WASHINGTON DC, Feb 4, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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A Pakistan Army soldier ready to strike in Balochistan

Balochistan Insurgency: Musharraf's Snowball, Spinning Out of Control

By Shaheen Sehbai

WASHINGTON, February 4: The Balochistan situation is rapidly spinning out of control of Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf, partly because of his naivety, mainly because of his arrogance.

The insurgency is snowballing beyond speed limits. Six bomb and landmine blasts targeting key transport, communications and power facilities on Wednesday caused widespread damage. Militants blew up a major electricity transmission line on Tuesday night suspending power supplies to two thirds of the troubled province, including the capital city of Quetta where two bombs went off early on Sunday.

Two out of the five explosions ripped up the main railway line between Quetta, the capital of Balochistan and Zahidan in neighboring Iran. The track was blown up at Mustung where a powerful bomb ripped through the wall of a police station.

In the other rail blast a passenger train escaped a possible accident when a pilot engine found part of the track missing at Dera Ghazi Khan, in Punjab province. A 1.2 meter stretch had been blown up by a bomb leaving a 60 cms deep crater and halting the Chiltan express traveling from Quetta to Islamabad. In Kohlu, Balochistan militants blew up two microwave telephone masts.

Multiple blasts destroyed an electricity transmission line tower in Naushki. On Saturday, three power towers were blown up in Nasirabad district, 220 km southeast of Quetta, suspending electricity supply to parts of the province. Two weeks back gas supply was stopped to most of Pakistan.

In just two short weeks the country’s gas and power infrastructure have been disrupted like never before, railway lines have been blown up and bomb blasts have become a routine occurrence.

While it all started with a totally unnecessary cover up of a doctor’s rape, just because Musharraf feared the Army may feel humiliated if he took action, even against a rapist junior Captain, real anger and fury was unleashed when Musharraf uttered the “you-will-not-know-what-hit-you” remark.

That politically incorrect outburst stunned the country but galvanized the Opposition spurring even Musharraf supporters to loudly proclaim their opposition to any military action. Parliamentarians from the troubled province declared war, almost.

On Wednesday young Senator Sanaullah Baloch, a nationalist, elaborated, in these words: “Islamabad has missed the chance of appeasing us… Our suggestions were turned down with all the arrogance. Now my people would only want their recognition as equal partners of the Federation of Pakistan. Take it or leave it.”

The mysterious, but now world famous, Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for all the actions, ignoring all warnings and threats by Pakistan Army, including the ill timed declarations to set up Army Garrisons at Sui and in other parts of the province.

The nationalist leaders, openly conceding they would be outgunned if attacked, joined hands forgetting their centuries old tribal rivalries. They were also able to use the media to win sympathies countrywide, and abroad. A report published by the World Socialist Web said the tribal insurgency will become a "major headache" for Musharraf.

The Army arrogance did not stop from complicating the situation. While some politicians, fearing they would become irrelevant as soon as Army action began, tried to make some conciliatory noises, Musharraf and his men continued to ignore and humiliate them by their actions.

The situation has reached a point where Army is now ready to displace thousands of Balochis from their homes and colonies near the gas installations, bulldozing and demolishing their houses, in the name of securing these assets.

The BLA has declared a Red Alert and has warned they would retaliate furiously if Army demolished any of the residential homes.

The powerless politicians, mainly those supporting Musharraf, are in sheer panic and their head honcho, Choudhry Shujaat Hussain is talking of constitutional amendments to give more autonomy to Balochistan. Analysts see these moves as too little and too late since the Army is not conceding any ground as it prepares for action. Thousands of troops, tanks and artillery, have been moved to the Sui battleground.

Nationalist leaders are talking of the ultimate sacrifice and everybody is recalling the 1971 East Pakistan debacle, comparing Musharraf to General Yahya Khan and his actions to the military operations that broke up the country. Fears of foreign hands are being publicly expressed.

The bankruptcy of the Army strategy has been fully exposed. Even Baloch supporters of Musharraf like Mahim Khan and Sarwar Kakar on Wednesday joined Sanaullah Baloch, Aslam Buledi and others in the Opposition, to denounce it.

The demand now is not of more autonomy but apparent humiliation of the Army. While talking in separatist tones, these leaders are asking not just for political and economic freedom, they have almost put the precondition that troops must be withdrawn from the province and plans for building more cantonments be abandoned for any political dialogue to begin.

Sanaullah Baloch gave revealing statistics in the Senate on Wednesday calling it the “economic, political and psychological rape of Balochistan.”

“The province produces 40 per cent of gas but consumes only two per cent. Gas was discovered in 1952 but provincial capital Quetta had first gas connection in 1986 after establishment of the Army Corps Headquarters. Power consumption is only half a percent. Eight per cent of sea coast is located in Balochistan but the coast guards are 100 per cent non-Baloch.”

But the ground situation, as he narrated it, means neither the Army will concede anything nor they are looking for any face saving formula. “The Frontier Constabulary (FC) has set up 580 check posts across the length and breadth of the province, manned mostly by non-Balochs. These posts have become a source of extortion and harassment. The officers supervising them have become fabulously rich,” Baloch told the Senate. It was, in fact, typical conduct of an occupying army.

“I have counted a total of 28 sardars in the province of which 24 are with the government,” he said. The provincial government is a pack of jokers, or almost so. “An Army Brigade was already on the march before the cabinet met to ask for Center’s help. The day Choudhry Shujaat was talking about an autonomy package recommended by his parliamentary committee, Army had flown journalists especially from Islamabad to Sui, to announce plans for building the cantonment and acquisition of 400 acres of Baloch land.” Nothing could be more arrogant and insulting.

Locals say this land has been forcibly taken over and no Baloch has sold it to the Army. The charges are familiar to what the Army has been accused of doing all over the country – grab the land.

While everybody else is hearing fire alarms blaring, Musharraf and his Generals are pretending to be deaf and looking busy in politicking. A pathetic sight was Musharraf wearing a Sindhi cap and an Ajrak on top of his commando jacket at an Army-sponsored public meeting in Sindh. His outfit was an insult to both the Army Uniform and the Sindhi cap (see pix above).

When an all powerful General has to use crutches borrowed from political nobodies, it is the clearest sign that he has no clue where he is headed. Surely, as he predicted, he would not know what hit him, as it certainly is not the era of the 70s.

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