On the eve of the May 11 Pakistan elections, while foreign correspondents wasted reams of newsprint making predictions scripted straight out of the Pakistan military playbook, two men suggested something fishy was about to unfold
First, the New York Times’ correspondent Declan Walsh, who in 2011 had written a stinging expose on Pakistan’s “secret war in Balochistan,” was expelled from the country. The letter asking him to leave said he had indulged in “undesirable activities.”
Then, Mehran Marri, the representative of Balochistan at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), posted a profound comment on Twitter:
“Tomorrow, there will be an election in Punjab (home to Pakistan’s military) to decide, which group of Islamists will rule Balochistan, Sind & Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa. (KP)”
We don’t know about Walsh’s “undesirable activities,” but what Marri tweeted turned out to be uncomfortably true. The election results ended with Pakistan’s Punjab in complete command of power. It’s home to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Armed Forces head General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhury. The country now has no national party.
When I spoke to Marri he said the Pakistan military still holds the reins of power: “They will use Nawaz Sharif to distract India into promoting trade and culture ties and win praise from all quarters, including the U.S., but this will be theatre.” He added that “while the world is distracted by Sharif’s peace overtures, the Pakistan military establishment will be working in the west of the country, using its Islamist-installed provincial government in KP and the puppet government in Balochistan to implement the agenda of restoring the Taliban in Kabul once the U.S. departs in 2014.”
The takeover of the provinces that border Afghanistan came about after the Pakistan military did nothing as Taliban death squads terrorized and killed members of the liberal secular ANP party that had been governing Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and was a sworn enemy of the jihadis. As a result of the terror campaign, the ANP lost all its seats in parliament save one. The jihadi terrorists targeted the ANP, resulting in 700 of its members being killed since 2008. From these ashes has emerged the pro-Taliban Imran Khan whose party will now govern the province with help from the ultra-right Islamists of the Jamaat-e-Islami.
The humiliation of the secular nationalists was not limited to KP. Their fate was also duplicated in Balochistan. The military first invited the former Chief Minister of Balochistan, Akhtar Mengal, to come back from exile and lead his party, the BNP into the elections, only to later crush them in defeat.
Regarding Declan Walsh, though the reason for his expulsion remains unknown, we do know that in 2011 he exposed the death squads that are tolerated by the Pakistan military to stifle dissent in a country ostensibly, a democracy. Here is the chilling opening paragraph of Walsh’s article on Balochistan in The Guardian:
“The bodies surface quietly, like corks bobbing up in the dark. They come in twos and threes, a few times a week, dumped on desolate mountains or empty city roads, bearing the scars of great cruelty. Arms and legs are snapped; faces are bruised and swollen. Flesh is sliced with knives or punctured with drills; genitals are singed with electric prods. In some cases the bodies are unrecognisable, sprinkled with lime or chewed by wild animals. All have a gunshot wound in the head.”
Both Declan Walsh and Mehran Marri touch on something to which no other foreign correspondent in Islamabad dares. While the former was expelled this month, the latter has been in exile for the last 26 years