Winning: Busting Balls In Baluchistan

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November 29, 2009:  While Pakistan has its hands full with thousands of rebellious Taliban rebels, it has been far more successful against Baluchi tribal rebels to the south. Back in 2006, there were several thousand casualties during a year of fighting the Baluchi rebels , including 450 dead. Some 80 percent of these losses were Baluchis (a third of them rebels, the rest civilians). The government made nearly 400 arrests, and induced nearly 2,000 tribesmen to surrender. This year, there were fewer than 300 deaths in Baluchistan. Violent incidents were also half as many as there were three years ago.

This was accomplished despite the fact that, three years ago, there were still up to 5,000 tribesmen involved in the violence. The government had two army divisions, and nearly as many police and paramilitary troops, in the area. About half the province was "unsafe" for non-Baluchis. Some government officials from outside the province were pulling strings, or even offering bribes, to avoid getting posted to Baluchistan. It was known as an unfriendly place.

Baluchistan has 36 percent of Pakistan's natural gas, and only four percent of the population (spread thinly over 180,000 square kilometers). Some 80 percent of this natural gas is exported, and the Baluchis only get about twelve percent of the money. On top of that, corrupt officials steal much of that, leaving the tribes with very little. The government wants to expand drilling and mining, and remove more of Baluchistans wealth. The tribes have been, literally, up in arms over this. Since the Summer of 2004, there have been several dozen violent incidents each week, ranging from tribesmen shooting at government facilities, or employees, or blowing something up (electricity transmission towers, roads, gas pipelines and so on.)

Baluchistan is not all Baluchi. About 40 percent of the seven million inhabitants of the region are Pushtun tribes (30 percent), and other groups (10 percent). Most of Pakistan's coastline is in Baluchistan, as are two of the navy's three bases, inhabited by many of the non tribal people. The tribes may control the back country, but the Pakistani government has a better position when it comes to the coastal communities, and cities in general.

The government turned the tide by taking advantage of the fact that the violence was largely from a few tribal groups. There were only a few tribal leaders that were holding the resistance together. The army went after these leaders, and locked down the tribes that were providing the most rebels. But the violence, although diminished, continues, and the rebels have resorted to assassinating senior government officials, and murdering non-Baluchis in general.

There are six different rebel groups in Baluchistan, and the government has special teams dedicated to gathering intelligence, and planning attacks, on each one. In addition, the Pushtun minority (including thousands of refugees from Afghanistan) provide sanctuary for Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. Because going after these Taliban and al Qaeda leaders would anger more Baluchis, the government stays away from these fugitives (who keep their heads down, not giving the government any more reasons to come after them), and concentrates on the Baluchi rebels that threaten the natural gas production.

The government has tried to negotiate with the rebels, but has been unwilling to give up enough of the natural gas revenue to satisfy the Baluchis (who also want economic development in general, which is unlikely to happen as long as there is all this violence.)

 

 


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