Editorial
Balochistan is far more complicated than FATA. As murmurs about Mullah Omar residing, nay operating actively, from his hideout in Quetta get louder, so do the concerns within and outside the province about possible drone attacks by the US leading to maybe a military operation.

overview
Target Balochistan
The likelihood of US drone attacks against suspected Afghan Taliban hideouts in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan has led to some serious speculation
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
It was inevitable that the issue of Afghan Taliban presence in Pakistan would one day become a bone of contention between Islamabad and Washington. The US has been showing concern over it for quite sometime now but matters seem to be coming to a head at a time when America and its Nato allies having troops in Afghanistan is suffering record losses in their guerilla-style attacks at the hands of the resurgent Taliban.

"The government should clear the mess of refugees first"
-- Habib Jalib Advocate, Secretary General, Balochistan National Party (Mengal)
By Usman Ghafoor
The News on Sunday: Do you believe the US concerns regarding Taliban presence in Balochistan are valid?
Habib Jalib: I am ready to buy the fact that there is Taliban leadership in the province. In the coalition (provincial) government of PPP, there are at least nine ministers who'd support Taliban at every given opportunity. We saw them in the Musharraf regime also. They are a product of the secret agencies. Of their own, they'd never be able to win so many seats in the provincial assembly.

"US wants to punish the people of Balochistanů"
-- Maulvi Noor Muhammad, JUI-F Leader and former MNA
By Aoun Sahi
The News on Sunday: It is alleged by the US and Afghanistan governments that Mullah Omar and the rest of Taliban leadership are using Quetta as their base camp to launch attacks on NATO and Afghan forces across the border. What is your take on the issue?

backlash
Threat perception
Life continues as normal amid fears that the province may see drone attacks any time
By Muhammad Ejaz Khan In Quetta
As the American fears about the top leadership of Taliban hiding in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan are being articulated in the media, people in the province appear concerned that the US may repeat its Waziristan-like drone attacks. The United States has already conducted over 120 drone and missile attacks in parts of NWFP killing more than 650 people.

Province charming
The strategically located Balochistan serves as second major transit route after Torkhum for the logistic support for the Nato forces engaged in the war against terror in neighbouring Afghanistan
By Saeed Rashid
It was quite surprising to see Stephen Fakan, US Consul General, roaming the streets of Karachi, stopping by at random shopping places, making purchases of traditional Pakistani outfits and having a taste of desi food, during his recent visit to Quetta. It was a rare gesture on the part of a US envoy and, of course, a token of friendship when he didn't hesitate to meet the common people on the street. Later, of course, Mr Fakan had a busy tour of the Balochistan capital where he met important government functionaries and senior politicians, including the nationalist leaders of the province, and exchanged views on different matters of mutual interest.

"This will further complicate the situation"
--Abdul Rahim Khan Mandokhel, Senior Deputy Chairman, Pakhtoonkhawa Milli Awami Party
By Naila Inayat
The News on Sunday: Gerald Feierstein, Deputy Chief of the Mission, US Embassy, said last week that Osama bin Laden was alive and had taken refuge in Pakistan. How do you respond to these allegations?

 

 

Editorial

Balochistan is far more complicated than FATA. As murmurs about Mullah Omar residing, nay operating actively, from his hideout in Quetta get louder, so do the concerns within and outside the province about possible drone attacks by the US leading to maybe a military operation.

Balochistan is complicated. There is a near insurgency going on in the province for the last six seven years. The nationalists have taken a hardline position, especially after the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti, and even boycotted the general elections held in Feb 2008. The province is most strategically located, sharing borders with Iran and Afghanistan, and through sea with gulf states. There is a huge presence of China engaged in development work across the province. It is important because both Pakistan and Afghanistan are partners with the US-led war on terror. It plays a role in this war because both Pakistan and Afghanistan happen to be allies and foes at the same time. Afghanistan believes the Taliban insurgency on its soil has its roots in Pakistan. And both the US and Afghanistan do not wholly trust Pakistan's establishment. They fear it may still be harbouring the desire to use Taliban as a strategic asset.

On its part, Pakistan's establishment fears increasing New Delhi's influence in Kabul.

So Balochistan is important. In the absence of clear information, all that one hears of from people, mediamen, politicians, is based on unofficial reports.

Those who are ready to believe that Mullah Omar is in Quetta have a valid reason for thinking so: the US may not find it easy to bomb a Pakistani city as it will raise undue hue and cry. The US has not launched a drone attack in any of the cities before, so Quetta may be the best place to hide. Those who reject this view do so on the ground that there is zero tolerance for Taliban among the Baloch and the Pashtun population of the province. It is therefore difficult for them to get together and engage in activities across the border, they argue.

This Special Report tries to get a sense of this buzz about Balochistan.

 

 

overview

Target Balochistan

The likelihood of US drone attacks against suspected Afghan Taliban hideouts in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan has led to some serious speculation

By Rahimullah Yusufzai

It was inevitable that the issue of Afghan Taliban presence in Pakistan would one day become a bone of contention between Islamabad and Washington. The US has been showing concern over it for quite sometime now but matters seem to be coming to a head at a time when America and its Nato allies having troops in Afghanistan is suffering record losses in their guerilla-style attacks at the hands of the resurgent Taliban.

Anne W Patterson, the US ambassador to Pakistan, in a surprise move, recently went public during an interview to describe the so-called Quetta Shura of Afghan Taliban as a matter of concern and high on Washington's list. This was the first indication that the US officials were expressing new concerns about the alleged presence of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and his council of key lieutenants in the capital of Balochistan. Her outburst earned her the displeasure of the Pakistan government and revived the debate about the likelihood of US drone attacks against suspected Afghan Taliban hideouts in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan.

The US ambassador's reasoning for highlighting the issue of the Afghan Taliban presence in Pakistan now was that the focus in the past was on al-Qaeda because it was a threat to her country. The Quetta Shura, in her view, mattered less to the US because there were no American troops in Afghanistan and the region. But she argued that the deployment of US troops in Afghanistan had prompted Washington to put the Quetta Shura high on its list.

Her argument is partially valid because US and allied troops were deployed in Afghanistan in 2001 and not recently as the eighth anniversary of the American invasion of the country fell on October 7, 2009. Though the Afghan Taliban started resisting the occupation forces in early 2002, not long after the fall of their regime, the US and its allies refused to acknowledge the growing threat to their soldiers until 2005 and the Western media largely ignored it. Admitting that Taliban were resurgent raised ugly questions about the failure of some of the most developed, rich and militarily powerful Western countries to defeat the ragtag Taliban force. It was only in 2008 and now, more so, in 2009 that the US and its Western allies started conceding that their Afghan military campaign was becoming unwinnable.

Besides, the US has been pushing Pakistan to take action against the Afghan Taliban and their Pakistani counterparts for the past many years. Pakistani security and law-enforcement agencies arrested a number of Afghan Taliban and handed them to the US and the Afghan government. The action by Pakistan's armed forces in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) including South Waziristan and North Waziristan since 2003-2004 was primarily against foreign militants linked with al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban initially and it was due to the intensity of the campaign and "collateral damage" that it has now become a battle between Pakistani Taliban and military. The unchecked US drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas such as the two Waziristans, Bajaur, Orakzai, Kurram and even Bannu district also contributed to inflaming sentiments, radicalising the population and enabling the militants to recruit fighters to take up arms against Pakistani security forces.

Terms such as Quetta Shura, Peshawar Shura and Haqqani Network were coined some years ago to describe the presence of Afghan Taliban in Pakistan. The name of former Afghan mujahideen leader Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, to a lesser extent, was also mentioned as someone who uses Pakistan's soil to plan and launch attacks against Nato and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

The Quetta Shura was supposed to be the highest-ranking decision-making shura, or council, of the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar. It was often alleged, not only by the US government officials and media but also by certain Western governments and President Hamid Karzai's regime in Afghanistan, that Mullah Omar was living in Quetta and issuing directions to the Taliban commanders fighting the US-led coalition forces. Once Mr Karzai reportedly provided some intelligence information to President General Pervez Musharraf regarding the Quetta mosque where Mullah Omar offered his Friday prayers and the houses where the Quetta Shura members were staying. According to President Musharraf and other Pakistan government functionaries, the mosque that was listed by President Karzai was so small that no Friday prayers were offered there and nobody had seen Mullah Omar there. Also the phone numbers of the houses mentioned by President Karzai were not working and none of the Taliban figures allegedly staying there could be found there. One remembers President Musharraf angrily saying at the time that the Afghan government should provide real-time intelligence to Pakistan to hunt down the Afghan Taliban leaders instead of agitating the issue through the media and thus enabling the wanted men to shift elsewhere.

The Peshawar Shura, too, was mentioned as a council of Taliban commanders leading the fight in eastern and parts of southern Afghanistan because these areas are closer to Peshawar than to Quetta.

Then there was the Haqqani Network. It was referred to as a group of militants distinct from the Afghan Taliban, sending fighters across the border to Afghanistan from its sanctuary in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal agency and planning attacks in several provinces including Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni, Logar and Kabul. In fact, it was no longer a secret that some of the most daring and spectacular suicide bombings in Kabul city were planned and executed by the Haqqani Network, headed nominally by veteran Afghan mujahideen leader and once a Taliban minister Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, but actually being run by his son Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Presently, the US and Nato military commanders in Afghanistan consider the Haqqani Network as the most powerful and dangerous militant group and Washington has even announced a reward of $5 million for the capture of Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is in his early 30s and is commonly and adoringly known by his followers as Khalifa. This places him in authority and importance right next to Mullah Omar, who carries a US head-money of $10 million.

It is true that a number of Afghan Taliban leaders and commanders found refuge in Pakistan after the fall of their government in December 2001. It is possible that Mullah Omar too crossed over to Pakistan at the time and is still hiding somewhere in Balochistan. But as they began organising and gaining strength in Afghanistan, particularly in south-western provinces, it became possible for most of Afghan Taliban commanders and fighters to shift and set up bases in their strongholds in Helmand, Kandahar, Urozgan, Zabul, Nimruz and Farah. The Taliban presence according to recent studies by Western think-tanks and organisation has steadily increased in recent years and now they are reportedly active in almost 80 per cent of Afghanistan. It is amazing that Taliban have gained foothold also in northern Afghanistan in provinces with sizeable Pashtun population like Kunduz, Baghlan, Balkh and Faryab where they never enjoyed much support even while in power. In western and central Afghanistan, the Taliban have a substantial presence, more so in Badghis, Herat, Ghazni, Wardak, etc.

The US and its allies need to recognise the fact that conditions are now conducive for the Taliban to mobilise public opinion against the foreign forces in the name of religion and patriotism. The rising civilian casualties in military operations, economic difficulties and unemployment, corruption by government officials, growing insecurity, Western support for discredited warlords and now the rigged presidential elections have all contributed to the deterioration in the situation in Afghanistan and given rise to opposition to the US-led foreign forces. This is being exploited by the Taliban to gather support and spread their influence across the country. The issue of cross-border infiltration by Taliban fighters from Pakistan to Afghanistan has become secondary in the wake of the aggressive military operations undertaken by the Pakistani military and this fact has been acknowledged by the US government officials and military commanders. The existence of Quetta Shura or others shuras managing the Taliban resistance in Afghanistan is also now a lesser issue because the militants in most Afghan provinces, particularly in faraway places in northern, western and central Afghanistan, are now self-sufficient and able to hold their own in captured territory in the face of repeated attacks by the Nato-led ISAF and Afghan government forces. These Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban shuras now contribute much less to the war effort than in the past.

 

"The government should clear the mess of refugees first"

-- Habib Jalib Advocate, Secretary General, Balochistan National Party (Mengal)

 

By Usman Ghafoor

The News on Sunday: Do you believe the US concerns regarding Taliban presence in Balochistan are valid?

Habib Jalib: I am ready to buy the fact that there is Taliban leadership in the province. In the coalition (provincial) government of PPP, there are at least nine ministers who'd support Taliban at every given opportunity. We saw them in the Musharraf regime also. They are a product of the secret agencies. Of their own, they'd never be able to win so many seats in the provincial assembly.

As to the query whether the drone attacks will put an end to the Taliban, let me say we have seen a lot of America's war doctrine before also.

Quetta's population has never exceeded 0.7 million, but presently it is 2.2 million, thanks to the Afghan refugees. The fact is, drone attacks will only consolidate the position of the Taliban, because they will actually be able to win the people's sympathy and this will breed more militants. Those people who will be displaced will reach farther parts of Balochistan and start creating problems.

TNS: So, what is the solution?

HJ: I believe the government of Pakistan should clear the mess (of refugees) in the very first place. It should deport these people to camps and, with the help of the United Nations, ensure their return to Afghanistan safe and sound. Secondly, sanctions should be imposed on madrassas that have been built unlawfully on state land.

In Balochistan, 8-9 percent of total GDP goes to non-development expenditures; the rest is for administrative expenditures. Education does not get more than one percent share. In this situation, how can you expect your institutions to develop? When the people are not going to schools and they are not educated in the arts and sciences of the world, all you will produce are the likes of Taliban. When you don't give employment, when you launch operations, when you breed fundamentalists instead of the enlightened lot of nationalists, what else can you get?

I believe this drone-attack 'bombshell' has been dropped in order that the government can counter the Baloch movement which is at its peak right now. It's a plan hatched by the federation and the security agencies.

TNS: You mean, they are crying wolf?

HJ: Well, if they know Mullah Omar is in the region, can't the intelligence agencies to get hold of him? Is it difficult for them at all? Do you think any Taliban ever existed without the knowledge or support of the agencies? These people are looking for him everywhere but not in their own home. This hide-n-seek is being played so that the money keeps flowing in from abroad and also because they want to defuse the Baloch movement.

TNS: What is the reality of the Taliban Shura?

HJ: Every second person you meet comes across as a Taliban; only God knows what the reality is. In Quetta, the Baloch have been reduced to a minority. On the one hand, the government is selling its army to kill its own people; and it is sending in its Taliban on the other hand. Now, if we have drone attacks too, what will become of us?

 

"US wants to punish the people of Balochistanů"

-- Maulvi Noor Muhammad, JUI-F Leader and former MNA

By Aoun Sahi

The News on Sunday: It is alleged by the US and Afghanistan governments that Mullah Omar and the rest of Taliban leadership are using Quetta as their base camp to launch attacks on NATO and Afghan forces across the border. What is your take on the issue?

Maulvi Noor Muhammad: The foremost aim of this war on terror is to banish Islam from the lives of the Muslims of Pakistan and to destroy the centres that impart the teachings of Quran and Shariah. In Balochistan and NWFP, the masses are very close to ulema and madrassas and they also voted for religious political parties like JUI. America wants to punish them for their association with Islam. In Balochistan, a large number of people including the ulema, students of different madrassas and the masses love Taliban. In fact, a large number of Afghans who came into Pakistan during the Russian invasion on their country are still living in Balochistan. Their one generation has been born and brought up here; now they have relatives here. They have a close association with Taliban but this does not mean that Taliban leadership is present in Quetta or any other place in Balochistan. Pakistani agencies and other law enforcement departments have categorically denounced the American claim of the presence of Taliban leadership in Quetta but America, in the guise of the Quetta Shura, actually wants to punish those people of Balochistan who love and support Taliban.

TNS: But Kandahar, Taliban's headquarter in Afghanistan, is situated only 120 miles away from Quetta and the NATO forces still face huge resistance there. Don't you think it's an easy option for Taliban leadership to launch its activity in Afghanistan sitting in Balochistan?

MNM: See, the different races living in Afghanistan such as Pakhtun, Baloch, Uzbek and Tajik all have very close ties with Pakistanis in general and the Baloch in particular. A large number of Pakhtun, Uzbek and Tajiks from Afghanistan have still been living in Balochistan. They have their relatives on both side of the border. Many of them have their association with Taliban. But I want to assure you one thing: the Taliban who are fighting the war in Afghanistan will never launch a war in Pakistan because they have a very clear policy that is to fight the anti-Islam forces in Pakistan and to establish a true Muslim state.

TNS: If that is the case, why have Taliban been fighting against Pakistani security forces in Swat and FATA?

MNM: This war has not been initiated by Taliban; in fact, it has been imposed on them by the US and its allied forces. The main purpose of the war is not to eliminate 'extremism' from Pakistan but to cut the supply lines of Taliban who are fighting against the US and its allied forces in Afghanistan. These areas have always been a very important source of funding and human force for Taliban in Afghanistan. America wants them to remain busy in Pakistan, so that they cannot help their counterparts in Afghanistan. Now, they want to do the same with the people of Balochistan because they also support and love Taliban in Afghanistan. Strategically speaking also, Balochistan is very important for the US.

TNS: Why is Balochistan so very important for the US?

MNM: As you know, with every passing day, the NATO supply route from Peshawar has been becoming tougher and tougher, so they are looking at the other supply routes. The only other option to keep up their supply through Pakistan is from Balochistan through Chaman border. This is also a shorter route and America wants to make it safe, in the name of Quetta Shura. It wants to attack the madrassas of Balochistan and the people who have some kind of association with Taliban. America also wants to occupy Balochistan by creating a gap between Baloch and Pakhtun areas because strategically Balochistan is very important and by controlling this area America will be in a good position to monitor China, Iran, Russia and Central Asian States.

The present Baloch nationalist resistant movement in Balochistan also enjoys the full support of the US.

TNS: If this is the case, don't you think the main purpose of the US behind launching an operation or conducting drone attacks in Balochistan could be to eliminate the Pakhtun tribes which are not supporting the cause of the Baloch nationalists?

MNM: This may be their one purpose because Baloch nationalists have been fighting this war with America's support. But their main aim is to destroy Taliban. Baloch nationalist parties, whether they are Baloch or Pakhtun, also consider Taliban a threat to peace in the world. All other mainstream political parties including PPP, MQM and ANP are also of the same views. I want to tell them that the only purpose of Taliban is to bring back an Islamic government in Afghanistan like they did in the past and that the world should not be scared of them.

TNS: Don't you think once they have succeeded in creating an Islamic government in Afghanistan, their focus will shift to other countries to establish a similar kind of governments? And, as you have already said, they have a huge support in Balochistan and NWFP, could Pakistan be their next target?

MNM: I don't think so. Taliban do not have a problem with Pakistan. You know the last time they came into power Pakistan was among the first countries along with UAE and Saudi Arabia to accept their government in Afghanistan. Now, since these countries have changed their policies towards Taliban, there is a possibility that Taliban will also bring about a change in their policy regarding focusing on Afghanistan. But, so far they have only been focusing on Afghanistan.

 

 

backlash

Threat perception

Life continues as normal amid fears that the province may see drone attacks any time

 

By Muhammad Ejaz Khan In Quetta

As the American fears about the top leadership of Taliban hiding in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan are being articulated in the media, people in the province appear concerned that the US may repeat its Waziristan-like drone attacks. The United States has already conducted over 120 drone and missile attacks in parts of NWFP killing more than 650 people.

"Obama and Bush are two sides of the same coin and they don't want to see Pakistan as stable country," says an auto rickshaw driver Abdul Wakil while talking to TNS on main Prince Road, Quetta. Media reports and rumours keep pouring here in the province that the Obama administration is planning to broaden the scope of drone attacks to include Quetta and other parts of Balochistan.

The Washington Post recently quoted US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson as saying that Quetta was high on Washington's list of terrorist bases in the region. US Deputy Ambassador to Pakistan Gerald Festine has also talked about the presence of two al-Qaeda leaders -- Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden -- in Pakistan, further aggravating the concerns of people. Gerald has also claimed that Taliban's command system exists in Quetta.

Though fears about a possible drone attack exist, life proceeds as normal in the province, with people found shopping for their daily commodities at markets and bazaars.

"It is binding upon the US to give a substantial proof to Pakistan regarding the presence of Taliban and Mullah Omar in Quetta before it makes any blunder of drone attacks," says Pashtoon tribal elder and MNA Sardar Israr Tareen who belongs to Loralai district of Balochistan while talking to TNS.

This is not first time that the US has expressed its concerns about Mullah Omar and Taliban shura based on its intelligence reports. In April this year The Washington Post said that the Obama administration would consider expanding the magnitude of drone attacks unless Pakistan manages to reduce the incursion of Taliban militants from Balochistan into Afghanistan.

These reports have upset the Baloch nationalist forces which are in row with the Islamabad and struggling for their rights. Mir Tahir Bizenjo, central secretary general National Party, tells TNS the nationalist forces would wholeheartedly oppose the drone attacks in Balochistan.

But the nationalists and religious groups in Pashtoon-dominated areas of Balochistan are not in favour of Taliban. It is safe to assume that the atmosphere is not very conducive for the Taliban to amass themselves or to establish their headquarter in and around Quetta. Therefore the plan to attack, as suspected in these media reports, is not at all feasible. Both Pashtoon and Baloch nationalist groups are visibly anti-Taliban. They even opposed Taliban in the late 1990s, when the Taliban phenomenon had been introduced in Afghanistan.

In what appears to be a backlash of US threats, the politico-religious parties have strongly condemned the idea. They believe the possible attacks would intensify anti-US sentiment in the region. In this connection, the Balochistan Assembly has already adopted a joint resolution against possible drone attacks in the province, demanding of the federal government to take up the matter with the US government.

Talking to newsmen, Chief Minister Nawab Muhammad Aslam Raisani observed that the US would not commit the mistake of conducting the drone attacks, as it would not only harm the US interests in Balochistan but also disrupt the supply line for NATO forces in Afghanistan. "We would not allow anybody to use the soil of Balochistan as battlefield," he had warned.

The truth is that there is real danger to the 700 kilometre supply line right from Karachi to Chaman border in the province. Sporadic incidents of violence and attacks on the containers and fuel supplying tanks to NATO are already being reported ever since the threats of attacks have been articulated.

The Balochistan government has made it clear that it had held meetings with the Pashtoon and Baloch tribal elders and reassured them that the Taliban high command would not be allowed to man itself on the territory of the province. Prudent vigilance is also maintained round the clock on all the border areas of the province. "I met with the Pashtoon and Balochistan tribal heads who assured me that they would not cooperate with the Taliban," the Chief Minister had said.

People of the province question the wisdom behind such threats and reports when there is no obvious presence of Taliban. "It is just an intriguing propaganda by the west for launching the drone attacks in the province. We demand of the federal government to clarify whether the implementation of Kerry-Lugar bill would be initiated by launching the drone attacks," ask provincial ministers belonging to JUI-F, Haji Muhammad Nawaz Khan and Maulana Muhammad Sarwar Musakhel while talking to TNS.

 

Province charming

The strategically located Balochistan serves as second major transit route after Torkhum for the logistic support for the Nato forces engaged in the war against terror in neighbouring Afghanistan

By Saeed Rashid

It was quite surprising to see Stephen Fakan, US Consul General, roaming the streets of Karachi, stopping by at random shopping places, making purchases of traditional Pakistani outfits and having a taste of desi food, during his recent visit to Quetta. It was a rare gesture on the part of a US envoy and, of course, a token of friendship when he didn't hesitate to meet the common people on the street. Later, of course, Mr Fakan had a busy tour of the Balochistan capital where he met important government functionaries and senior politicians, including the nationalist leaders of the province, and exchanged views on different matters of mutual interest.

However, the more politically aware circles of society regarded the US diplomat's visit to the province as that of a serious nature, considering its timing with the reports of the presence of the leadership of Taliban and Al-Qaeda, the much-talked-about 'Quetta Shura' and possible drone attacks in Balochistan.

It is important to note that the province which is strategically located in the southwest portion of the country and straddles three countries (Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan) besides bordering the Arabian Sea, has always been the centre of attention of the US and important European countries. It has been witnessed that the countries keep themselves abreast of the situation going on in the province through the frequent visits of their key diplomats and foreign missions. In the passing year, not only did the US diplomat visit the province but the ambassadors of Germany, France and Switzerland among others have also visited the province.

Needless to say, the strategically located Balochistan serves as second major transit route after Torkhum for the logistic support for the Nato forces engaged in the war against terror in neighbouring Afghanistan via Quetta and then Chaman, the border town.

Obviously, it was a matter of great concern for the US that the oil containers meant for Nato supply in Afghanistan began to be targeted in the province. Two major incidents of the kind took place recently in Quetta and Chaman in which some 34 oil tankers/containers were attacked and destroyed.

The US envoy took up the issue with the provincial authorities including the chief minister, the provincial police officer and other concerned, and sought a safe passage for them via Balochistan.

Although the high official sources gave assurances to the visiting envoy, time will tell as to what will happen in the future.

Given the strategic significance of this resource-rich (oil, energy and mineral) province, every country in the world -- with no exception to the US and its allies -- had a reason to start fishing for its gains. Gwadar, for instance, is just located close to the Strait of Hormuz, at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, which is expected to provide a port, warehouses, and industrial facilities to more than twenty countries--including those in the Gulf, on the Red Sea and in Central Asia and East Africa as well as Iran, India, and parts of northwest China.

China's presence enhances Gwadar's strategic importance. In fact, the port was built mainly with Chinese capital and labour. Some even consider this isolated township in the southwest of Pakistan as a Chinese naval outpost on the Indian Ocean designed to protect Beijing's oil supply lines from the Middle East and to counter the growing US presence in Central Asia.

According to a report, Gwadar is going to serve as an energy corridor to Central Asia, Middle East, South Asia and parts of West Asia. Beijing also operates the gold and copper mines in Saindak, near the borders of Afghanistan and Iran not far from the Ras Koh, the mountains where Pakistan's nuclear tests are conducted.

The fact remains that the situation could become more critical if the Americans intensify their activities in Balochistan and, especially, if a situation of conflict with Iran develops. The US wants Taliban and Al Qaeda bases in Balochistan to be liquidated to prevent attacks on Nato forces operating in the southern Afghan provinces, but it will be possible only when the US learns not to play with the sentiments of the people and pays heed to the real voice of the masses who don't like too much US interference in the country's affairs.

 

-----

Not sure about Shura

In the case of Taliban, all powers rest with the Shura. The senior Taliban are made members and Mullah Omar is the head since 1995.

When Taliban began their crusade against what they called the "war evils" in Afghanistan, in mid-1990s, nobody knew at the time that Taliban would not only form a government in Afghanistan but also become a major threat to the lone super power of the world i.e. USA.

Till 9/11, Taliban were effectively ruling Afghanistan with 90 percent territory under their command. However, when the US attacked Afghanistan in 2002, Taliban withered away. However, they launched guerilla war against Americans forces to push them out of Afghanistan. When the coalition forces could not control the attacks, the US officials started trading allegations on Pakistan that the Taliban are stationed in Quetta and operating and widening the campaign of violence in northern and western Afghanistan. The US Deputy Ambassador to Pakistan Festine Gerald claimed that Taliban's command system exists in Quetta. The Balochistan government is persistently denying the allegations. Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani says he never heard about the Taliban Shura in Quetta and even the Taliban spokesman had already contradicted the news about the presence of Taliban supreme commander Mullah Muhammad Omar in Quetta. "There is no existence of either Taliban or their Shura in Balochistan," he declares, talking to TNS.

It may be recalled here that between 1985 and 1986 when the Afghan jihad was at its peak, an experiment at raising Taliban forces was first made in Afghanistan's Kunar province. Deeni madrassas (religious schools) were established where Afghan youngsters, particularly orphans, were given Islamic education as well as military training so that they could participate in the jihad for the platform of different hezbs (organisation).

However, the name 'Taliban' first became public when the first Pakistani trade convoy was held up in the Afghan province Kandahar. The war lords of the area had an eye on the 30 trucks with their tempting loads of food, medicines and gifts for the Central Asian States of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Subsequently, the Taliban intervened and helped release the trucks.

There are many questions about the rise and fall of this formidable force which not only ruled Afghanistan for seven years but has since emerged as a potent force against the US-led coalition forces.

It is generally believed that the UN secretary general's former personal representative in Afghanistan, Mehmood Mistri, hit upon this idea to tackle the warlords of Afghanistan who were not reaching any consensus about a solution to the situation in their country. But, analysts are of the view that the US was directly backing Taliban, in an attempt to reduce the strength of the major warring factions of Afghanistan like Hekmatyar, Dostum and Rabbani.

-- Ejaz Khan

 

"This will further complicate the situation"

--Abdul Rahim Khan Mandokhel, Senior Deputy Chairman, Pakhtoonkhawa Milli Awami Party

By Naila Inayat

The News on Sunday: Gerald Feierstein, Deputy Chief of the Mission, US Embassy, said last week that Osama bin Laden was alive and had taken refuge in Pakistan. How do you respond to these allegations?

Abdul Rahim Khan Mandokhel: I don't want to comment on Osama's presence in the area or, for that matter, any other leadership. When you don't have access to proper information you can't make observations on unofficial reports.

The question arises whether there is a Shura or any other leadership or not. The fact is the terrorist hideouts are present everywhere and this is known to the world.

At present, all assertions are based on assumptions. These safe havens are everywhere in the country -- be it Quetta, Lahore, Chichawatni or wherever. Unfortunately, they are spread out.

TNS: So what if the American government decides to launch drone attacks on Quetta? What effect will it have on the Baloch Nationalist Movement?

ARKM: Our movement is separate; it has no connection with the terror networks. It's a democratic campaign for provincial autonomy in our country, which has a historical struggle for the demand of decentralisation. Other countries should not be threatened from our soil -- we should not give any such excuse whereby the international world is forced to act against us.

We need to take into account the prevailing situation. Our government needs to take effective measures instead of someone else coming over and bombarding our land. It's better that the Pakistan government and our forces take action in time, if only there are any bases here.

TNS: If such a situation is created, will the nationalist parties support the Pakistan army?

ARKM: The government of our country and our security forces are bound to cleanse the land of this menace. It is the government to decide or, should I say, they should decide to demolish the Taliban safe havens in the area. Our people suffering in Swat, Bajaur and Waziristan doesn't give a justification to foreign forces to come and attack us. This will further complicate the situation; so, I repeat, the government should pull up its socks.

TNS: Due to its strategic location America has vested interests in Balochistan especially with the Chaman logistic supply line for the Nato forces. So will the government then forfeit its logistic support?

ARKM: It is for the government to decide. America and Pakistan are two independent countries; they are allies in the war on terror in which they are helping each other out, so why does anyone want to interfere in this working relationship. You cannot have both relationships -- one that of an ally and then of an opponent. It will be very difficult if this relationship is altered.

TNS: Will the Baloch nationalists differ in strategy from that of the Pakhtuns?

ARKM: Baloch and Pakhtun are both agreed on the fact that this is our homeland. Despite our differences we made All Pakistan Democratic Movement (APDM) and Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement (PONAM) to develop a consensus on major issues. This is our own internal affair and this should not have any effect on the issue under discussion. We should remain peaceful and this goes for both the Baloch and the Pakhtun.

 

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