CrisisBalochistan editorial | September 3, 2011 (updated September 4, 2011)
photo by Malik Siraj Akbar, IDP camp, Jaffarabad
ICRC can visit prisons in NWFP and in Sindh and can see prisoners privately, including security detainees. Prisons in Balochistan are blocked, however, and access in Punjab prisons is restricted. xxx estimated, based on open sources, that the number of security detainees held in Pakistan was in the thousands. (July 29, 2009)
Wikileaks has released a treasure trove of data that reveals to some degree what the United States knows about Balochistan. This information is of great interest to Baloch human rights activists who have tirelessly campaigned to educate Western governments about their grievances, but who do not know how much of what they communicate actually registers with their target audiences. A search of the hotly debated cable collection that now comprises all 250,000 documents leaked to wikileaks yields 475 cables that relate directly or indirectly to Balochistan and 175 cables related to Baluchistan with its older spelling. While my perusal of these cables, thus far, yields no insight or confirmation regarding the burning question of who is responsible for the abductions and subsequent killings of Baloch political activists, journalists and youth, (and it appears unlikely that such communications were a part of this collection of cables) it does reveal that the U.S. government is well-aware of the reasons for the turmoil in Balochistan.
No doubt the Baloch will find many of the revelations disappointing. While the U.S. government is acutely aware of the poverty and deprivation that is fueling the current insurgency in Balochistan, there is no evidence in the cables I have scanned that would suggest the U.S. regards Balochistan as anything other than an economic and security issue for Pakistan, and certainly not a topic they are going to take a public stand on, despite allegations of egregious human rights violations.Such was the case when news of murders committed by the Pakistani army surfaced in Swat Valley. At the time, U.S. ambassador Anne Patterson advocated silence versus public comment for fear that comment would jeopardize the U.S. relationship with the Government of Pakistan and its military. Declan Walsh reported his findings in US 'kept Pakistani army Swat murders secret' and observed that U.S. ambassador Anne Patterson concluded, "Much of this is dependent on goodwill . . . that can easily erode if too much public criticism from USG [US government] officials over these incidents is forthcoming. For this reason, post advises that we avoid comment . . . and that efforts remain focused on dialogue and the assistance strategy."
While specific human rights violations may eventually elicit a statement or admonishment from a U.S. government official from time to time, for example in relation to the gunning down of the unarmed prisoners in Swat in 2010, in general it seems fair to conclude (thus far) that realpolitik informs U.S. reactions to events in Balochistan, at least up until the last of the leaked cables related to Balochistan dated February 24, 2010. This reaction is tempered not just by the realities of the war the U.S. is engaged in Afghanistan, but presumably also by financial considerations related to the resource riches of Balochistan, as well as those that theoretically could be transmitted from elsewhere across Balochistan.
While the wikileaks cables are now freely available to the public, CrisisBalochistan will comment here as we sift through the cables for information that might be of interest to Balochistan-watchers.
The first search crisisbalochistan conducted was on the topic of access--to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and prisons. Baloch activists have longed alleged that the Government of Pakistan and/or Pakistan's military routinely deny access to Baloch internally displaced persons (IDPs). A UNICEF report dated January 17, 2007, 'Government hinders access to internally displaced in Balochistan,' supports this allegation.
Additionally, over the last several years the Baloch have reported thousands of persons missing, alleged to have been abducted and held by Pakistan's security agencies. Many of these persons subsequently turn up dead on roadsides in Balochistan, their bodies tortured and bullet-riddled. A search of the wikileaks cables confirms that as of July 2009, at least one international agency, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), had no access to persons held in Baloch prisons. This lack of access was reported to the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM): "ICRC can visit prisons in NWFP and in Sindh and can see prisoners privately, including security detainees. Prisons in Balochistan are blocked, however, and access in Punjab prisons is restricted. xxx estimated, based on open sources, that the number of security detainees held in Pakistan was in the thousands."
Below is the full text of the cable related to IDPs.
¶1. (C) Summary: In spite of a mid-December intervention from Ambassador Crocker to senior Pakistani officials, UNICEF reports it is still unable to assist internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Balochistan. End summary.
¶2. (U) On December 21, the Christian Science Monitor reported that UNICEF had faced "endless bureaucratic hurdles" and outright refusals from both provincial and federal officials to deliver assistance to people who have been displaced by the escalating violence in Balochistan. In an assessment conducted in July/August 2006, UNICEF found that 59,000 of an estimated 80,000 displaced were women and children, and that 28 percent of children under five were acutely malnourished.
¶3. (U) Pakistani government officials have since denied UNICEF's accusation, but offered contradictory explanations. A military spokesman claimed that IDPs displaced by military operations in Dera Bugti and Kohlu returned home in September (after the killing of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in August 2006, reftel). UNICEF countered that, while some IDPs returned in September, still others have since been displaced. Some Balochistan provincial government officials claimed that the IDPs have been displaced by an ongoing drought, not by military operations in the province. In response, the opposition leader of the Balochistan National Assembly accused the provincial government of misleading the international community about military operations in Dera Bugti and Kohlu by conflating the problems of drought-affected IDPs with those dispaced by the government's "oppression."
¶4. (C) In mid-December 2006, shortly after a quiet intervention by Ambassador Crocker to senior Pakistani officials close to President Musharraf, federal officials in Islamabad instructed provincial officials to facilitate UN aid distribution. A UNICEF official told poloff, however, that they still have not been allowed to conduct their final assessment to determine placement of feeding stations for malnourished children (approximately a three-week process). On January 11, the UNICEF official said, provincial health officials informed UNICEF that the province would conduct its own assessment of where feeding stations should be placed, which will likely slow down assistance even more.
¶5. (C) Comment: While it may not be official Government of Pakistan policy to bar aid, reports that the Pakistan Army has denied NGO access to IDPs and has attempted to cloak the problem by hiding IDPs from aid workers are credible, as are reports that intelligence agencies have prevented villagers living around the IDPs from providing assistance. The government's ongoing military campaign against violent Baloch separatists, which has also included widespread arrests and numerous disappearances throughout the province, is increasing the alienation of a population that has never been inclined to trust Islamabad. Easing the way for humanitarian agencies to help vulnerable and displaced civilians should be an obvious step toward reconciliation between the center and the Baloch people.
¶6. (C) Comment, continued: Post will continue to monitor and urge access and cooperation between provincial authorities and humanitarian assistance organizations. End Comment.