Balochistan, forgotten indeed!

Pakistan today is on the verge of a civil war. As explained in this space last week, Pakistan’s U-turn on its Afghan policy has resulted in a catastrophe. The demons of extremism, unleashed by Pakistan itself, have come to haunt us today in the form of local Taliban. The Northern Areas and NWFP remain in focus these days due to the increased militancy. But while all this is going on, we must not forget another province that is also on fire – Balochistan.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) recently released its report, ‘Pakistan: The Forgotten Conflict in Balochistan’, which once again highlighted how the Musharraf government tried to tackle a political problem with military might. This inevitably resulted in an armed resistance by the Baloch people. The government might label the insurgency as ‘anti-state’, but it is far from that. The insurgency is the result of the Centre’s faulty policies from the day Pakistan emerged on the world map.

“Within 24 hours of the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the Khan of Kalat (the largest ‘princely state’ in Balochistan) declared independence. On April 1, 1948, the Pakistani army invaded and the Khan capitulated. His brother, Karim, continued to resist with around 700 guerrillas but was soon crushed. Islamabad merged the four provinces of West Pakistan into ‘One Unit’ in 1954. This was a bid to counter the strength of East Pakistan (which later became Bangladesh) and the possibility of the minority provinces (Balochistan, NWFP, Sindh) uniting with the east against Punjab. A large anti-One Unit movement emerged in Balochistan. To crush this movement the Pakistan Army again invaded. The Khan of Kalat was arrested and large-scale arrests were carried out” (Fulcher, Ray, ‘Balochistan’s history of insurgency’, Green Left Weekly issue number, 693, December 6, 2006).

After the fall of Dacca in 1971, the morale of the whole country had hit rock-bottom. There were chances that the leftover Pakistan might not be able to sustain this blow and the restive nationalist forces within the west wing (which is now ‘Pakistan’) might try to get independence as well. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto formed his government at the Centre around that time. Being the first civilian to become both the President of Pakistan as well as the Chief Martial Law Administrator, Bhutto then embarked on a mission to bring about national reconciliation. It was in this context that Bhutto got the nationalists on board. Since Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was not able to win any seat in Balochistan, he let the National Awami Party (NAP) form the first government in Balochistan, in alliance with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), a Pashtun-majority party. Ataullah Mengal became the chief minister while Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo became Balochistan’s governor. The 1973 Constitution was passed with the help of the Baloch leadership. It was thought that though insufficient, the new Constitution would be able to provide a semblance of provincial autonomy for the provinces. But this was not to be. Bhutto still viewed the Baloch and Pashtuns as ‘anti-state’, but had only made a tactical move of forming a government of nationalists in Balochistan to give himself some credibility before going to the Simla Summit in 1972. As soon as his purpose was served, provocation after provocation was initiated in Balochistan. This perturbed the Baloch nationalists. When they protested, Bhutto dissolved the NAP government. A military operation was then launched in Balochistan.

The Baloch resistance movement turned out to be quite formidable and gave a bloody nose to the military. But due to lack of logistics and other such factors, the movement ended after a few years. When General Ziaul Haq assumed power, he tried to pacify things with the Baloch, but even then the central government did not give much leeway to the provinces. Despite being a resource-rich region (oil, gas, coal, gold, copper, silver, platinum, aluminium and uranium, apart from many untapped energy reserves), Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan, has largely remained underdeveloped. The province gets only a small percentage out of the budget because it has the lowest population, thus it is neglected by the federal government. This is one of the major reasons for Balochistan’s antagonism against the Centre. Provincial autonomy is the other major bone of contention between the Centre and Balochistan. The uneven distribution of power favours “the federation at the cost of the federal units” (‘Pakistan: The worsening conflict in Balochistan’, Asia Report N°119 – 14 September 2006, International Crisis Group). Since Pakistan has a Punjabi-dominated military and government, its other three provinces feel marginalised. Balochistan suffers the most.

General Musharraf has proved to be yet another authoritarian ruler like his predecessors. His policies vis-à-vis Balochistan have been even more draconian than those of the past rulers. A military operation was started in Balochistan in 2005 during the Musharraf regime. Nawab Akbar Bugti, an establishment man throughout his life, was killed by the Musharraf regime in 2006, presenting him as a nationalist even though he was not part of the Baloch nationalist movement. The insurgency gained momentum following Bugti’s death. Although the Baloch are ready to talk to the government, provided it guarantees that the province gets its due rights, the Musharraf regime does not seem willing. In fact, the security forces launched another military operation in Nushki area of Balochistan just last month. The establishment has always maintained that its enemy (read India) is fanning the anti-state elements in Pakistan. Whether it was the separation of East Pakistan in 1971, the unrest in Balochistan in the 1970s and now, or the militancy in the tribal areas these days, the establishment is fond of putting the blame on the ubiquitous ‘foreign hand’ (read Indian hand). This seems rather ironic given the fact that it was not India that massacred the people in East Pakistan; it was Pakistan’s army that did that. It was not India that denied the Baloch their rights; it was Pakistan’s government that deprived them of their rights. And India did not create the mujahideen; we did! Instead of admitting that in actuality the internal factors are responsible for the crises, the establishment resorts to shifting the blame on the ‘external’ factors. It is high time that the establishment admitted its own faults rather than blaming outsiders.

Musharraf’s government is not doing things different from previous governments when it comes to dealing with Balochistan. Its much vaunted mega projects like the Gwadar port are largely seen as a move to marginalise the Baloch by introducing settler-colonialism in Balochistan. Due to lack of educational institutions in the province, a large segment of the Baloch populace remains uneducated. This handicap has deprived the Baloch people of their right to acquire high jobs. This is quite evident in the Gwadar port, where people from other provinces, like Punjab, have got high jobs while the Baloch are only able to get menial jobs. The same situation persists in other projects ostensibly started to uplift the living standards of the people of Balochistan. Worse, the constitutional package, prepared by a body headed by Wasim Sajjad, that would have given the Baloch a modicum of provincial rights and addressed some of their grievances is gathering dust. The same fate has befallen the recommendations for redress of political complaints. Having alienated the Baloch through patently imprudent acts, including the killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the Centre is trying to paper over the marks left by its ugly acts by projecting the Baloch’s struggle for their inalienable rights as a foreign-sponsored insurgency. Ensnared in the tribal areas, the government can hardly afford belittling the Baloch struggle by labelling it as anti-state. It must accept the reality of it as a struggle for just rights and open dialogue rather than stoking Baloch emotions further.


Ali Baloch said…
Dear Mehmal Sarfraz,

Thank you for your sincere effort to shed light on the Baloch issue. We have uploaded it to our site and hope you continue your good work.

thank you,
Ali Baloch

Balochvoice web team member

Balochvoice Web Team: Dislike for Slavery
For information about Baloch and Balochistan check
mehmal said…
Dear Mr Baloch,

I really feel flattered that Baloch-Voice has picked out my column, it's such an honour for me. Thank you!

Btw, I am a Baloch myself (though I've never been to Balochistan). My boss was associated with the Baloch national struggle in the 1970s, and I've learned a lot from him. So don't worry, we will continue highlighting this issue :)
Anonymous said…
Truth is, the Baloch people have fought more amongst themselves then with the establishment. Instead of trying to blame the establishment (or the Jewish Lobby) for everything that goes wrong, I wish people would start putting their house in order.

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