Pakistan’s Secret War In Baluchistan Peter Tatchell, 21 December 2007

The often indiscriminate attacks on civilian settlements are taking place mostly in the Kahan and Dera Bugti regions, and involve the deployment of heavy artillery, fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships.

Pakistan launched a renewed military offensive against the people of Baluchistan on December 6, with the aim of crushing the nationalist movement and suppressing protests against Islamabad’s recent murder of the Baluch national leader, Mir Balach Marri.

The often indiscriminate attacks on civilian settlements are taking place mostly in the Kahan and Dera Bugti regions, and involve the deployment of heavy artillery, fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships.

Pakistan’s attacks have reportedly, so far, resulted in deaths of at least 100 men, women and children. More than 200 houses and other buildings, including schools and clinics, have been bombed and burned to the ground. Many farm animals were also killed in the attacks, depriving already poor people of their livelihood.

Faced with this state terrorism by the dictatorship of President Pervez Musharraf, thousands of Baluch people have fled into the mountains to escape the military onslaught.

Baluchistan was granted independence by Britain in 1947. Less than a year later, in 1948, Pakistan invaded and annexed the country. Ever since, Islamabad has suppressed (pdf) the nationalist movement and ripped-off Baluchistan’s gas, oil, coal, copper and gold resources; leaving most of the population impoverished and living under the tyranny of military occupation.

The current onslaught by Pakistani forces is just the latest of many violent assaults and human rights violations in Baluchistan by the Musharraf dictatorship, as documented by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Pakistan has sealed off the regions where the military operations are taking place and is blocking phone lines. But according to a message smuggled to me by Baluch rights campaigner Anjuman Ithehad Marri, who said:

“The Pakistani army used helicopter gunships and carpet-bombed innocent Baluchs in the Kahan, Taratani and Kamalan Kech areas. Dozens of innocent Baluchs, most of them shepherds and farmers, were shot dead by Pakistan’s terrorist army. In addition, hundreds of houses were burnt and livestock killed.

Pakistan’s terrorist army arrested over 400 innocent Marri Baluch people in Kohistan Marri, including women and children, and took them to unknown places. No one knows about their whereabouts. Twenty-five of those arrested were tied to trees and shot dead.

We appeal to international peace-loving communities and organisations, including the Red Cross, United Nations and Amnesty International, to send a fact-finding team to Baluchistan to see Pakistan’s barbarism with their own eyes.”

Another report bought out of Baluchistan by human rights campaigners states:

“The Pakistan army is operating a shoot-to-kill policy. Around 500 innocent civilians, mostly women and children, were kidnapped by the Pakistan army and transferred to detention camps, where they are being treated inhumanely. Over 2,000 people from these areas have had to abandon their homes to take shelter in mountains and caves to save themselves from the firepower of the Pakistani military. Currently most of the affected areas remain encircled and closed off by the military.

Nobody from the outside world is allowed into the region to witness the atrocities. The operation is ongoing and continues unabated, bringing more suffering and further loss of innocent Baluch life. This new intense military operation is an attempt to silence and demoralise the rightful struggle of the Baluch people for their freedom. It comes in the aftermath of the killing of Baluch national hero, Mir Balach Marri, and the arrest of Mir Hyrbyair Marri (the exiled Baluch nationalist) in the UK.”

On my Talking With Tatchell online TV programme, I recently interviewedMehran Baluch, the Baluch representative to the UN human rights council, about Pakistan’s neo-colonial occupation of Baluchistan. He has asked me to circulate this appeal to the international community about the latest military offensive:

“These brutal, indiscriminate military tactics violate the ethics of warfare; involving despicable and atrocious war crimes. The condemnation of these crimes against humanity is a duty of the civilised world …

We request human rights organisations to visit the region and witness the slaughter for themselves. We also strongly urge the UN human rights council to send a fact-finding mission to Baluchistan to investigate these attacks.

Pakistan is determined to kill the Baluch people and has deployed its entire state machinery to crush and eliminate the Baluch nation. This is state terrorism and is in contravention of international human rights laws.

We hope the international community will not ignore the situation in Baluchistan in the way that it stood back and allowed the genocide in Rwanda.

Under the regime of Musharraf and his military chief, General Kiyani, the people of Baluchistan will always be abused as the enemy. The right to self-determination is the only solution for Baluchistan.

The escalated military offensive is no coincidence, but part of a pre-planned strategy to crush the Baluch people. It coincides with the killing of the legendary Baluch patriot, Balach Marri, in the Sarlat area of Naushki in a military operation on November 21 2007, and in the arrest of his younger brother Hyrbyair Marri and fellow Baluch patriot Faiz Baluch in London on December 4 2007.”

Last weekend saw protests in London by Baluch refugees against the military assault on their country. They feel a sense of immense frustration, demoralisation and anger at Britain’s failure to press the Pakistani regime to halt its abuses in Baluchistan.

The foreign secretary, David Miliband, appears to take the view that we need Pakistan as an ally in the so-called “war of terror” and therefore we should look the other way when confronted with evidence of Islamabad’s human rights violations and neo-colonial despotism. This sleazy realpolitik, whereby Britain colludes with dictators, needs to change. It is doing great damage to the UK’s international standing and betraying the just cause of the people of Baluchistan.

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