An earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale hit southwest Pakistan yesterday. The Balochistan province where the quake struck is isolated and has been plagued by sectarian violence as well as clashes between government forces and local militias.
Dawn brings us news of the devastation:
The death toll from a massive earthquake that jolted southwest Pakistan rose to 306 on Wednesday, with officials saying thousands have been left homeless in remote parts of Balochistan province.
The 7.7-magnitude quake struck Tuesday afternoon in the province, toppling thousands of mud-built homes as it spread havoc through Awaran and Kech districts and the southwestern parts of the country.
Pakistan’s military on Wednesday rushed to reach the scene of the earthquake to launch a relief operation in the affected areas. Officials said the toll was expected to rise as rescue teams reach more villages in the remote area.
Provincial home secretary Asad Gilani confirmed 306 people had been killed and more than 400 injured from the huge quake.
In the areas hit worst, virtually all of the mud homes were leveled:
The scale of the affected territory is daunting. Awaran’s population is scattered over an area of more than 21,000 square kilometres. More than 60,000 people live within 50 kilometres of the epicentre, according to the UN disaster agency, mostly in easily collapsible mud homes.
Television footage showed collapsed houses, caved-in roofs and people sitting in the open air outside their homes, the rubble of mud and bricks scattered around them.
Abdul Rasheed Baloch, a senior official in the district, said teams had worked through the night to try to retrieve bodies and survivors from the rubble. “Around 90 per cent of houses in the district have been destroyed. Almost all the mud houses have collapsed,” he said.
The earthquake hit in the late afternoon local time, so we can hope that many people were able to move out of mud brick structures before they collapsed, but it still would not be surprising for the death toll to continue a rapid climb as more information emerges from remote sites.
Just off the port city of Gwadar, the earthquake appears to have created a new island. The island is not the result of uplifting of tectonic plates but is instead a structure referred to as a mud volcano:
Mohammad Danish, a marine biologist from Pakistan’s National Institute of Oceanography, said a team of experts had visited the island and found methane gas rising.
“Our team found bubbles rising from the surface of the island which caught fire when a match was lit and we forbade our team to start any flame. It is methane gas,” Danish said on a local television news channel.
The island is about 60 to 70 feet (18 to 21 metres) high, up to 300 feet wide and up to 120 feet long, he said. It sits about 200 metres away from the coast.
Gary Gibson, a seismologist with Australia’s University of Melbourne, said the new island was likely to be a “mud volcano”, created by methane gas forcing material upwards during the violent shaking of the earthquake.
In this video, we can see the methane bubbles coming to the surface on the new island:
Islands of this sort have been formed by earthquakes in the region before, and they tend to get washed away by wave action:
“It’s happened before in that area but it’s certainly an unusual event, very rare,” Gibson told AFP, adding that it was “very curious” to see such activity some 400 kilometres from the quake’s epicentre.
The so-called island is not a fixed structure but a body of mud that will be broken down by wave activity and dispersed over time, the scientist said.
A massive earthquake has struck near the Iran-Pakistan border in the region known in both countries as Balochistan. With Iran subject to massive US sanctions that are already crippling its economy and affecting health care, responding to this disaster will be a huge challenge. Just over the border in Pakistan, the region has been torn by what some see as government-sanctioned disappearances and killings. The border in the region is quite porous and there have been a number of incidents involving both Iranian and Pakistani border control agents. The best prospects for the economy of the area to improve hinge on the Iran-Pakistan pipeline which crosses the border within about 150 miles of the epicenter and development of the port of Gwadar, which Pakistan recently signed over to China, also just over 150 miles from where the earthquake struck.
PressTV informs us that deaths from the quake have already been reported:
At least 40 people have been killed after a powerful earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale struck Iran’s southeastern Sistan and Baluchestan Province, the Iranian Seismological Center (IRSC) says.
The IRSC reported that the epicenter of the quake was situated 81 kilometers north of the city of Saravan.
Dawn reports that Iranian authorities say it is the worst earthquake to hit Iran in 40 years:
An Iranian government official said he expected hundreds of deaths from the massive 7.8 magnitude earth quake, felt as far away as New Delhi and Gulf cities of Dubai and Bahrain.
“It was the biggest earthquake in Iran in 40 years and we are expecting hundreds of dead,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
(While this post was being written, Dawn updated the article to note that five deaths have already been reported on the Pakistan side of the border.)
The shaking was felt across large distances:
Tremors from the earthquake were felt as far away as New Delhi and the Gulf cities of Dubai and Bahrain.
Note that last year, two earthquakes in northwest Iran killed over 300 people. Those quakes had magnitudes of 6.4 and 6.2 on the Richter scale. The scale is logarithmic, so even the lower 7.5 estimate from Iran (compared to the initial 7.8 from USGS) makes this earthquake at least ten times more powerful than the quakes last summer. The region where today’s quake struck is much less populated, but with a quake of this magnitude, expect the devastation to cut a very wide swath.
Even though he was unsure of its pronunciation, Representative Dana Rohrabacher mounted what was initially a one-man campaign that he claimed was for a free and independent Balochistan. He did eventually enlist top-notch intellectual luminaries Louie Gohmert and Steve King in his effort, but the lingering question I had regarding his efforts on this front boiled down to:
Does Rohrabacher want to help the Baloch, or does he merely want US control of the port of Gwadar and an end to the planned gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan through Balochistan?
We now have the opportunity to answer that question, as Rohrabacher’s attempts to arrange US control of Gwadar and to prevent the gas pipeline have failed. Pakistan officially transferred control of the port of Gwadar to China today from the Port of Singapore Authority. The final agreement relating to construction of the gas pipeline through Pakistan (Iran claims to have completed 900 kilometers of the pipeline within its borders already) was expected to be signed last Friday, but it appears a last-minute disagreement of gas pricing has delayed those signatures for a week. Here is Dawn on the transfer of Gwadar:
China took control of Pakistan’s Gwadar port on Monday as part of its drive to secure energy and maritime routes that also gives it a potential Arabian Sea naval base, sparking Indian concern. “The contract of operation of Gwadar port is formally given to China. Today, the agreement is transferred from the Port of Singapore Authority to China Overseas Ports Holding Company Limited,” President Asif Ali Zardari announced. “The award of this contract opens new opportunities for our people… It gives new impetus to Pakistan-China relations,” added Zardari in a speech broadcast live on television.
As the article notes, China had funded the bulk of the construction of the port, so it should come as no surprise that they would eventually gain control:
China paid about 75 per cent of the initial $250 million used to build the port but in 2007 PSA International won a 40-year operating lease. Then-ruler Pervez Musharraf was reportedly unwilling to upset Washington by giving control of the port to the Chinese.
I have to wonder whether Rohrabacher’s outright hostility shown to Pakistan over the Balochistan freedom movement and the issue of Dr. Shakeel Afridi played into their willingness to go against US wishes in signing Gwadar over to the Chinese. Perhaps Representative Rohrabacher can enlist a new ally in his battles with Pakistan since he is such an adherent to “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” approach. It appears that Iran is finding it necessary to build their own naval base very close to Gwadar so that they can keep an eye on what transpires there:
Iran’s Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari says the country is establishing a new base in the Sea of Oman near Pakistan’s border to boost the Islamic Republic’s defense capabilities. “The naval base, which is under construction, is situated in the Gwatr Gulf on our country’s farthest eastern shores bordering Pakistan,” Sayyari said on Sunday.
“The Iranian navy has so far had no military presence in the area, but now, we will be present in the region to defend the interests and maritime resources of our country and exercise a tighter control over the traffic in the region,” Sayyari noted.
Just as he took up arms to fight alongside Osama bin Laden’s Mujahideen movement against his arch-enemies from the Soviet Union, maybe Rohrabacher will decide to team up with Iran’s navy near Gwadar in an attempt to punish Pakistan for daring to thwart his wishes.
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) worked himself into quite a bit of anger yesterday defending his amendment to the NDAA which was intended to cut off funding for Pakistan. He gave a remarkable performance, railing against practices by the Pakistani government which he avidly endorses when carried out by the US.
He railed against Pakistan providing haven for Osama bin Laden even though Rohrabacher actually took up arms and fought alongside the mujahideen, which included bin Laden, back in the mid-80′s when they were fighting the Soviets. He blasted Pakistan for supporting terrorists like the Haqqani network at the same time that he is agitating for the delisting of the MeK as a terrorist group. He decried the arrest and detention without charges of Dr. Shakeel Afridi, who carried out the polio vaccine ruse on behalf of the CIA at the bin Laden compound, and yet he has for years been at the forefront of advocating in favor of the prison at Guantanamo, where many remain held indefinitely without charge.
Here is how Rohrabacher described his amendment in a press release:
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has introduced H.R. 5734, the “Pakistan Terrorism Accountability Act of 2012.” The legislation would require the Department of Defense to list all Americans killed by terrorist groups operating with impunity inside Pakistan and Afghanistan and supported by elements of the Pakistani government. For each person killed, $50 million would be subtracted from U.S. foreign assistance to Pakistan, a requested $2.2 billion, and given to the victim’s family.
“For too long America has funded the Pakistani government, giving it free money, while elements of the ISI and Pakistan’s military operate radical Islamic groups that are actively murdering Americans,” said Rohrabacher. “Americans will not accept this.”
“Pakistan has for decades leveraged radical terrorist groups to carry out attacks in India and Afghanistan,” continued Rohrabacher. “Pakistan helped to create the Taliban and Pakistan’s intelligence service hid Osama Bin Laden from the U.S. for years. Today, one of the most dangerous and sophisticated groups killing American troops in Afghanistan is the Haqqani Network, which is closely operated by the Pakistani government.”
I suppose it’s too much to hope for that someone who operates on the fringes of American politics might realize that the Pakistani government is not a monolith that always acts with all of its participants working together for the same outcome. Rather than supporting those within Pakistan who will advance US interests, Rohrabacher wants to punish all of Pakistan because of those who work against US interests.
Dashing Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s drastic designs, the US Congress on Thursday turned down the bill proposing curbs on American aid to Pakistan.
The House of representative rejected the bill as 335 votes were cast against the bill while 84 in favour. Pakistan ambassador to US, Sherry Rehman played an active role against the bill.
At least he did a better job pronouncing Balochistan…
Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) tried to pull a fast one over the weekend and sneak in as a “last minute replacement” on a Congressional delegation to Afghanistan. The problem was that, as BBC reported, the rest of the delegation had visas for entry but Rohrabacher did not. Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai learned that Rohrabacher had joined the group prior to it leaving Dubai for Kabul, and he instructed US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ground the flight until Rohrabacher was removed.
I find it really hard to believe that Rohrabacher did not plan to be a part of the trip from the start, but wanted to avoid advance publication of his plans. Back in January, Rohrabacher, along with his usual co-conspirators Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Steve King (R-IA), somehow managed to get Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) to lend a patina of “bipartisanship” to a meeting held in Berlin that many viewed as a call to partition Afghanistan and to arm opposition groups such as the Northern Alliance. This meeting made Karzai “incredibly angry”, giving Rohrabacher good reason to try to stay below Karzai’s radar. Further, Rohrabacher also held a Congressional hearing on establishing an independent Balochistan, which, if drawn according to cultural lines, would take territory from Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.
The full list of Congressmembers on the weekend trip to Afghanistan has not been disclosed, but the fact Politico reports that it was headed by Gohmert supports my suspicion that Rohrabacher planned to attend all along. The timing for additional meddling in US-Afghanistan relations could not have been worse, because Sunday was when it was announced that the US and Afghanistan had finally reached agreement on the outlines of a long term agreement for US support after the withdrawal of fighting forces. Rohrabacher seems to be quite entertained by Karzai’s response. Returning to the Politico article: Continue reading
Showing extreme frustration over senior police officials not appearing before his hearing today on Balochistan, Pakistan’s Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry lashed out at them:
Chaudhry had summoned Inspector General (IG) Balochistan and relevant Superintendent Police (SP) in the court earlier today on an immediate notice.
“If the police officials failed to comply with the court’s order, they will be sent to jail,” he had warned.
He censured the law enforcement agencies for their incompetency in maintaining peace in the province and remarked that the courts are being kept uninformed about the factual details.
“Balochistan is on fire but the officials are mere spectators to it,” Chaudhry remarked.
The court also heard from three people who previously had been among the “missing”:
In another relevant development, three people who had been recovered from Kuchlak area were presented before the court.
They narrated their ordeal before the bench and said: “We were abducted from Quetta at night; we were blindfolded and then kept at some unknown location for about 40 days.”
The court issued release orders for the three recovered people and directed the police to safely escort them to their homes.
The number of missing people abducted by government forces is very much in dispute, as pointed out on Monday in the Express Tribune:
The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VFBMP), an organisation striving for the safe recovery of missing persons, urged the Chief Justice of Pakistan to hold monthly hearings on the issue in Quetta.
“Relatives are coming to Quetta with the hope that the chief justice will recover their loved ones who have been missing for years,” VFBMP Chairman Nasrullah Baloch told The Express Tribune.
Baloch added that the relatives of all 1,300 missing persons will appear before the court and record their statements before Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. “This move will prove that the government and its functionaries are lying (when they say) merely 47 persons are missing,” he said. Continue reading
Over the weekend, the Washington Post gave California Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher space so that he could attempt to explain to us why he is disrupting diplomatic efforts to repair US-Pakistan relations by continuing his quest for an independent Balochistan. Rohrabacher does manage a reference in the opening paragraph to the atrocities befalling the Baloch at the hands of Pakistani authorities, but his column is more of a laundry list of what is wrong with Pakistan rather than why Balochistan should be independent.
Remarkably, Rohrabacher states “With this resolution, I do not seek to single out Pakistan”, but goes on to list a litany of complaints against Pakistan, most of which have nothing to do with the Baloch. Rohrabacher hits Pakistan for being an accomplice in the 9/11 attacks, for the fate of Shakeel Afridi and for harboring the Taliban. Coming from the man who coined the term “Freedom Fighters” to describe the Mujahedin while on Reagan’s staff and even going so far as to fight alongside bin Laden in Afghanistan against the Soviets, this is a remarkable level of hypocrisy. He also happens to mention that the Chinese have designs on the port of Gwadar. The clincher that Rohrabacher is simply punishing Pakistan comes in his penultimate paragraph:
It is time Washington stopped aiding Pakistan and developed a closer friendship with India and, perhaps, Baluchistan.
Yup, he’s not singling out Pakistan, he just thinks we need to stop supporting them and support their biggest enemy and those fighting from within.
Missing from Rohrabacher’s piece is any mention of what the Baloch are doing in their quest for independence. One would think that having been burned already by teaming with bin Laden out of hatred for the Soviets, Rohrabacher would look into the actions by those he is now supporting against Pakistan. Others appear to be aware that such examination will come soon, and we see a recent piece in Dawn where the independence movement attempts to justify some of its worst violence:
Brahamdagh [Bugti], whom the authorities in Pakistan have variously accused of financing, running and heading terrorist activities in Balochistan, rejected the perception that Baloch sardars were against development in their areas. He said the Baloch were, however, opposed to road-building projects meant for further exploitation of the province’s natural resources.
When asked about the murder of Punjabi settlers in Balochistan, Brahamdagh blamed the army. “When the army kills people, the family members [of those killed) have no choice but to react and take revenge,” he said.
The reason roads are being destroyed is that they are being used exploit natural resources and Punjabi settlers are being murdered because the Baloch have to kill someone in return for the Pakistani army killing their family members. What could possibly go wrong with supporting groups with these views?
Lacking both the authority and the means to carry out their own invasion of Pakistan to secure the independence of Balochistan, Republican Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (CA), Louie Gohmert (TX) and Steve King (IA) instead invaded the National Press Club in Washington, DC on Tuesday for a press conference. Freedom for Balochistan is the latest quest for Rohrabacher, who has a history of being profoundly wrong in how he pursues freedom for various peoples.
One should never forget that as a speech-writing aide to Reagan, Rohrabacher was in on the ground floor of the “Freedom Fighter” effort in Afghanistan that funded Osama bin Laden:
Rohrabacher’s Afghanistan history dates back to his days as a speechwriter and presidential adviser in the Reagan White House, where he helped shape the Reagan Doctrine—the policy of arming resistance movements to undermine Soviet influence, with the mujahideen serving as Exhibit A. “I’d be there with guys in full Afghan garb in the executive dining room of the White House,” he recalls.
Of course, Rohrabacher wants to relegate his role in advancing bin Laden’s career to the dustbin. However, his approach in demonizing his current foe, the government of Pakistan, is just as wrong-headed as the decision to fund and arm bin Laden. From yesterday’s press conference:
“The government of Pakistan is radical Islam,” and has been providing weapons and resources to radical Muslim elements who use them against Americans, Rohrabacher said. “They are the evil force, they are the radicals.”
Wow. In all my blogging about Pakistan, I’ve totally missed the part about how the mullahs run the government. I was under the impression that Pakistan has a secular, civilian government. In fact, it appears that this government is making significant strides in avoiding the military coups that have befallen all previous Pakistani civilian governments.
But Rohrabacher was not alone in bringing forth profoundly wrong ideas at the press conference. Here is Gohmert:
Gohmert accused Pakistan of supplying the Taliban through Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan. Supporting an independent Balochistan could close of that supply route, he said. “The enemy of my enemy should be my friend,” he said.
That’s tremendous strategy from Gohmert. A look at the map above reveals that once Balochistan is “free” (and following the desires of Rohrabacher, Gohmert and King in all their actions, one presumes), there is just no way that supplies from Pakistan could get to Taliban forces in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Continue reading
On February 8, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) held a hearing on Balochistan, which he followed up on February 17 with a resolution calling for an independent Balochistan. As I reported on the hearing, Rohrabacher mispronounced Balochistan so badly during the hearing that one Pakistani newspaper referred to him as “Donna Rohrbacher”. As might be expected, having a minor congressman meddle so clumsily in foreign affairs had a horrible immediate fallout, with large anti-US demonstrations in Pakistan developing in response to the independence resolution.
The fact that Rohrabacher is playing petty politics with the fate of a large number of people has not been overlooked in Pakistan. Former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Najmuddin A. Shaikh, writing yesterday in Dawn, had this to say in an opinion piece:
Rohrabacher has had an interest in Afghanistan for the last 30 years. As part of president Reagan’s stable of speech writers he takes credit for having Reagan call the Afghan Mujahideen ‘freedom fighters’ and even for the parallel Reagan drew between America’s founding fathers and the Mujahideen. In those days, Pakistan was his favourite country.
Today his attitude towards Pakistan is coloured by what he believes Pakistan is doing in Afghanistan and not by his concern for the Baloch people. Had he been genuinely concerned about Balochistan his star witness should have been Selig Harrison who has long been regarded in the American security establishment as the foremost expert on Balochistan.
That has been my concern as well. Rohrabacher’s professed support for the Balochs seems strikingly like the support the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans displayed for the Kurds after the first Gulf War, where the Kurds were encouraged to take on Saddam Hussein, only for the Republicans to then stand by idly while Hussein massacred them. In this case, it appears that Rohrabacher is professing support for the Baloch, but mainly for the way in which this support can weaken the Pakistani government, which he blames for sheltering Taliban insurgents who carry out attacks in Afghanistan and for hiding Osama bin Laden (who was no longer a Freedom Fighter, I guess).
Despite this cyncial background, however, the attention generated by Rohrabacher’s stunts is having some distinctly positive effects. Writing yesterday at BBC.com, Ahmed Rashid notes:
It took an obscure United States congressman holding a controversial hearing in Washington on the civil war in Balochistan to awaken the conscience of the Pakistani government, military and public. Continue reading
At a time when US relations with Pakistan were already on edge but potentially moving back toward cooperation on pursuit of terrorists and transport of NATO military supplies, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) on February 8 dished out a stellar performance during his
stunt hearing on Balochistan, where he mispronounced the name of the region so badly that one Pakistani press account decided to refer to him as Donna Rohrbacher. Rohrabacher now has teamed up with intellectual titans and foreign policy experts Steve King (R-IA) and Louis Gohmert (R-TX) to submit H. Con. Res. 104 on Friday, calling for an independent Balochistan. The arrogance inherent in this action has produced massive anti-US demonstrations in Pakistan that threaten to deteriorate relations even further.
Rohrabacher’s resolution, which is co-sponsored only by King and Gohmert, ends:
Whereas it is the policy of the United States to oppose aggression and the violation of human rights inherent in the subjugation of national groups as currently being shown in Iran and Pakistan against the aspirations of the Baluch people: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of Congress that the people of Baluchistan, currently divided between Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country and they should be afforded the opportunity to choose their own status among the community of nations, living in peace and harmony, without external coercion.
Never mind that the US is coercing many countries and cultures in the region at the current time, Rohrabacher wants Pakistan’s “coercion” of Balochistan to stop now.
Today’s rally against the resolution was large. From the Express Tribune:
As several quarters in Pakistan join the chorus to condemn a bill on Balochistan moved in the US Congress, thousands of Difa-e-Pakistan Council supporters rallied in Islamabad against American intervention in Pakistan.
“Today, we have gathered here to raise a voice of protest against US intervention in Pakistan,” DPC Chairman Maulana Samiul Haq told the participants who had gathered at Aabpara Chowk in the federal capital on Monday.
“America wants to break Pakistan into pieces,” Haq said, in reference to the resolution in America, introduced by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher which calls upon Pakistan to recognise the Baloch right to self determination. “Our protest is against the possible resumption of Nato supplies, US and Indian occupation and to strengthen the country’s defence.”