Edition of Balochistan

In Balochistan people shoot first, then ask

From Willi Germund

Quetta. - Just two of many possible miracles from Balochistan: In 2010, laid-off workers from the German pharmaceutical company Merck went on a hunger strike in the provincial capital Quetta, and one of the workers found himself in prison a little later - as a “terrorist”. In May, on the outskirts of Quetta, five unarmed Chechens, including a heavily pregnant woman, died in a hail of police bullets in front of TV cameras. They were mistaken for suicide bombers.

In Balochistan, not only the security forces shoot first and then ask questions. How dangerous the pavement is in Pakistan's poorest province on the border with Afghanistan and Iran is made clear by the country's human rights commission in regular reports that document the disappearance and unexplained death of dozens of people. "I only go outside with bodyguards and a pistol in my waistband," says the owner of a restaurant in Quetta.

Rebels, Americans ...

Inaccessible and hopelessly impoverished, Balochistan is a neglected and seething region. A local, relatively small independence movement, the Baloch Liberation Army, has been fighting for independence for over ten years and often uses southern Afghanistan to evade Pakistani security forces. The leadership has found shelter in the Afghan capital Kabul. Pakistan accuses Afghanistan and also its archenemy India of funding the group's militant actions.

Sheikhs from the Gulf States maintain small private airports for their private jets in Balochistan, on which they land to hunt falcons. Until recently, the US used one of these airfields as a secret base for deployments of unmanned drones. And then there are the drug smugglers who use centuries-old smuggling routes to bring opium to Iran, which eventually finds its way to Europe and the USA.

... and Taliban militias

But the biggest unrest factor in the province after 2001 was the Afghan Taliban militias, who turned the region into their refuge. After being driven out of Afghanistan, the Taliban leadership around Mullah Omar initially found refuge in the seemingly opaque jumble of streets in the slums of Quetta. In the region around the provincial capital there are also numerous private clinics that serve as secret hospitals for wounded fighters from Afghanistan.

For decades, Afghans have been living in the villages along the road from Quetta to the border town of Chaman, who once fled from the Soviet occupation forces and who today mainly support the radical Islamic Taliban. Minibuses regularly drive from these places to the border or as far as Afghanistan.

Loralai, where the Swiss couple was kidnapped on Friday, is not in the hands of the Taliban. But the small town not far from Quetta is only a stone's throw from the towns of Zhob and Qila Saifullah, which were in Taliban hands for a long time. And it is not far to South Waziristan, the inhospitable, confusing border region where the authorities say they were kidnapped.

Itinerary for jihadists

It is not clear whether the two Swiss are already in the hands of warriors of God. Because in the tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan, kidnappings for criminal motives are also part of everyday life. Foreigners who are well advised therefore avoid the entire region. The route through Balochistan was traditionally a popular route that overland tourists used when driving from Europe via Iran to India.

Most recently, the route was only used by foreign jihadists who were on their way to the holy war in the Hindu Kush. They could rely on the help of friends. In the Iranian border town of Zahidan, a so-called “facilitator” made sure that the special tourists crossed the border safely and then continued through Pakistan to the mountains on the border with Afghanistan.

If the Swiss tourists are unlucky, they will soon have to keep the radical foreigners company. Because it is common for kidnappers to sell their hostages to militants.

There was also no sign of life yesterday from the two Swiss kidnapped in Pakistan on Friday. A government official had already announced on Sunday that they had been brought from the province of Balochistan to the neighboring tribal region of South Waziristan (yesterday's edition). The 31-year-old Bernese canton police officer and his 28-year-old partner - who also completed a police training course but had not worked afterwards - had driven their blue VW bus to India after research by "Blick" and were at the time of the Kidnapping on the way back.

It is not yet known who is behind the kidnapping. Middle East expert Arnold Hottinger sees political motives in the foreground. The Taliban or resistance fighters could be considered for this. Both groups could try to free prisoners. However, Switzerland cannot assume that Pakistan's authorities will provide transparent information, according to Hottinger: “If it was the Taliban, Switzerland can expect help from Pakistan. It looks different when resistance fighters are responsible for the act. " Because the authorities denied that there were any separatists at all. "Officially, these are robbers and criminals." Consequently, resistance fighters could not be responsible either. Islamabad would therefore misinform Bern. (ks / so)