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Thread: Quetta, Balochistan

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    Quetta, Balochistan

    Perhaps the most complex city in the whole 'WoT'. I dont know, but i find it almost unbelievable that a violent Baluch nationalist movement that is potently anti-Pakistan can co-exist in the same city with an even more violent, but pro-Pakistan (or at least neutral in its approach to Pakistan) movement; the Afghan Taliban.

    Consider these comments from two recent reports:

    IF YOU want to know what is happening in Pakistan’s troubled province of Balochistan, just go to Sariab Road, in its capital, Quetta. Most people who live on its 6-km stretch are Baloch. For the Hazaras, Punjabis and Pashtuns — the other groups in this multi-ethnic city — Sariab Road is ilaqaghair (a no-go area).

    After crossing the railway tracks that separate Sariab Road and Quetta Cantonment — or “Pakistan”, as the Baloch nationalists call it — the first thing you notice is an army tank to welcome you, next to a chauki or fortified post. Nationalist slogans and the emblems of banned militant organisations such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) adorn the walls: “We want freedom from Pakistan!” “No to Gwadar port!” “Red salute to the martyrs of Balochistan!”

    Inside Balochistan’s Ravaged Heartland From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 43, Dated October 31, 2009
    Now compare with this:

    At the moment, Pakistan is both ally and enemy to the USA - ally in the fight against the Pakistani Taliban, but enemy so long as they continue to protect the Afghan Taliban.

    Quetta is the crucial element. An entire suburb of that Pakistani city is effectively occupied by the Afghan Taliban and their "Shura" ruling council - including their leader Mullah Omar.

    The Afghan Taliban get many of their basic supplies in Quetta - their motorbikes, for example, and their mobile phone SIM cards.

    And their supply lines cross the mountains into Afghanistan to the north.

    Afghanistan is caught in the middle. Nothing will really change here until this has been resolved.

    BBC NEWS | South Asia | Pakistan's Taliban dilemma 7 November 2009
    How many 'no go areas' can Quetta have? Surely, thist cant be right? Or there is going to be an inevitable clash between Baluch nationalists and Afghan Taliban? Could such a clash be an opportunity for the Afghan government and the US to strike at the Taliban "shura" ?

    Some final excerpts from the first article highlighting the divide between the two:

    To add to this, the Afghan Taliban’s central command is reported to be in Quetta. While the Pentagon is sure enough of their presence there to mull drone attacks on them, Pakistan has officially denied any Taliban presence in the province. However, a top security official in Quetta admits that the Afghan Taliban leaders are relaxing there. “They are in the opposition these days in their country, so they are here. If Karzai could live in Quetta for ten years, what’s wrong with it? They are not a threat to us until and unless we disturb them. American drone attacks will only provoke them,” he warns.

    Malik Siraj Akbar is the bureau chief of the English national newspaper Daily Times and is intimately familiar with Balochistan and its people. He says that Islamabad has always focused on curbing Baloch nationalism and the separatist movement in the province and has ignored the influx of Taliban. “For Islamabad, a Baloch is a trouble maker and a Talib is a friend. They have always been protecting the Taliban and Afghan refugees in order to create a demographic imbalance.”

    ....

    Slain Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti’s son Talal Bugti, who heads his father’s Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), says, “The Taliban are outlaws and dacoits. I am in favour of drone attacks on them but they have been given protection by the army’s Corps Commander, Quetta.”
    Full article - Inside Balochistan’s Ravaged Heartland
    Last edited by 1980s; 08 Nov 09, at 20:39.

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    1980s Reply

    Very nice stuff, especially the second article.

    Just remember that 'ol S-2 I.D.ed the culprits in Islamabad when you come to hang all the barstards who've paid the GoP to make war on Afghanistan and us.

    Greatest buffoonery in modern political history.

    Talk to folks elsewhere and they pretend that there's NO WAY the taliban are in Quetta.

    Old story from October 2006 but I have always loved Elizabeth Rubin's work-

    In The Land Of The Taliban-NYT Oct. 22, 2009

    Be forewarned-big article.
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    Very interesting stuff. Thanks!

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    An interesting question, I'll keep an eye out for this in the future.
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    Quote Originally Posted by S-2 View Post
    Thanks. I think i've read this before but im going to re-read it later on tonight.

    As for this topic, i think it will be worth re-visiting more-so if or when the Pakistani army is successful in defeating the TTP in South Waziristan - If they genuinely are serious about removing them from there for good. I say that because i would think that the US would then pressure Pakistan to take action against the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani network and Hezb-e Islami of Gulbudin Hekmatyar that are claimed to operate out of either Baluchestan or North Waziristan. But in all likely-hood, i think the Pakistanis will resist, continue to deny the presence of these in FATA and Baluchestan and claim that all of them operate from Afghanistan. In such a situation, aside from drone strikes, the American's might want to consider a potential ally in Quetta to act against the Afghan Taliban there; Baluch nationalists. Conflict between the two already looks to be inevitable, if not throughout the province then at least in Quetta where the two exist in close-proximity. Baluch nationalists would probably both need and appreciate any support in such a confrontation.

    There was a brief but interesting report carried in a Pakistani newspaper yesterday:

    Osama is still alive: Hekmatyar

    LAHORE: Hezb-e-Islami chief Gulbudin Hekmatyar has said that Osama Bin Laden is still alive, a private TV channel reported on Monday. Speaking in a video message, Hekmatyar said the US would be given “safe exit” if it decided to pull out of Afghanistan. “Al Qaeda’s ‘wrong’ strategy was the reason the Taliban were toppled,” he said. Hekmatyar said that Iran, India and China were supporting the American cause in Afghanistan despite having “problems with each other”. He condemned the suicide attacks in Pakistan and urged “those people who had launched a war against Pakistani security forces” that they should fight against foreign forces. daily times monitor
    The timing of these comments is interesting as they coincide with; a) an increase in violence across NWFP leaving over 300 people dead within the past couple of weeks including assassination attempts on army officers in Islamabad, b) the Pakistani offensive in South Waziristan against the TTP, c) the 'great debates' in the West over various issues with the Afghan war; what are the objectives? is it worth it? where is it going? what's the strategy? who's the enemy? who's actually a threat to the West? - These last two question's are what appear at most risk from exploitation by sections of Pakistan's army that want a quick American exit from Afghanistan so that their proteges can return. Leaning on Gulbudin Hekmatyar to denounce the TTP and Al-Qaeda looks to me like an attempt for the Pakistan army to feed through him what some in the US want to hear; that the Taliban is no longer aligned to Al-Qaeda, does not hold a Global Jehadi agenda and is not at war with the US - the US is at war with them, they are fighting only from a position of resistance to an invasion. - All BS of course. But it plays into what some circles in the US apparently want to hear; that the Taliban should be engaged and "split" from Al-Qaeda. And then even accommodated into the Afghan government, ending the insurgency, saving face for America and allowing them to exit with a feeling of accomplishment. Yeah right!

    Using guys like Hekmatyar to discredit the TTP for waging war against Pakistan is also self-serving for the Pakistani army who seem unable to decisively defeat the Pakistani Taliban unless they are prepared to level entire towns and villages and murder dozens if not hundreds of people as in SWAT to 'send a message' that is then passed-off as 'revenge attacks' against the TTP by civilians! Its a strategy that cant be employed long-term unless they want to alienate an entire population so wooing the rank and file of the TTP and turning their fight towards Afghanistan instead through people like Hekmatyar is what this looks like to me - My opinion,

    In any case, this leads back to Quetta, and Baloch nationalists. There is only a remote possibility (and that's being 'optimistically naive') that Pakistan will act against the Afghan Taliban after either subduing or wooing the rank and file of the TTP and discrediting their command through guys like Hekmatyar since they're so far not able to catch or kill the likes of Hakimullah Mehsud, Maulana Fazlullah, Ayman al-Zawahiri etc

    Some kind of lobby event or international conference of Baluch activists and intellectuals is taking place in Washington later this month. It will be interesting to see what, if any, mention of the Afghan Taliban and situation in Quetta is raised. Again, the timing of something here seems a bit too convenient! We shall see,
    Last edited by 1980s; 11 Nov 09, at 17:19.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 1980s View Post
    LAHORE: Hezb-e-Islami chief Gulbudin Hekmatyar has said that Osama Bin Laden is still alive, a private TV channel reported on Monday. Speaking in a video message, Hekmatyar said the US would be given “safe exit” if it decided to pull out of Afghanistan. “Al Qaeda’s ‘wrong’ strategy was the reason the Taliban were toppled,” he said. Hekmatyar said that Iran, India and China were supporting the American cause in Afghanistan despite having “problems with each other”. He condemned the suicide attacks in Pakistan and urged “those people who had launched a war against Pakistani security forces” that they should fight against foreign forces. daily times monitor
    Not the first statement of this kind.Seems their grand strategy is to play stupid.The sad part is that most in Europe and not a few in the States like to play stupid as well.

    Regarding the Baluchis,or for all I care anyone who is willing to shoot at the Taliban they need indeed all the support.Normally they would have already contacted US as well as Afghan Intel(I looked in the eyes of the afghan Director of Intelligence and I've seen his soul:P).History shows that's one of the few succesful moves in a COIN(starting with the French GMI's in Indochina till the current war in Iraq).I can only pray that such a covert operation exists(and that I'll learn about it in 10 years).
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    Rubin Correction

    My apologies on the Elizabeth Rubin article's date as listed in the link. It's 2006, not 2009.

    Still relevant from all I can tell.
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    Insurgencies usually receive aid in some form or another from foreign sources. The Baluchis in Pakistan have rebelled several times against the state since its founding and this latest uprising has been going on since for about 5 or 6 years now. If im not mistaken the USSR and Afghanistan had backed Baluch nationalists during the 1970s. So it's unlikely that the current set of Baluch nationalists havent been in touch with foreign intelligence agencies. No way of knowing tho what degree of support they have got, or are still getting. If any at all. And from who.

    Altho what is known, is that at least one foreign force operates in Baluchestan; the Afghan Taliban.

    Nato oil tankers attacked, driver killed
    By Saleem Shahid
    Saturday, 14 Nov, 2009

    QUETTA: Eight oil tankers carrying fuel for Nato troops in Afghanistan were gutted by fire and a driver was killed in two attacks in Balochistan on Friday.

    Police said some two dozen men opened fire on some tankers parked near a hotel in the Machh area of Bolan district in the morning. Five of the tankers caught fire and a driver, identified as Juma Khan, was killed.

    DPO Junaid Arshad told Dawn over telephone that five tankers were completely gutted in the attack. The assailants escaped after the attack.

    Two men injured in the attack were taken to the Machh civil hospital.

    In the other attack, some men opened fire on three tankers going to Kandahar from Karachi near the Ornach crossing, forcing the drivers to stop their vehicles. The assailants then put the tankers on fire.

    No casualty was reported in the incident. No one has claimed responsibility for the two attacks.

    Police officials suspect involvement of religious elements in the attacks.
    "Religious elements" - Must be some kind of code-name for the Afghan Taliban?

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    Nothing really that new in this article but it does collect things together and put them into perspective:

    Separatists, Islamists and Islamabad Struggle for Control of Pakistani Balochistan
    Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 37
    December 3, 2009
    By: Chris Zambelis

    ...

    Islamabad fears that Baloch rebels may position themselves as a potential bulwark against the spread of Taliban and al-Qaeda-style extremism that is increasingly gripping the province’s ethnic Pashtuns in an effort to gain allies in Washington, thus circumventing Islamabad’s authority and potentially ushering in a new and more dangerous stage of the Baloch separatist movement.

    ...

    Because Balochistan borders Afghanistan, including Helmand province—a center for Taliban operations against NATO forces—Islamabad worries that an escalation of the U.S.-led campaign in Helmand and other parts of Afghanistan will compel Afghan militants to use Balochistan as a temporary sanctuary to evade direct engagements with U.S. forces. Afghan militants may also use Balochistan as a staging ground for attacks against NATO forces in Helmand and beyond.

    ...

    The problems affecting Balochistan are severe, considering that the region serves as one of the crucial logistical hubs sustaining the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. Convoys ferrying fuel, vehicles, arms, food, and other crucial items to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan travel through Balochistan. The first confirmed attack against a NATO convoy in Balochistan occurred in June in Chaman City, near the Afghan border (Times of India [New Delhi], June 3). Militants struck again in September in an attack against a NATO fuel convoy passing near Quetta, setting eight oil tankers ablaze (UPI, September 9). Vital supply routes used by NATO in Balochistan are likely to come under increasing attack as the escalation in Afghanistan unfolds, consequently raising a new set of challenges.
    Full article: Separatists, Islamists and Islamabad Struggle for Control of Pakistani Balochistan - The Jamestown Foundation

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    This confession seems rather strange to me. I wonder what prompted it, and why now?

    Pakistan govt. admits Quetta Shura on country's soil

    Pakistan's government for the first time confirms the presence of Afghanistan's Taliban leadership, known as the Quetta Shura, on the country's soil.

    Defense Minister, Ahmad Mukhtar, in an exclusive interview with DawnNews, said on Friday that security forces have dealt a severe blow on the Quetta Shura and that it no longer can pose any threat.

    The top US Commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, had informed last Friday, the US fears the top Taliban leadership was in Quetta — Balochistan province's capital — master-minding attacks on international forces in Afghanistan.

    Confirming McChrystal's allegations, the US consul-general in Peshawar said the same day that they do not know where Osama bin Laden is, but said, "We do know that some of the al-Qaeda leadership is sitting in Quetta and that they travel back and forth from Afghanistan to Pakistan."

    "We know that they are there. And I think your government also knows this. Whether they want to say this in public or not but I think they know they are there," Candace Putnam added.

    However, until this revelation by Pakistan's defense minister, Islamabad had denied the existence of any Taliban leadership or the Quetta Shura in Balochistan.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 1980s View Post
    This confession seems rather strange to me. I wonder what prompted it, and why now?
    Back channel negotiations (read veiled threats), I presume? The GOP is disingenuous, has always been, will always be...
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    Good article. No comments as yet. Looks like Quetta will figure prominently in the WoT in 2010.

    Strategic Balochistan becomes a target in war against Taliban | World news | The Guardian
    Declan Walsh in Islamabad, Monday 21 December 2009

    Look around Balochistan, and you may not see much. Pakistan's largest province is also its poorest and least inhabited – an expanse of rocky deserts and ramshackle villages where hardy tribesmen live by ancient laws. But to outside eyes, Balochistan's barren sands glisten with hidden value.

    Mining companies eye its natural riches: vast and largely untapped reserves of copper, natural gas and possibly oil. Criminals see easy money: the world's heroin superhighway, a network of smuggling trails, cuts through its lonely borders. Foreign governments consider its location: wedged between Iran and Afghanistan, and covering two-fifths of Pakistan, Balochistan occupies highly strategic real estate.

    But for the black-turbaned clerics commanding the Afghan Taliban, the desolate province offers something else: a welcoming rear base. As the Taliban insurgency oozes across Afghanistan, Nato generals complain that the fighting is being directed from Balochistan.

    In a bleak report to President Barack Obama last September, the US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, said the "Quetta shura" – a 15-man war council based in or around the Baloch capital and led by Mullah Muhammad Omar, his deputy Mullah Baradar and his military commander Abdullah Zakir – was dictating the pace of the war. It posed the greatest threat to western troops, and was already planning for the 2010 fighting season, McChrystal said. "Afghanistan's insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. The Quetta shura conducts a formal campaign review each winter, after which Mullah Omar announces his guidance and intent for the following year." Yet efforts to break up the Taliban's Pakistan sanctuary have so far been concentrated to the east, in Waziristan. Here, CIA-led drone strikes hit al-Qaida and Taliban hideouts, while the Pakistani army battles with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan – a militant faction that strikes Pakistani cities with suicide bombs. On 17 December, drones fired 10 missiles at a house in North Waziristan, killing at least 12 people.

    But in Balochistan militants broadly known as the "Afghan Taliban" operate without fear or hindrance. The long and largely unpatrolled border touches Kandahar, Zabul and Helmand, where almost 10,000 British troops are stationed. Commanders there complain that the Taliban are supplied in men, weapons and bomb parts from Balochistan. But British diplomats are strangely silent, worried that criticism could jeopardise counter-terrorism co-operation with Pakistan.

    The Americans, however, are taking a more direct approach. Obama's announcement of another 30,000 troops for Afghanistan has triggered a diplomatic offensive across the border in Pakistan. Officials including the CIA director Leon Panetta and the military chief, Admiral Mike Mullen, have visited, urging Pakistan to act forcefully. Specifically, they want action against Sirajuddin Haqqani, a warlord with a network of fighters in North Waziristan. They also want to extend the controversial drone campaign to include the Quetta shura in Balochistan.

    "It makes perfect sense to focus on Balochistan, which has been largely neglected until now," said Art Keller, a former CIA case officer who worked in Pakistan in 2006. "The question is how."

    Such talk deeply irritates Pakistan's military. Pakistan officially ended its support for the Taliban in 2001, and since then has become embroiled in a dirty war against national insurgents in Balochistan. But although it denies covertly supporting the Taliban, the military has conspicuously turned a blind eye.

    Five years ago, in a shop selling cassettes of Osama bin Laden speeches in Quetta, two young fighters told the Guardian they were enjoying a rest after a busy stint fighting Americans in Afghanistan. Two years later, Balochistan's health minister delivered the oration at a funeral for a Taliban fighter killed in action near Kandahar.

    Things have tightened up: the Osama tapes are no longer sold, and holidaying fighters are more discreet. But the safe haven remains. Wounded fighters are quietly ferried across the border for treatment; commanders find recruits in decades-old refugee camps along the border. The violence is spilling into Balochistan itself: last summer Nato supply convoys heading for the border came under attack for the first time.

    "The whole war in Afghanistan is being launched from here," said Abdul Rahim Mandokhel, an outspoken senator from Zhob in northern Balochistan. He accuses Pakistan's intelligence agencies of carrying out a "double" policy. "One thing is clear: the area is being used for cross-border offences," he said.

    So far, the only western intervention in Balochistan has been covert. A former Nato officer said SAS commandos had raided heroin convoys along the province's unmanned border in 2002, 2003 and possibly later. "The SAS was performing a service to the rest of the coalition," he said, explaining that other western forces were not allowed to attack drug smugglers at the time.

    US special forces have also been active along the border, in the tribal belt east of Balochistan. The source said US commando units had conducted four cross-border raids into Pakistan since 2003. Only one, in September 2008, was reported. The first three went undetected thanks to "constant reporting about American spies" in the tribal belt.

    The former Nato officer said: "There's so much bullshit out there – the militants blame everything on American soldiers or spies or helicopters. So [when we did act] it was real easy to become part of the background noise." A US embassy spokesman in Islamabad declined to comment.

    The new US approach to Balochistan is driven by battlefield realities. By next summer 30,000 western soldiers – a third British, the rest mostly American – will be based across the border in Helmand. Seth Jones, a civilian adviser to the US special forces commander in Afghanistan, said this month that the US must "target Taliban leaders in Balochistan" through an expanded drone strike campaign. Pakistani officials trenchantly oppose the idea.

    "We can't fight everyone, everywhere. We need to be pragmatic. And we will not be dictated to," said a senior official with Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), speaking on condition of anonymity. The official admitted that insurgents "do come and go" in Balochistan, but insisted the ISI was already cooperating with the CIA in the province, citing 60 joint raids over the past year.

    Drone strikes in densely populated Quetta would be "disastrous", he said, both in terms of civilian casualties and anti-American hostility. "I think this is just pressure tactics, the Americans aren't stupid enough to [extend drone strikes]. But if their objective is to destabilise Pakistan, that would be a good way to do it."

    Analysts say Pakistan is playing a complicated strategic game – fighting the "bad" Taliban in Waziristan, but secretly allying with the "good" militants attacking Afghanistan. "I can imagine the Pakistanis symbolically allowing the Americans to take out a few guys from the Quetta shura," said Rifaat Hussain, a defence studies professor at Islamabad's Quaid-I-Azam University. "But I can't see them entirely turning the tables. Pakistan's main concern is not to burn its boats with all shades of the Taliban."

    The reason, he said, is India. Fearing Indian influence in Afghanistan, Pakistani military planner see the Taliban as their ticket to influence once western forces depart. Obama announced a US withdrawal starting mid-2011.

    "They see these guys as their allies in the post-American scenario – a strategic asset to be used when power is up for grabs in Afghanistan," he said.

    American officials are becoming aware of Pakistani concerns. "Increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan," McChrystal wrote, "is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures." A former US official said the Obama administration was aware of a possible backlash, should drones start hitting Balochistan.

    But, the source added, there is a growing recognition that "if we are serious about going after targets in Balochistan, particularly Quetta, then we'll have to do it ourselves". And, he added, should military casualties continue to rise across the border, drones could be sent in regardless of what Pakistan's government says.

    "We've already established that precedent with the Pakistanis," he said. "We told them: 'We want you to do this.

    "But if you won't, we will. So get out of our way'."

    Home to 7 million people, the province of Balochistan occupies 43% of Pakistan's land area. Mostly desert and mountain, it is rich in untapped resources: natural gas, uranium and possibly oil. Since 1948 ethnic Balochs have demanded greater autonomy and more control over revenues from their gasfields, and the Pakistani government has put down four insurgencies; the fifth and current rebellion started in 2003, led by the Balochistan Liberation Army.

    There are small Baloch minorities in eastern Iran and south Afghanistan. But north Balochistan, along the Afghan border, is largely inhabited by ethnic Pashtuns, who have different preoccupations. The provincial capital, Quetta, is widely assumed to be the HQ of the Taliban and al-Qaida in their war against Nato in Afghanistan – the US has flown drone aircraft from a desert strip in Balochistan.

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    Delayed Reaction

    A.M. says that Pakistan can be rightfully accused of "inaction". I say "inaction" is a policy choice.

    Providing sanctuary for an ousted foreign government reviled at all turns but one is not a position envied by most nations. Most would actually call it an act of war. I would.

    Nonetheless, we've premised our entire strategy on these enemies being allies. Go figure.

    We aid those whom provide safe haven to those whom kill us.

    It is simple, profound, and completely accurate.

    Now that the bare facts were brought before us, I feel, first by David Rohde of the NYT and his accounts of being chauffeured about N. Waziristan by none other than one of Jahaluddin Haqqani's OTHER sons.

    Those facts about foreigners on Pakistani soil hide the worse reality that PAKISTANIS like Nazir and Bahadur have chosen, evidently, to make nat'l security and foreign policy on behalf of Pakistan. What else should one think when Pakistan's own citizens wade across the internat'l border to do their two bits worth?

    There's been eight years of this "inaction". I call that a trend worth noting.

    This "inaction", by the way, hasn't stopped at the Pakistani border. No, the Pakistanis have been equally inactive in trying to compete with India for Afghanistan's favor in the manner most commonly accepted- economic and diplomatic initiatives. Pakistanis prefer influence, evidently, through the barrel of a gun.

    Forty nations, countless NGOs, and a bevy of supra-nat'l public organizations are in Afghanistan. Have any seen a whit of Indian intrigue involving Baloch or TTP terrorists over this eight year period? Of course, such a large and diverse collection of personages over such a long time-period have all been sworn to secrecy in this conspiracy, correct?

    Our supply lines are in the hands of our enemy...by choice. THAT might be a military-diplomatic first. It would do our leaders well to explain to the mothers and fathers of our dead soldiers in Afghanistan why we've come to accept these rationales ourselves.
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    Really interesting interview. Some of the propositions are quite radical and ones that i cant see the US government would entertain. But they make interesting food for thought. Especially the apparent desire among sections of the Baluch people to take on the "Quetta Shura" and the Taliban themselves with American support.

    According to this they definitely see the Afghan Taliban as protectorates of the Pakistani military and confirm the existence of their top leaders in Baluchestan.

    December 30, 2009
    An Interview with Ahmar Mustikhan
    Baluchistan and the Af/Pak War
    By STEWART J. LAWRENCE


    US news reports about the widening war in the “Af-Pak” region have made increasing reference to the presence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Baluchistan, a Texas-sized swath of territory located in southern Pakistan. Yet Americans remain surprisingly unaware that Baluchistan is home to an insurgent movement that is not aligned with either Al-Qaeda or the Taliban and that has fought for national independence from Pakistan for more than 60 years. In this exclusive interview conducted on December 27, noted Pakistani Baluch journalist, Ahmar Mustikhan, founder and director of the American Friends of Baluchistan, spoke with me about the current regional conflict and about Baluchistan’s appeal to the West for military and diplomatic support for its struggle.

    SL: The Obama administration has been pressuring Pakistan to allow the US to launch drone and Special Forces attacks on the Taliban insurgent leadership that is reportedly based in Quetta, Baluchistan, near the Afghan border. Why is Baluchistan becoming so important?

    AM: Because the road to peace in Afghanistan actually leads from Baluchistan. The problem for foreigners who come to the region is that they are oblivious to the political and social history of the region. We were not a part of Pakistan when the British left India in August 1947. We were incorporated in Pakistan against our will on March 27, 1948, and we have lived under some form of military occupation ever since.

    Historically, our people have had more in common with Afghanistan than with Pakistan. In the 19th century, whenever Afghanistan came under threat, it reached out to the Baluch people. There a number of inter-marriages between Pashtuns, the dominant nationality in Afghanistan, and the Baluch. In my own family there have been a number of such nuptial knots with Pashtuns, including those tied with Pashtuns from Afghanistan.

    In reward for Baluch help to Afghan rulers, the Afghan king gave huge tracts of Pashtun territory to the Baluch ruler. This is today called the Pashtun “belt” of Baluchistan, for instance, the Pashtun pockets of Quetta and areas such as Chaman, Zhob, Pishin, Loralai. Unfortunately, these are some of the areas where the Taliban leaders have found refuge.

    There are 15 million Baluch people worldwide, and about 8 million live within the territorial boundaries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. The future of all three countries is bound up with our future. Baluchistan is also located on the northern lip of the Straits of Hormuz through which much of the world's oil supply passes. We ourselves have an estimated 19 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves and six trillion barrels of oil reserves both on-shore and off-shore. Therefore, many nations, including China and Russia, as well as the West, see Baluchistan as a strategically important, indeed critical - zone of influence.

    Right now, the issue of the Taliban is foremost in Western minds but real stability in the “Af-Pak” region depends on the recognition of Baluch independence claims. With outside support, an independent Baluchistan could be a major force for stability and development, certainly far more stable than either Pakistan or Afghanistan is today. However, if America continues to massively arm the Pakistan military, for strictly short-term political gain, the entire region will remain unstable.

    SL: How does the Baluchistan movement view the current Taliban insurgency?

    AM: We are a secular people, and therefore, natural allies of the West. Of course, we are extremely anguished by the Taliban. However, we look upon the Taliban as merely the "B team" of the Pakistan military. We know that Pakistani intelligence agencies are hiding many Taliban leaders in Baluch areas. This doesn't help us but contributes to instability, and religious extremism. We don't expect the Pakistan army to object, since they are aligned with the Taliban. However, if the United States really wants to get rid of the Taliban it needs to work with us not with the Pakistan army.

    Some Baluch might favor US drone attacks in the sense that they would give the Pakistan military many sleepless nights trying to explain how a proud Islamic nation could let the Americans violate its sovereignty. However, one of our most respected national leaders, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, has rightly warned that drone attacks could turn Baluchistan from a “wound” into a “cancer” – that is, they could inflame anti-Americanism and religious extremism among our own people, which is not what we want.

    The Taliban and Al Qaeda do not exist in the air but on the ground. Our Baluch forces must be given a chance to take them on the ground. It is for this reason the U.S. must support the Baluch struggle and actually talk to, and recognize, our leaders.

    SL: Are you proposing to fight with US forces against the Taliban?

    When I met with US State Department officials recently, I asked them to take the Baluch leadership on board to help solve the “Af-Pak” crisis. Condemning human rights violations against our people by the Pakistani army – which the US did last April – is only a starting point. The US should expand the area of operations of the International Security Assistance Force to include Baluchistan. Help us get rid of, if you will, the 'Taliban in uniform', the Pakistani soldiers from our homeland. This is the golden key to peace in Afghanistan. In return we are going to open our doors for you.

    Right now you are playing with the lives of young American boys and girls from the countryside by not talking to us. You are proposing drone attacks but the Voice of America doesn’t even have a Baluchi language service! A simple language service would cost you less than what it costs to maintain a single US soldier in Afghanistan.

    SL: Pakistan has accused the Baluch of receiving military aid from India, which it says is one of the reasons it has backed insurgents in the Kashmir. Is this true?

    AM: I really wish this were true. If it were, we wouldn’t be suffering so badly at the hands of Pakistan. We would like India - just like we want the United States - to openly support the Baluch struggle, and with more than mere words. Why won’t secular nations like India and the US support our secular struggle instead of backing Islamic Pakistan, which is secretly working hand in glove with the Taliban? If you want to counter the Taliban you need to support Baluch nationalism. If our forces received even one-tenth of the support Pakistan gets annually, many American lives lost fighting the Taliban would be saved.

    SL: Aren't you afraid that the Americans might use you tactically, against the Taliban, and then, like the Kurds, abandon you once you have outlived your purpose?

    The U.S. has the image of an international “Dracula” when it comes to freedom movements. It's a shame. Just look at the role the U.S. played during the genocide in Bangladesh in 1971. Washington completely supported the Pakistan military. The late senator, Edward Kennedy, was among the few in the U.S. who condemned the Nixon administration’s policies. The U.S. consul general in Dhaka at the time also protested and was sacked.

    There are risks in a venture of this kind, but there are greater risks of standing still. We would hope that good Americans would stand by us so that US support to Baluchistan, once begun, is sustained.

    SL: Some people, even some of your allies, argue that it might be difficult for Baluchistan to become economically and politically self-sufficient.

    AM: That’s nonsense. The pre-1948 Baluch Congress unanimously rejected the idea of a “merger” or limited “autonomy” agreement with Pakistan or with any other state. Frankly, it’s the decadent thinking of white, Western nations that nations in the East can’t run their own affairs. You don’t have to look too far. Bangladesh separated from India and Pakistan in 1971, and despite its many problems, is better off today than Pakistan, both financially and politically.

    If we really thought Baluchistan would be poorer without Pakistan and Iran, we wouldn’t be crazy enough to demand full independence. With our natural resources and our strategic 1000-kilometer coastline, we are in a strong position. We would like to become a respected member of the Gulf Cooperation Council that includes countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

    Our only demand is that NATO/US forces must extend their operational base to include Baluchistan. The stereotypical thinking in the Pentagon is that without the Pakistan army in control, nuclear weapons would fall into Taliban hands. But the very hands that are feeding the Taliban also have their hands on the nuclear button.

    SL: Now that Pakistan has returned to civilian rule, at least nominally, can we expect any change in the way Baluchistan is treated?

    Nothing has changed since the advent of civilian rule under President Asif Ali Zardari, who obtained the presidency simply by virtue of his marriage with slain premier Benazir Bhutto. Killings, abductions and torture are routine in Baluchistan. There have been five Baluch national uprisings against the Pakistan military since the March 1948 occupation. We call these uprisings wars of liberation and one of them is continuing as we speak. According to conservative estimates 20,000 Baluch people have been killed to date. Pakistan has used U.S. fighter jets and helicopter gunships against our people, without regard for the Geneva Conventions.

    Those targeted by Pakistan have included our most respected and revered leaders like Nawab Bugti, Nawab Nauroz Khan Zarakzai, Mir Asadaullah Mengal, and Mir Balaach Marri. Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, former governor and chief minister of Baluchistan, was killed in an air raid by the Pakistan army on August 26, 2006 on the personal orders of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a close US ally. Every Baluch loved and respected these martyrs because though they were powerful tribal personalities they gave their lives not for their tribes but for Baluchistan.

    It’s time for America to think outside the box. There's always been a huge support base for Baluch independence among the smaller Pakistani nationalities, including the Sindhis, Seraikis and some of the Pashtun tribes with their own national claims. Revising Pakistan's existing boundaries – which are illegal as applied to Baluchistan – won’t be the end of the world. The heavens won’t fall. The world will be a safer place once Baluchistan is recognized and supported. But none of us has the luxury of time on our side. The world must act before the entire region is set ablaze, with truly unforeseeable consequences.

    Stewart J. Lawrence is a foreign and defense policy specialist based in Washington, DC.

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    Well i think it would be obvious that few people would we be willing to talk about the Taliban presence in Quetta to an unfamiliar face. The hostile reaction the journalist faced there when questioning local people appears to be more revealing about the environment in those suburbs of Quetta than what the journalist was actually told by his interviewees. Time will tell.

    Monday, 25 January 2010
    BBC News - On the trail of the Taliban in Quetta
    By M Ilyas Khan
    BBC News, Quetta

    In April 2009, Pakistani forces arrested a Taliban militant from Afghanistan carrying documents for his high command. He said this was based in the south-western Pakistani city of Quetta.

    The man - codenamed Khattab by his Taliban group - was initially detained at a checkpoint on the northern suburban fringes of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province.

    Pakistan's government has long denied that prominent Afghan Taliban leaders operate out of Quetta. It does admit that some militants may move across the border as civilians to spend time with their families, many of whom live as refugees in Pakistan.

    But among the documents found on Khattab was a written "confession" of a "spy" allegedly working for Nato troops who was caught, interrogated and then beheaded by a Taliban group in the southern Afghan province of Zabul.

    A reliable source in Quetta who had detailed conversations with Khattab told the BBC that the leaders of the Taliban group, who were apparently based in city, objected to the beheading, saying they slaughtered the wrong man.

    "Khattab was tasked by the Taliban commander in Zabul to carry the signed confession to his high-ups as proof that the beheading was not a mistake," the source said.

    But it is not clear who Khattab's top leaders are, or where in Quetta they live.

    There is also no indication of any arrests having been made on the basis of information provided by him.

    "If Taliban leaders are living here, they will obviously have a lifestyle, some form of security arrangements, and will need civic services such as health," says Maj-Gen Salim Nawaz, head of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in Balochistan.

    "How come neither we nor the media have been able to track down a single Taliban leader?" he asked.

    "Yes, Taliban may be coming and going - they do it all over Pakistan - but to say that there is a [Taliban] shura here that holds sessions, plans [war]… is nonsense."

    In Pashtunabad

    He may have a point.

    Quetta's vast and crowded eastern neighbourhood, inhabited by the ethnic Pashtun group to which the Taliban belong, shows few signs of Taliban activity.

    Several mosque schools (or madrassas) dot the narrow lanes of the neighbourhood, and men wearing Taliban-like turbans are not an infrequent sight.

    But the predominant activity in the area is trade and commerce, for which the Pashtuns are better known in these parts.

    And flags hoisted on most houses in the area are not those of the Taliban or any Pakistani religious group, but of a secular Pashtun political party, the PMAP, which opposes the Taliban.

    "If there were Taliban in Pashtunabad, I wouldn't be selling vegetables here," says Gul Agha, a pushcart vendor who is ethnic Hazara and a Shia Muslim, which the Sunni Muslim Taliban consider un-Islamic.

    In another street, a bulky man with a clean-shaven face and Ray-Ban sunglasses reacts angrily to my question if he has seen Taliban in the area.

    "If I have seen one, why would I tell you? You look like an American agent."

    People in another likely Taliban hideout, Kharotabad, react in the same way.

    Journalists and political circles cautiously indicate that the Taliban have a presence in the city, but they are either uninformed about the specifics or are unwilling to discuss them.

    When the Americans attacked Afghanistan in October 2001, most members of the Taliban government in Kabul crossed over into Pakistan's north-western city of Peshawar.

    But the Taliban's top leadership, including their spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, was based in Kandahar.

    Destination Quetta

    Quetta, with an Afghan refugee population of more than one million and its history as a staging ground for Afghan fighters operating in southern Afghanistan, was their obvious destination.

    Geographically, Quetta and areas north and east of it link up with the Waziristan region where the so-called Haqqani network, an Afghanistan-focused militant group, established the Taliban's earliest sanctuaries in the post-9/11 period.

    The Haqqani network is loyal to Mullah Omar and has close links with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda.

    Together, the Haqqani network and fighters operating from Balochistan's border with Kandahar and Helmand provinces of Afghanistan form a crescent of Taliban resistance that has been destabilising all of southern and south-central Afghanistan.

    Relentless missile strikes by US drones in Waziristan, and a recent operation by Pakistani forces in parts of that region, is pushing an increasing number of Taliban fighters into areas north-east of Quetta.

    Taliban spread south

    A government official, requesting anonymity, told the BBC that these fighters were flocking to the Toba Kakar area of Balochistan, and it was only a matter of time before they spread west to Qilla Abdullah district, and the Quetta region itself.

    "There is considerable concern among people in the Zhob-Qilla Saifullah region following the influx of militants and media reports that the drones may target locations in Balochistan as well," a politician from the area said.

    There are also credible reports of armed Taliban presence in areas nearer Quetta, especially in some former refugee camps that have now become permanent villages.

    It is instructive, though, that the Taliban foot soldier codenamed Khattab was heading straight to Quetta, and not to any of the other areas with a reported Taliban presence.

    So while a Taliban shura - or council - with the wherewithal of a war office may not exist in Quetta, the presence of mid-level leaders with the ability to monitor and oversee Taliban activities inside Afghanistan cannot be ruled out.

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