Impending disaster of Baluchistan to Pakistan

Location of Balochistan in Pakistan

Pakistan to all intents and purposes, was indeed carved out on the underpinnings of religion from its womb called Hindustan in which Islam was said to play a unifying role. But Pakistan that emerged has been ethnically and linguistically an amalgam of complex states. Pashtun’s and Punjabi’s are scattered along length and breadth of country while the tribal population is mostly concentrated in federally administered tribal areas. These groups have often claimed that they are a nation in itself. They have reacted variously, some have sought greater autonomy within Pakistan, and some have outright rejected the mantle of central government and sought independence given the hegemonic designs of central government as reflected in the imposition of Urdu language, the language of microscopic minority of Pakistan on majority. Since Pakistan has been created on the basis of fear of domination by majority called Hindus, not necessarily on the consent of majority of Muslims who stayed back and rejected its ideological underpinnings. Safe space was sought for the people called Muslims in which they can remain wedded with their cultural identity and can maintain it also. Immediately after formation of separate homeland for Muslims called Pakistan this theory was put to test when Jinnah declared that Urdu would be the national language of Pakistan. At the outset its formation its leadership created fear in the people of Pakistan that all is not well and it spelt that it was suffering from some genetic abnormality which found reflection in the shape of various bamboozling challenges to it. At one time active separatist movement have emerged in NWFP, Baluchistan, Sind but they also found to have links to neighboring states like N.W.F.P with Afghanistan and Baluchistan with Afghanistan and India. The conflict which is challenging the very genesis of Pakistan which if matured will sound a death knell to the state of Pakistan. But the raw dealing given by Pakistan seems that there is not only the lack of democratic temperament to go after accommodation process but the bitter truth that emergence of Bangladesh has taught to Pakistan has been put in the cold storage.

Nawab Akbar Bugti, former Minister of State for Interior and former Governor of Balochistan in Pakistan
Nawab Akbar Bugti, former Minister of State for Interior and former Governor
of Balochistan in Pakistan

To hold such culturally diverse nation unified it has been a Himalayan blunder to rely solely on the leadership of Jinnah and a common faith called Islam. Jinnah spoke of kind of Pakistan in which the provincial differences would be subsumed or given up. He asserted that “you have carved out a territory, it is all yours; It does not belong to Punjabi, Sindhi, Pathan or now lost a Bengal.  It is all yours, you have got your central government where several units are represented, therefore if you want to build yourself into a nation, give up parochialism”. Ayoub khan a military man saw need for a strong center to hold the country together. Similar syndrome within Yahaya khan engendered a separatist movement which resulted in vivisection of Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto pursued tough state centric policy and went ruthlessly after Balochis. Similarly Zia ul Huq snubbed at the concept of multinational Pakistan where Punjabi’s, Baluchi’s, Sindhi’s would be entitled to local self-rule. At the very basis of these disgruntled ethno cultural groups is the ‘Lahore resolution’ which called for creation of state where constituent units would be autonomous and sovereign. The separatist movements have indeed challenged the premises of Pakistan’s every demand by national self-determination or autonomy by ethno cultural minorities is rejected outright and viewed through rose colored spectacles and assumed as threat to territorial integrity of Pakistan. The threat that these groups are often used by the central government as a bargaining chip to satisfy their own maximalist position. As Pakistan failed to produce and solve its festering language puzzle and evolve a workable constitutional framework, it experimented with three different constitutions but every time, were short fused producing negative fallout of creating a highly centralized state.

Economic richness and state poverty

Baluchistan is sparsely populated and underdeveloped region occupying southwest of Pakistan bordering Iran, but houses significant gas and oil resources. The economic development of the region has not been slowed and strangulated by the rising insurgency but also by the brutal methods of crushing. Noted Pakistani academician Adeel khan, is of the view that “Baluchi nationalism emerged in tribal set up well before the partition of India and was opposed to Baluchistan’s accession to Pakistan, after partition Pakistan turned Baluchi nationalism into a potent force which attracted internationalism terrorism.” Pakistan which has already suffered vivisection of its territory can’t afford to lose control of its resource endowed region called Baluchistan. Apart from proven oil and gas resources the region also has huge gold, coal, copper, iron ore, lead ,zinc,  titanium and uranium which can be a handy weapon in such an energy starved country as well as 600miles coastline which further enhance its strategic importance and provides easy access to Persian gulf. Asia Sentinel noted that Pakistan has an estimated 25.1 trillion cubic feet of proven gas resources of which 19 trillion are in Baluchistan alone. While according to oil and gas journal, Pakistan has proven oil resources of about300 million barrels again most of which is in Baluchistan. If such abundant resources are exploited in the province what the province gets back. If Pakistani writer and columnist Babar Ayaz is to be believed he writes that “royalty goes into provincial kitty but not much trickles down to the people of area. In all fairness what people get are peanuts.” The veracity of this statement can be fathomed and verified by the statement of Salman Rafi Sheikh a Pakistani researcher, which appeared in Asia Sentinel that 22 percent of Baluchi are illiterate verses 47 percent of the country as a whole and 20 percent Balochis have access to drinking water versus 86 percent as a whole. Balochis are poor not only in terms of development and basic services but in terms of power. Sheikh wrote, the common people are powerless at the bottom while their politicians are powerless at the top. The turning point came when Musharraf the president killed the Nawab Akbar Bugti. Before his death he has submitted a list of demands to the Islamabad which among other things called for greater local control over natural resources, more autonomy from Islamabad, moratorium on construction of new military basis, all these were short of independence. Akbar Bugti wanted government to spend 5 percent of its earning in Baluchistan betterment.

Failure of politics, the tragedy

Baluchistan was originally Kalat state entailing Makran, The Khan of Kalat came in contact with British when Indian army crossed over Bolan Pass into Afghanistan in 1838. By treaty of 1876 foreign affairs and defense of Kalat were taken over by the British government. The Khan of Kalat Mir Khudadad handed over Quetta and Niabat district to British for annual payment of rupees 25000. On the eve of partition, Khan of Kalat did merge his state with Pakistan; the Baluch Sardars of his Jirga (a tribal assembly of elders which takes decision by consensus) were not interested in doing anything sans settling the issue of provincial autonomy. By the accession, Pakistan was to control foreign affairs, defense and communication leaving rest in the kitty of state. Jinnah had promised to work out the niceties of his merger but after his death the matter landed in his cabinet which made a mess of the whole issue and used the old political British gimmick of carving out three states of Kalat; Kharam, Lasbella and Makran engendering the first uprising against the Pakistani government. This was time when political obituary of the state was written. The Pakistani government co-opted most of the sardars but Abdul Karim the younger brother of Khan of Kalat formed peoples party and tried albeit unsuccessfully to cajole the sardars to back the creation of autonomous state within the political framework of Lahore resolution. But the upsetting time for Baluchistan came when Pakistan was declared one unit during Iskander Mirza. Baluch people vehemently resented the application of one unit scheme to them so that their culture could have continued. When martial law was declared in 1958, the first brigade of Pakistan’s moved in. But it does not signify it remained unchallenged, as the opposition to one unit assumed underground nature Sher Mohammad Marri, Sardar Attaullah Mangal, the veteran Nairosa Khan Chief of Sarawan tribes retreated to mountains. It was ruthlessly crushed with Yahya khan in power and one unit was put to end but simultaneously Baluchistan was recognized as fourth province in 1970. As French scholar Christophe Jefferlot writes “Baluch nationalist movement developed mostly in reaction to policies of Pakistan state when they affected not only the interest of Kalat but also larger groups”. Several Baluch tribes shared grievances against the government in 1958 ranging from under-representation in the local bureaucracy, to the imposition of one unit scheme. Marris had initiated Baluchistan Liberation Front, it received the endorsement of Bugtis and Menegals especially Ayoub Khan’s response to Baluch demand took a brutal turn. The hardball game of center resulted in the execution of old chieftain Sardar Nauroz Khan after he was called for talks by army; it not only virtually closed the door for democratic accommodation but also added a new dimension to the challenge called radicalization. Even when attempt was made by the Balochis government to undo the historic injustice of underrepresentation, it was sabotaged by the central government like in 1972 a coalition formed by National Awami Party led by Wali Khan into which peoples party has merged and the Jamiatul Ulamai Islam won the election in Baluchistan. The chief minister Attaullah Mengal announced his determination to localize the administration of Baluchistan by replacing outsiders with the sons of the soil. The central government strongly opposed it, as it would deprive the national elite from the vantage positions. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto dismissed him in February 1973 alleging the weapons found at home of Iraqi military attaché were intended for it. Akbar Bugti is said to have supported Bhutto in removing the government in Quetta and was immediately patted by making him the governor of the province before he fell out with Bhutto. The Pakistan once again sent the army to crush the uprising with logistic support of the Shah of Iran who himself was expecting a spillover effect in his own state.

Zia ul Huq appeased a segment of Baluch nationalist by releasing several thousand prisoners and amnesty to those who had fled to Iran or Afghanistan. Among the exiles were Attaullah Khan Mengal who while in London formed Sindhi Baluch Pashto front and supported an armed struggle to achieve a confederate regime. While Khair Bux Marri landed in Afghanistan formed Baluchistan liberation Army in 1980s and espoused the formation of greater Baluchistan that would entail Baluchi territories in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. Those within Pakistan adopted moderate stance and sought to pressurize Islamabad to enforce better government, it campaigned in favor of redrawing province borders limiting them to areas where it is spoken. General Musharraf who seized power in 1999 prepared the ground for a Baluch insurgency in two ways. First, the military rigged the elections and reinvigorated its long standing alliance with mullahs helping Majlis e Mahal a confederation of religious Islamic parties to gain power in Baluchistan. Musharraf introduced a decentralization plan that amounting to forming of local governments which were directly linked with Islamabad. It was actually political centralization maneuver which only antagonized the Baluch leaders. The Baluch middle class mobilized through Baluchistan student organization and Baluchistan national movement led by Abdul Haye to protest against underrepresentation in the Pakistani state apparatus. No single Baluchi is at the helm of affairs of any of 2000 corporations, not single Baluch is Pakistan’s ambassador he asserted. While Pakistan people’s party formed government it formed a Shaheed Benazir Reconciliation commission on Baluchistan which handed its report in October 2008 .It took more than a year to present to Pakistan the measures for political reconciliation. It suggested return of exiles, release of Baloch leaders, investigation of Akbar Bugti murder, moratorium on building new garrisons, increasing control over resources, for new development projects approval of provincial government was must. But Baloch nationalist rejected the action plan and sought greater autonomy as well as halt to military operations.

Unusual means fail to deliver

Given the strategic position of the Baluchistan everyone is interested to exploit its resources at cost of Baluch people who continue to suffer from certain deprivations. The prince of defunct Kalat state prince Mohyuddin Baloch asserted ‘that if someone thinks that Baloch organization has vanished into thin air he is mistaken, no doubt Baluch leaders are abroad, others lie low within country, but all resisting groups are part of Baluch nation and everyone has its sphere of influence.  The argument of deploying the unusual measures to combat the unusual situation particularly national security sphere is an old one. But employing means that have repeatedly failed to deliver the goods would surely make the same think of that Einstein’s description of insanity. Some Baluch have dreams of a political union of ethnic Baluchis spread out across Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. Zia Ur Rehman, a Karachi based security analyst says some insurgents groups like Baluchistan liberation front want complete independence from Pakistan. Further complicating the chaotic scenario is gruesome campaign of murders against minority Shiite Muslims by Islamic Sunnis in and around provincial capital Quetta as well as attacks on Hazaras a Shia community. As Islamabad sought to develop Gwadar port seeking to transform it into a key oil supplying hub between straits of Hormuz and Far East of Africa. Nawabzada Mehran Marri a Baluch representative at United Nations human rights council questioned the Pakistan’s right to Gwadar and its access to Baluch national resources. According to Human Rights Watch, Pakistan is dealing with Baluch problem with extreme brutality. It put the blame squarely on Pakistan’s much feared security grid which is not counter-insurgency; it is barbarism said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director. Officials have time and again denied it. Some senior officials have repeatedly believe that Baluch separatists are financed by regional powers. It sometimes blames Iran as well as Afghanistan and India for fomenting the rebellion. The Rand Corporation’s Blank said while insurgents have received some limited external support, they must be viewed as indigenous movements rather than foreign proxy wars. “Iran has little to gain in creating discord in Baluchistan and a great deal to lose. Such development for Iran would mean loss of territory and resources.” Extra-judicial killings, torture, illegal detentions carried out by security forces and intelligence network are surely on the rise. Much has also been attributed to rise of aid that India provides through its consulate in Afghanistan.

Conflicts in Quetta is largely rivalries between the Baluch and the Pashtuns. It is usually not talked about, but it may become elephant in the room if Baluchis continue to lose ground vis a vis the Pashtuns who dominate the local economy. The growing influence of Pashtuns may be one of the challenges facing the Baluch nationalists in their own province in addition to a large number of Hazaras from Afghanistan living in Quetta. They thrive in the army owing to their decent level of education. Ethnic boundaries have also been blurred by population shifts. If Baluchistan ever gets self-determination, apprehensions are that it would slip into internal war amongst various groups and tribes similar to what happened in Afghanistan over the years. Each tribe has been divided into pro-Pakistan and pro-independence group and such fragmentation of tribes is solace for the Pakistani establishment as they follow a divide and rule policy.

The historical lesson for Pakistan

Although the crisis in Baluchistan is assuming threatening dimensions, it is not irremediable provided the national and provincial elections are free and fair. The restoration of participatory representative institutions is the key to keep Baluchistan a part of the united Pakistan and save it from fragmentation.