Pakistan’s ‘strategic’ backwaters

Published: February 20, 2013
The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc.

The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc.

It seems that Balochistan is no one’s responsibility when it comes to dealing with crisis but everyone else’s responsibility when it is a matter of taking critical decisions. Thus, no one wants to deal with the law and order problem but the province’s natural resources are just another matter. Eventually, no one does anything meaningful for the province. One of the biggest examples of the above-cited attitude is the federal government’s signing of a deal with China to develop and run Gwadar port or the MoU signed with Iran for the gas pipeline through Balochistan. Both the projects are great and will hopefully bring some level of prosperity to the region. However, it is the manner in which both actions have been taken, which must be questioned; the federal government signed off control of the port without any major involvement of the provincial government.

Was it that the provincial government was too absorbed in dealing with the Hazara killings of last month and thus it could not attend to such an important matter? Or is it that the federal government thought it was in a better position to negotiate interests? Such behaviour is odd especially after the much-propagated Eighteenth Amendment to the 1973 Constitution, under which major ports and shipping falls under the list of subjects that are shared responsibility of the federal and provincial governments. This means that the Balochistan government should have been included in the negotiations and part of the signing process. Surely, there are many who would draw attention towards the capacity issue. They would argue that a government that cannot protect its citizens, like the Hazaras, does not have the capacity, hence the right, to be part of the process. However, capacities don’t grow on trees and unless people are made to take responsibility, they will never learn. Pakistan’s 66-year history has also been that of crowding out of regions and institutions by the more powerful ones, so in the end things remain where they are because those who are supposed to do the work don’t know how to do it. In any case, there shouldn’t have been any fear of opposition from a fairly pliant provincial government. According to an expert, who works on devolution of power from the centre to the provinces, with a pliable government in Quetta, there was no likelihood of anyone raising any question, so why not include the province just for the sake of appearance. Indubitably, the provincial government’s capacity to protect its Hazara population should not be used to take away its right to decide the use of its resources.

Intriguingly, no federal institution is ready to take responsibility for securing law and order in the province for which everyone, including the highest courts, would like to blame the inept provincial government or the prime minister who does not really control various forms of the security establishment in the country, especially those operating in Balochistan. Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has a lot to answer for but he certainly does not control the various militant outfits like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) operating in the province. The LeJ operates in Karachi in its various forms — it is running wild in Balochistan and is expanding happily in Punjab and Sindh without anyone stopping such proliferation. Malik Ishaq, who is one of the leaders of the LeJ, sits happily in Punjab with full knowledge that nothing serious can happen against him except for being jailed under the MPO. He knows fully well that the only case in which he was caught was of the murder of an Iranian diplomat in Multan in 1997, and this case was closed by the Supreme Court in 2011. The SC not only released Ishaq but overturned his death sentence by the anti-terrorism court (ATC). Sadly, the case dragged on until the time that the ATC judge giving the sentence escaped the country and the LeJ walked around merrily shooting down each of the about a dozen eyewitnesses who had given evidence in the case, including a senior police officer from Gujranwala, Ashraf Marth.

Now, the security agencies happily hide behind the artificial classification of ‘controlled’ versus ‘uncontrolled’ LeJ. The narrative being popularised is that there is a good LeJ headed by Ishaq that sits in Punjab and is friendly to the Pakistani state versus the LeJ International (al-Alami) that is stationed in North Waziristan and attacks the state and its citizens. However, it is also very odd that the intelligence agencies and the security establishment has not done a thing in using Ishaq to negotiate with the bad LeJ as was done during the attack on the GHQ in 2009. Ishaq was flown in to buy time from the assailants to secure senior army officers stuck in the headquarters. The larger argument is that the good militants are used to negotiate with the bad militants. Intriguingly, this is the same formula suggested for Afghanistan in some of the papers written and supervised by the establishment types and sold to the public as consensus document.

Those buying into the ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ militant argument forget that the LeJ and other militants have always been and remain conduits of state actors. Pakistani scholar and former police officer Hassan Abbas’s book Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism (M E Sharpe, 2005) is essential reading to understanding some of the connections. The author lays out the connection between our prime intelligence agency, America’s CIA and the LeJ in the killing of an Iranian diplomat in 1997. There was a money trail from the US to the LeJ’s Riaz Basra responsible for the killing. Leafing through the book, one is forced to think if the same logic or relationship prevails now. The LeJ in Balochistan could happily take cover of the shared suspicion of Iran by Islamabad and Washington to kill the Hazaras that many in the Pakistan establishment consider as being close to Iran or (even trained by the neighbour). A similar suspicion of the above linkage in the 1980s had resulted in a Shia massacre in early 1988 in Gilgit-Baltistan, which was then suspected of becoming too autonomous of the state and going under Iranian influence.

Sadly, with no one taking responsibility of security and foreign policymaking, the Hazaras and Shias or other minorities may continue to be killed.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2013.

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Reader Comments (28)

  • MSS
    Feb 21, 2013 - 12:26AM

    The only good Taliban is the dead Taliban.
    The security agencies will have to learn this fundamental, sooner the better. Otherwise, as a result of Shia killings, more militant groups sympathising with the Shias will start revenge killings and create even more turmoil. It is time everybody, from president, PM, HM, ISI, police and army have to take responsibility or get out. It is also about time, all political leaders must call a spade a spade. NAwaz Sharif and imran Khan need to show strategic maturity and not ride two boats simultaneously. CM of Sindh also needs to go home rest.


  • John B
    Feb 21, 2013 - 12:27AM

    Shia Hazara + Shia PAK = pro Iran = anti-PAK = PAK is Sunni state and LeJ + PAK Establishment are protector of Sunni PAK, and now LeJ has become the sole protector of Sunni PAK, thus become anti-Hazara?

    If so why then Shia gas via Baluchistan and lingering Baloch-Hazara animosity in the region?

    There is more to targeted Hazara killing than the Shia sectarianism and the Hazara demand for military takeover of the region (who is voicing this? ) is oddly familiar.

    Is LeJ doing someone else’s agenda in anti-Hazara campaign?


  • Arindom
    Feb 21, 2013 - 1:39AM

    Hand entire Baluchistan to the Chinese….


  • Feb 21, 2013 - 2:56AM

    Great article. Shame on those who granted you persona non grata


  • Roni
    Feb 21, 2013 - 3:44AM

    You write “The SC not only released Ishaq but overturned his death sentence by the anti-terrorism court (ATC). Sadly, the case dragged on until the time that the ATC judge giving the sentence escaped the country and the LeJ walked around merrily shooting down each of the about a dozen eyewitnesses who had given evidence in the case, including a senior police officer from Gujranwala, Ashraf Marth.”
    This says it all! When is the LHC and SC going to release Qadri? He is not going to be punished the judge in that case has also ran away with his family.


  • Feb 21, 2013 - 4:34AM

    Good and bad LeJ?! This mindset of pandering to militant extremists is twisted and insane and can’t believe the apparently Sunni dominated establishment would still continue to betray the minority Hazaras and Shias by holding such marginalizing racist and bigoted beliefs against them and stand by condoning terrorist anarchy as the atrocious genocidal cleansing continues.


  • Muhammad Hamza
    Feb 21, 2013 - 5:11AM

    At least that is a good sign that we start giving away our holly land to non hollies such as China and Iran, piece by piece. In that way, maybe we can become a little less holy which we need desperately. It was better If Baluchistan would have been consulted, but when ultimate objectives are paramount the lesser evil can be ignored for lesser good. We are habitual to choose lesser evil. Between Qoumi Itehad and Moulana Bhutto we picked Bhutto which was lesser evil, according to our perception in our less dumbest time. He did not have a beard on his face. Very convincing. Now we are picking up good Taliban from bad Taliban. Better sign. Pampering good Lashkars than bad Laskars. Amazing thing. Hoping to get some help from good military than bad military. Marvelous. I think we are on a right track and soon will be reaching a point where we will be lesser evil than the full holly.


  • RAW is WAR
    Feb 21, 2013 - 7:14AM

    @ Arindom

    better still, independence.


  • F
    Feb 21, 2013 - 7:53AM

    The state rented itself to Americans and other foreign “strategic assets” until now. The new chapter begins with China having control of a strategic port – Gwadar. The State perpetually condemned to being a tenant in its own house.


  • Wasim
    Feb 21, 2013 - 8:35AM

    Agencies feel LeJ is an asset.


  • Truth_Prevails
    Feb 21, 2013 - 10:10AM

    “…without any involvement of Baluchisatan Government”..Ma’am “WHICH GOVERNMENT???”Recommend

  • qamar
    Feb 21, 2013 - 10:22AM

    Overwhelmed with the fact that people like you are still raising your voices with real facts only.Must share article…


  • Kannan
    Feb 21, 2013 - 11:28AM

    I do not understand why Pakistan does not take such scholars into consideration ?


  • A sad citizen of Quetta
    Feb 21, 2013 - 3:29PM

    Sectarianism is one important dimension of the Hazara massacre/genocide in Quetta but the conflict is as complex as the city that is the battleground for it. An overwhelming majority of the Hazara’s living in Quetta came during and after the soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They were supported by the highly influential leaders of then Quetta’s small native Hazara population (General (R) Musa was the Governor of Balochistan in the late 1980s and dozens of senior military and civilian bureaucrats were Hazara’s). This influx was to achieve important objectives. The anti-Army Pashtun nationalists could be kept under pressure without direct confrontation, thanks to the decades old anti-pashtun sentiments of the Hazara’s. Their Pakistanisation would also open the doors of central Afghanistan thus expanding the influence sphere beyond the south-eastern pashtun lands. I don’t believe the Hazara’s could be used against the Balochs whose Sardars quite effectively tame their people and are easy to purchase and handle.

    But what went wrong then? Is it really the Iranian influence? How would Iran influence the Shia hazara’s of Quetta and for what purpose? Are they being blamed for converting Sunni Brahvi’s of Balochistan to Shia’ism? Or is it that in the changing geostrategic landscape of the region, they have lost importance and are no more useful. Just like, the leaders of Bangladeshi Jamat e Islami (the then B team) are no more useful so no hue and cry on their sentencing. I don’t have the answer. I do feel however that had they not played in the hands of others against their own country which is Afghanistan and which they deny, things might have been different. The tragedy is also that they don’t have wise leaders (like General Musa) to guide and protect them.

    It is sad how cheap human life can be in these dirty strategic games. It is sad how easy it is to exploit people in Afghanistan and Pakistan in name of religion and ethnicity. The ethnic cleansing of a hard working, bright, intelligent community of Quetta or Bamyan or both in the name of religion or politics… we may have championed the games of politics. We may have secured heavens and houris in the sky. We may have resisted another superpower. But we are losers on the front of humanity.

    A sad citizen of Quetta.


  • ahmed41
    Feb 21, 2013 - 6:09PM

    “——with no one taking responsibility of security and foreign policymaking, the Hazaras and Shias or other minorities may continue to be killed_

    Sounds a bit fatalistic !!!.


  • Naseer
    Feb 21, 2013 - 6:10PM

    It’s high time that we realized whether if, we want to survive as a state or fall prey to our so called allies. Pakistan is probably the only country in the world which is home to the largest population of refugees. It is very easy for a afghan national to get a pakistani ID and freely do business even if it is supported through the drug trade within Afghanistan. The point I am trying to make is that you cannot marginalize the local population in the name of humanity, when its evident that these very people hate us from the bottom of their hearts and would do everything to destabilize pakistan. Even today people are free to enter Pakistan by merely paying a couple of hundred rupees

    China is not in love with Pakistani’s, it is in love with its own strategic interests. Shutting our eyes does not make us invisible. We as a nation cannot stay hostage to these selfish politicans and the state establishment, who along with our chinese friends have embezzled billions. Handing over the port to China will definitely serve their interests but the ordinary citizen of this country be it in Gawader or anywhere in Pakistan will gain nothing.The politicans in Balochistan cannot think beyond a flag car and a lavish office with huge funds to plunder. Even if they start crying, trust me, a million dollars will do the trick.


  • Saad Hasan
    Feb 21, 2013 - 7:45PM

    Pakistan, at this juncture is facing threats of all type ranging from bad governance to militant onslaught against not only security forces but common men also. The country is at the verge of becoming a failed state and government functionaries are still unmoved. Balochistan again has been ignored during the twin deals of Gwadar and Iran Gas pipeline projects, may be due to the capacity and aptitude of authorities present. The argument of Ayesha Siddiqa is a most valid one and I agree that may it be deficiency of capacity but inclusion of Baloch representatives in these deals might have been the first step to shed away the argument of Nationalist Baloch regarding breach of Baloch rights. I donot know when the sense will prevail in government functionaries but better be early than late. I fear that it will not be too late.


  • Syed
    Feb 21, 2013 - 8:16PM

    Ms. Ayesha Siddiqa. I had to google your name when I came across one of your articles on Yahoo. You have no idea the job you are doing and really will be rewarded by Allah the Almighty. Keep up your good work and keep writing the truth. Hopefully it will open up the eyes of the silent majority in Pakistan and they will do something about the real cancer in our country.


  • omar mohsin khan
    Feb 21, 2013 - 8:24PM

    The only thing at this stage the awam wants that our Army with the agencies apologise and start working for the interests of the citizens of Pakistan i e Shia and Sunni’s both. Unfortunately we don’t have trust worthy Politicians and we don’t have loyal Generals otherwise at least one side could have challenged the other and get a grip of the situation. No one is asking for un constitutional measure.


  • A sad citizen of Quetta
    Feb 22, 2013 - 12:31AM

    The Pashtun Nationalists of Balochistan (Achakzai’s PKMAP to be specific) can play a crucial role in restoring peace not only in Quetta but also in the Af-pak region. The Afghans of Aghanistan (pashtuns but since recently hazara’s as well) love them because PKMAP protected them in Balochistan purely for ideological reasons facing the narrow-minded attitude of the corrupt Baloch Sardars and despite knowing well that this move was not politically profitable. Unlike the Baloch ultra-nationalists, PKMAP didn’t play in the hands of foreign agencies after the Afghan invasion, when they could have so easily taken any help from the Afghan government and its western patrons. They proved their loyalty to the soil and their belief in democratic means.

    Pakistan needs Achakzai if it is to end its regional and international isolation, if it wants to stop this bloodshed and these proxy wars. Achakzai’s political influence on Kabul is grossly underestimated. He is one of those rare breed of politicians who values principles far more than profit and power and for this reason he is more popular in Afghanistan than even the Afghan president – the same Afghanistan where Paksitani’s can’t even disclose their nationality due to the unlimited animosity towards them, thanks to our strategic depth doctrine. A Pashto proverb says, no matter how high the mountain, the path is always on top it. Same is the case with the mayhem in Balochistan and this region, if only we try to understand it with an unbiased and unprejudiced mindset, if only our mainstream society stops viewing the nationalist parties of smaller provinces as political ‘shoders’. Quetta, the battleground for all proxy wars, being the home of Achakzai, Karzai and Mullah Omer at the same time, also holds the key to peace.


  • Rex Minor
    Feb 22, 2013 - 2:16AM

    There is no such thing as Sunni unless you bring tn a shia muslim!

    Also there is nothing strategic about a country like Pakistan whose highways and the terrain as well as its space in the skies above is used by the armies of the USA and the Nato countries.

    Rex Minor


  • Azhar Ayaz
    Feb 22, 2013 - 2:56AM

    Great read. thanks for touching the matters in their real state.


  • Feb 22, 2013 - 3:51AM

    @A sad citizen of Quetta:

    I do feel however that had they not played in the hands of others against their own country which is Afghanistan and which they deny, things might have been different.

    First, most Hazaras within Pak are Pakistanis and had a community presence a century back, before the surge of newer Hazara refugees who were driven out from Afghanistan. I find this narrative prejudiced, marginalizing, untrue and wrongly blaming a persecuted minority. Being opposed to the psychotic and insane Taliban does not mean they went against Afghanistan as propagated by some extremist apologist Pakistanis. If anything it was the other way round, where Afghanistan and Hazaras were betrayed by the Taliban and their supporters.

    Of course they deny it, because there was no need to ‘play in the hands of others’ as the entire Hazara community (Pakistani and Afghans, and other Pashtuns and Darri speaking Afghans), had good reason to oppose the mostly Pashtun Deoband/Sunni Taliban extremist tyrants, even before allying with global Al Qaeda Salafi/Wahhabi Jihadists, who had always had an animosity against the Hazaras both ethnic and sectarian wise. Why do you think many had sought refuge in Pak and other countries? Because they were being massacred in Afghanistan, repeating again within Pakistan. Did you really expect them to support such insane groups to continue holding power in Afghanistan or elsewhere? Don’t think things were ever going to be different with the rise of such hatred regionally for one bigoted excuse or another ‘Oh they’re US proxies’, ‘oh they’re Iranian proxies’ unfounded beliefs used by extremists to justify violence and terrorism against minorities.


  • A sad citizen of Quetta
    Feb 22, 2013 - 8:33PM

    @bigsaf: Brother, I love Hazara’s as much as I love my own people. My comment was not against the Hazara community but against the policies that exploit religions and ethnicities for their mean interests. I hate Talibans and their local and national alleys as much as you do. If you felt any sentence of my post was against the community itself, I take it back and apologise.
    Best regards,


  • Jehangir Mari
    Feb 23, 2013 - 10:22AM

    In present times, can we afford to leave the overall governance to the inept politicos? Are the senior military officers, below General Kiyani, as indecisive as their chief is? General Kiyani had to move in much earlier. After all, and as everybody knows, he is the real ruler of Pakistan. Securing foreign ministry & finance ministry under army’s supervision was a wise step. But, in the present scenario, that is not adequate. Army, with the help of able civilian technocrats, needs to assume overall responsibility with their already secured power. Pakistan is on precipice. With this, its army, economically & psychologically, is also being devastated.


  • Another Sad Citizen of Quetta
    Feb 23, 2013 - 4:45PM


    I am afraid you have not done justice to the point A sad citizen was making.

    The point was that Hazaras have been a willing tool in the Pakistanization project, against the interests of Pashtun-dominated Afghanistan. Afghanistan was not always Taliban. The largest influx of Hazaras into Pakistan occurred during the time of Soviet Invasion. Soviets and Afghans supporting them were not Taliban or religious extremists. Highly Islamized Taliban were manufactured in Pakistan by Pakistanis. In an odd and most ironic way, Hazaras supported Taliban were on the same side of the conflict.

    Hazara ‘opposition’ to Afghanistan has been, unfortunately, purely sectarian. It is anti-Pashtu, anti-Sunni, even moderate Sunni. It is not an outgrowth of Taliban.

    This does not mean that they should be left to die at the hands of religious extremists. It does mean that they are facing the same problem that Bangladeshi Biharis are facing – since they are no longer as ‘useful’ to the establishment as they once were. Political correctness apart, this is an important point to grasp.


  • bigsaf
    Feb 23, 2013 - 11:06PM

    @A sad citizen of Quetta:
    @Another Sad Citizen of Quetta:

    I apologize if I came in harshly, and realize the first sad citizen of Quetta is sincere. However, I still find this narrative against the minority unbalanced and prejudicial. There are Hazaras now part of the Karzai govt and other Sunnis, so this sectarian claim that they’re against ‘moderate Sunnis’ sounds like unfounded biased resentment against the Shia Hazaras – ignoring the overall evidence of militant Wahhabi/Salafi/Deoband/Sunni Islamist extremism that has driven the region with their twisted views, be it Kashmir, Af-Pak.

    Now you conflated Afghanistan with the ownership of Sunni Pashtuns only. I wish you’d realize the existence of other non-Pashtuns and non-Sunnis like Tajiks (mostly Sunnis), Hazaras, Uzbeks, etc. By the same side of the conflict, are you referring to the 80’s civil war? The Taliban were a phenomenon formed much later and did not exist then. The Hazaras like many other groups, including many Pashtuns, were indeed against the Soviets due to their high-handedness. There’s not much irony.

    I thought the ‘played in hands of others’ reference was to the US. Lets assume they were in case of Pak. After enduring the Taliban rule, as you mentioned supported by Pak, and then the years after, are we suppose to believe that the motive of the genocide now is because they were a ‘tool of Pak’, the same establishment that holds the delusional paranoid and bigoted view of them being ‘Iranian proxies’? Don’t think they were useful any more than any other Afghan groups, if at all. LeJ isn’t even Afghan based, but from Punjab, though they are linked with Taliban, Al Qaeda, TTP, all of them with a history of anti-Shia massacres.

    I find this all like blaming of the minority for some point of history as the majority ignores its own major and more evidential ethnic and sectarian ideological bigotries and violence culpability.


  • A sad citizen of Quetta
    Feb 25, 2013 - 1:43PM

    Ethnic fault lines in Quetta are more important than the sectarian fault lines as evident by the nature of major conflicts and rivalries in the city in the last two decades. Ethnic sensitivities in Quetta are easier to manipulate. The massive influx of pashtun and hazara Afghan refugees into Quetta in the 80s and 90s changed the demography of the city and gave new dimensions to preexisting traditional pashtun-baloch ethnic/political rivalry. Post 2000, the Baloch nationalist struggle resorted to a Baloch-only political rhetoric completely ignoring the ethnic diversity of the province. They only talked about the rights of Balochs in their statements, interviews, processions. Their slogans of political deprivation conveniently ignored the fact that the provincial government and its bureaucracy which in the absence of a private sector is the sole provider of employment in the province, is over-represented by the Balochs. A few years ago, the (pashtun) Senior Member Board of Revenue, a top position in the provincial bureaucracy second only to the chief secretary, had to lose his position for suspending a 14 grade (baloch) Naib-Tehsildar. Just one of the many examples of the comparison power and influence between the two sides in the provincial government.

    On the positive note, the coming together of Hazara’s and Pashtuns in Quetta after initial confrontation (early 90s) brought the two communities closer as they learned to live with each other. Achakzai’s PKMAP have been more inclusive towards other ethnicites in their political approach. Having attended some of their Jalsa’s, it was surprising to notice that PKMAP leaders always discussed Hazara’s in a positive way. Their anti-state and anti-army anger has also declined significantly over the last two decades despite successful attempts by agencies to prevent them coming in power. The election of Nazim and Mayor in Quetta are dark examples. The problem in Balochistan is also that the real policy makers in the cantonment have almost no communication with PKMAP and rely on the very biased reports of their informers.


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