ID: 59142    4/3/2006 14:36    06ISLAMABAD5596    Embassy Islamabad    SECRET        "VZCZCXRO0592 OO RUEHLH RUEHPW DE RUEHIL #5596/01 0931436 ZNY SSSSS ZZH O 031436Z APR 06 FM AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4144 INFO RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 4940 RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 8026 RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI PRIORITY 0430 RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE PRIORITY 8278 RUEHPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR PRIORITY 6081 RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY RUEHIL/ODRP ISLAMABAD PK PRIORITY RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY"    "S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 ISLAMABAD 005596

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SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/31/2016 TAGS: PGOV, PTER, PK SUBJECT: GOVERNMENT'S CHARM OFFENSIVE LEAVES MANY BALOCH UNIMPRESSED

Classified By: Derived from DSCG 05-01, b and d.

1. (S) Summary: While sporadic engagements continue between Baloch nationalists and military and Frontier Corps units, the Pakistan government has recently announced a series of political and economic initiatives to address some of Balochistan's long-standing grievances, including promises of more federal jobs and more money. Based on initial soundings among journalists, NGO reps and political figures, the grassroots response to the government's initiatives ranges from the dismissive to the (very) cautiously optimistic. It will be a long time before these kinds of announcements deliver a bankable political dividend; despite government hopes,they will not drive a wedge between renegade Baloch sardars and their supporters. However, they may serve the government's broader interest by convincing the Pakistani public that continued resistance by the sardars is unreasonable. End Summary.

The Charm Offensive -------------------

2. (U) Even as clashes continue between security forces and Baloch tribesman, the government has announced in recent weeks a set of political and economic initiatives for Balochistan designed to address long-standing Baloch grievances.

-- On March 17, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, President of the ruling Muslim League party announced that people from other provinces working in the Baloch port city of Gwadar would not be allowed to vote or contest in elections for 15 years. (Note: this is designed to address a Baloch concern that recruitment of Punjabis to work at the Gwadar Port would change the demographics and political affiliation of the area.)

-- On March 26, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz visited Quetta and announced that the government would create 30,000 public sector jobs in provincial departments, including the police and Frontier Corps. (Note: the Baloch complain that they are significantly underrepresented in such jobs.) He also underscored that a National Finance Commission (NFC) award announced in January by President Musharraf, would give the province an additional Rs 6.0 billion (about $100 million).

-- On March 29, President Musharraf used the inauguration of a $1.7 million gas supply project in Gwadar to underscore the government's commitment to development in Balochistan. He urged the Ports and Shipping Minister to give preference to Baloch in hiring and announced that the Government would provide $50 million to be distributed to the Nazims of Balochistan's 29 districts to finance development projects. He pledged that he would monitor progress personally.

The Naysayers -------------

3. (C) The reaction of Balochis has been predictably mixed, with many Baloch political figures dismissing the announcements as window dressing, and others -- principally independent journalists -- taking a cautiously optimistic posture. Baloch nationalists, including Chairman of the Baloch National Movement Ghulam Mohammad, and Jamhoori Watan Party Information Secretary Amanullah Kandarani insist that the announcements are a fraud and that if the government is serious it should withdraw the army from Dera Bugti and Kohlu and release Baloch prisoners.

4. (C) Former Chief Secretary of Balochistan Hakim Baloch told PolCounselor that the core issue is the right of the local population to have a say in provincial affairs and rights to Balochistan's land and resources. Sending the Prime Minister to "directly distribute checks" actually exacerbated the Baloch sense of powerlessness and frustration. Moreover, he anticipated that most Baloch would view the government's announcements as "eyewash" because the government had a very poor record of keeping its promises.

5. (C) Ishaq Baloch, Central Information Secretary of the Baloch National Party said that while the party welcomed the announcements, it remained skeptical. Musharraf had visited Gwadar three years ago and announced the establishments of a university and polytechnical institute, but so far nothing had materialized. People would not be satisfied until concrete steps were taken. "We do not want jobs or special announcements," he added, "just give us what the constitution says: a quota of 5.3 percent in all federal services." He claimed that out of 40,000 people employed in Wah Cantonment, only two were Baloch. Ultimately, the only lasting solution was political: Islamabad should act as a "federating center," not a "governing center." A PML politician, Sardar Wazir Ahmed Jogezai, offered the same assessment . Three years ago Musharraf had promised an amnesty on agricultural loans, but to this day Baloch farmers were still paying off their loans with interest. People would not be satisfied until there were free and fair elections and had a government of their own choosing.

6. (C) Sher Ali Mazari, an Islamabad-based relation of Nawab Bugti and a regular Embassy contact, also doubted that the announcements would have an impact. First, the Baloch would expect that given the level of corruption in the provincial bureaucracy, little of the promised money would reach them. Second, ongoing military operations had threatened or displaced Baloch populations in 8 districts. He estimated that there had been 600 civilian casualties to date, with up to 200,000 thousand people displaced. (Comment: in post's judgment these number appear significantly inflated. End Comment.) Third, ordinary Balochis continued to experience regular indignities at the hands of Punjabis. He estimated that there were 300-550 checkpoints in Balochistan, manned by the Frontier Corps or other services. "If you are a Baloch, going from Karachi to Quetta, you are taken off the bus several times and harassed by people who don't speak your language," he explained.

7. (S) Mazari concluded that the initiatives would have no major impact and confided that senior figures in Islamabad agree, citing by name NSA Tariq Aziz, and Muslim League leaders XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX (strictly protect). He had met each of them within the last two weeks, he said, and had seen Aziz the previous day (March 30). While each of them viewed the economic and political initiatives as positive, they also considered them insufficient and worried that they were being undercut by recourse to the military option. (Note: Mazari reported that Aziz was concerned that Musharraf was not getting good information from his Director General of Military Intelligence. Aziz had confided to Mazari that the DGMI advised Musharraf that only 3 percent of Baloch people supported the Sardars, that the whole of Balochistan was pleased that Musharraf was "sorting out" the Sardars and that even the Baloch nationalist Dr. Hayee Baloch was pleased with Musharraf's vigorous stance. Mazari had told Aziz that all three assertions were preposterous and had arranged a meeting for Aziz with Dr. Baloch at his own home, where Baloch told Aziz this directly. End Note.)

The Cautious Optimists ----------------------

8. (C) In contrast to Baloch political figures, a number of journalist contacts and NGO representatives familiar with Balochistan were cautiously optimistic.  Toseef Saba, Editor of the paper Nara-I-Haq admitted that Baloch apprehensions were justified in view of previous unfulfilled promises. He said he worried that people around Musharraf were "spoiling his good intentions," but nonetheless he had heard the speeches of Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz and was convinced that they were sincere. "Let's see what happens now," he concluded.

9. (C) Another journalist, Shazada Zulfiqar, reports that he met last week with nationalist Sardars Nawab Akbar Bugti and Baloch Marri and that both were optimistic about prospects for negotiations with the government. He was also heartened by the visits of Musharraf and Aziz to Balochistan, which he interpreted as signs that they were under pressure from the people of Balochistan. Rahat Malik, a Baloch political analyst, believed the senior visits and announcements had been welcomed by the Baloch people and he expected tensions would begin to ease within a month. He reported rumors that Nawab Bugti was ready to negotiate a settlement.

10. (C) A Program officer with a microcredit NGO active in Balochistan acknowledged that the government had been very slow to deliver on past promises, but he was hopeful that this time it would be different. He gave Musharraf the credit for restarting the Saindak mineral extraction project in Balochistan and for building dams in the province. These projects might not show results for years, but from his vantage working on micro-credit he had already seen measurable economic improvements even in remote areas of Balochistan.  Yes, most Balochis were probably skeptical, he judged, but the government had an opportunity to prove them wrong.

Comment ------- 11. (C) The government's pursuit of a two-track policy -- using sticks with the Baloch separatists and carrots with the broader Baloch population -- is sensible, but the missteps and broken promises of the past work against the strategy. It will be years before the Baloch people see the jobs and improved living standards that could overcome their skepticism about the government's intentions. Given the comparative backwardness of the province, it will be many more years (if ever) before the Baloch people are educationally and economically on an equal footing with other provinces. Restoring stability in the short term would require directly engaging the renegade sardars and far-reaching political steps to give the Baloch people a greater say in provincial affairs and greater control over the province's resources. Although the announcement of these economic initiatives will have limited impact in Balochistan, it may serve the government by convincing other Pakistanis that Islamabad has made a credible effort, laying the groundwork for possible military action. CROCKER