x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Kidnap of UN official linked to separatists

Analysts say Baluchis are resorting to more violent methods to attract attention in Pakistan's increasingly troubled political arena.

Ghulam Farooq, right, elder son of Ali Asghar Bangulzai, who has been missing for the past two year, talks about his father in Quetta.
Ghulam Farooq, right, elder son of Ali Asghar Bangulzai, who has been missing for the past two year, talks about his father in Quetta.

QUETTA, PAKISTAN // John Solecki, the abducted head of the United Nations' refugee agency in Quetta, probably never even met Ali Asghar Bangulzai, 39, a tailor and father of eight. But the fate of the UN official, seized as he drove to work on Feb 2, has been inextricably linked with that of Mr Bangulzai, after Mr Solecki's purported abductors sent a letter to the media threatening to kill him unless the government released 1,000 people, including Mr Bangulzai. The tailor's son, Ghulam Farooq, suspects his father was picked up by the military intelligence, or ISI, because a year earlier he had been interrogated by the powerful agency about his alleged links with a growing separatist insurgency. "When he came back, he told us he was held by the ISI in a torture cell in Quetta city where he was not allowed to sleep and was repeatedly asked about his involvement with nationalist parties," Mr Farooq said. Baluchistan - Pakistan's poorest and most overlooked province, of which Quetta is the capital - has for decades been the focus of an increasingly violent campaign by nationalists demanding better royalties for natural resources. Over the years, they have bombed gas pipelines and oil installations, but as Pakistan's tumultuous politics and battle with Taliban militants in the tribal areas seek to overshadow Baluch grievances, analysts fear they are resorting to riskier efforts to make themselves heard, such as the kidnapping of Mr Solecki. Mr Farooq said his father had attended a couple of meetings of the Baloch Republican Party, but was not part of the insurgency. The list of the 1,000 missing, issued by the previously unheard-of Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF), also included labourers picked up from Chaman, near the Baluch-Afghan border, together with government servants, students, tribal elders and political workers affiliated with the Baloch Republican Party (BRP) - a political group headed by Nawab Sardar Brahamdagh Khan Bugti, the grandson of Nawab Akbar Bugti, a powerful chieftain who led the province's struggle for political autonomy until his assassination in 2006. Major Gen Saleem Nawaz, the inspector general of the Frontier Corps in Baluchistan, is leading the government's efforts in the Solecki case. Yesterday, the government said it knew where Mr Solecki was being held and by whom and that the list of missing people was being "intensively scrutinised". But Major Gen Nawaz called the list a hoax and said the BLUF had contradicted itself. "First they said 6,000 people are missing but the list they sent only contains a little more than a thousand names. Where are the remaining 5,000 names if those people are also missing?" he said. Major Gen Nawaz admitted some people involved in "anti-state activities" had been detained. "But they're not more than 200 to 300, out of which many have been returned and others have been traced abroad," he said. "The accusation of thousands of people doesn't hold true." The first list released by the BLUF also included the names of more than 150 women, which it said were being held by authorities. Major Gen Nawaz had a different explanation. "The way it works is that anti-state groups offer protection to the families of their members by sending them to Afghanistan," he said. "That's what happened here. Many women, children and elderly disappeared into Afghanistan via the Pak-Chaman border and the blame is being put on the government." Although there are several groups fighting for the Baloch cause, the first time anyone had heard of the BLUF was when it claimed to have abducted Mr Solecki. Major Gen Nawaz, however, is convinced that Brahamdagh Bugti is behind both the kidnapping and the BLUF. "I am a hundred per cent sure," he said. Brahamdagh Bugti was often seen in photos standing next to his grandfather and many analysts believe he was being groomed to take over as the next Nawab of Dera Bugti, the homeland of all Bugti tribes. But whereas the late Nawab was measured in his answers and pursued a policy of negotiation and dialogue with the government, Brahamdagh has taken a more violent approach. Authorities believe he is hiding in Afghanistan, has an army of 200 men and is being funded by New Delhi. Pakistan and India routinely accuse each other of funding insurgencies in their country. His uncle, Talal Bugti, said there was little doubt that Brahamdagh was part of the insurgency. "He has himself admitted that he is conducting attacks against the army and the government," he said. "He is obviously dancing on the tunes of the Indians and the CIA." One obvious reason why suspicion is being drawn to Brahamdagh's involvement is that the BRP has been particularly hurt by the missing persons case. Many BRP workers are on the list and some of their disappearances are easy to confirm, such as that Dr Bashir Azeem, secretary general of the party, and Chakar Qambrani Baluch, also a member of the BRP. The BRP secretary, Mir Hayat Khan Jamaluddin, is one of the few high-ranking members of the party who is still out in the open. "They've picked up our people from everywhere," he said. "From Quetta and Mach and Nochki and you name it. None of these people had any guns or Kalashnikovs or had ever committed a crime. If they are guilty, bring them to the courts but don't pick them up randomly." The demands for the return of "missing" people simply points to the larger issue of the grievances of Baluch separatist parties who feel that for decades the province has been ignored. "All the country's minerals and other resources exist in this province," said Habib Jalib Baloch, the secretary general of the Balochistan National Party. "Yet hardly any revenue from these natural resources is spent on development in the province. The people who live here are among the poorest of the poor." Raza-u-Rehman, the editor of a Quetta-based newspaper, believes the motivation for Mr Solecki's kidnapping is probably mounting frustration at the federal government for failing to address some of the issues of Baluchistan. "A lot of the demands of the Bugtis and other insurgents have meat to them. This province is the largest supplier of natural gas to the country, yet many of those living here don't have access to gas. While drinking water isn't a problem in the rest of Pakistan, here almost nobody depends on the government for clean drinking water," he said. In the tribal village of Kuchlak, close to Quetta, there is no running water and children attend school in a building that was declared dangerous three years ago. "Things are so bad our children don't have water to wipe their slates clean and in the cold, they huddle next to each other since we get no gas here," said one elderly resident. But Major Gen Nawaz said the Solecki kidnapping had less to do with drawing attention to the plight of the people and more to do with a lust for power. "Brahamdagh is just doing what the Indians and other foreign powers want him to do," said Major Gen Nawaz. "He is trying to bring a bad name to Pakistan only for his personal benefit." * The National