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A Dark Christmas in Balochistan

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As the joy of Christmas dawned worldwide from Manila in the east to Managua in the west, and places in between, the spirit celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace bypassed Pakistan.

Most of the country was distracted by the frenzy of a cricket match against rival India, while its tiny Christian population was observing one of their darkest years ever.

But the condition of Pakistan's Christians on this, their "dark Christmas," paled when compared to what was unfolding in the country's southwest region at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

In fact, on Christmas Eve, the Pakistan Army launched a military operation in Balochistan that resulted in a massacre in the city of Mashkay.

Balochistan is home to a 60-year-old, on-again, off-again armed insurrection fought by three generations of guerrillas seeking independence from Islamabad's clutches. Deccan Walsh of the Guardian describes the conflict as "Pakistan's secret dirty war."

While the world observed Christmas and Pakistanis were glued to their TV sets watching cricket, Pakistan troops in armoured personal carriers backed by helicopter gunships circled the town and claimed the FC (Frontier Corps) had "killed many BLF [Baloch Liberation Front] men." Baloch politicians, bloggers and exiles, however, claimed the army action resulted in the death of 32 civilians.

The Pakistan Military claims Mashkay had harboured guerrillas of the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF). The fact is, Mashkay is the hometown of the leader of the BLF guerrillas, physician Dr. Allah Nazar, who has given up his practice and has fled to the mountains from where he and his group of mostly urban nationalist youth have staged hit-and-run attacks on army checkpoints.

The Pakistan Army, frustrated by its inability to quell the rebellion that has widespread support among the civilians of Balochistan, has now resorted to tactics of the U.S. Military in Vietnam, where entire villages were destroyed if it was suspected they had given sanctuary to the Viet Minh and later the Viet Cong.

In the adjoining village of Mehi, birthplace of Dr. Nazar, the army is said to have expelled the population and set fire to several mud huts.

Sporadic protests against the military operation have taken place in Pakistan's major cities, but most of the country stays unaware of the massacres taking place in Balochistan, where over 14,000 young men have died or have disappeared in the last 10 years of conflict that has seen the assassination of many political leaders while others have fled the country into self-imposed exile.

The chairman of Baloch National Movement (BNM), Khalil Baloch, criticized world powers including America and Iran for supporting the Pakistani state, adding that "their aid to Pakistan is being used against Baloch nation."

The most significant reaction came from the former chief minister of Balochistan, Akhtar Mengal who also heads the Balochistan National Party (BNP) and seeks a peaceful settlement.

Mengal has written to Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the next U.S. Secretary of State, asking him to invoke "The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009," to immediately suspend all American aid to Islamabad. Mengal is referring to the U.S. law that carries John Kerry's name and is better known as the Kerry-Lugar Bill.

It authorizes the release of $1.5-billion per year of American aid to the government of Pakistan, but with one caveat: Every six months the Secretary of State has to provide assessments of whether Pakistan's civilian government has effective control over the country's armed forces, including "oversight and approval of military budgets."

In the letter, former chief minister Mengal told Senator Kerry, "there is clear evidence that Pakistan's civilian government has lost 'effective control and oversight' over a military that is committing widespread atrocities and war crimes inside Balochistan."

Other exiled leaders in Toronto, London, Geneva and Dubai have expressed alarm at the Christmas Day campaign that is still underway, with no coverage in any of the national or international media.

Zaffar Baloch, President of the Baloch Human Rights Council (BHRC) in Canada, condemned the Pakistan Army's operation in Mashkay, Balochistan, saying it "is part of a broader plan of action to curtail the freedom struggle of the Baloch nation... and inflict a slow-motion genocide on the Baloch people," echoing the words of scholar Selig Harrison in Le Monde.

One tweet from an exile in Dublin, Ireland summed up the frustration of the Baloch. Faiz Baloch tweeted:

"Dear America, your recent $700 million aid to Pakistan will be used for death & destruction in Balochistan. Jets bombarding from last 3 days."