The violence against foreign aid workers in Pakistan, [see CHUP's related post] has garnered significant Western media attention. Jackie, an American working for a social enterprise in Karachi and CHUP’s correspondent, [see all of her past posts] commented on the recent kidnapping of John Solecki in Balochistan, [read more about his kidnapping]. Although media reports surfaced that he had been killed, news agencies reported today that Solecki is still alive. Below, Jackie discusses her feelings on the overarching issue:
John Solecki, head of UNHCR in Quetta, was kidnapped in Balochistan on February 2nd. His driver, a staff member at the UN for over 18 years was murdered in the attack. Recently, almost every Urdu news channel looped a video clip of a white man, presumably Solecki, nodding his head back and forth and murmuring. It wasn’t a particularly long or revealing clip – it was difficult to see anything as the man was blindfolded and it was just a head shot. I turned on DAWN News and they too were playing the clip with a quote on the bottom of the screen that read – John Solecki: “I don’t feel well.”
It was revealed that the Balochistan Liberation United Front (BLUF), a never before heard of group, kidnapped Mr. Solecki and demanded the return of “141 women in security custody and over 6,000 ‘missing’ people” (DAWN) in addition to Balochi independence, in exchange for Mr. Solecki’s safe release. A follow up piece in DAWN last weekend quoted government officials who stated, “Their [BLUF’s] demands are not based on facts.” The government claimed there are no women in custody and that the missing people figures were closer to 1000. I believe the real numbers lie somewhere in between these two claims. I empathize with the Balochi complaint that the government unfairly discriminates against the province but when horrific acts such as these occur it becomes very difficult to maintain this view. Violence breeds further violence and alienates sympathetic observers from the cause.
This event and other recent, similar acts of violence carried out against aid workers and journalists leave me thoroughly disheartened. The myriad of issues this country faces is depressing enough, to add to this already bleak situation, violence perpetrated against outside parties who come to help is demoralizing. I say this from the perspective of an American in Pakistan hoping to create some positive change. I have many problems with US foreign policy, particularly in this region, and specifically chose to work outside of the US government framework. Mr. Solecki lives and works in Quetta, assisting Pakistan. I am not suggesting that grandiose gestures of gratitude are necessary, and I acknowledge complaints many raise regarding UN/NGO work, but kidnapping and/or murdering aid workers is a despicable act.
Why did this group who seeks Balochi independence kidnap this man? To draw international attention to the problems Balochistan faces – i.e. to grab headlines. Why must you attack someone who is working to improve your area of the country – an area that, as you so often point out, is ignored by your own government? The group has claimed that the UN is ‘not doing enough’ for their problems. This infuriates me – people criticize international organizations (and the West in general) for getting involved in global problems, but then become incensed when they feel their particular issue or problem is not addressed. The UN has several active programs in Pakistan; UNHCR works to provide assistance to Afghan refugees, a hugely important issue for both Pakistan and Afghanistan. By working to provide services to this marginalized population, it stabilizes a potentially difficult group that would only aggravate the problems Balochistan face.
In saying this, I do not mean to portray international organizations as godly, benevolent entities. These organizations are rife with problems and hypocrisies, but I believe their mandates are worthy and it is already difficult to remain dedicated to a challenging task without the added threat of violence. I empathize with some of the anti-American sentiments the majority of this country expresses, but when acts such as these are committed the question of ‘why help?’ emerges. While I understand that many Balochi people feel they have been wronged by their government, they should not take their frustrations out on an entity that seeks to improve their region. Perhaps they feel – why should the UN help the Afghans in Balochistan when the Balochis themselves face so many problems? But, that is not the mandate of UNHCR and, more importantly, a refugee problem of this magnitude is a serious issue for Balochistan. Also, UNHCR played a very active role following the October 2008 earthquake – assisting both Afghans and Pakistanis.
There are other, more productive, ways to draw attention to your issue than kidnapping those working to improve the community, and certainly more appropriate people/groups to direct your anger towards. I recognize that BLUF’s actions do not reflect the wishes of all Balochi people, but violent attacks against aid workers who live outside of their country, working to improve the livelihoods of people from an entirely different part of the world utterly disgust and dishearten me. [Image from Malik Siraj Akbar Writes]