Monthly Archives: June 2015

Balochistan and the Yemen war


Muhammad Akbar Notezai

Muhammad Akbar Notezai

After the Iranian Revolution, Shia elements wanted to spread into Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular. Saudi Arabia strongly resisted against this and pumped billions of rupees into Pakistan to counter Shia influence. During the 1970s, Saudi Arabia had already expanded its influence in the country jointly with the regime of former dictator General Ziaul Haq. Subsequently, sectarian violence broke out in Balochistan in the mid-1980s, engulfing the Shia Hazara community of Balochistan. The Shia Hazaras are densely populated in Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan province, in its western and eastern areas: Mariabad and Hazara Town. Assaults against them have increased. “In the mid-1980s there were religious tensions between Shia Hazaras and Sunni Pashtun groups in Quetta in which dozens were killed, and this tension and accompanying violence have persisted since then,” writes noted Pakistani journalist Khalid Ahmed in his book titled Sectarian War.

After former Chief Minister of Balochistan Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti’s killing, in 2007 and 2008, 37 Shia Hazaras, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), became targets of sectarian violence. Their fatalities intensified tremendously in 2009. According to a report issued by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), more than 1,000 Shia Hazaras have died in different incidents of sectarian violence in Balochistan.

On the other hand, Abdul Malik Reki, who was ethnically a Baloch, allegedly formed a Sunni sectarian group in 2003 called Jundullah (soldiers of God). The group is said to be responsible for killing Iranian sectarian forces. According to some media reports, it is said that the group later widened its targets to include Iranian civilians too. Moreover, the above-mentioned group has claimed that it was fighting for rights as well as for the defence of the oppressed Sunni Baloch from the aggression of the predominantly Shia Iran state. It should be noted that the Iranian authorities, on many occasions, have accused the group of being a proxy group of its rival countries being used to destabilise Iran. However, the group leader has denied these charges. “Reki changed colour after interactions with the banned Pakistani group Sepah-e-Sahaba (SS) in Lyari Town of Karachi. His anti-Iranian stance as a Baloch shifted to one of being anti-Shia. Not too long afterwards, he joined with SS’s breakaway faction, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an anti-Shia al Qaeda linked militant outfit, wrote slain journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad. “Through this connection, Reki went to the Afghan province of Zabul but the Taliban refused him entry into their ranks because of their suspicion that he had forged links with the US intelligence.”

In 2010, when Abdul Malik Reki was caught and hanged by the Iranian authorities, the Jundullah group was divided up into three splinter groups: the Jaish-ul-Adl, Jaish-ul-Nasr and Lashkar-e-Khorasan. “Among these two splinter groups, the Jaish-ul-Adl, which is allegedly led by Abdul Rahim Mullah Zadeh (who uses a pseudonym name, Salah al-Din al-Faruqi), is stronger than the other two,” said a Quetta based analyst, who did not wish to be named. Moreover, on April 8, 2015, the state-run Iranian news agency of Iran, called IRNA, reported that eight Iranian border guards had been killed in clashes with militants near the border with Pakistan. On the same very day, the Jaish-ul-Adl claimed responsibility for the assault through a Facebook account, which is believed to be associated with the organisation.

In the past, the Jaish-ul-Adl has also claimed responsibility for the deadly assaults on the territory of Iran. One of deadliest assaults was in October 2013, when 14 Iranian guards were killed near the Sarawarn area, which is situated on the Pak-Iran border. Following these deaths, Iran hanged 16 Sunni Baloch in reprisal, though they did not have any links with the group. Moreover, in the post-Jundullah milieu, an unheard of group, the Harakat Ansar Iran (HAI), also emerged. The group’s spokesman, Abu Hafs al-Balochi, recently warned of continued jihad against Iran in a video.

Nevertheless, Asfandyar Wali, the president of the Awami National Party (ANP), rightly argues that Balochistan will be affected if Pakistan joins the Yemen war. He further added that the people of Balochistan would be the biggest victims of the Yemen war if the army is sent to take part in the Yemen war. He also regretted that Pashtuns were still bearing the brunt of the 1980s’ war and Yemen’s war, he said, Balochistan would bear.

There is no denying the fact that the Yemen war is not our war, so why should we intervene and jeopardise the lives of Balochistan’s people who are already suffering? According to Quetta based analysts, the recent clashes on the Pak-Iran border are a harbinger of bleak signs for Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular, which will further intensify if we intervene into Yemen. The government needs to staye away from the Yemen war. Otherwise, the Yemen war will impact Balochistan and its people, too.

The author is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta. He blogs at http://www.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com and tweets @Akbar_notezai

Daily Times

Interview: Afghanistan’s Foreign Policy


How has Afghanistan’s foreign policy evolved under President Ashraf Ghani?

Abbas Daiyar is an Afghan political analyst and former member of the editorial board at the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. His commentaries have appeared on BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Al Jazeera and other media outlets. He is currently pursuing studies at the Graduate Institute of Geneva.

How do you view Afghanistan’s foreign policy?

For the last decade, under the previous Karzai administration, Afghanistan lacked a consistent foreign policy due to several factors, including the lack of a long-term strategy and vision for the future of the country, and an uncertainty of the commitment of the U.S.-led NATO coalition. A visionary leadership could have made the best of the available financial and diplomatic support of the international community to put Afghanistan on the path of stability as a dignified sovereign state. Unfortunately, a historic opportunity has been lost. Our relations with our immediate neighbors have not changed much in the last decade. They still view and treat Afghanistan as a sub-state.

How has approach of the new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to his country’s foreign policy differed from that of his predecessor Hamid Karzai?

Despite the huge challenges of a messy domestic political environment and challenges for the National Unity Government, President Ghani has embarked on a robust and ambitious [vision based on Afghanistan’s] location in the heart of Asia. At the core of his vision is an economic program to integrate Afghanistan as a corridor of trade and cooperation connecting South, Central and West Asia. However, the geopolitical realities are too complex to allow smooth implementation of the vision.

With President Ghani came a major policy shift toward Pakistan that has created optimistic hype in Kabul. Recognizing their unavoidable influence on the Taliban leadership, and inevitable role in an eventual peace settlement with the insurgents, President Ghani’s approach risks distancing significant allies such as India that have made a considerable contribution to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, as well as our neighbor Iran. Soon after coming to office, Ghani launched efforts to persuade China and Saudi Arabia to put pressure on Pakistan to bring the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table with the hope of reaching a deal with insurgents so that peace and security – fundamental requirements for his economic integration program – are achieved. But this strategy needs a carefully calculated approach that requires constant reevaluation in the face of ever-changing geopolitical realities in the region.

President Ghani’s first major foreign policy blunder came last week when his office in a statement announced “full support” for the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s attack in Yemen. This was in response to the Saudi King’s request, appeasing them as part of the president’s efforts for peace talks with Taliban. It is naïve to believe third-state pressure will be more efficient to persuade Pakistan to cooperate on talks with the Taliban. It should be pursued with a spirit of exclusive mutual understanding based on long-term stability and cooperation that address fundamental issues such as the Durand Line and water resources. On these existential issues, Islamabad will not respond to pressure from Riyadh or Beijing.

President Ghani’s support for the Saudi-led attack in Yemen has already triggered a barrage of domestic criticism, including from his partners in the National Unity Government. He bypassed them and national institutions such as the parliament in a hasty and ill-judged decision that could have consequences for Afghanistan both domestically and in relations with our neighbors.

What are your thoughts on Ghani’s visit to Washington, D.C.? Could this visit be a new chapter in U.S-Afghanistan relations?

President Ghani has lived in the U.S. as an academic and senior technocrat for over two decades, so he has many well-wishers in D.C. He has been a welcome relief for the White House, compared with his predecessor Karzai’s bipolar brinkmanship, which took the relationship with Washington to the edge. Karzai’s anti-U.S. tirades and refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement was a factor in U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to drawdown the level of troops in Afghanistan to a few thousand by the end of current year. That decision has been reversed now and the current level of 9800 troops will be kept, a success achieved in President Ghani’s recent visit that is vital for the anticipated bloody summer fighting season with the insurgents.

Renewed development assistance, and a firm commitment for continued funding and support for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) was the second item on President Ghani’s agenda. In his speech to the joint session of Congress, he emphasized the security challenges to persuade U.S. lawmakers for continued approval of funding for ANSF through 2017. He also secured the New Development Partnership, under which the U.S. government has announced to make up to $800 million available to the initiative to support President Ghani’s program of transition to self-reliance, linking it to specific reforms in combating corruption, promoting rule of law, strengthening women’s rights, and enhancing private sector growth

So the president has had a good start with his effort to revive and improve relations with Washington, which is fundamental for his smooth transition plan and vision for regional integration.

How do you view Afghanistan-Pakistan relations?

Since President Ghani’s came to office, one of the major foreign policy shifts in Kabul has been toward Pakistan. Aiming at a fundamental transformation of mutual Afghan-Pak relations, President Ghani’s objective is to persuade Pakistan to deny sanctuary to the Taliban leadership and push them to negotiate with the Afghan government. There has been a rush of positive gestures between Kabul and Islamabad. However, both sides are in fact playing the game of maximizing short-term gains by leaving fundamental issues such as the Durand Line and water resource management untouched. Pakistan’s priority is to deal with its internal security threats from the Pakistani Taliban factions. Islamabad has yet to deliver any significant step forward, given its ability to persuade and push Taliban leadership for a peace settlement with Kabul. President Ghani needs to set a firm deadline on this.

For a lasting outcome, both sides have to start a broad discussion on fundamental issues and cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan that can bring stability and prosperity for the region.

How do you see the efforts of the Afghan government to engage the Taliban in peace talks?

Negotiations with the Taliban have been a top priority for President Ghani, as it was for his predecessor Karzai. His major shift towards rapprochement with Pakistan is aimed at a successful settlement with the Taliban, a strategy that was once followed by Karzai too, to no avail. The success of talks will largely depend on how sincerely Pakistan uses its influence to push Taliban leadership for a settlement and deny them sanctuary, and for that, how far President Ghani can go to meet Islamabad’s demands in return. Even if the Taliban leadership or a major faction does eventually start official negotiations, which is likely, there will still be groups who will rebel against the decision and continue fighting. However, it will be a major breakthrough if Taliban leader Mullah Omar approves of official talks with the National Unity Government, and there will be greater political will and popular support in dealing militarily with militants who continue fighting.

Is the Islamic State gaining a foothold in Afghanistan?

Afghan officials have confirmed that some Taliban commanders who had earlier announced allegiance to the Islamic State are making recruitment efforts. A group of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters have also pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. An IS affiliated group of former Taliban commanders was behind the targeted kidnapping of 30 Hazara Shiite passengers in Zabul province.

In his speech to Congress, President Ghani clearly warned of the serious threat of IS making inroads in Afghanistan as part of their mythical narrative.

After the Pakistan Army launched its operations in Waziristan, hundreds of Arab and Central Asian Jihadis flocked into Afghanistan. Those international terrorists and Taliban militants disenchanted with their leadership are fertile recruitment targets for the Islamic State. They might also aim to infiltrate and influence radical fundamentalist but non-violent groups active across Afghanistan in charity and religious education services.

Muhammad Akbar Notezai is a columnist at the Daily Times. Visit his blog or follow him on Twitter @Akbar_notezai. He can be reached at akbar.notezai@gmail.com.

The Diplomat

Arabs killing our houbara bustards every winter


Muhammad Akbar Notezai reveals how influential Arabs are hunting the endangered houbara bustard in Balochistan despite provincial court’s ban

By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

Although our country’s wildlife department is not famous for sporting any moral principle, yet a rare exception is Mr. Jaffer Baloch, the former divisional forest officer of the Balochistan Forest and Wildlife Department of Chagai, a post from which he was transferred. The reason: he revealed that in January 2014 Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the governor of the Tabuk province of Saudi Arabia, had killed 2100 houbara bustards in the remote areas of Balochistan’s Chagai District. The governor of Tabuk, Saudi Arabia (Fahd) was using a fake permit, which was illegally manufactured by the Foreign Ministry that has no authority furnish people with such permits.

“For preparing my report about the exact figure of the birds killed in Chagai, which was leaked to the Press, I was transferred from my post,” Mr. Jaffer Baloch had told Ali Raza Rind, who is a journalist based in Dalbandin, the headquarters of Chagai.

In recent years, the Foreign Office had allocated certain areas of Balochistan, including District Zhob, Ormara and Pasni, Disrict Gawadar, District Kharan (excluding Nag Dera breeding area), District Panjgur, District Washuk, District Khuzdar, District Lasbela, Tehsil Lehri of District Sibi, old Katchi and Sani Shoran of District Bolan, District Kila Saifullah, including Kar Khurassan (less subdivision Muslim Bagh) and Samungali, to the dignitaries of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the hunting of houbara bustards in 2013-2014. But due to the furore generated in the national and international media after the killing of 2100 houbara bustards in Chagai District in November 2014, the Balochistan High Court (BHC), the highest court in the province, directed subsequently that the provincial government of Balochistan, led by Doctor Abdul Malik Baloch, cancel the allocation of areas to the Arab dignitaries.

However, according to media reports, 29 foreigners have been granted the license to hunt houbara bustards in the past few years, who are some of the most influential men of the Gulf region.

“Despite the ban on hunting the endangered Houbara bustards, Arab dignitaries – who were Sheikh Suroor bin Muhammad Al-Nayan and Sheikh Saif Zahid Al-Nayan of the United Arab Emirates – landed at the Panjgur airport at the end of January,” says Barkat Jeevan, who is a stringer based in Panjgur District of Balochistan. “They camped in the remote areas of Panjgur for a week, hunting a hundred birds.” When asked about the exact number of birds killed in Panjgur during their visit, Jeevan said it was kept secret due to the fear of media.

A resident of Panjgur informed on the condition of anonymity that the Arab Sheikhs were welcomed by the Provincial Health Minister of the ruling National Party, Rehmat Saleh Baloch. He further added that he was taken to his camp with the heavy contingent of the Frontier Corps (FC) and the Police.

“In one of the remote areas of District Panjgur, Peer Omer Jan, Arab Sheikh called Sheikh Saif Muhammad bin Al Nayan has built a residential house,” says Jeevan, he further adds, “This time, he did not come. Instead of him, his relatives Sheikh Suroor bin Muhammad Al-Nayan and Sheikh Saif Zahid Al-Nayan came to Panjgur for hunting the houbara bustards.” He also said that the local community of Panjgur was unhappy over the visit of the Arab Sheikh, as he was violating the law by hunting the bustards.

Furthermore, locals of Musakhel District also confirmed that Qatari Sheikhs had been hunting the migratory birds in their areas, and would hunt 6 to 12 birds on daily basis.

Unlike Panjgur and Musakhel, when Saudi Arabia (Fahd) in February landed at Dalbandin airport, it again gained critical attention in the media. “Ironically, our own Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal welcomed him at Dalbandin for violating national laws, as the hunting of houbara bustards is banned by the highest court of the province,” said Noor Ahmad, who is a rights activist based in Quetta. On the other hand, the forest and wildlife advisor to the Chief Minister of Balochistan, Obaidullah Jan Babat said, “Arab dignitaries are visiting development sites; they are not hunting in Dalbandin.”

But a source from Dalbandin informs us that there were no development sites in Bartagazai areas of Dalbandin, where the Arab dignitaries had camped.

“To appease the local populations, where Arab dignitaries hunt, they have built hospitals, roads, and mosques,” say local reporters.

Ali Raza Rind said, “In the past, the governor of Tabuk built a gigantic and beautiful hospital and mosque by issuing funds to the governmental authorities.” But he also refuted the claim that he had come to visit the development sites in Dalbandin.

The Houbara bustard is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

According to the code of conduct, the hunting period is restricted to 10 days with a bag limit of 100 birds. Hunters have been advised to neither poach chicks or eggs, nor hunt live bird. They are also ordered not to use firearms for hunting, which is to be carried out only using falcons. But Quetta-based conservationists say that they never follow the code of conduct. They further ask: how can you stop the Arab dignitaries from using firearms during hunting? Will they listen?

There is no denying the fact that Pakistan possesses warm relations with the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is particularly close with Saudi Arabia, where he spent nearly seven years in exile after former military chief Pervez Musharraf toppled him in a coup. That is why, according to media reports, it is stated that the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself sent his Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal to welcome Saudi Arabian governor, Fahd. This is why Arab dignitaries fearlessly break the law and hunt the houbara bustards of Balochistan – every winter.

The Nation

Pakistan’s Troubled Minorities


Veengas Yangeen on forced conversions and dubious convictions of blasphemy.

Veengas Yasmeen is a senior journalist based in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes exclusively on Pakistan’s religious minorities in Pakistani national dailies and periodicals. This interview has been edited for clarity.

How do you view the current situation for minorities in Pakistan?

Overall, the condition of ordinary people is not good. They are suffering. But minorities in particular are plagued with many problems because of their beliefs, and they are being victimized in the name of religion. Yet they cannot complain.

Article 25 (1) of the Pakistani constitution says all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection under the law. Unfortunately, when we take a look at the miserable condition of minorities, it seems that this does not apply to them. In every realm they are being treated unequally and as second-class citizens. Opportunities are not evenly distributed among Muslims and non-Muslims. Minorities face discrimination and they do not have an equal status. They do not have job opportunities. For instance, Christians get menial jobs, like that of sweepers.

Ironically, despite the fact that they are the indigenous people of this land, we have put them in the category of “minorities,” because they are not Muslims. I reject this categorizing and urge the government of Pakistan to abolish the word “minority.” They are equal citizens, and they should be treated as such.

What are your thoughts about the forced conversions of minority girls, particularly of Hindus and Christians, in Pakistan?

First, our society is male-dominated; second, unethical and criminal acts usually take place in the name and under the cover of religion and honor. Forced conversions of Hindu and Christian girls shows that certain groups can commit crimes in the name of religion.

It is a sad state of affairs when minority girls can be kidnapped, married off, and forcibly converted to Islam. It is beyond my comprehension – what kind of a society do they want to build?

Due to forced conversions, minority Hindu and Christian girls cannot even go to school or college. They are imprisoned in their homes.

As for the victims, their families are unable to follow up due to the wrath of the local clerics, who claim that the victims have now become Muslims. The victims’ families cannot ask their daughters whether they have converted willingly or not.

You have been writing on the cases of forced conversions since the case of Rinkle Kumari. Can you tell us about these Hindu girls, who are victims of forced conversions in Sindh?

What happens is that the perpetrators, in the name of religion, kidnap Hindu girls, and local clerics, in my many cases, provide a place to keep them. To understand the motives, you need to understand the cultural, historical, and political perspectives.

There is no denying that Sindh is known for its traditional, tolerant Sufi-culture, diversity, and pluralism, and for its cultural roots that go back to Hinduism. Interestingly, Hindus are sons of the soil; they are indigenous to Sindh.

Since the 1970s, when former General Zia-ul-Haq overthrew the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, he began nurturing extremism across the country. Extremists also made inroads into Sindh, and they have today penetrated deep inside the region. It is these people who appear to be involved in forced conversion cases. These extremists, by forcibly converting Hindu girls, want to force the Hindu community to leave the Sindh. When your children are unsafe, you will want to leave.

Coming back to your question, yes, I have been writing on the forced conversions since Rinkle Kumari’s case, who was forcibly converted. Let me share one more thing: when the cases of Rinkle Kumari, Asha Kumari, and Lata Kumari reached the Supreme Court of Pakistan, they were not allowed to meet their family members, their parents. In this sorry situation, Hindus are compelled to leave Sindh due to forced conversions and injustices. Those who cannot afford to leave are still suffering.

Now, due to frequent cases of forced conversions, Sindh looks different. Meanwhile, the government has either kept silent over the issue or are unable to apprehend the perpetrators. Instead, the perpetrators involved in such cases pressure the government using the sword of religion.

What progress do you think has been made in the fight against forced conversions and forced marriages of minority girls in Pakistan?

People used to think that the reason that minority girls were converting is that they fall in love with Muslim boys. But now they realize that this is not love; rather these are cases of forced conversions and forced marriages of minority girls.

In the past, when I would speak up about this, particularly over the case of Rinkle Kumari, people would say I was giving unnecessary coverage to her case. Now, though, I do see people from different walks of life raising their voices over forced conversions and forced marriages of minority girls. They agree that these cases malign our society and our international image. They are becoming part of the fight against these practices. This is good progress.

How do minorities get implicated in the blasphemy cases?

How do minorities get implicated in the blasphemy cases?

Unfortunately, those who accuse minorities of blasphemy have the golden coin of religion; they can easily use it for their own interests. First, you call them a minority; second, you put the gun of blasphemy to their heads. Once the accusation is made, it becomes a sacred issue without investigation.

The police arrest the accused and the government remains silent, encouraging people to make the accusations.

How do you view Asia Bibi’s case?

Everyone knows that people use blasphemy laws against minorities; we have the example of Rimsha Masih’s case, in which a cleric tried to entrap her in a blasphemy accusation. Similarly, reports suggest that Asia Bibi is innocent. The government should release her and not let people misuse the blasphemy laws.

How long will this go on? Resolving Asia Bibi’s case could open a positive chapter in the history of Pakistan, if she can receive justice.

What should the government do to improve the situation for minorities, and to stop their emigration?

If the government of Pakistan wants to improve the situation for minorities, it must first stop the misuse of blasphemy laws and crimes committed in the name of religion. It should ensure that all citizens are equal [in practice]. No one should be allowed to victimize minorities. Then, the situation would improve. Minorities are emigrating because they are not being treated as equal citizens. If they get equal rights and their children can move about freely, they will be less likely to leave.

The Diplomat