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Sep 2, 2009

Iran-Pakistan Joint Military Offensive Against East Baluchistan

Hundreds of arrests and the harassment of Baloch media in the past few days signal that Islamabad wants to silence the voices that have been denouncing a joint military operation by Iran and Pakistan against East Baluchistan. Its objectives most likely go beyond the annihilation of the Baluch people. This offensive could be the first in many aimed at “stabilizing” the region for the construction of a IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline.

By Karlos Zurutuza

Translated by Elena Arengo from the Spanish original Esta operación unirá a la resistencia baluche a ambos lados de la frontera, Aug 30, 2009.

Gathering for disappeared at Quetta Press Club,
photo by Karlos Zurutuza

On August 20, Richard Holbrooke, Washington special envoy to Af/Pak, expressed his concern over the “alarming increase of tension in Baluchistan”.

But which situation was Holbrooke referring to? It's hard to know, as the press has until now remained suspiciously quiet. At the same time, the almost total absense of emails from East Baluchistan in the last week only fuels the worst suspicions of this correspondent.

“Both telephones and the internet are controlled by the secret services, people are very scared”, Akhmar Mustikhan, a Baloch journalist residing in Washington, told me on the telephone.

In this environment, an “inopportune” email or phone call can result in the arrest, or even the disappearance of one Baloch interlocutor or another. After an agonizing silence, voices begin to arrive through other means, more or less safe.

“I told the military police that was deployed outside of my office that I was a journalist, not a ‘terrorist'”, said one reporter of the newspaper “Daily Baluchistan” who obviously did not want to give his name.

“We'll only believe you if you say ‘Long Live Pakistan', was the response from the uniformed men.

After pronouncing the “magical words”, the journalist was able to get to work last Thursday. But the real assault began the next day, with the interrogation and subsequent arrest of several workers of the “Daily Baluchistan” and the “Daily Azadi”, at the entrances to their respective offices in Quetta.

A few days earlier, another Baloch newspaper, the “Daily Asaap” had been the first to close, after the continuous harassment that its workers had suffered for weeks by the Pakistani security forces.

The fact is, they are all well aware of Javid Lehri's state, a 21-year-old journalist, after 9 months of detention and torture in a prison in Quetta. And of course, the more than 7,000 disappeared during the past three years.

The most important Baloch journalists are holed up while the rest of the country remains silent in the face of the massive assault against freedom of expression.

“We don't know what threat was made to the newspaper's management, but we've been absolutely banned from publishing anything about what is happening”, admitted from Karachi one journalist for “DAWN”, the most prestigioud newspaper in Pakistan. This “anonymous” colleague added that it is impossible right now to access Baloch websites, such as www.thebaluch.com, www.bso-na.org, or www.balochwarna.com, among others. But that's the least of it.

In addition to the reigning confusion, there is the general strike and the mobilizations called for by the Baloch movement to commemorate the third anniversary of the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti. On August 20th, 2006, the cave in which the charismatic leader Bugti, 79 years old, was taking refuge, was bombed by the Pakistani airforce, causing his death and that of his companions. Robert Oakley, then US ambassador in Islamabad, described Bugti as a “martyr for a just cause”, provoking President Musharraf's anger.

According to the BBC-Urdu, the roads from Taftan to Quetta, and Quetta to Karachi – the main routs in East Baluchistan, were completely blocked one day in which the memorial services ended with the deaths of ten Baloch. Also on Wednesday, guerrillas carried out a mortar attack against the airport in Sui (the birthplace of the martyred Baloch leader) and attacked one of the gas pipelines belonging to the Loti plant. Everyone knew that it was a critical date, and the day ended with three dead Punjabis and another three wounded, an attack for which the BLUF (United Front for Baloch Liberation) took resposnbility the next day.

Operation “Ductistan”

A member of the BSO (Organization of Baloch Students) declared on the phone last Tuesday that dozens of his classmates had been arrested in a raid without precedents, which led many to go underground. Or to join the guerrillas, which is practically the same thing.

From the headquarters of the BNP (Nationalist Baloch Party), the increase in violence was placed in the framework of a joint Iran/Pakistan military operation against the eastern Baloch, which was denounced only through the digital media in the diaspora.

According to these sources, frontier areas like the Kullber Valley, Thump and Mand are being bombed from both sides of the border by Iranian and Pakistani airplanes and helicopters. Just last Saturday, some 50 Iranian surface-to-surface missiles were said to have fallen on the Baloch town of Mashkali. Of course, there are no official figures concerning the number of victims, but it is alleged that there are thousands of newly internally displaced in Pakistani territory.

But what is most remarkabla about this operation is that it is being carried out jointly with the Iranian Army, which had not occurred since the times of Pahlevi. Coincidence or not, Islamabad and Teheran have taken one more step in the construction of the IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline, after the Pakistani Chamber recently approved the final draft of its trajectory: 2,600 kilometers, most of which are across Baloch land.

The military offensive of these past days could be the first of several aimed at "stabilizing" the region for the construction of the only infrastructure that will overshadow the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakisan-India), and which Washington hopes to begin next year.

“This is Islamabad's ‘war against terror'” one BNP militant complained, from a Saudi phone number. “For them to keep stealing from us, they will have to kill us all first”, he added.