Pakistan Vs. Balochistan

The Huffington Post/

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Pakistan has further accelerated violence against its ethnic Baloch minority following an unprecedented hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs which voiced deep concern over the appalling human rights violations allegedly committed by the army in the country’s largest province of Balochistan. While Pakistan’s foreign office, the embassy in Washington, D.C. and the National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution which “strongly condemned” the hearing by terming it “blatant interference” of the United States into its ‘internal matters,’ rogue intelligence agencies linked to the godlike military have chosen a ruthless path to vent retribution.

On Feb. 13, the bullet-riddled dead body of Sangat Sana Baloch, 27, a prominent leader of the secular Baloch Republican Party (BRP), was dumped in a desolate southern district of Balochistan. The young leader had ‘disappeared’ on Dec. 7, 2009, from a town 50 kilometers away from Quetta, the capital of the gas and gold-rich Balochistan. Considering the pattern of the young leader’s mysterious disappearance which matched with hundreds of previously documented similar cases, Sana’s party pointed fingers at Pakistan’s infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the secret wing of the army, and its affiliates, for killing the opposition leader.

Sana had been shot 30 times to the head and chest by his captors, family members said.

“This is Islamabad’s reaction to the congressional hearing in Washington which highlighted Pakistan’s crimes against the Baloch,” says Abdul Qadir Baloch, vice chairman of the Voice for the Missing Baloch Persons, a community-based organization comprising of the family members of hundreds of missing activists. The 60-year old-former bank employee joined the campaign after his own 35-year-old son Jalil Reki, BRP’s central information secretary, was whisked away by, he alleges, the spymasters on Feb. 13, 2009.

The BRP demands a separate homeland for the Baloch people.

After two year’s disappearance, Reki’s tortured dead body was eventually thrown on the roadside after Mr. Baloch snubbed official threats to give up the movement seeking the release of the missing persons.

There were no official charges against Mr. Baloch’s son, nor was the latter ever produced before a court of law in these two years to legally defend himself. Pakistan’s judiciary lacks the teeth to bite army agents who abuse their official powers.

In a June 2011 report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an independent nonpartisan rights watchdog, said the enforced disappearances had created an “acute climate of fear” amongst the civilians and had contributed to the growing alienation of the people from the state and hatred towards the security forces and intelligence agencies under the control of the Pakistan military.

“Young men between 16 to 25 years of age were being particularly targeted. Many of them were either students or unemployed youth. Some of the incidents indicated random picking up of young men, for example, from picnic spots and markets,” reported the HRCP after conducting extensive field research in the conflict-stricken province.

Pakistani authorities have remained engaged since 2004 in brutally suppressing an indigenous uprising, led by the native Balochs, which calls for an end to exploitation and manipulation of their mineral wealth by the dominant Punjabis. What began as a mere demand for maximum internal autonomy until recently, brutal state violence has taken the movement to a point of no-return where the irreconcilable young Balochs seek absolute independence.

The Congressional sub-committee hearing flabbergasted Pakistan by fully backing the Baloch right to self-determination arguing that people had a right to liberate themselves from abusive governments such as Pakistan’s vis-a-vis the Baloch.

“Balochistan deserves our attention because it is a turbulent land marked by human rights violations committed by regimes that are hostile to America’s interests and values,” said GOP Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who chaired the hearing which was attended by another four Congressmen.

In the aftermath of the hearing, which spotted the loopholes in Pakistan’s justice and governance system, Islamabad — Washington’s inconsistent ally in the war on terror — has not made any promises to work with the international community to steadily halt arbitrary disappearances, torture and targeted killings of political opponents. Instead, diplomats, politicians and even the media in Pakistan have joined hands in calling brutalities against the Baloch as “Pakistan’s internal matter.”

Ironically, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s leader of the opposition, moved a resolution in the parliament on Feb. 13 against the hearing where Human Rights Watch and the Amnesty International representatives also testified and confirmed the misuse of state power against innocent civilians.

Describing the congressional hearing as “totally unacceptable” and “ill-informed,” the Pakistani parliament urged the U.S. Administration to play “a more proactive role” to discourage such events in the future.

“This House strongly condemns the blatant interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs evidenced by U.S. Congressional Foreign Relations Sub-Committee hearing on Balochistan on 8th February, 2012… the holding of such a hearing… cannot but jeopardize the healing process and further inflame public opinion against the U.S. by adding to the prevailing sense of mistrust and suspicion regarding U.S. intentions towards Pakistan,” the resolution warned.

Despite Pakistan’s condemnation of the congressional hearing, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, has repeatedly expressed concern over human rights issues in Balochistan.

“There is no doubt that people in Balochistan are facing human rights abuses,” he said in a fresh interview with a Pakistani newspaper. “U.S. administration should take up the ‘alarming issue’ [of Balochistan] with Pakistani leaders. This is an important issue for us to be discussing with the Pakistani government.”

Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan Director at the Asia Division of the Human Rights Watch, who also testified on Feb. 8, takes a blunt position against Pakistan’s objections. He says certain human rights violations, such as torture, do not fall in the category of nations’ “internal matter.” According to him, Pakistan, in spite of being a signatory of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Convention Against Torture, is not fulfilling its obligations in Balochistan.

“We do not subscribe to the argument that criticizing human rights abusers is interference in internal affairs,” he says, “Torture is a very serious crime which falls under universal jurisdiction … any act of torture or torturer can be held accountable anywhere in the world.”

Mr. Hasan warns Islamabad, “You can’t kill your own people and then call it an internal affair. As long as there is no reaction on the part of the Pakistani government to our reports and recommendations, we will continue to highlight human rights abuses because this is our job and mandate.”

While the Congressional hearing has helped to bring the Balochistan conflict in spotlight, it has also increased the risk of more state-sponsored violence and torture against the Balochs. Seen in the backdrop of the post-hearing killings, the future in Balochistan looks bloody and murky. The congressional event and official expression of deep concern have, unfortunately, generated false but extremely unrealistic expectations among the Baloch youth who have hastily concluded that the U.S. has probably made up its mind to support their “freedom struggle” against Pakistan.

Given the complicated and unmanageable relationship the United States has had with Pakistan, it is clear that Washington enjoys very limited influence on Pakistan. For instance, it has failed to press Pakistan to act like a responsible partner in the War on Terror by cutting links with Islamic terrorist groups. Therefore, it is too naive to hope that the U.S. can truly play a crucial role in ending human rights violations in Balochistan.

Having said that, the U.S. congressional committee, which began the hearing, should now take more responsibility by advancing this initiative to its logical destination by discussing the issue with a broader community of policymakers, defenders of democracy and human rights activists. Dropping the Balochistan issue by the U.S. Congress will remarkably hurt the Baloch who will bear the brunt of what Georgetown University’s C. Christine Fair billed as a “congressional stunt.”

The Obama administration should not suffice with expressing ‘concern’ over the situation in Balochistan. With the testimonies provided by the HRW and Amnesty International, the administration should seriously see what it can do, considering its own limited influence on Pakistan, to stop rights violations and help find out a peaceful political solution to the Balochistan imbroglio.

The administration must not ignore the Baloch because they matter in the region due to their geo-strategic position. After all, they are a secular people surrounded by three countries — Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan — with a staunch inclination toward radical Islam. By weakening the secular Balochs, Pakistan wants to convert Balochistan into a rich soil and a breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalists from all over the world.

Balochistan, East Pakistan and foreign shenanigans

BY:Anushay Malik

When Balochistan ‘voted’ for Pakistan, most of the Baloch tribes were not within the British-administered Balochistan and so were not even part of the decision to form the country

In 1973, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto sent the armed forces into Balochistan to quell the uprising there. This situation would culminate in what is perhaps Pakistan’s least discussed civil war. Roedad Khan’s edited collection of de-classified US State Department papers reveals that Bhutto actually approached US officials asking for their help in resolving the crisis in Balochistan. These officials reported that he seemed “sincere” and at the very beginning at least, their help was limited to conveying correspondence between groups who were refusing to communicate in the context of the conflict. If one were to focus only on the relationship between Bhutto and the US in this case, they would miss the fact that it was only after the legitimate provincial government of Balochistan had been dissolved (by our erstwhile PPP leader), that the resistance began in opposition to what was seen as the writ of the central government and the state.

There are two things happening here — one is the role of the US and one is the specifically national problem within Pakistan. These two can be discussed in their own right but it is important to note that whenever a national conflict arises, it is very convenient for us to forget to point our fingers at ourselves because we are so busy blaming imperialist intervention. Question: is this intervention deeply problematic and do we need to make ourselves less dependent on foreign powers? Yes. However, there is a long history of conflict between the central government and provincial powers, which is not only about the US. Personally, I appreciate all manner of civil, peaceful protest, but saying that no one has a right to talk about Pakistan’s national problems seems to be counterproductive. If the issue of Baloch self-determination has been brought up by the US, does that mean we can never again critically assess the needs of, and problems faced by, the Baloch people?

Perhaps it is easy to forget that the alliance between the national ideology of Pakistan and the ‘right of sovereignty’ that people at a protesting chowk were asking for recently, does not have an easy fit. When Balochistan ‘voted’ for Pakistan, most of the Baloch tribes were not within the British-administered Balochistan and so were not even part of the decision to form the country.

Nonetheless, the promise the country held, and the one that Quaid-e-Azam pushed for initially, was a decentred federation where each province would function autonomously. However, this is not how things played out. Historians writing on Pakistan (and interestingly not included in our school syllabi), have produced many studies showing how this did not actually play out in practice — and the creation of Bangladesh is testament to that. Let us also not forget that when Bangladesh was formed, people in West Pakistan (yes that’s us), and particularly in Punjab, said that Pakistan should not recognise that country because its creation undermined the sovereignty of the state and had been formed in collusion with India. Lesson: we should not only blame our leaders for retrogressive views.

The people making these claims were conflating the legitimate grievances of the Bangladeshis (at that time East Pakistanis) with the illegitimate actions of the Indian state — which were two quite distinct things even if they came together in that one instance. The issue of East Pakistani autonomy had been articulated in terms of language (there were language riots in 1952 in which the rioters were brutally suppressed and West Pakistani newspapers at the time only mentioned it briefly and in passing); the issue of representation in the military, which was being seen as problematic by East Pakistanis everywhere; and crucially, resource allocation, which was being concentrated in the Western wing. Those are the big, macro things we all vaguely know about. On the other hand, the little things that come out of the National Assembly debates of the time include the decision of where to set up television stations (surprise: they were concentrated in West Pakistan); the priority given to refugee reallocation in terms of funds and the set up of employment exchanges in the West; the set up of factories and industry in Karachi through government funds...the list goes on. The point here is that there are so many historical factors that we do not even see that go into the expression of separatist sentiment.

With what seems like a more permanent (fingers crossed) return to democracy, these are questions we now need to think about and pressurise whoever we support to begin thinking about as well: how can the legitimate concerns of provincial powers be addressed? Is it possible for such negotiations to take place not between the military and guerrilla fighters in open conflict (such as happened in Bangladesh in 1971 and Balochistan in 1973) but between political leaders who are dependent on us for our vote?

Whatever we may think within our internal national discussions, history has not vindicated us. Today, there are several books by Bangladeshi nationalists that discuss the country’s history under “West Pakistani colonialism”. And they are not entirely wrong. In the past (and even today), forcing the argument for ‘sovereignty’ down people’s throats has been counterproductive. In the 1950s in Pakistan, Iskander Mirza publicly stated that provincial autonomy was to be equated with the disintegration of Pakistan. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, that is certainly not what Quaid-e-Azam, who surely knew much more and much better than Mirza, had said to the provinces when they joined the country.

This short narrative is not intended to give instruction about the way forward but simply to convey the need to give this issue the seriousness it deserves and not reduce it to an imperialist construct.

The writer is a PhD candidate in the history department at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She can be reached at

Jinnah, Imran and Shezan

BY:—Yasser Latif Hamdani

To Jinnah, the question of representation of the legitimate interests of the Muslim minority in United India was a political question and not a religious one. Therefore, a non-Muslim could equally represent the Muslims without any contradiction

The ban on Shezan products by the Lahore Bar Association (LBA) has yet again proved that we are an unthinking, heartless and crooked people as a whole. This ban, which violates at least five of the fundamental rights guaranteed to citizens and other persons under the constitution of Pakistan, is unlikely to be challenged in a court of law because no court of law is going to rule against the high and mighty bar association. The more likely scenario is that the courts will uphold such a bigoted decision and further narrow space for dissent in this country. This writer at least has no hope or faith in Pakistanis of any kind to find it in their hearts to live up to human values of equity and justice, least of all the rabble that passes for lawyers in our time.

Yet I continue to write primarily to set the record straight on two counts. One, the actions of the black sheep that populate this nation state are not and ought not be a reflection on the founder of this nation who — whether our bigots admit it or not — was a man of towering integrity and an inherent sense of justice and fair play and who perhaps is unfortunate enough to be called the founding father of a wretched nation like us. Second, while we are infested with bigots of all shapes and forms, not all of us are like that.

So long as we dare to hope, we are in for constant heartbreak. The all-conquering hero, Imran Khan, claims that he will usher in a new era in Pakistan’s politics by bringing back Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan. This hollow promise lured me into supporting the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for three odd months. Lately, Imran Khan’s party has made common cause with the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and other such organisations, which are the antithesis of the fondest hopes Jinnah had for the state he was creating. To make matters worse, the president of the LBA, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, who presided over the ban on the ‘kafir’ (infidel) Shezan soft drink, was supported by Hamid Khan and a bulk of lawyers who identify themselves with the PTI. Apologists for the party now state that Imran Khan has to appeal to a popular base and the Ahmedi issue is only a small matter. It is stated — repeatedly — that Imran Khan is trying to save Pakistan and cannot be bothered with such small matters. May I humbly submit — without offending anyone — that a Pakistan sans Jinnah’s secular vision of equality and justice for all Pakistanis regardless of religion, caste or creed is not a Pakistan worth saving.

While mindful of the sentiments of the people he was leading, Jinnah never made any compromises with bigots. He repeatedly rebuffed Majlis-e-Ahrar’s offers of alliance on the grounds that Majlis-e-Ahrar propagated hate and bigotry against the Ahmedis. On May 23, 1944, Jinnah stated very clearly what his position on the Ahmedi issue was:

“I have been asked a disturbing question, as to who among the Muslims can be a member of the Muslim Conference. It has been asked with particular reference to the Qadianis. My reply is that, as far as the constitution of the All-India Muslim League is concerned, it stipulates that any Muslim, without distinction of creed or sect, can become a member, provided he accepts the views, policy and programme of the Muslim League, signs the form of membership and pays the subscription. I appeal to the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir not to raise sectarian questions, but instead to unite on one platform under one banner. In this lies the welfare of the Muslims. In this way, not only can Muslims make political and social progress effectively, but so can other communities, and so also can the state of Kashmir as a whole.” (For reference please see Jamil-ud-Din Ahmed, Speeches and Statements, Volume I, pg 148.)

It is reported that one Mr M A Sabir tried as hard as he could to persuade the Quaid-e-Azam to declare the Ahmedis as being out of the fold of Islam. But Mr Jinnah stuck resolutely to his principles and kept on replying: “What right have I to declare a person non-Muslim, when he claims to be a Muslim.”

When in 1943 a resolution was presented in the Muslim League to commit Pakistan to an Islamic polity, Jinnah rejected it and called it a censure on every Leaguer. Jinnah did not let any bigot or expediency dictate his policy; against tremendous pressure Jinnah appointed Zafarullah Khan first to argue Pakistan’s case before the Boundary Commission and then as the foreign minister of the new state. As a gesture that spoke louder than words, he appointed Jogindranath Mandal as his law minister. Mr Mandal, a Hindu, had earlier been nominated by Jinnah on a Muslim seat in the interim government of India. To Jinnah, the question of representation of the legitimate interests of the Muslim minority in United India was a political question and not a religious one. Therefore, a non-Muslim could equally represent the Muslims without any contradiction.

Jinnah’s personal observance (or lack thereof) of religious obligations was well known. He made no effort to hide his thoroughly westernised lifestyle. Repeatedly he told the Muslims that he was not a religious leader and that they should not expect from him anything that his own lifestyle does not conform to. His conduct at political rallies was the same — he did not start his speeches with any religious prayer or supplication. When urged by some ulema (religious scholars) to institute public prayer at League rallies, he replied: “Who is going to lead such a prayer, a Shia? A Deobandi? Who?” This is a far cry from Imran Khan’s recent antics at his jalsas (rallies), including his televised namaz (prayer) during the Lahore jalsa. In fact, Imran Khan’s newfound penchant for starting his speeches with a religious prayer is at odds with his own career as a cricketer and a captain. In 1992, Imran Khan did not begin his speech by the now customary “thanks to Almighty Allah”, though perhaps Imran had more faith than anyone who has led the cricket team before or since. Imran the cricket captain, much like Jinnah the politician, did not wear his religion on his sleeve. Imran Khan the politician is a different story.

Anyone who has even a rudimentary idea about the conflict between the two South Asian greats, Jinnah and Gandhi, knows that Jinnah’s break with Gandhi came over Gandhi’s encouragement of the Islamist Khilafat Movement, which Jinnah considered a bigoted and reactionary undertaking. The Quaid famously told Durga Das that he had nothing to do with the pseudo-religious approach to politics that Gandhi was forwarding. In his otherwise well written book, Pakistan: A Personal History, Imran Khan claims that Jinnah and Gandhi were on the same page vis-à-vis the role of religion in politics. Tragically, this misconception seems to inform the great Khan’s every move these days. At the very least then Imran Khan should stop misleading people like me by making references to Jinnah, so that we may stop hoping and wishing and praying for a new dawn, which seems to be no longer an option or priority for Pakistan’s leaders, including Imran Khan.

The writer is a practising lawyer. He blogs at and his twitter handle is @therealylh

Seeds of 1972 blossomed into Sino-US friendship

By Yu Jincui

This month marks the 40th anniversary of former US President Richard Nixon's icebreaking visit to China.

In 1972, I had lived in China - in Taiwan - and studied Chinese there, but the Nixon visit was my first time on the mainland. One cannot gain much impression of a place when one is limited to official meetings and sightseeing. Still, Beijing and Shanghai then preserved a great deal of the traditional architecture and character that modernization has erased. I had the sense of stepping back in time and into a society that worked at a slower pace than the outside world.

In 1972, China was in the last throes of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). China was internationally isolated and estranged from both the Soviet Union and the US, both of which it saw as threatening to attack it. China was desperately poor. It sought economic autarky and was not a factor in the global economy. Both Chinese and Americans viewed the Nixon visit to Beijing as a strategic turning point, but neither had any idea how far-reaching its effects would be.

For Americans, who watched the events in Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai on television, the President's visit to China was a voyage of discovery to a land few had known and almost none had seen since the establishment of the People's Republic of China 23 years before. Chinese were told to stay off the streets and keep their peace during the visit. They made no fuss of the visit but were aware that something extraordinary was happening.

The immense prestige of Chairman Mao was invoked to legitimize the strategic reorientation that the visit accomplished. Most but not all Americans and Chinese applauded the statesmanship and vision of their leaders. A few on both sides could not overcome past feelings of enmity and were opposed.

The forces that have made China a respected participant in global governance and a major factor in the global economy were first unleashed in February 1972. Within six years, the very limited Sino-US interaction that the Shanghai Communiqué facilitated led to the process of reform and opening-up that has transformed China, its role in the world, and the world itself.

The Nixon visit showed that China and the US were capable of rising above the major differences we had at the time and cooperating for mutual advantage. February 1972 saw the beginning of a process of rapprochement in which, with much hard work by both sides, the differences between us steadily narrowed.

In the following 40 years, we have developed habits of cooperation to replace the mutual isolation of the past. We have gone from enmity to partnership in almost every field of human endeavor. We have come to respect each other, even as we sometimes differ.

Today, there are still a few serious disputes between the US and China but there is far better mutual understanding, differences are much less, and constructive dialogue takes place between us at all levels. The relationship begun by a few officials on both sides in 1972 has grown to have deep roots in the two peoples.

The past 40 years have brought enormous progress in our relations. There will continue to be incidents, arguments, and twists and turns as we move forward but I see no reason that the next 40 years should not register even more progress.

As the recent visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping to the US illustrates, our leaders now consider it entirely normal to visit and talk to each other. Both Americans and Chinese have come to understand how important it is for our two countries to explore ways to work together to the common advantage. In 1972, we had no relationship at all. Now we are interdependent. Our interactions, non-existent or indirect 40 years ago, are now the most consequential in the world.

We have come a very long way from the hostile relationship of 40 years ago and we should by now have learned not attribute malevolent intent to each other when our only basis for doing so is speculative or a priori reasoning.

The article was complied by Global Times reporter Yu Jincui based on a written interview with Chas Freeman, a retired diplomat who now chairs a global business development firm, Projects International, Inc. He was the principal US interpreter during President Nixon's path-breaking visit to China in 1972.

Balochistan: the ISI and the media

Daily Times

By:Dr Qaisar Rashid
Gradually, the relationship between the media and the ISI turned symbiotic and some quarters of the media took upon themselves the job of defending publicly every act of the ISI

Perhaps the world would have been a better place to dwell in if military solutions to political issues had been successful. In that case, there would have been no need of long-drawn political dialogues and negotiations since they consume time. If the Pakistan Army had solved the Bangladesh problem, its standing on Balochistan would have been valued.

The Arab Spring put a point across effectively that no arm of the state can muffle the voice of the people by coercion — even if the voices were of dissent. The fall of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was big news for Pakistan, as his era kept on inspiring the military commanders in Pakistan to take over the civil setup and introduce a controlled parliament. General Pervez Musharraf aped Hosni Mubarak in the political sphere by installing a puppet parliament — though Musharraf also tried to replicate the Turkish model in the social sphere. Anyway, having been ravaged by the Arab Spring, no Arab country is now ready to support — whether politically or economically — a military takeover in Pakistan. Democracy reigns supreme!

A question that irks many Pakistanis is: if a bicycle is stolen from the streets of Bhai Pheru, the news of the theft is broadcast on the national electronic media as breaking news; TV talk shows invite experts to speak on the cause and effect of the theft; judicial activism is called for; national interests are felt threatened; rumours of the tumbling of the government consequently may make the rounds; so why is the media (both print and electronic) silent on the situation in Balochistan?

The decade of the Afghan war (1979-89) might have yielded numerous fruit to Pakistan but it infused one major factor into the socio-political sphere of Pakistan: the overwhelming role of Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI. The post-1991 era witnessed the ISI poking its nose into every socio-political affair. The role of the ISI during the Afghan war might have made Pakistanis revere it but its role in the post-1991 era has instilled fear in the hearts of Pakistanis. The legal option of ‘preventive detention’ has been successfully — and disgracefully — exploited by the intelligence agencies, including the ISI.

It was not only the socio-political domain that was swept by the ‘ISI-wave’ but also the media. Reporters of several dailies had to rely on the ISI for obtaining new information. The fear of the ISI also helped intensify that reliance. Some, if not many, reporters and editors could not afford infuriating the ISI by publishing news disapproved by it. Gradually, the relationship between the media and the ISI turned symbiotic and some quarters of the media took upon themselves the job of defending publicly every act of the ISI. Some critics think that the flow of funds from the ISI bags to the pockets of certain media people also played its due role. The term ‘lifafa’ (envelope) journalism was also coined. Perceivably, to be on the payroll of an intelligence agency such as the ISI may be a big achievement as the consequent status offers a guarantee of protection, career advancement, economic prosperity and whatnot to the beneficiary. Then why die for a cause such as Balochistan: avoid speaking and writing on such issues and live a long, happy and prosperous life.

Later on, the symbiotic relationship also infested the electronic media. Perceivably, the popularity rating of several reporters, editors and anchorpersons now depend on the information supplied by the intelligence agencies, especially the ISI. The beneficiaries reciprocate by defending all acts of the ISI. One can surmise that the carrot-and-stick policy of the ISI is controlling the media. Against that background, do the Baloch now understand why the issues related to them are not highlighted in (some sections of) the (print and electronic) media?

Another problem is that neither any national daily (Urdu or English) nor any national electronic channel has its head office in Quetta. Consequently, the voice of the Baloch cannot be heard across Pakistan. Otherwise, Pakistanis generally are not so callous as to not pay any heed to the voice of the Baloch.

The word ‘controlled’ is the bane of Pakistan. Certainly, if someone is not ready to be ‘controlled’, he or she can be ‘silenced’. Nevertheless, if journalists and writers are fearful of being ‘silenced’ in case they write and speak the truth, Pakistan cannot be changed. The truth is that the media is compromised on the issue of Balochistan owing to the ISI factor. By the way, what is the worth of this compromised media: just to sell biscuits and burgers? A street hawker can do that and in a better way.

Criticising the role of the ISI does not mean ISI-bashing as propagated by retired army generals appearing as defence analysts on various national TV talk shows. Instead, the point is the job of an intelligence agency — and there are several around, including the ISI — cannot be to construct a ‘controlled Pakistan’; if such is the case, that role should be condemned and resisted by all. In a country where the general trend in the media is to be a chamcha (bootlicker) of the security forces and intelligence agencies, what issue including that of the missing persons can be raised and decided? The sickness called ‘chamchaism’ has frustrated the dream of an independent media.

The obverse side of the argument is that if you exorcise the fear of the intelligence agencies from the heart of the media people, see how the media makes its presence felt in every nook and corner of Balochistan. The media, which is doctored by the intelligence agencies, cannot be considered independent. A Pakistan where a Pakistani has to be scared of the ISI or other intelligence agencies is not worth living in. The grievances piled up in Balochistan have attained a size and importance higher than that of the ISI. Secondly, the life and honour of one Baloch is preferable to the life and honour of the whole of the ISI.

Saudi Arabia in charge of US Policy: Israel cheerleads, Saudi's finance & Cold War lives

By John Stanton

"The Hanbali school, known for following the most Orthodox form of Islam, is embraced in Saudi Arabia and by the Taliban.." Council of Foreign Relations--Islam: Governing Under Sharia, 24 October 2011.

"In August a judge in Tabuk considered sentencing a man to be surgically paralyzed after convicting him of paralyzing another man in a fight two years earlier." Human Rights Watch ,2011.

"In September a Qatif court sentenced two high school pupils to six months in prison and 120 lashes for stealing exam questions." Human Rights Watch, 2011.

Watching, listening, and reading the media coverage, government commentary and think tank analyses on Iran's nuclear capability and the desire by some to destroy it is like taking in Abbott and Costello's Who's on First and Math skits.

The logic behind the entire push for massive military action against Iran makes about as much sense as Costello's math calculations. Abbott's acceptance of it all ("you are hired") is an appropriate analogy for the USA's role in the madness as it is being suckered into another war in mid-east Asia at the insistence of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Israel and similar Abbott and Costello governed countries.
f the USA has so much power, why are second and third rate countries in charge of its policies in mid-east Asia?

All statements coming out of the mouths of US government officials signal confusion within the grand brains of the political, economic and military leadership. The US may or may not support a Saudi-Israeli operation against Iran said Secretary of Defense Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman general Martin Dempsey (USA) recently. That is utterly unbelievable.

These are flammable times already and yet government officials, commentators--(and US presidential candidates--the world over are making foolish and unsupported statements about Iran and, hence, are ratcheting up the tension. President Obama says "I can't control Israel (the USA controls/monitors all air traffic routes into and out of Iran). Israeli leadership says "only 500 casualties from an air strike" (using the logic of General Buck Turgeson in the movie Dr. Strangelove). The House of Saud says "cut the head off the snake (Colin Powell, former US Army general, once said this in reference to Saddam Hussein). In 1993 Israel said Iran would have nuclear weapons by 1999. Then they said that Iran would have them by 2001.

The pro-Iranian war movement, and the Iranian leadership itself, would do well to get a copy of The Fog of War, 11 lessons from Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense, and watch it repeatedly. One of the points McNamara makes in the film is "I lived the Cold war every day, 24/7".

The Cold War has not ended as popularly reported. It has just shifted focus.

They are all Schemers: Big Plot and Deadly Subplots

In the overall US strategic scheme the Iranian matter as a subplot. The central focus of the story is an attempt by the USA's political, economic and military leadership to answer two questions: How can strategy, policy, operations and tactics (SPOT) be developed now to inhibit the development of China and Russia's instruments of national and international power? What SPOT's are necessary to maintain America's dollar and military dominance even as China and Russia--and to a lesser degree India and Brazil--are developing methods (currency swaps or basket of currencies minus the US dollar) to bypass the foundation of American global dominance-the dollar (and T-Bill)?

Another subplot is "it's about the oil." But the data doesn't quite support the argument. According to the Energy Information Agency there are only two mid-east Asian countries in the top ten that the US imports energy from. Saudi Arabia is in the number two spot with Mexico close behind. Iraq comes in at number seven. Rounding out the top ten are Canada (number one), Venezuela, Nigeria, Ecuador, Angola, Colombia, and Russia (Brazil is number eleven). The USA imports 49 percent of its energy needs. It is not a stretch to say that with the right combination of US political and economic policies, and some sacrifice by the American people, it could wean itself of off Saudi and Iraqi oil.

So, how and why is it that Saudi Arabia is able to shape US foreign policy towards the mid-east Asian region as it does in the face of the Nazi-like rule of its own people? Why do Americans and Israelis so easily sell their souls to the Saud's? Why isn't Saudi Arabia featured at Regime Change Central?

John Macarthur writing in Harper's Magazine (2007) observed that "...I can't shake the idea that the Israel lobby, no matter how powerful, isn't all it is cracked up to be, particularly where it concerns the Bush administrations past and present. Indeed, when I think of pernicious foreign lobbies with disproportionate sway over American politics, I can't see past Saudi Arabia and its royal house...Given my dissident politics, I should be up in arms about the Israel lobby. Not only have I supported the civil rights of the Palestinians over the years, but two of my principal intellectual mentors were George W. Ball and Edward Said, both severe critics of Israel and its extra-special relationship with the United States.

Foreign Agents for Beheadings

According to the Foreign Agents Registration a listing of 30 June 2011, the following US organizations and citizens represented Saudi interests: Hogan Lovela in Washington, DC (foreign policy interpretation of US Congressional legislative actions, lobbying); Ketchum in New York (media relations); International Merchandising Association in Ohio (brand management); Patton Boggs (monitoring US government statements on Saudi Arabia, legislative analysis, lobbying); Qurvis LLC (monitoring US media, spreading positive stories about Saudi Arabia, lobbying, developing Internet-WWW presence).

The US Department of State, Human Rights Bureau, reported that in 2010 Saudi Arabia was an awful place to live unless you are a guy " right to change the government peacefully; torture and physical abuse; poor prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention; denial of fair and public trials and lack of due process in the judicial system; political prisoners; restrictions on civil liberties such as freedoms of speech (including the Internet), assembly, association, movement, and severe restrictions on religious freedom; and corruption and lack of government transparency. Violence against women and a lack of equal rights for women, violations of the rights of children, trafficking in persons, and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity were common. The lack of workers' rights, including the employment sponsorship system, remained a severe problem."

Then there is the country analysis done on Saudi Arabia by Human Rights Watch (2011). "Human rights conditions remain poor in Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah has not fulfilled several specific reform promises; reforms to date have involved largely symbolic steps to improve the visibility of women and marginally expand freedom of expression. Authorities continue to systematically suppress or fail to protect the rights of nine million Saudi women and girls, eight million foreign workers, and some two million Shia citizens. Each year thousands of people receive unfair trials or are subject to arbitrary detention. Curbs on freedom of association, expression, and movement, as well as a pervasive lack of official accountability, remain serious concerns.

Iraqi Government Fears Saudi Arabia

Simon Tisdall writing for the Guardian, UK (2010) reported that the Iraqi government viewed Saudi Arabia as a threat to its internal security. " Iraqi government officials see Saudi Arabia, not Iran, as the biggest threat to the integrity and cohesion of their fledgling democratic state, leaked US state department cables reveal. The Iraqi concerns, analyzed in a dispatch sent from the US embassy in Baghdad by then ambassador Christopher Hill in September 2009, represent a fundamental divergence from the American and British view of Iran as arch-predator in Iraq. 'Iraq views relations with Saudi Arabia as among its most challenging given Riyadh's money, deeply ingrained anti-Shia attitudes and [Saudi] suspicions that a Shia-led Iraq will inevitably further Iranian regional influence,' Hill writes. 'Iraqi contacts assess that the Saudi goal (and that of most other Sunni Arab states, to varying degrees) is to enhance Sunni influence, dilute Shia dominance and promote the formation of a weak and fractured Iraqi government.' Hill's unexpected assessment flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that Iranian activities, overt and covert, are the biggest obstacle to Iraq's development."

Saudi Arabia, Syria: History of Dislike

A Muslim News report (2011) reminds that Saudi Arabia and Syria have been at odds with each other for most of their history. As such, the current turmoil in Syria, in which Saudi Arabia and the US are involved on the ground--should be viewed through a historical microscope. Americans are largely deficient on the study of history other than their own. "Syria prides itself as a secular republic and a bastion of Arab nationalism with close ties to Russia. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is a reactionary monarchy and embodies itself as a caretaker of Islam, while having an extensive bond with the US and Western Europe. True, the rhetoric of the two countries may not correspond with their practice, but the ideological narratives they superficially embrace are in conflict, and much of their foreign policy aims have been at odds."

The US government approach to Syria, as it is with Iran, was largely crafted by Saudi Arabia. This is a country who speaks of the humanitarian crisis in Syria as though it is the USA. It is more intolerant of dissent than the USSR ever was. Of all ironies, the fact that the USA negotiated with the USSR for decades and will not with Iran has to be in the top ten ironies of human history. What it says is that on crucial matters of mid-east Asian matters involving war and oppression, the US political process is influenced and designed by repressive governments represented by American citizens. Young people die and will continue to die as a result of this.

Human Rights Watch notes that "US pressure for human rights improvements was imperceptible. In September the Pentagon proposed for Congressional approval a US$60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, the biggest-ever US arms sale. It is unknown whether the UK made efforts through the Two Kingdoms Dialogue to promote human rights, but if so they had no tangible effect...

Before he died in the World Trade Center on 9/11, the former FBI counterterrorism chief John O'Neill complained to French investigator Jean-Charles Brisard that Saudi pressure on the State Department had prevented him from fully investigating possible al-Qaida involvement in the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen, and of the destroyer Cole in 2000. As with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, there's always talk of the Saudis playing a double game with al-Qaida publicly denouncing it and privately paying it off but you don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to understand that the Saudis don't have America's best interests at heart."

John Stanton is a Virginia based writer specializing in national security. Reach him at

Invading Afghanistan, Then and Now

By Jonah Blank

"As the result of two successful campaigns, of the employment of an enormous force, and of the expenditures of large sums of money," the secretary of state observed, "all that has yet been accomplished has been the disintegration of the State . . . and a condition of anarchy throughout the remainder of the country." A highly decorated general, recently returned from service in Kandahar, concluded, "I feel sure that I am right when I say that the less the Afghans see of us the less they will dislike us."

The politician was Spencer Cavendish, Marquis of Hartington, the British secretary of state for India. The general was Sir Frederick Roberts, who eventually became a field marshal and the subject of three ballads by Rudyard Kipling. The year was 1880. As U.S. President Barack Obama tries to wind down the longest war in U.S. history, while leaving behind some measure of stability, he would be wise to keep in mind this bitter truth: most of Afghanistan's would-be conquerors make the same mistakes, and most eventually meet the same disastrous fate.

All serving consuls and prospective invaders interested in avoiding such an end would do well to read Peter Tomsen's magisterial new book, The Wars of Afghanistan. A career U.S. diplomat, Tomsen served as Washington's special envoy to the Afghan resistance in 1989-92, an experience that gave him almost unrivaled personal insight into Afghanistan's slide from anti-Soviet jihad into civil war. His account of the country's political dynamics before, during, and after this period is exhaustively researched, levelheaded, and persuasive. Throughout the book, he highlights two lessons that most of Afghanistan's invaders learn too late: no political system or ideology imposed by an outside power is likely to survive there, and any attempt to coax political change from within must be grounded in a deep knowledge of local culture and customs.

In Afghanistan, legitimate authority has traditionally been highly localized, a product of consensus rather than brute force, and firmly anchored in tribal, clannish, and kinship structures. Afghanistan only developed the barest bones of a centralized state in the twentieth century, and even today, Kabul's control over the country's periphery remains tenuous at best. These attributes make Afghanistan a difficult country for foreign military planners to occupy. Then again, as former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, under whose tenure the United States began its operations in Afghanistan, might have put it, you go to war in the country you have, not the country you want.

Tomsen compellingly argues that these salient features of Afghan political life will not disappear anytime soon. His conclusions about how Washington might stabilize Afghanistan, given the country's decentralization and independent culture, range from the uncontestable (better understand local practices) to the slightly contestable (do not hope to centralize power) to the problematic (reinvent the U.S. relationship with Pakistan). Whether one agrees with Tomsen, however, there is no denying that his descriptions of Afghanistan's society and politics are a valuable foundation for any discussion of how the country should be governed.


Although the British and Soviet wars in Afghanistan may be the closest analogues to the United States' experience today, Tomsen starts his tale from the beginning. He usefully summarizes 3,000 years of Afghan history, during which the Greeks, the Romans, the White and the Black Huns, the Mongols, the Moguls, the Persians, and the Turkmens all tried to dominate the land. Every campaign eventually came to naught, either because the invader paid insufficient attention to local culture or because he sought to impose centralized control on ferociously independent tribes and clans. The pattern was basically the same each time: a brutally competent conqueror sweeps through Afghanistan, wreaking enough carnage to terrify all his enemies into submission, but he soon finds himself mired in a swamp of tribal customs and feuds that he does not begin to comprehend. When he loses enough in men and gold, he retreats -- not infrequently with fewer limbs than he had when he arrived.

Unlike previous invaders, the British troops that marched into Afghanistan in 1839 did not come to conquer; such a goal would have been far too expensive for the frugal bureaucrats back home. Instead, they aimed to place a puppet on the Afghan throne, or at least to establish a buffer between British India and the expanding tsarist Russia. The newly installed monarch would govern far more justly than his ousted rival: his British patronage was proof of his enlightenment. The British, much like the Soviets and the Americans decades later, were amazed to discover that Afghans did not believe in their benevolence. Suspicion quickly flared into insurgency, and when the British pulled out of Kabul in 1842 with a convoy of 16,000 troops and camp followers, only a single survivor (the assistant surgeon William Brydon) reached the border town of Jalalabad alive. Still, the lesson did not sink in. The British intervened in Afghanistan again in 1878 to compel the Afghan emir to at least accept a British diplomatic mission, and within just two years, they were left with some 3,000 dead or wounded. The Third Anglo-Afghan War, waged just after World War I to repel an ill-advised Afghan raid into British-held territory, lasted barely three months but killed 236 Britons in action. In each case, the colonial power arrived with increasingly modest goals -- and left with those goals only barely met.

At first, some Afghan city dwellers may have welcomed the Soviet invasion of 1979 as a respite from half a decade of coups and near coups, and those in the countryside may barely have known that it was happening. But any warm or neutral feelings were quickly swept away by the Soviets' attempts to impose their communist ideology and their conducting of a counterinsurgency campaign through carpet-bombing. By conservative estimates, more than one million Afghans were killed during the decadelong Soviet presence in the country -- many times the number of Afghans who have died as a result of the NATO-led war since 2001.

Tomsen, a Russian speaker who served as a political counselor in the U.S. embassy in Moscow immediately prior to the Soviet invasion, makes clear that there is no moral equivalence between the Soviets' occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and the ongoing U.S.-led campaign there. He points out, however, that the Soviets made the same core mistakes that have haunted invaders before and since them: they attempted to impose a centralized order on a highly decentralized nation, and they displayed complete ignorance about the realities of Afghan society. There were few nations in the 1970s less ripe for a Marxist-Leninist revolution than Afghanistan. The country had no proletariat; indeed, it had little capitalist structure of any kind.

Yet even as communism failed to catch on, Moscow refused to jettison its ideological framework and instead tried to shore up its puppet government by patching together the two rival factions of the ruling national communist party. The Khalq faction was overwhelmingly made up of members of the Ghilzai Pashtun tribes, and the other, the Parcham faction, was mostly made up of Tajiks and Durrani Pashtuns, the Ghilzais' traditional foes. The feud between the two groups was coated with a thin veneer of socialist rhetoric, but it was really only a continuation of centuries-old tribal struggles. The result was a government in Kabul wholly uninterested in governance, utterly removed from the day-to-day concerns of the Afghan people, and consumed with petty struggles over the spoils of rule. Meanwhile, the government simultaneously parroted and plotted against its foreign patron. If this doesn't sound familiar, it should.


To a specialized reader, the most valuable parts of Tomsen's book are those in which he recounts what he actually witnessed. His recitation of the political maneuvering of the Soviet era in Afghanistan may strike some as overly detailed: the Ghilzai warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar betrays the Tajik warlord Burhanuddin Rabbani, Rabbani betrays the Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, Dostum betrays everyone, and so on. But it is precisely with such detail that Tomsen breaks the most new ground. For this reason alone, The Wars of Afghanistan should have a place among the indispensable books on the topic.

The general reader will also find much to ponder in Tomsen's firsthand accounts. It is here that Tomsen most fully articulates his criticisms of the United States' own Afghanistan strategy, which he sees as having been remarkably static over the last few decades. Of the Clinton administration, he writes that the White House seemed not to have had any policy at all, "only a strategy that [was] marginally adjusted in reaction to events." (The critique also applies, in varying degrees, to every modern U.S. administration before and since.) As the United States' war in Afghanistan went from cold to hot, Washington made the same mistakes again and again.

According to Tomsen, another recurrent problem has been the United States' incoherent implementation of its policy, with every White House failing to enforce unified action across all branches of the government. Tomsen describes the CIA, in particular, as having conducted a foreign policy of its own, sabotaging U.S. attempts to build a unified moderate Afghan front and instead channeling support to Pakistan-based extremists. Meanwhile, U.S. presidents have been unwilling to devote sufficient time, attention, and political capital to formulating an effective Afghanistan policy. Most damaging of all, Tomsen argues, the United States has essentially outsourced its strategy to Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), funneling billions of dollars and military equipment to rabidly anti-American military officers and their jihadist proxies. The result, he argues, is that the United States has been continuously hoodwinked as Pakistan has taken the money for nothing in return.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan, for example, praised the anti-Soviet mujahideen as "the moral equivalent" of George Washington and looked the other way as the ISI funneled most of the American money and arms to Hekmatyar and other incompetent, anti-American figures while sidelining more capable and more broadly representative ones, such as the resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. Tomsen is kinder to George H. W. Bush, who appointed him as special envoy to the region, than to other U.S. presidents, but he writes that he himself lacked the bureaucratic support to rein in the CIA when it undermined agreed-on policies, such as supporting the development of a moderate and broad-based government. During Bush's tenure, Tomsen writes, the agency continued to call all the shots, and money kept flowing to the ISI. Clinton made a few diplomatic feints, such as limited outreach to the ISI-backed Taliban, and lobbed a few cruise missiles when the Taliban continued to shelter al Qaeda, but he otherwise largely ignored Afghanistan. And even after 9/11, George W. Bush failed to wrest power from the CIA, the Pentagon, and the ISI. Tomsen sees traces of promise in Obama's 2009 decision to renew top-level emphasis on Afghanistan, but he is skeptical that such a commitment will work without a wholesale reexamination of U.S. policy. In sum, Tomsen sees most outside potentates, whether politiburo chairmen or presidents, as making the same set of errors.


Trying to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors, today's war planners have settled on a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy that is supposed to create enough security to help a civilian government establish legitimacy among the local populace. Observers with longer memories will recall, of course, that the principles of counterinsurgency have been discovered many times before: by the British in Malaya, the French in Algeria, the United States in Vietnam and the Philippines, and even the Soviets in Afghanistan. And discovering (or rediscovering) a principle is easier than implementing it. Ten years into the current counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, the military piece of the mission seems to have progressed far more rapidly than the civilian portion. Troops have pacified the major cities enough to allow for the formation of a central government. But the government of President Hamid Karzai seems to have little more popular support than did that of the Soviet puppet (and eventual light-post adornment) Muhammad Najibullah. As General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, candidly noted in his 2009 assessment of U.S. progress in Afghanistan, the military piece of counterinsurgency can do little more than provide the time and space for a civilian government to take root. It remains to be seen whether in 2014, by which time U.S. troops will have withdrawn from their combat role in Afghanistan, the Afghan government will resemble a stable oak or a flimsy reed.

Tomsen's policy recommendations are the flip side of his critique. He calls on the Obama administration to ensure a coherent policy by relegating the U.S. military and intelligence agencies to "policy-implementing, not policymaking." He also urges the administration to stay engaged in Afghanistan for the long haul but to "de-Americanize the Afghan war across the board as rapidly as possible" by disentangling the United States from Afghan governance and development, finding Afghan moderates worth backing, and helping the Afghan regime build its governance capacity so long as its practices are "honest and effective." If some of Tomsen's recommendations are common sense (who could object to greater policy coherence?), others are somewhat contradictory (how should one stay engaged enough to back moderates and build the regime's capacity, all while shifting responsibility for security to Afghan forces?). The government in Kabul may not inspire much confidence today, but Tomsen avoids the question of what the United States should do if Afghan politics are as corrupt and dysfunctional in 2014 as they are in 2011.

Tomsen also urges a get-tough approach with Pakistan: "The most valuable contribution that America can make to Afghan peace," he writes, "lies not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan." In addition to enforcing existing conditions on military aid more strictly, Tomsen argues, Obama should threaten to designate the country a state sponsor of terrorism if the ISI does not cut its ties to militants. Some readers will wholeheartedly endorse Tomsen's call, even if following it might lead to a severing of relations between the United States and Pakistan. Others will question the wisdom of trading a potential disaster in Afghanistan (a country of 40 million people and of dubious strategic interest to the United States) for a potential disaster in Pakistan (a nation of 185 million and with the world's fifth-largest nuclear arsenal). Even those who share Tomsen's intense frustration may scratch their heads trying to figure out what leverage the United States could possibly hold over the Pakistani military as long as the Pentagon remains so logistically dependent on it: half the supplies for U.S. troops in Afghanistan (and almost all the lethal equipment, from ammunition to the weapons that fire it) are transported daily by the convoys that come through the Khyber Pass and Spin Boldak, a town right on the border with Pakistan.

And even those who agree with the basic elements of Tomsen's approach will remain hungry for a fallback option if his approach fails. "Afghanistan is an unpredictable place," Tomsen writes. "Things almost never turn out as planned, especially when the planning is done by foreigners." How should U.S. policy deal with this problem? If the Afghan National Security Forces are unable to provide security by 2014, should the United States delay the withdrawal of its troops indefinitely? If the Karzai regime fails to address corruption and poor governance, should the United States continue to give it money? And if Pakistan continues to be "fireman and arsonist," which Tomsen says it has been consistently over the past three decades, should the United States disengage from it completely and accept the consequences? As bad as things are now, they could easily get much worse.

Inevitably, any book with the breadth of The Wars of Afghanistan will have a few nits for the picking, but there are two reasons to read Tomsen's book carefully. First, it is extremely well written; an entire career spent drafting State Department cables miraculously failed to grind down the author's narrative spirit. Second, and more important, Tomsen has often been right in the past -- even, or especially, when many others were wrong.

Before 9/11, for example, he was in favor of cooperating with the two moderate mujahideen leaders Massoud and Abdul Haq when the U.S. government was against doing so. He was against working with the decidedly nonmoderate Hekmatyar and Hamid Gul, the ISI head who helped create several of the worst terrorist groups still operating in the region today, when Washington was for it. He was also right to sound the alarm about an obscure figure named Osama bin Laden at a time when the U.S. government was turning a blind eye to the ISI's support for him. Tomsen writes of the al Qaeda chief's sanctuary in Pakistan, "[Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf and the ISI practiced plausible deniability concerning bin Laden's whereabouts. They knew exactly where he was." This is a bold claim, and much more so for having been written long before the May 2 U.S. raid in Abbottabad that killed bin Laden.

It is also worth quoting at length a prediction Tomsen made while testifying to Congress in 2003:

The stunning American-led military victory in Afghanistan which ousted the Taliban-al Qaeda regime has not been followed up by an effective, adequately funded reconstruction strategy to help Afghans rebuild their country and restore their self-governing institutions. The initial enthusiasm genuinely felt by the Afghan people that peace was returning has clearly faded. . . . If present trends continue, five years from now Afghanistan is likely to look very much like it does today: reconstruction stagnation, a weak central government starved of resources, unable to extend its influence to the regions where oppressive warlords reign, opium production soars, and guerrilla warfare in Afghan-Pakistani border areas generated by Pakistan-backed Muslim extremists continues to inflict casualties on coalition and Afghan forces.

Today, he writes, even this take is overly optimistic.

Given Tomsen's track record, Americans should give a respectful hearing to his call for a thorough policy reformulation -- something beyond tweaks to troop numbers and counterinsurgency tactics. And given the merits of his book, they should heed his warning not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Coup attempt in Bangladesh

VIEW: BY—Dr Rashid Ahmad Khan

The row between the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party not only hits the economy of the country, it also represents a serious challenge to democracy in Bangladesh

The Bangladeshi military is reported to have recently unearthed and quashed an attempt by a group of serving and retired army officers to overthrow the Awami League-led coalition government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed. Disclosing this, army spokesman Brigadier-General Masud Razzaq said that some “religiously fanatic” Islamists in league with Bangladeshi expatriates were involved in the plot.

Bangladesh has a long history of military coups and counter-coups. The founder of Bangladesh and father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, was killed along with most of his family members in a military coup on August 15, 1975. This coup was carried out by a group of middle-ranking army officers led by Major Faruq. The coup officers were, however, ousted on November 3 in a counter-coup carried out by Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf. But only four days later, Mosharraf was killed in another military coup, followed by a period of perilous uncertainty and instability till General Ziaur Rahman assumed power in 1977. During his five-year rule, Zia survived as many as 21 coup attempts but could not survive the 22nd carried out by one of his commanders, Major-General Manzur posted at Chittagong in May 1981. General Zia, who had gone to Chittagong to sort out some dispute involving his party men, was killed but Major-General Manzur could not capture power as he was confronted by army chief General Hussain Muhammad Ershad. Manzur surrendered and was executed. General Ershad himself staged a military coup in March 1982, declared himself as Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) and created his own political party, the Jatiya Party, which remained the ruling party till 1990, when a pro-democracy movement launched by all political parties of the country forced him to step down.

Even after the restoration of democracy in 1990, Bangladesh has continued to be rocked by political instability and uncertainty because of bitter bickering between the two mainstream and rival political parties — the Awami League (AL) led by Hasina Wajed, daughter of slain leader Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by Khalida Zia, the widow of late General Ziaur Rahman. The AL supports secularism and liberalism in the country and is generally known to have pro-India inclinations. The BNP enjoys the support of rightist and anti-India elements. Bangladeshi politics has greatly been coloured by the clashing policy lines of these two political parties. During the last about two decades, these two parties have alternately shared power through parliamentary elections with continuous hostility towards each other marked by almost daily sit-ins, strikes, demonstrations and rallies. The row between the AL and BNP not only hits the economy of the country, it also represents a serious challenge to democracy in Bangladesh, raising the fears about military intervention or making inroads in the security establishment by the religious extremists.

There are a number of Islamic militant groups in Bangladesh among which Harkatul-Jehad-al-Islami Bangladesh (Huji-B), Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), Hizbul Touhid, Islami Samaj, Hizb-ut-Tahrir are prominent. These groups demonstrated their power on August 17, 2005 by carrying out 453 coordinated bomb blasts in 63 districts of the country. The deep polarisation among the political forces has provided these groups space to extend their networks, even penetrate the security forces.

Observers are of the view that the militant elements have already penetrated deep into the ranks of the Bangladeshi armed forces and this recent aborted military coup bears a clear testimony to this fact. The army sources have disclosed that the 16 army officers arrested for involvement in the planned coup are known to have extremist religious views. According to reports, the intelligence agencies have identified at least 11 senior and mid-level officers, including a Major-General, a Brigadier-General, two Lieutenant-Colonels and a number of Majors with extreme religious views. The army sources disclosing the planned coup accused some of the arrested officers of displaying ‘unruly’ behaviour and inciting the other offices to join them in a conspiracy against the government through the use of mobile phones and the internet. The extremist outfit Hizb-ut-Tahrir was also known to be in close contact with these officers.

In the past, ambitious generals or adventurous mid-level officers have been carrying out coups against the governments. This is the first time that the army has reported a coup attempt and moved to thwart it. The government of Prime Minister Hasina Wajed, who took over early in 2009, has welcomed the army action against the suspected officers, terming it as evidence of the army’s full backing for the secular policies of the AL-led coalition government. But the attempted coup has invited serious concerns by the liberal and democratic circles in Bangladesh, who view this development as symptomatic of a creeping influence of extremism in the armed forces of Bangladesh. “It is a matter of concern that religious extremism has made inroads into the armed forces,” wrote The Daily Star of Dhaka.

However, independent sources attribute this phenomenon to social unrest in the sharply polarised polity of Bangladesh. Professor Muzaffar, a renowned economist of the country, says the attempt at the overthrow of the government is the result of unrest in society; while Dr Imtiaz Ahmad, Professor of International Relations Dhaka University, is of the opinion that political polarisation has created room for a third force to meddle in politics. “This third force will have a role in politics until political polarisation ends,” he says. It is also claimed that the government-initiated trials of some members of the armed forces for committing war crimes during the liberation war are also a source of unrest in the armed forces, where the so-called pro-Pakistan lobby is still strong and opposed to the secular and pro-India policies of the AL-led government.

But the good news is that all the political parties, including the BNP and the JSD, have condemned the attempted coup and pledged to defend democracy in Bangladesh.

The writer is a professor of International Relations at Sargodha University. He can be reached at