Eye on Pakistan

PIA the First to Submit to America

Posted in Domestic Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Political Economy by onpakistan on January 4, 2010

Foreign nationals (and American ethnic minorities, no doubt!) flying in from 14 “predominantly Muslim” countries are to undergo “enhanced screening” at American airports. (Official TSA announcement here).

According to press reports, and a statement from the airline itself, PIA was the first airline to submit to these procedures, and had done so from the 2nd of January: “Sultan Hasan said the passengers are subjected to special screening, including full body searches, in a designated area of the departure lounge. He said the airline had run advertisements in newspapers to warn prospective passengers of the increased safety measures.” How kind of PIA to offer itself as an advance guinea pig for the new procedures!

This is part of a wider trend towards increased American jurisdiction and control over Pakistani nationals. This is occurring through both legal treaty, and unofficially. The case of Aafia Siddiqui is already well known ( and quite rightly called the “tip of the iceberg”), but there are other recent insidious trends in the same direction. I have already blogged about how Pakistani government attempts to channel money flows in and out of Pakistan through the institutionalized and regulated banking sector will allow for greater U.S. control of Pakistani money transactions. Now this: the Pakistani government has conveniently discovered that it can actually legally deport Pakistanis to America: “We have an extradition treaty with the US,” Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said at a recent media briefing. The basis is, rather flimsily, a US-UK accord dating back to 1932!! Zardari et al clearly want to protect themselves from torture and human rights-based litigation once they retire to their palatial mansions in the UK or Switzerland.

But why bother with formal extradition, when the Pakistani government has allowed American security forces and mercenaries to harass Pakistani citizens in their own homes…in Pakistan? (At least this ‘fortunate’ woman was not dragged off to Bagram, or reditioned to be tortured in Syria – like this unfortunate, and almost randomly chosen, Canadian citizen).

Talk of tortue, ofcourse, takes one back to the countries chosen for additional screening (strip searches anyone?) by the US authorities. They are:

Saudi Arabia

What an assorted bunch they are. They include strong allies of the US (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia), sworn enemies (Iran, Cuba, Syria), client-states (Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon) and, interesting, governments which happily torture on behalf of the US: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Algeria, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya. I would not be surprised if Jordan is eventually added: it is both a client-state and lead-torturer.

A final note on PIA. It is in under imminent threat of bankruptcy. It cannot even now pay for the government’s five (yes, five!!) private VVIP jets.  Responsibility for their financial upkeep has now been transferred to the military. (see this report) This may be in preparation for an eventual privatization of PIA. Once the Arabs purchase PIA (and the Arabs are the only politically viable purchasors), the airline will no doubt further fall prey to American security demands. Whilst Bilawal and his buddies will continue to fly in VVIP comfort, Pakistan’s flying masses will have to get used to used to KESC-style service (KESC having been rather disastr0usly sold to Dubai-based Abraaj Capital a while back).

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Why and How Balochs Joined the Union of Pakistan

Posted in Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on December 25, 2009

Looking around for some background on the incorporation of the Balochs into Pakistan in 1947, I came across this succinct account. I am sure that some of it can be questioned, but it is digestible and accessible.


Mehtab Ali Shah, The Foreign Policy Of Pakistan: Ethnic Impacts On Diplomacy, 1971-1994 (1997), pp. 93-95.

It is interesting to probe the question of why the Balochs joined the union of Pakistan in 1947. At the time of Pakistan’s creation, Balochistan was an overwhelmingly Muslim area. Though it was not a formal province of the British Empire in India, under the 1876 treaty the Khan of Kalat had a special relationship with Whitehall in London. Balochs claim that, under the terms of this treaty. Britain recognized Balochistan as a sovereign state (Wilcox, 1963: 76—7). However, for all practical purposes, the viceroy of India controlled it through the chief commissioner based at Quetta.

Before the creation of Pakistan, a patchwork of loose administrative structures held Balochistan together. British or tribal administrators controlled the Pashto-speaking areas of British Balochistan such as the Zhob, Lora Lai and Chaman districts ordering Afghanistan. Tribal chiefs or sardars ruled the Baloch areas in another part of British Balochistan. In 1877, the British introduced a joint type of rule into British Balochistan, named the ‘Sandeman system’ after its initiator Captain Robert Sandeman. The Baloch sardars formally gave their allegiance to the Raj, but for all practical purposes they were free and even ran their own private gaols. The Khanate of Kalat, ruled by the Khan of Kalat, was yet another part of Balochistan. As mentioned earlier, the Khan claimed to be an ally of Britain rather than its subordinate (Baloch, 1987: 173—6) and the princely states of Makran, Kharan and Las Bella were nominally his fiefdoms. The British political agent-general (A-G) was responsible for the overall administration of this conglomeration of territories.

The sparsely populated Baloch territory had no centralized administration and no substantial bureaucracy. People from neighbouring Punjab with a knowledge of Urdu ran both the bureaucracy and the educational system. Unlike Sindh and the Punjab, the Hindu population in Balochistan, which engaged mainly in trade, was very small and held no political or administrative power in the Baloch areas. These Hindus of Balochistan generally adopted the local way of life and there was no communal tension between them and the Balochs.

When nationalist movements proliferated all over India in the 1930s with a view to gaining independence from Britain, the Baloch nationalists organized their own party, the Kalat State Party. Its aim was the unification of all Baloch-speaking areas into a single state and to achieve independence from British rule (Baloch, 1987: 172).

Although Balochistan was a mainly Muslim area, neither the Khan of Kalat, his legal adviser Mr Jinnah, who later became the founder of the Pakistani state, nor the Baloch nationalists apparently had any intention at first of joining the Pakistani state (Baloch, 1987: 172). However, with the transfer of power in 1947, as the ultimate authority in Balochistan, the British decided to hold a referendum to allow the people to choose whether to join India or Pakistan — it offered them no other options. The Pashtun-dominated areas chose Pakistan, as did the Quetta municipality’s Shahi Jirga, a British- nominated consultative body composed mainly of Pashtuns. Most of the Baloch sardars decided to join Pakistan. The nawab of Las Bella, an ethnically Sindhi tribal chief whose principality was adjacent to Karachi, also opted for Pakistan. He was followed by the chiefs of Kharan and Makran.

The Khan of Kalat himself wanted a higher price for acceding to Pakistan. He wanted to retain his special status in Pakistan (Wilcox, 1963: 77) and the Kalat Assembly under the leadership of Mir Ghous Bux Bizenjo passed a resolution calling for independence instead of yielding to Pakistan. In 1947, the Khan’s younger brother, Prince Abdul Karim Khan, declared independence and challenged the authority of the Pakistani state over Balochistan. He flew to Afghanistan to wage guerrilla warfare and the Afghan authorities gave him every assistance. In retaliation, the Pakistani authorities attacked the Khan of Kalat’s palaces at Quetta and Khuzdar. They arrested the Khan and took over the state of Kalat by force. By tradition, the House of Kalat is the nucleus of Baloch society and its forcible take over by the Pakistani authorities in 1947 inflicted a deep wound on the Baloch psyche. Thereafter, Baloch nationalists began to regard Pakistan as an occupying power (Wilcox, 1963: 149).

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Baloch Liberation Army on Anti-Drug Offensive

Posted in Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on December 22, 2009

The Baloch Liberation Army appears to be taking advantage of pressure on the drug trade business across the Afghan-Pakistan border to neutralise drug sellers in Khuzdar and other Baloch areas. See report of BLA press release (and also this), and very recent news of grenade attack. Accusations that the BLA itself is involved in drug smuggling are long-standing, and I note that this recent BLA initiative does not appear to be aimed at smuggling through Balochistan, rather at local sellers and smuggling for local consumption. The BLA may, ofcourse, ultimately become interested (if it is not so already) in regulating and taxing, but not eliminating, local sales of heroin.

On Quetta’s heroin dens, see this Guardian article. Also, a recent Guardian article on the American turn to Balochistan, and an article in Vice magazine by (Basque?) journalist Karlos Zurutuza on his time with with some Balochi militants. Karlos Zurutuza is one of the few European journalists actively highlighting Balochi nationalist activism – he was awarded the ‘Nawab Bugti Award’ by Hyrbyair Marri in London in October 2009.

Blackwater in Pakistan

Posted in Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on November 26, 2009

The author of the recent Nation article on Blackwater’s operations in Pakistan (see my earlier post), Jeremy Scahill, has recently given an interview to Democraacy Now! in which he talks somewhat more about his understanding of Blackwater’s operations in Pakistan. Some choice excerpts:

And the agency that Blackwater forces are supporting is a federal paramilitary force in Pakistan that’s under the Ministry of the Interior there, called the Frontier Corp. The military intelligence official confirmed the Blackwater executives account ,or at least the specific allegation that Blackwater is working with the Frontier Corps. The benefit of this is it allows the Pakistani government to say, “We’re not using any Western forces to do these things,” because the technicality is that there subcontracted by a Pakistani firm that is working with the official Pakistan forces.

Also, something more on Kestral. Scahill mentions an:

arrangement that Blackwater had made with a Pakistani company called Kestral, that is headed by a man named Ali Bagg [sic]. The Blackwater executive told me, that Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater, is close with the owner of this Pakistan firm that is sort of like a Blackwater and logistical firm wrapped up into one. This is a company the works for Lockheed Martin and Raytheon and Pakistan the government and does a very robust business in war contracting and servicing the war in Afghanistan as well. And my understanding is that Blackwater is working for this company on a subcontract in a configuration that has Blackwater operatives going out technically as advisers with these paramilitary style forces from this company, and that they are doing as you said in the intro, border interdictions in the Northwest frontier province and elsewhere…

For some more comment on the original Nation article, including a picture of Ali Baig and a link to an interview for Arrehman-Arraheem, see this Teeth Maestro blog entry.

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ISI and MI investigating Oil and Gas Industry

Posted in Domestic Affairs, Political Economy by onpakistan on November 24, 2009

Why is ISI and MI doing this? I would have thought this was outside their remit. Iqbal Z Ahmed was close to Musharaf and has been harassed by the government recently.

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Blackwater in Karachi?

Posted in Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on November 24, 2009

Another addition to the debate over the presence of Blackwater in Pakistan. Citing a “military intelligence source”, the American The Nation claims that Blackwater has a secret ops centre in Karachi. They stand ready to snatch and assassinate, amongst other things.

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The UAE has deployed unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan

Posted in Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on November 17, 2009

From the Angry Arab blog, I learn that the UAE air force has quietly deployed unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan to support British operations.

From Aviation Week:

The United Arab Emirates’ air and air defense force has been quietly supporting NATO operations in Afghanistan. The UAE military has deployed tactical unmanned aircraft to Afghanistan to work with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, says Royal Air Force Air Marshal Stephen Dalton. The UAV is currently operational in Helmand Province, working with the British military, Dalton revealed at the Dubai Air Chiefs Conference today. The specific UAV type wasn’t disclosed, but Dalton says it was a ScanEagle-sized vehicle, although not the Boeing UAV specifically. Dalton heralded the deployment as a sign of what contributions even non-NATO allies can make when they ensure their systems are interoperable with allies. The deployment fits in with a broader relationship with U.K. and UAE have, with U.K. officers also in the UAE’s Air Warfare Center. Dalton says he’s keen to keep the relationship healthy through exercises. And despite the heavy tasking on British forces, he’s hoping to extend an invitation to Gulf Cooperation Council forces for training opportunities in the U.K. in the next 12-18 months.

This is a part of the British military’s drive to sell its services abroad, to save costs in Afghanistan (in this case by relying on allies,) and to further bind various Arab armed forces into its own military orbit. How long before these UAE UAVs conduct operations in Pakistan?

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MQM success at the national level

Posted in Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on November 15, 2009

It would appear that MQM has taken a small but important step in its attempts to transform itself into a viable nationwide party: the gain of a seat in the recent Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly. From The News:

But the biggest surprise package of the 2009 GBLA election is the grand entry of the MQM. Out of nowhere, the MQM has become a major political force in Gilgit-Baltistan. The MQM is showing the hallmark of a party hungry for success outside its traditional hub of Karachi and Hyderabad. The MQM’s entry, first in the AJK legislature through two reserved seats for migrant Kashmiris and now in Gilgit-Baltistan, which is more of a mainstream arena as for the election is concerned, could be a sign of the party’s budding ambitions. Locally, the MQM gains are welcomed as a good antidote to the zero sum sectarian politics. The party has fielded 19 candidates compared to the PPP’s 23, the PML-N’s 15 and the PML-Q’s 14. Regardless of the number of seats the MQM would garner, which by the way is 2 to 4 seats at best and none at worst, the party is poised to become a major political actor in the long run.

The author concludes:

“Here, the MQM’s messages are striking the chord. They are talking about the constitutional rights of the people, the neglect, the denials, the right of representation in parliament, right to access Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Gilgit-Baltistan’s right to become Pakistan’s fifth province, seeking truth and equality — elements that are beyond the standard promises of development funds and politics of packages — hence it is evident that in the future the party which gets clear message across reflecting true feelings of the majority of constituents will eventually command majority in electoral politics of Gilgit-Baltistan as well. Hard sell, but that’s how politics works or does not work.”

Hyperbole, perhaps, given the MQM’s imminent entry into a coalition with the PPP in the GBLA (see this). Note that this article implies that MQM may have captured two seats, whereas other reports say one.

The following writer notes two possible explanations for the rise of MQM in Gilgit-Baltistan: migratory movement to and from Karachi, and federal government backing. The first is a possibility (though what he means, exactly, is unclear), the second also (though perhaps less so). Other socio-economic factors, including Shia-Sunni dynamics, could also plausibly have played a role.

There is some useful background information on Gilgit and Baltistan here.

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Movie: ‘Son of a Lion’

Posted in Culture, Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on November 15, 2009

A recent movie based in Pakistan’s tribal weapon-making village of Darra Adam Khel.

For a Berlin Film Festival review see this.

For the official site see this.

For a youtube promotional trailer see this.

I have not seen this movie, but I am concerned somewhat by the juxtapositioning or placing in opposition arms manufacture and education. In fact, in reality, the relationship is opposite: the most ‘educated’ are the biggest lovers of arms and armament manufacture – the United State, Russia, Germany, France, Ukraine, Netherlands, UK. See this.


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Maps of Pakistan…1

Posted in Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on November 15, 2009

There are many maps of Pakistan on the web. Here are a few of the more interesting one:

1. This map from the Columbia University website depicts ethnicities in a misleadingly simplified manner. Mohajirs are just some of the ethnicities completely missing! This is a much more sophisticated attempt, including some (perhaps misleading) sense of population density.

2. This map, also from a Columbia University website, gives a wonderfully clear depiction of administrative districts, but it may be out of date.

3. This important map from the Dawn newspaper website shows political party capture of National Assembly seats in the February 2008 election.

4. This is an unusually detailed relief map scanned from an atlas. Unfortunately it does not cover all of Pakistan nor Afghanistan.

5. This is an immensely detailed map which attempts to depict linguistic variations across Pakistan, and combine them with population density.

6. This shows religious variations across Pakistan, combined once again with population density.

7. This rather usefully depicts dams and other irrigation works in Pakistan. Unfortunately there is no sense of which features have been picked for depiction, and not all are labelled. A depiction of works in India would also have been useful.

8. This is a ‘gridded population cartogram’ from a British cartography project. Provincial land area is distorted to reflected relative population/population density.

Edit 22 December 2009:

9. This map shows Pakistan’s ‘National Highways’ and ‘Strategic Roads’ in excellent detail. It is well annotated. An alternative less detailed map can be found here.

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