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Archive for March, 2016

Balochistan, Asia’s blackest hole-Karlos Zurutuza

Posted by admin On March - 27 - 2016 Comments Off on Balochistan, Asia’s blackest hole-Karlos Zurutuza


Every 27 March is a day of mourning for the Baloch. Karlos Zurutuza reports from an area which is largely overlooked by the international media.
It was hanging on the wall of one of the many hairdressers in West London

On a yellowed piece of paper in a frame, The New York Times reported that Kalat – the old kingdom which corresponds roughly to Pakistan’s Balochistan modern province – was an ‘independent sovereign state’ as of 12 August 1947.

‘We had a state of our own for eight months until Pakistan annexed our territory by force eight months later, on 27 March 1948,’ the barber said while he finished the job with his razor. I could not help thinking of the late Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, producing the Palestinian pound note that he would always carry with him as a proof of the previous political existence of the country under British rule.

I had, of course, heard of the Baloch but that slight man in his fifties was the first I had ever met. That encounter sparked my curiosity and a few months later I set foot on Baloch soil for the first time. It was June 2009 then.

In retrospect, I have to admit that during that trip to Balochistan I was barely familiar with the Bugtis, the Marris, the Mengals, and the rest of the clans that make up the Baloch tribal fabric, nor the history behind them. However, I was well aware that the Baloch story was likely to be the most difficult one to cover due to the media blackout enforced by the government. Foreign journalists need special permission to visit the area and permission is hardly ever granted. If journalists risk visiting without permission they’ll face deportation in the best case scenario.

Fighters of the Baloch Liberation Army at an undisclosed location in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Karlos Zurutuza
But why is this such a sensitive area?

Other than being Pakistan’s biggest – yet least populated – province as well as the most neglected one, the Baloch in Pakistan share borders with their kin in both Iran and Afghanistan. The area also boasts enormous reserves of gold, gas and copper, as well as untapped sources of oil and uranium. In addition, it has an enormous strategic importance as a hub for future oil and gas pipelines and for its 620 miles of coast at the gates of the Gulf. Since the occupation of their land, ethnic Baloch insurgents have launched a series of armed uprisings against the central Pakistani government.

Islamabad’s response has come through constant military operations in areas where civilians are displaced, the funnelling of fundamentalist groups into Balochistan, or the so called ‘kill and dump’ policies directed against dissidents, which sometimes include school teachers and intellectuals, as denounced by Amnesty International in its 2015/2016 Pakistan report.


It was only thanks to the help of local activists that I got to meet victims of torture and abuses by the Pakistani security services and the relatives of the myriad of missing Baloch – around 20,000 according to local sources. The situation is so desperate that many are seeking shelter in Afghanistan. Surprisingly, the UNHCR in Pakistan still doesn’t include the Baloch among its ‘people of concern’ list. I did ask the head of the mission in Kabul about this. He said I was the first journalist to ever raise the question and he labelled it as ‘a pending issue.’


Culture against all odds

The Pakistani Baloch refugees add to the Afghan Baloch which are scattered all across the country, but who still make the majority in Nimroz, the only province in Afghanistan which shares borders with both Iran and Pakistan. Zaranj, the provincial capital located 559 miles southwest of Kabul, lies within walking distance of the official border with Iran, across the Helmand River. For centuries, the local Baloch have lived on the banks of one of the country’s main water sources, but the droughts of the past 10 years have forced many families to leave their native land.

Life is doubtless hard in this remote province but, unlike those in Pakistan or Iran, the Baloch in Afghanistan don’t face persecution for their ethnicity, at least not from the government. This has led to a surprising cultural revival ran by volunteers with very little resources. Today, Balochi – their language – is taught not only at schools in Nimroz; there’s even a Balochi department in the University of Kandahar and Zaranj’s National Radio and Television continues to work unbothered on their daily program in Balochi.

Mir Mohamad Baloch, a Baloch from Zaranj who described himself as a ‘political and cultural activist’ told me that the main threat to their existence comes not from Kabul, but from Tehran.

‘The Iranian government is constantly trying to quell any Baloch initiative here as they consider us a potential threat to their security,’ he lamented.

Their neighbour’s presence was most visible in the Afghan Baloch villages that once found themselves lining up only too close to the Iranian border. Tehran started building a wall in 2007, which is preventing local farmers from attending their crops or meeting their relatives on the other side of the border, just a few hundred metres away. Surviving in this long forgotten part of the world gets even harder; people cannot make ends meet and villages become emptied one after the other.
A sit in for the disappeared in downtown Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province. Karlos Zurutuza
‘Enemies of god’

A group of US geologists who visited the Iranian side of the border in the early 1970’s determined that the landscape was ‘the closest thing to Mars.’ Today, however, most roads are paved and schools and hospitals don’t look as derelict as those in Afghanistan, but the piece of land inhabited by the Baloch in Iran – Sistan and Balochistan province – is also the most neglected one in the country. Taj Mohammad Breseeg, a Baloch historian and university teacher whom I had-had the chance to interview in Quetta –Pakistani Balochistan’s provincial capital – told me that the region had been annexed to Iran in 1928. Repression by the central government, he added, resulted in a ‘mass exodus of the local population and saw virtually every Baloch place name changed to a Persian one.’

The evolution of the name used for the province is illustrative. Seventy years ago this province was called ‘Baluchistan’, which would later turn into ‘Baluchistan and Sistan’ before, and today is ‘Sistan and Baluchistan’. If we stick to the logic of past trends, in the future it may be called just ‘Sistan.’
The Baloch city of Duzzap, renamed as Zahedan by the Iranian authorities in the early 30’s, is the provincial capital of Sistan and Balochistan region. Karlos Zurutuza
The Iranian Baloch face a double handicap: they’re Sunni and non-Persian in a country which is ruled by the Persian-Shiite elite.

‘The Islamic Shiite missionaries sent by Tehran told us that we’d have no jobs, no schools and no opportunities unless we converted,’ Faiz Baloch, a London based journalist told me. He is just one among thousands of Baloch refugees who were forced to leave their homeland.

Amnesty International ranked Iran as the world’s second most executioner of people after China. Tehran’s most favoured argument to repress the Baloch is their alleged involvement in drug trafficking. More than half of the 1,000 executed in 2015 were accused of drug related crimes. A majority of them were also charged with being ‘enemies of god.’ Only last February, officials revealed that all adult men in one village had been executed for ‘drug offences’.

Despite the brutal policies inflicted on the Baloch by those who control their land, the world still knows very little about these people. Travelling to their remote areas can be not only exhausting, but also very dangerous. However, their diaspora is big and one can easily run into them within the world’s popular capital cities. Some may produce that same piece of news I saw at that barber shop. Even if it’s not the original copy, it does the job.

Obama’s Cuba visit: is revolution imperilled?-Lal Khan

Posted by admin On March - 27 - 2016 Comments Off on Obama’s Cuba visit: is revolution imperilled?-Lal Khan

randhir_singhMarch 27, 2016,

The visit of the US president Barak Obama to Cuba this week has been proclaimed as historic but the corporate media are giving it the notion that it is the beginning of the end of the last bastion of socialist system and restoration of capitalism in Cuba. In a period of deep capitalist crisis such a move is yet another attempt to discourage the masses from reaching clarity of an alternative course to their salvation. But the story is far from over.

Obama’s visit to Cuba, the first by a sitting US president since 1928, followed by restoration of diplomatic ties in December 2014 was described as bringing an end to half a century of hostility between the two countries. The rigorous trade restrictions have cost Cuba approximately 1.126 trillion dollars over more than 50-year period since the imperialists imposed the embargo.

Cuba still has a dominantly planned economy, and the United States still remains adamant to change its system, but now through a ‘soft-war’ strategy, a brainchild of President Barack Obama who arrived in Havana last Sunday on a three-day visit. Quite like President Calvin Coolidge, he too intends to “win hearts and minds” of the Cubans. Cuba’s President Raul Castro would like Americans to normalise socio-economic relations, without predicated by compromise on his political system — and to return the part of the island now housing the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison.

The US economic embargo remains in force, which President Obama wants to be lifted but the Republican-dominated Congress is opposed. Obama’s visit is rich in symbolism but lacks substance. Symbolically, it turns the page on a bitter past that prevailed for over half a century between the two countries. When Fidel Castro took over power in 1959 he expressed desire to meet his counterpart, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the request was denied. Then, there were attempts by the US agencies to assassinate him — sometimes by exploding his cigar and sometimes by toxic coffee. When all this failed the US-trained Cuban exiles were landed at the Bay of Pigs, only to be decimated.

The Cuban Revolution was triggered by an armed insurrection conducted by the 26th of July Movement led by Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara against the US-backed brutal dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The revolution began in July 1953, and continued sporadically until the rebels finally ousted Batista on January 1, 1959, replacing it with a revolutionary socialist state. However, the victory of the revolution was ensured by the intervention of the proletariat in Havana and other main cities with their strike actions that paralysed the bourgeois state. The Cuban Revolution had powerful domestic and international repercussions.

Hundreds of Batista-era agents, policemen and soldiers were put on public trial for brutalities, abuses, war crimes, murder, and torture. Revolutionary tribunals were set up to punish those who brutalised ordinary Cubans and were convicted for crimes against the revolution. During its first decade in power, a wide range of socioeconomic changes was enacted. Laws were introduced to provide equality for black Cubans and rights for women, while there were radical improvements in communications, medical facilities, health, housing, and education. In addition, there were touring cinemas, art exhibitions, concerts, and theatres. By the end of the 1960s, all Cuban children were receiving education (compared with less than half before 1959), unemployment and corruption were almost eliminated, and revolutionary changes were made in water supply, hygiene and sanitation providing Cubans with universal healthcare.

Almost 75 percent of Cuba’s best arable land that was owned by large American companies was distributed to peasants as cooperatives. In February 1959 Cuba began expropriating land and private property under the auspices of the Agrarian Reform Law of May 17, 1959. Farms of any size could be and were seized by government, while land, businesses, and companies owned by upper and middle class Cubans were nationalised (including the plantations owned by Castro’s family). By the end of 1960, the revolutionary government had nationalised more than 25 billion dollars worth of private property owned by imperialists, capitalists and landlords. Government formally nationalised all foreign-owned property, particularly American holdings, on August 6, 1960. In 1961, the Cuban government nationalizsd all property held by religious organisations, including the dominant Roman Catholic Church. Education also saw significant changes; private schools and hospitals were banned and the socialist state assumed greater responsibility for children’s welfare. On October 3, 1965, Castro became First Secretary of the CP. Castro remained the Cuban president until his retirement in February 2008. His brother Raúl officially replaced him as president later that same month.

The post-revolutionary foreign policy had global repercussions. It supported poor countries during natural disasters, guerrilla struggles and revolutionary movements in the Caribbean, to Algerian rebels as early as 1960, independence movements in many developing countries such as Ghana, Nicaragua, Yemen and Angola, where 60,000 Cuban soldiers went to support the rebels. When the earthquake struck Pakistan in 2005 Cuba sent in some 2,600 doctors and paramedics who established field hospitals in Kashmir.

Following the American embargo in 1960’s, the Soviet Union provided economic and diplomatic lifeline. However, that had some negative impacts of crystallising the bureaucratic setup of the state on Moscow’s Stalinist pattern. The iconic leader of the revolution, Che Guevara, developed differences with Russian advisors on these issues and ultimately left Cuba to carryout revolutionary struggles elsewhere in Latin America. The end of Soviet economic aid after its collapse in 1991 led to a severe economic crisis known as the Special Period in Cuba. This put special pressures but Cuba was partially bailed out by the supply of oil and economic aid by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in the 2000s. But the crisis has erupted again due to the isolation of Cuba’s planned economy.

This prompted sections of the CP to adopt the Chinese bureaucracy’s ‘development model’ and give concessions to private ownership. Obama is playing on these sections. Such a departure would be disastrous for Cuban people who enjoy some of the best health and education facilities due to the planned economy inspite of Cuba being a poor country. But there are also strong factions in the leadership that adhere to the continuation of the planned economy.

Obama and Rahul Castro partially agreed to small steps including easing travel and starting small private businesses. But the USA officials said they didn’t make much progress this week, and would continue to try. However, the restoration of capitalism by Obama’s soft war policy is not guaranteed at all. The balance of power can easily tilt towards the pro-socialist factions rapidly as the severe crisis of the ‘Chinese Model’ explodes it and the recession of world capitalism creates an even deeper slump in the world economy. But ultimately the resistance and resilience of the Cuban masses and successful revolutionary transformations in the Americas and beyond can play a decisive role to salvage the Cuban revolution.
The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and international secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at ptudc@hotmail.com

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