Friday, October 4, 2013

Saudi black op team behind Damascus Chemical weapons attack – diplomatic sources

The August chemical weapons attack in the Syrian capital’s suburbs was done by a Saudi Arabian black operations team, Russian diplomatic sources have told a Russian news agency. “Based on data from a number of sources a picture can be pieced together. The criminal provocation in Eastern Ghouta was done by a black op team that the Saudi’s sent through Jordan and which acted with support of the Liwa Al-Islam group,” a source in the diplomatic circles told Interfax. The attack and its consequences had a huge impact on the Syrian situation, another source said. “Syrians of various political views, including some opposition fighters, are seeking to inform diplomats and members of international organizations working in Syria what they know about the crime and the forces which inspired it,” he told the agency. Liwa Al-Islam is an Islamist armed group operating near Damascus headed by the son of a Saudi-based Salafi cleric. The group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a secret governmental meeting in Damascus in July 2012 that killed a number of top Syrian officials, including Defense Minister Dawoud Rajiha, his deputy Asef Shawkat, and Assistant Vice President Hassan Turkmani. The allegations mirror a number of earlier reports, which pointed to Saudi Arabia as the mastermind behind the sarin gas attack, which almost led to US military action against Syrian government. Proponents of this scenario say intelligence services in Riyadh needed a false flag operation to provoke an American attack in Syria, which would tip the balance in favor of the armed opposition supported by Saudi Arabia. While the majority of Western countries say they are certain that the Syrian government carries the blame for the attack, Damascus maintains that the rebel forces must be behind it. Russia shares this conviction too, calling the incident a provocation. Back in March US President Barack Obama said the use of chemical weapons would be a ‘red line’ for the Syrian government, crossing which would prompt America’s intervention into the bloody Syrian conflict. After the August attack, which the US believes has claimed some 1,400 lives, the president was called on his words by many supporters of the Syrian opposition both at home and outside of the US. The plan for military action was put on pause after a Russia-brokered deal with Damascus, which agreed to join the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons. Experts from OPCW are currently in Syria preparing for the disarmament. Back in March, US President Barack Obama said the use of chemical weapons would be a ‘red line’ for the Syrian government, crossing which would prompt America’s intervention in the bloody Syrian conflict. After the August attack, which the US believes has claimed some 1,400 lives, the president was called to act on his words by many supporters of the Syrian opposition both at home and outside the US. Earlier a UN report concluded that nerve gas had indeed been used “on a large scale” in August. However, the consistency of the findings is under question. According to the report, none of the environmental samples the UN collected in Western Ghouta tested positive for Sarin, while biomedical samples, taken from affected people, all tested positive. RT’s Worlds Apart host Oksana Boyko has spoken to Angela Kane, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, who has just returned from Damascus. “If you read the report, the report comes out and says sarin was used. It is also a matter that maybe in the environmental samples they took there was no sarin found, but that does not mean that sarin was not used,” Kane told Worlds Apart. “It was there in the human samples. If they had more time to go around they would have found different samples. It was a limited collection that they did, but the collection was conclusive. I think, it was very comprehensive, therefore, we shared all of those samples with the Syrian government.” At the same time, there have been concerns voiced that witnesses the UN team spoke to were brought by the opposition from different regions and did not live in Western Ghouta. “I think it is not possible to say ‘We brought them all from a different area.’ To my mind that is inconceivable. You can come up with the theory, but this does not mean the theory is correct,” Kane said.

Afghanistan: Students Launch Movement Seeking Youths’ Participation in Elections

A number of civil society activists and students started a movement titled- "Cards for Change and Vote for Future" in Kabul city on Thursday. The participants of the movement urged the Afghan youths to actively participate in the upcoming elections by casting their ballots. They highlighted the ways in which the youth can help the country undergo the political transition process successfully. Meanwhile, the organizers emphasized that the movement is completely neutral, and it has no links with any political group or party. The main purpose of the movement is to persuade the young Afghan boys and girls to vote in the next spring's elections. "Election is a vital pillar for democracy. We all should come forward and vote for our future. We should also participate in the movements that are aimed at encouraging the youth to participate in the elections," said Ms. Kubra Gawhari, a student participating in the movement. "We want that this program attracts more citizens and persuades them to register themselves and vote in the elections," said Hashmatullah Bahnam, another student. Meanwhile, several members of the Hezb-e-Mardom Afghanistan (HMA), at another gathering urged the youths to come out in large numbers and cast their ballots. The members said that the youths of can shape the future of Afghanistan. "The youths across the country should monitor the elections and ensure that it is held in a free, fair and transparent manner," said Dawood Rawosh, the Chairman of the HMA. The Afghan youth makes up 70 percent of the total population, and their vote is expected have major impact on the outcome of the upcoming elections. The choice of electoral candidates of the educated youth is considered vital to shape the future of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan's road to World Cup 2015

War-weary Afghanistan has achieved one of its finest sporting moments by qualifying for its first cricket World Cup. The Afghans defeated Kenya by seven wickets on Friday in the last qualifying match. Afghanistan finished second behind Ireland in qualifying, with both teams advancing automatically to the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The cricket qualification comes less than a month after Afghanistan won its first soccer title, the South Asian Football Federation Championship.

The safe and unsafe in Pakistan

by Waseem Altaf
Genuine scientist, Abdus Salam who later won a Nobel Prize in physics took refuge in Italy for he was unwanted and unsafe in Pakistan.
Fake scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who stole nuclear designs from the Netherlands and traded nuclear secrets and illicit technology across several continents, took refuge here for he was “wanted” and safe in Pakistan.
The conscientious and courageous judge namely, Pervez Ali Shah who had convicted and sentenced Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer of ex-Governor Salman Taseer took refuge in Saudi Arabia for he was unsafe in Pakistan.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the mastermind of 9/11 terror attacks took refuge in Rawalpindi, for he was safe in Pakistan.
After police foiled a bomb plot to blow up his house in Lahore, the moderate Islamic scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamdi took refuge in Malaysia for he was unsafe in Pakistan.
Ramzi Yousaf, who was involved in 1993 bombing of World Trade Center and a plot to kill Pope John Paul II and plant bombs in passenger planes flying out of Bangkok, took refuge in Islamabad for he was safe in Pakistan.
After receiving death threats, Owais Sheikh, the lawyer of Sarabjeet Singh, the Indian spy incarcerated at Kot Lakhpat jail Lahore, took refuge in Sweden for he was unsafe in Pakistan.
World-renowned master terrorist Osama bin Laden, took refuge in Abbotabad, for he was safe in Pakistan.
How ironic that those we should be proud of as a nation feel unsafe here while those we should be ashamed of feel safe in this country!
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Pakistan: Journalist kidnapped in Waziristan

Gunmen have kidnapped a journalist from one of Pakistan's tribal areas on the Afghan border, where Taliban militants are active, relatives said Friday. Lal Wazir, 38, who works for a local newspaper in the South Waziristan town of Azam Warsak was taken from a shop by six masked gunmen on Thursday, his uncle Ibrahim Wazir told AFP. “Nobody has claimed responsibility or contacted the family,” Wazir said, adding that his nephew had just returned from a trip to Islamabad. Local tribal government officials confirmed the kidnapping. Lal Wazir also works for an Islamabad-based think tank specialising in tribal affairs, the Fata Reasearch Centre. Officials from the centre said they would not comment as the official authorised to speak to the press had gone out of the country. The tribal areas are a haven for militants and according to the press campaign group Reporters Without Borders, Pakistan was the third deadliest country for journalists last year, behind Syria and Somalia.

Pakistan's Zardari to strengthen personal security

Asif Ali Zardari has been granted permission to strengthen his already tight personal security due to threats to his life. A judge in Karachi approved Zardari's application for 100 extra licenses for his bodyguards to carry weapons.Former Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari was Thursday granted permission to strengthen his already tight personal security due to threats to his life. A judge in Sindh High Court in Karachi approved Zardari's application for 100 extra licenses for his bodyguards to carry weapons, on top of the official security he is entitled to as former head of state. "The judge has approved our request and ordered the federal and provincial governments to ensure security for the former president," Abu Bakar Zardari, an aide to the president who filed a petition to the court on his behalf, told AFP. Zardari's wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated in 2007 in an attack blamed on the Pakistani Taliban. He is known to be very concerned about his personal safety and rarely moves about on the roads. When he does venture out, he travels in an entourage of more than a dozen vehicles, escorted by police commandos and three vanloads of paramilitary Rangers. His convoy also regularly includes an ambulance and a vehicle carrying signal jammers to stop anyone using a mobile phone to detonate a bomb near him. In July a suicide bomber killed Zardari's top personal security officer in an attack in Karachi.
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Amid Bloodshed in Pakistan, a Stock Exchange Soars

If the best time to buy, as the old business adage says, is when there is blood on the streets, then Pakistan’s commercial capital, Karachi, offers the ideal investment opportunity. For more than a decade, the sprawling seaport megalopolis of about 20 million people has been racked by political, militant and criminal violence that has taken thousands of lives. Yet, over the same period, the city stock market, which is also Pakistan’s main exchange, has posted spectacular results. Over the past 12 months alone, the Karachi Stock Exchange has surged more than 44 percent, placing it among the world’s top-performing stock markets in dollar terms this year, according to Bloomberg. That follows a decade of growth in which one dollar invested in an index fund of Pakistani stocks 10 years ago would have earned, on average, 26 percent every year, analysts say, in a period otherwise notable mostly for bad news. As the stock market rose, the Pakistani military leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf fell, Osama bin Laden was captured and Taliban violence spread from the northwest to cities across the country, including Karachi. Just as surprising, perhaps, Wall Street firms are driving the latest phase of the stock boom. Bad news can make for a good bargain, they say. “What you see in the popular press is just one part of the picture,” said Mark Mobius, a fund manager at Franklin Templeton Investments, which has more than $1 billion invested in Pakistan stocks, mostly in the energy sector. “There’s another side to these countries, where life goes on. And that’s what we focus on.” The gloomy image of Pakistan obscures positive aspects of its economy that, investors say, make some companies an attractive bet. Beyond the headline news, much of the country is getting on with normal life. And with a population estimated at nearly 200 million people — a high proportion of them young — Pakistan offers a large, lucrative market for consumer goods, construction and financial services firms, which constitute the bulk of the Karachi stock market. The biggest publicly listed companies — like the multinational Nestlé, the Oil and Gas Development Company and Fauji Fertilizer, a military-run conglomerate — pay handsome dividends, which makes them attractive to foreign investors. And the recent election victory of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a business tycoon, has injected confidence into the financial community, which had been wary of the previous government. For a time, Pakistani stocks were undervalued by as much as 50 percent to account for risk, compared with a regional discount of about 20 percent, said Taha Javed, a financial analyst in Karachi. Now, as foreign investors pile in, he said, “we are catching up.” Still, there is much to overlook. With painful power shortages, a sliding national currency and dwindling foreign reserves, Pakistan’s economy has been on life support in recent years. In August, the International Monetary Fund approved a $6.6 billion emergency loan, on top of $5 billion that Pakistan already owes the fund. Business safety is a problem. Paramilitary security forces combed Karachi last week as part of a fresh effort to combat criminal gangs that have terrorized the city. Kidnapping for ransom is common. In a “livability” survey of 140 world cities, published by the Economist Intelligence Unit in August, Karachi shared the fourth-to-last rank with the Algerian capital, Algiers. And that is only part of Pakistan’s broader security problem, with militant groups and frequent violence against religious and ethnic minorities. And for all its impressive growth, the stock market can be worryingly unstable, as a sudden dive of about 5 percent last week demonstrated. That slump has now stabilized — it was more of a correction than a crash, it seems — but the market has a history of volatility. The Karachi exchange closed for four months in late 2008 after an abrupt drop in prices; more recently, it has faced allegations by the news media of insider trading and cronyism. A former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, which regulates the market, is being prosecuted for corruption and tax evasion. The juxtaposition of a booming stock market with bombs and economic austerity suggests sides to Pakistan, both positive and negative, that are little appreciated outside the country. It shows resilience and business acumen, certainly, but also worrisome fragmentation in a society where rich and poor live ever further apart. In Karachi, where most big companies and banks have their headquarters, about 2,500 people died violently last year. But the bloodshed is concentrated in the city’s working-class areas, allowing the wealthy to continue with life as normal — with some adjustments like layers of security barriers and heavily armed private security forces. “As far as the killings go, forget about it — that’s part of life,” said Zain Hussain, chief executive of the stock brokerage firm Taurus Securities. “It’s something that I am immune to, and so are most investors.” Despite some recent overhauls, experts say the exchange is also still perilously underregulated. The current boom was bolstered last year by a law that allowed investors to put money into stocks without having to explain its origin — effectively facilitating money laundering, critics said. “The penalties are minimal here,” said Javed Hassan, chief executive of the Institute of Capital Markets, a body that licenses participants in the Karachi exchange. “Nobody has gone to jail for manipulating the market.” While the Karachi market’s success is impressive, it has been built on the money of a small number of foreign investors like Mr. Mobius. If they were to withdraw precipitously, for whatever reasons, prices would most likely tumble again. “Despite all the positives,” said Muddassar Malik, chief executive of BMA Funds, an investment firm, “it’s not a country for the fainthearted.”

BALOCHISTAN: Relief Delayed, Denied and Denounced

The Baloch Hal
The relief operations in Awaran are continuously experiencing a set-back because of the unwillingness of the Frontier Corps (F.C.) and the Baloch Liberation Front (B.L.F.) to cooperate with each other. While the F.C. insists that all assistance among the earthquake survivors, including what is coming from the non-governmental organizations, should be distributed through its channels, the nationalists, on their part, have clearly stated that they would not allow the Pakistan army to take control of any kind of relief distribution. The nationalists believe that the army would not only take the earthquake as an opportunity to increase its deployment in Awaran but it will also make an effort to ‘Pakistanize’ the local population by using the relief goods as an instrument of bribe. The B.L.F. has repeatedly called upon international organizations to operate in Balochistan but they refuse to offer similar assurances to the Pakistan Army and the F.C. The nationalists have somewhat emotionally blackmailed the local population asking them whether or not it was ethical to accept help from one’s enemy (the Pakistan army). The nationalists are imparting and inculcating lessons of self-respect/reliance, national honor, bravery and patriotism (toward the Baloch land) in an effort to convince the people that assistance coming from Pakistan is not worth submission to ‘occupying forces’. The people have begun to succumb to the nationalist approach and refused the army, F.C. assistance. A female survivor of the earthquake told the BBC News that Awaran was “Balochistan not Pakistan.” Another BBC reporter, while commenting on the response of the rest of Pakistan to the Balochistan earthquake, also observed that it seemed that Balochistan was totally disconnected from Pakistan. In a way, the nationalists have cashed public sentiments at a time when people urgently needed to be rescued from the remains of their homes soon after the earthquake. This was not sensible politics. For political reasons, a number of nationalist leaders have said they would accept assistance from anyone, including the ‘devil’, to get rid of Pakistan. One wonders then why they felt it was bad to accept assistance from the devil (read Islamabad) this time to save some precious human lives. Hence, the B.L.F. continues to disrupt relief operations that are spearheaded by the army. It has also snubbed Chief Minister Dr. Malik Baloch’s call for cooperation. In its worst attack on Wednesday, the B.L.F. killed two soldiers in a landmine blast in Mashky area of Awaran district. Having said that, the Pakistani media are only highlighting one side of the picture which discusses the attacks on the relief workers. But there is also insufficient reporting about the government’s own failure in arriving in the affected areas on time and begin timely relief operations. The army and the F.C., according to some analysts, are the root cause of escalation of tensions in Balochistan. Sending them to Balochistan after the earthquake, as noted by veteran journalist Rashed Rahman, amounts to adding salt to the Baloch injuries. Now that the rescue works have almost ended and the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase is commencing, the role of the F.C. and the army should be drastically minimized. The government should enhance the capacity of civilian institutions, such as the National/ Provincial Disaster Management Authority to professionally grapple with the post-disaster situations. The federal and the provincial governments are not on the same page on the issue of international assistance. The Chief Minister, Malik Baloch, says there is a need for international support but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has requested the masses to generously donate for the earthquake victims under a domestic relief fund. As a matter of fact, the Chief Minister is trying to please both sides i.e. the F.C. and the Baloch nationalists. On the one hand, he has emphasized the indispensability of F.C. in post-earthquake situation and, on the other hand, he has also echoed nationalist’s demand for international relief operations. The overall progress over recovery and normalization is extremely slow in Awaran. Reiterating our earlier recommendation for a ceasefire, we would once again urge the government and the nationalists to prioritize public needs over politics. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should take notice of increasing complaints against the F.C. and ensure the distribution of relief through civilian institutions. In addition, the government should immediately end the closure of Balochistan’s borders for international media and aid groups. Above all, Islamabad should stop treating Balochistan as an inaccessible colony. The government should respect the people who live there and address their pressing issues instead of treating the Baloch like untouchable animals. The people of Balochistan should be treated with respect as equal citizens and their civil rights should be protected. Once the government provides the international community access to Balochistan, the next immediate step should be to convene a donors’ conference to collect financial assistance for the reconstruction phase. While the earthquake was a nature disaster, the government’s failure to rehabilitate the Baloch will still have dire political consequences in the future. The government’s shortcomings will instinctively translate into support for the insurgent groups.

Pakistan: Calamity-hit Balochistan

By Syed Fazal-e-Haider
NATURAL disasters have a greater impact on the least developed regions. How poor infrastructure, the absence of a communication network and widespread poverty can aggravate the catastrophe in human and economic terms is evident from the powerful earthquakes that struck Balochistan last month. The province is currently reeling under the devastating impact of the first, 7.7 magnitude earthquake which was followed by another one days later. The death toll is reported to have crossed 500, hundreds of villages and thousands of mud-brick homes have been demolished. Six districts — Awaran, Kech, Gwadar, Panjgur, Chaghi and Khuzdar — are the most affected areas where over 90pc of the villages have been reportedly destroyed affecting more than 300,000 people. Fundamental problems of development have contributed to the province’s vulnerability to the catastrophic effects of natural hazards. Environmental degradation, due to mismanagement of natural resources, inefficient public policies and delayed and misguided investments in infrastructure have raised the costs of the quake disaster. The earthquake has added to the health, social, and economic burden of the impoverished province. The disaster caused by the earthquake has exposed the poor development planning and disaster management in Balochistan. It draws attention to the need for integrating disaster prevention and mitigation efforts in development activities. The calamity-hit province requires a development plan that is long-term and sustainable. Balochistan has a unique geology. It is because of its geographical formations that it is more prone to natural disasters. The province has four geological regions — the central mountain ranges, the Chaghi hills and Raskoh ranges, the Makran ranges and the Kharan basin. There are many areas in northern Balochistan, including Quetta, which are located in an active seismic zone. The Quetta earthquake of 1935 was one of the most deadly with 35,000 fatalities. It devastated Quetta and the adjoining areas. The Makran coastal basin comprises the central and coastal Makran ranges, the Pab hills and the sub-mountainous areas in the southwest. The Hub, Porali, Hingol and Dasht are the principal rivers of the basin with erratic discharges. During the recent flash floods and heavy rains, the major rivers were in high flood. The cyclone that hit the Balochistan coastline in 2007 also exposed serious flaws of design at some points of the Makran coastal highway after parts of it were washed away by rains and floods. It was pointed out that the coastal highway project had been undertaken without proper planning. Flaws in its designing at some locations had surfaced as no study or data was available for annual rains and floods. A project like the coastal highway requires accurate studies to build as it is not intended for a limited period or limited traffic. Inadequate planning turned the coastal highway project into a white elephant. The coastal highway was rehabilitated at a cost of Rs300 million after it was hit by cyclone and heavy rains in 2007. Redesigning the highway will consume more funds. There is a dire need to integrate risk reduction in development planning and investments in Balochistan. Economic planners and policymakers should also focus on disaster prevention and mitigation in the development agenda for the province. The federal government should help the province build permanent technical and operational capacity to manage risk reduction. This would promote a process of sustainable development. It has been observed that the government’s development and disaster-related policies mainly focus on emergency response, which results in serious underinvestment in natural hazard prevention and mitigation. What is needed is a more strategic and rapid response to disasters and a strategy for integrating disaster prevention and mitigation efforts into the range of development activities. A national disaster management fund needs to be established for disaster-related financing. The fund would deal with key areas like prevention and mitigation, emergency response, rehabilitation and reconstruction. The degradation of natural resources increases the risk of disaster. The current increase in the frequency of disasters may reflect changing climate patterns. The authorities have also adopted a short-term approach of merely treating the symptoms. There is a need to break the cycle of destruction and reconstruction and address the root causes of vulnerability. Key issues related to disaster management include lack of strategic direction, inadequate infrastructure to handle disaster and lack of coordination of different services. What is needed is a more proactive and comprehensive approach to disaster management, encompassing both pre-disaster risk reduction and post-disaster recovery. There is a great need for developing national strategies for risk reduction, which will necessitate building a national legal and regulatory framework for bringing together the economic planning departments, provincial and local governments and civil society organisations. It will ultimately assess inter-sectoral priorities and allocate separate budgets for risk reduction. It has been observed that poor households and communities are more vulnerable to natural hazards, as they take a long period to recover from the deadly effects of disasters. The government must take steps for supporting the poor, reducing their vulnerability and recovering from disasters. The government should create conditions for the development of insurance markets and design economic and regulatory incentives for risk-reduction behaviour. Steps should be taken to stimulate coordinated actions and to mobilise regional resources for investment in risk mitigation.

The Balochistan Blackout

By Sanaullah Baloch
Usually, in the wake of natural disasters, people-friendly governments tend to exaggerate, even manipulate, facts to grab attention and generate public and donor interest and outside help for relief and long-term recovery efforts. But for Balochistan, Islamabad has a shutdown policy – no information, no access, no outside help and no foreign aid workers. Despite the Islamabad-backed provincial government’s repeated appeal for international help, and despite help offers by UN agencies, international donors and other countries, the National Disaster Management Authority’s head, a powerful major general – before visiting the area – said no, repeatedly emphasising “our own available resources” for rescue and relief. In a nutshell, security forces control relief work without a long-term rehabilitation framework. An official of the provincial disaster management authority said, on condition of anonymity: “After the Kashmir earthquake Pakistan mobilised all diplomatic instruments including paying major media outlets to highlight facts to get the international community to generate funds. But in Balochistan’s case we are not allowed to release any information without prior approval of the ‘superior authorities’”. This attitude continues to affect all aspects of Balochistan’s affairs, including disaster management. There is a persistent policy to portray Balochistan as a handicapped province full of illiterate, corrupt, lazy and incompetent tribal chiefs. This narrative helps Islamabad reinforce its colonial rule by neatly managing all aspects of governance, security, natural resources, and disaster management. Assessing the flood damage and response mechanism in 2010, the UN agency for human settlements, UN Habitat, had clearly warned that Balochistan had fewer resources than the other provinces and its capacity to cope with calamity was very limited and that a major humanitarian response would be required to assist the people. Despite these grave realities and generous offer for humanitarian assistance, the NDMA prohibited international agencies, aid organisations and INGOs from directly assisting the flood-affected people of the province. Balochistan’s miseries multiplied when the ministries of foreign affairs and interior imposed the ‘project no-objection certificate’ condition for humanitarian organisations. Since Punjab and other provinces were declared open-access areas, all aid agencies redirected their efforts towards Punjab. The effects of those policies can still be felt in Balochistan, with half a million affectees living in makeshift tents in appalling conditions. The NDMA’s biased decision vis-a-vis Balochistan led to distressing developments. In 2010, the director-general of the provincial disaster management authority informed the media and the provincial cabinet that the ‘project no-objection certificate’ condition had slowed down the pace of relief operations, resulting in countless deaths related to water-borne diseases. In addition, the 2010-flood defacement of eastern Balochistan remains unrepaired. Previously, in July 2007, the then prime minister Shaukat Aziz used the same blackout policy and announced that “Pakistan will not take foreign aid from any country to overcome the losses and devastation caused by Cyclone Yemyin”. The 2007 floods severely affected the Makran region and resulted in massive loss of lives and property. Balochistan has been in crisis since 1999, facing the wrath of both nature and the state. Between 1999-2003 a drought hit the province – economic resources vanished and disease killed thousands of people. In 2005, Musharraf’s ruthless military operation resulted in 200,000 displaced people, hundreds were killed and disappeared, and political assassinations of senior Baloch leaders were committed. It not only destroyed the social fabric but put an irreparable dent on the fragile economic situation. The current earthquake too will have a devastating impact on the socio-economic conditions and aggravate the inequality that persists among the provinces as result of Islamabad’s discriminatory policies. Disallowing or discouraging international aid organisations and persistently imposing an information and humanitarian blackout will further harm Islamabad’s already tarnished and anti-Baloch image. The policy of humanitarian blackout or shutdown is contradictory to the principles of human rights and humanitarianism. Countries with clear-headed leaders and credible institutions use such crises as opportunities to reach out to people and as a means of reconciliation. The Pakistani state, however, uses all such means to inflict more pain and misery and exploits a crisis as a tool to strengthen its grip on all affairs including the ‘humanitarian’ aspect. The situation in the affected areas is unspeakably bad, with hundreds of thousands living under the open skies in scorching heat. Only experienced humanitarian organisations, not military or security forces, understand the basic principles of emergency response. Disallowing international aid agencies, declining assistance from friendly countries and shutting down an entire province in its hour of need is not humanitarian service – it is a crime.

BALOCHISTAN: From the ruins of Awaran: ‘Angry, hungry and helpless’

The Express Tribune
As the roads ‘disappear’, I realise I am close to Awaran tehsil, the centre of all the earthquake relief activities. I see more trucks passing by, some empty, some laden with tents and sacks of food. Shops begin to appear – and so do their damaged structures. However, life and business continues in Awaran tehsil. This central area of the small town is built in such a way that shops line either side of the dirt pavement, while the houses are constructed behind the market. Only a couple of structures are more than one storey high. All except one building is made of cement, the rest are made up of ochre mud and stone. I only see men on the streets, sitting at PCOs or at shops that sell groceries, vegetables, and Irani petrol. The sound of helicopters drowns all other noise. We draw nearer to the source of the sound and find ourselves outside the Military Headquarters, Awaran – the army’s helipad is on the opposite side. Our cars turn inside the base. Several DSNG vans of the leading television channels are parked beside the mosque inside. There are clusters of cameras, mics and dozens of journalists – men – everywhere. A former Sindh MPA is the only woman besides me at the entire base. I speak to my colleagues to plan the coverage, but I can’t help but notice the stares I’m getting. Some officers ask me to sit inside the base comfortably. “But I’m working,” I insist. “Madam, please. It doesn’t look nice,” one of them says. However, I am saved by the Sindh chief minister’s car. As his protocol turns into the military headquarters, everyone gets into position. The SUVs swagger in, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, along with his Baloch counterpart, get out of their vehicles, meet with journalists and go in a room for an army briefing. After the 15-minute briefing on earthquake disaster assessment, where the army assessed the death toll to be at 303 (the media was reporting 356 that day), the Balochistan chief secretary welcomes Sindh’s support. The chai and biscuits arrive. The chief ministers step outside and address the dozens of media men present. The short chief-ministerial visit is over. Sindh CM Qaim Ali Shah leaves after a helicopter ride over some of the quake-ravaged areas. Before it gets dark, my colleagues and I drive over to the village of Labach, two miles from the military headquarters. The short distance takes us nearly 30 minutes to cover as we drive through a dried-up stream first, and through heaps of sand next. A pick-up van with coolers, food and other relief goods is accompanying us. As we approach the village, I see a few men glaring at us, they look infuriated. Men and children of Labach surround our car and the truck as we turn off our engines. The angry crowd kicks the car, the men thump their fists on the windows. An Awaran government official with us in the car gets out and calms them down. A man grabs his collar, but he keeps his cool. He pats his shoulder and explains to him who we are in Balochi. Suddenly, the men yank our car door, but only to welcome us. One of them, Ahmed, points us to the village. He asks me to go talk to the women. I see why the villagers are angry. Everything they have is destroyed. The women I speak to pull me over to see their house that stands no more. Rocks that made up a house are scattered. Broken sections of roofs are hanging off a house, resembling a branch dangling off a tree. Another house, belonging to Rashida, is completely caved in. “We have nothing left,” says Rashida, her grey eyes glistening with tears. Her nephew had died in the earthquake. “We didn’t even have kaffan (shrouds) to bury our dead, we used our women’s dupattas.” Seeing that I am disappointed, Rashida brushes my head with her hand and apologises for the ‘ruckus’ created by the men of the village before. “They’re angry, hungry and helpless,” she says. “What do you do about food?” I ask. We borrow whatever food we can from nearby villages, she responds. We distribute the little food, coolers and other relief goods in the truck. That was the first kind of relief Labach had received. The eight other villages we visit have the same problems, the same complaints, and the same looks of disdain and dejection. They have no shelter, no food, no hope and, for some, no future. I gaze at the spectacular mountains of Awaran as we drive back to Karachi. I see the simplicity and beauty of the landscape and of its people juxtaposed with their hardship and lives of destitution. Will the survivors ever be able to recover from such a calamity? I snap out of it, sit up straight and look ahead. The roads have reappeared.