because of concerns for his safety. “Subsequently, he massacred Zikris in Turbat when they refused to convert to Sunni Islam.”

According to the Zikris, religious extremists tried to uproot one of their sacred sites in Turbat in 1992. But the Baloch Students Organization resisted the move, they say, and foiled the attempt. Zikris say incidents of discrimination against them are however becoming frequent in the Baloch society.

But Baloch nationalists say the sect is being targeted because they fight for Balochistan’s rights.

“You cannot differentiate between the Zikri and Nimazi Baloch. They are one. And they have been living together for centuries,” says Rafique Khosa, a senior Baloch politician. “What is happening right now is a deliberate attempt to mar the secular face of Baloch nationalism.”

“Zikris are not an organized sect,” says Dr Marri, “but they may evolve into one because of the oppression against them.” More than 90 percent of them are poor, adds the analyst, who has visited their sacred religious site at Koh-e-Murad in Turbat.

Regardless of who is behind the attacks on Zikris, Balochistan has become increasingly insecure for religious minorities. In a recent report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan stated that 400 members of the sect had left Balochistan in fear.

(Courtesy: The Friday Times)

The Dangers of Being a Journalist in Balochistan

aaThe media is being targeted on all sides in the name of information control.

In Pakistan’s province of Balochistan, journalists have been under deadly assault since 2008, with dozens losing their lives. Traditionally, journalists were targeted mainly in interior Balochistan, but the danger zone has now expanded to the provincial capital of Quetta. A case in point is the recent killing of senior journalist Irshad Mastoi, his trainee reporter Abdul Rasool Khajak, and accountant Mohammad Younus in their office in Quetta’s Jinnah Road area.

To date, no one has claimed responsibility for the killings.

The recent killings have created widespread fear among journalists working in Balochistan. Meant to serve as a “voice” for persecuted people, journalists have now resorted to demonstrating in front of the Quetta Press Club. They have also been rallying on roads, chanting slogans against the provincial government for failing to provide security.

“In Balochistan, journalists are ruthlessly threatened by state and non-state actors,” said Shahzada Zulfiqar, a veteran journalist based in Quetta. He added, “There is no journalism in Balochistan. Both the state and non-state actors want to take over the media.”

The Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ) claims that 41 journalists have been targeted in Balochistan in different incidents. According to the union, “Balochistan has become a cemetery for journalists, who perform their journalistic duties honestly and bravely.”

Balochistan’s journalist community recently staged a sit-in protest in front of the provincial assembly, but it was ended when the Chief Minister Dr. Adbul Malik Baloch assured journalists of their safety and announced a judicial inquiry into the killings. Raza-ur-Rehman, president of the Quetta Press Club, remained doubtful, however. “Though the Chief Minister announced the judicial inquiry, it is not formed yet,” he said. “Again, we have been separated from a colleague (Irshad Mastoi) of ours.”

Journalists are now working in constant fear for their lives when reporting anything about Balochistan’s troubles. The picture is worse for those working in rural areas, with many districts where journalists cannot report independently.

“Our voices are unheard in mainstream national media, and we (journalists) when faced (with) threats don’t get them published,” complained a local stringer, who requested anonymity.

The government has kept silent over the assaults. “The provincial government of Balochistan has so far neither brought to book the perpetrators nor provided security,” said Naseem Hamid, the vice president of the BUJ. He lamented that journalist killings would not stop due to government disinterest and incompetence.

Added Saleem Shahid, the bureau chief of a leading daily English newspaper,  “Those journalists in Balochistan, who have written and reported about injustices, have themselves become news.”

According to the 2014 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, 44 journalists have been killed in Pakistan in the past decade. Pakistan ranks 9th in the CPJ’s 2014 impunity index, which has also termed Pakistan one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that 11 journalists were killed in Pakistan in 2013.

In April, 2014, Mumtaz Alam was killed by unknown assailants when he was on his way from Kharan to his home district Besima. One of his journalist friends spoke to The Diplomat about the incident. “Mumtaz worked alone as a reporter from his Washuk District, because his fellow journalists had quit journalism after the killing of Abdul Qadir Hajizai, who was a stringer there.”

However, government authorities say that Mumtaz Alam was targeted by dacoits (bandits) as he was with Levies (law enforcement) personnel, taking teachers’ salaries to Washuk from Kharan because he was also a teacher at a government school.

In February 2014, Mohammad Afzal Khawaja, a reporter for The Balochistan Times and its sister publication Zamana, was shot to death along with his driver. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) condemned the killing and accused the police of involvement.

Balochistan’s veteran journalists also say that all this is having a chilling effect on the younger generation. They believe that the recent killings, particularly of Abdul Rasool Khajak who was a student at the Media and Journalism Department of the University of Balochistan, have caused panic among journalism students, placing the future of journalism in the province in even greater jeopardy.

The author is a columnist at the Daily Times. Visit his blog or follow him on Twitter @Akbar_notezai. He can be reached at