Baluchistan In Crisis
By Jahanzeb Hussain & Jannat Majeed
03 August, 2012
The sheer magnitude of violence in Baluchistan is unknown to most people who do not live in Baluchistan. Many in Pakistan turn a blind eye toward the situation in Baluchistan, which is consistent with Pakistani public attitudes regarding deep-seated ethnic and linguistic grievances that characterise the existence of the country, as well as toward the frequent military actions against the litigants that have punctuated the South Asian country’s history since its inception in 1947. The purpose of this paper is to inform the readers, especially non-Baluch Pakistanis, why there have been five armed insurgencies by the people of Baluchistan; what is the recent political and social history of Baluchistan in light of which we might be able to appreciate Baluch concerns about their status in the country; what are the roots of Baluch resentment and nationalism; to what extent are the Baluch concerns and the demands justified; what has been the institutional response to the Baluch crisis, as well as the role of the ordinary, non-Baluch Pakistani citizen so far. The paper aims to debunk the myths that have been created by the Pakistani state, especially the army, about Baluchistan, its people, its cultural heritage, its political demands, and the nature of the insurgency. Conversely, once these myths are dismissed, the real response of Pakistani institutions and its reasons, which is largely ignored by the non-Baluch Pakistani public, will come to the fore; thus, a truer picture, one based on facts rather than the usual lies and deceit, would be seen regarding Pakistan`s most neglected province. One hopes that this paper will be able to ring enough alarm bells for the affluent sectors of the Pakistani public to wake up from the slumber in which they have found comfort for too long, and will push them to break the illusions they have internalised about the very foundation of the Pakistani state, of the Pakistani society, and especially that of the sanctity of its army. August 2012 marks the 65th year of the creation of Pakistan, and the urgency to address one of the most underreported cases of state brutality against an ethnic minority has never been greater. This comes at a conjunction where it is becoming increasingly evident to a large mass of Pakistanis, especially the youth, even in traditionally powerful sectors of the society, that the need to revaluate the entire notion of Pakistan, to reinterpret the historic discourse regarding its existence, and to challenge each and every action by the state and the army under the garb of national defence is imperative if the country is to have a viable future, if any.
Baluchistan is the largest province of Pakistan, constituting almost 43% of the country’s territory. However, it comprises of only 5% of Pakistan’s total population, based on the last census in 1998. But, at the same time, it is Pakistan’s most ethnically and linguistically diverse province. Traditionally, it has been inhabited by the Baluch, Makranis, and the Pashtuns – each group also has its own, distinct language(s), as well as heritage and social customs. It can be said that all of these groups form a separate nation within the same province when compared to each other, especially the Pashtuns. In the second half of the 19th century after the British took complete control of the majority of the Indian Subcontinent, an influx of Sindhis and Punjabis started in Baluchistan, the consequences, as well as the nature and continuity, of which are of great importance in order to comprehend Baluch restlessness today. We will return and elucidate this point further.
There has never been a centralized authority in Baluchistan. Only once in its history has there been a semblance of a modern state with centralized and bureaucratic powers. This was the case in the 18th century when the 6th Khan of Kalat – Kalat is the historic power centre of the province – established a unified Baluch army of 25,000 men and organized the Baluch tribes under an agreed military and administrative system. It is important to note that, even though this state-building effort was indigenous, Nasir Khan was unable to unite the different tribes for a common purpose, except for in the case of state-exercised coercion. The state was based almost entirely on the personal charisma of Nasir Khan, and after his death there was no authority to hold the state together; therefore, the death of the state came with Khan’s death. This aspect of tribal rejection of a centralized authority is vital to take note of since it informs us how un-natural it is to have a state system in a society with traditional structures of power and social cohesion. Hostility to the state is common in Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan, since they are societies with ancient (the term ancient here is not meant to be used in a condescending or a paternalistic way, unlike how it is generally employed by Eurocentric observers) methods of organizing a society. This is because the modern state is a totalising structure as it centralises decision making power and divorces a society from self-management. It also creates astronomical hierarchies, and with its centralized and professional police and army, enhances the coercive capabilities of those who run the state. It super-imposes an alien authority over a given society, especially in the case of ethnically or racially sensitive situations when the state is dominated by another group which has no direct relations to the given land and society. The modern state is also foreign, not just to this region, but to every non-European corner of the globe. The seeds of the nation-state have been planted in other parts of the world by European imperialist powers; and as was the case in Europe, it was installed in the colonies with a great amount of violence. Furthermore, one of the hallmarks of the pathologies of power in the Third World and post-colonial countries is the acceleration and aggrandisement of the European-imposed nation-state system, which has resulted in worse violence by the de-colonised countries than the violence committed by colonial powers in these countries when they still had their empires. It is necessary to keep these elements in mind because they will help us understand the main reason for Baloch anger against Pakistan when we shed a light on them in the coming paragraphs.
When the British colonised historic India, Baluchistan didn’t come under direct administration of the English right away. Its status was that of a princely state, meaning that the ruler of Baluchistan kept his position but had to agree to a subordinate role to the Raj. He was not permitted to independently negotiate with another state and had to allow the British troop as safe passage through his region, as well as keep a check on anti-British tribes in his land. However, the British soon divided Baluchistan into seven parts. In far west, the Goldsmith line assigned roughly one-quarter of the area to Persia in 1871, and in the north the infamous Durand line handed over a small strip to Afghanistan in 1893. Part of Baluchistan was named British Baluchistan to be centrally administered by British India, whereas the rest of it was divided into a truncated remnant of the Kalat state and three puppet principalities.
An administrative system that was called the Sandeman system of administration was imposed on Baluchistan, which treated it as a political agency ruled through an indirect rule of the political agent of the governor general. The political agent acted as an advisor the Khan of Kalat. The Baluch tribes were free to manage their own affairs but when it came to important strategic issues they were not allowed to go against the will of the British. Under the indirect rule, a council of chiefs or the Shahi Jirga was established in which the tribal leaders could represent themselves politically. However, the Jirga was not an independent body but an institution working under the tutelage of the colonial administration and answerable to the British chief commissioner.
With these foreign interventions came colonial exploitation, disruptions to the hitherto existing modes of traditional economy, as well as the appearance of a new class of elites who benefited from the exploitative system put in place by the British. Modern economic development took place only to the extent that it was needed to serve the needs of the British administration; so, for example, railway lines, roads, and post offices were built to link rest houses and cantonments for British civil servants and troops. Market economy was introduced during the same period and immigration to the civil centres began, decreasing the number of nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes.
As was the case with the rest of colonised India, Baluchistan, too, was subjected to severe economic punishment by the British. During the last decades of the 19th century, there was an astronomical increase in taxation. For instance, during 1879-80 and 1902-3 there was an 82% tax increase in Sibi and, during 1882 and 1895, there was a 350% increase in the Quetta region. The tax was paid by the Baluch in wheat to the British troops. Whereas in Bengal the genocidal wheat taxation led to massive famines, Baluchistan was spared such a fate, but there was a rise in landless peasants. The second most significant aspect of British colonialism in India was the destruction of the native industry, especially cotton. In the same vain, Baluchistan`s local artisans were bankrupted when its market was flooded with British-made industrial goods. Simultaneous to the pauperisation of the Baluch, a new class of mercantile emerged which enriched itself by catering to the needs of the British. This class was made up entirely of Punjabis and Sindhis, thus marginalising the Baluch in their own lands. The Baluch resentment against the Punjabis and the Sindhis begins here.
We have already mentioned how hostility to state control is reflexive. Naturally, therefore, Baluchistan developed a clear nationalist political platform that demanded independence for Baluchistan and the British to quit their lands. The nationalist sentiment started to become a political vehicle after an armed campaign was launched in 1929 against the colonial administration and its policy of military recruitment. By 1935, the Kalat National Party made it implicit that the Baluch wish to live free after the departure of the British. There was no mention of adhering to Pakistan. This is because of two reasons: First, the Baluch wanted sovereignty. Second, the demand for Pakistan had not yet been articulated by the All-India Muslim League at this point in time, which is indicative of the confusing and ambiguous path that led to the eventual creation of Pakistan.
The main point that we should retain here is that the Baluch did not want to be a part of whatever eventual government(s) that would be instituted when the British exit India. The legal argument that the Baluch leaders gave was that, since Baluchistan had a special status under the colonial administration as compared to most of remaining parts of the Indian Subcontinent, its independence should be respected by the future government(s) and it should not be forced to join them. The same argument was made for Nepal as well. The legality of this demand was based on the 1876 treaty between kalat and the British. Article 3 of this treaty states that: the Treaty of 1876, which specifically stated in Article 3 that, “the British government on its part engages to respect the independence of Kalat, and to aid the Khan, in case of need, in the maintenance of a just authority and the protection of his territories from external attack”[Emphasis added]. A meeting on the subject of Kalat’s position relative to India and Pakistan was held in 1946 between Muhammad Aslam, the Prime Minister of Kalat, and the Nawab of Bhopal, the Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes, which was a body that was established to allow the rulers of Indian princely states to voice their concerns to the government of British India. The points agreed upon in this meeting were later recounted in a letter that Aslam wrote and included the reinforcement of the Treaty of 1876. Furthermore, it was agreed upon that, once the British relinquished control of Kalat, the rightful ownership of the territories would be restored to the Khan of Kalat. It was also emphasized that many Baluch tribes also wished to stay out of the Indian union and “preserve their natural existence”. Lord Mountbatten sought to hold yet another discussion on this matter in 1947. This meeting was more about the disputed areas of Baluchistan and whether they came under the sovereignty of the state of Kalat and the Khan. Because of disputes over which categories would become part of an independent Kalat – if there ever was to be one – and which princely states and areas would choose to remain with either Pakistan or India, it was recommended to the representatives from Kalat by Lord Mountbatten that they pick either Pakistan or India to become part of. Lord Mountbatten felt de facto independence for the princely states might be too much trouble. However, a final communiqué from the meeting declared that the government of Pakistan would recognize Kalat as an independent, sovereign state although logistical issues still remained to be discussed at a further date.
We should also mention that the legal advisor to the Baluch nationalists was none other than Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the leader of the All-India Muslim League and the future founder of Pakistan. What this shows is the utter fiasco of Jinnah`s leadership and political vision (it is rather overly generous to say that Jinnah had a political vision) in the lead up to the fateful events of August 14, 1947. On one hand, Jinnah was advising Baluchistan regarding its demands to be independent, while on the hand, he was presiding over a political party whose major constituency wanted a separate nation for Muslim-majority provinces of India, including Baluchistan. It can be confidently stated that Jinnah had very little idea of where and what his political program was going to lead to. Neither did he know till the last moment whether he was asking the Indian National Congress for a confederation of Muslim-majority provinces in a united India, whether he asking for a Muslim nation-state, or something else in between.
The political developments right after the creation of Pakistani nation-state confirms the traits of a post-colonial state that we alluded to earlier on. When Pakistan was born on 14th August, 1947, the Khan of Kalat refused to become a part of the newly formed country. Baluchistan offered Pakistan to set up special relations with it in regards of defence, foreign affairs, and communication. However, Pakistan refused. Later, the Khan held a session of the parliament of Kalat, known as the Darul- Awam, to discuss whether accession was a suitable option. The result of this meeting was that the Darul-Awam unanimously adopted a resolution stating that any relations that Kalat and Pakistan would engage in would be one between two sovereign states and not based on accession. But the Pakistani demands remained for an accession did not change, and the Pakistan army marched to Kalat to annex the province. Immediately, a revolt was launched by the Baluch in face of this forced annexation of their province. This was the first Baluch insurgency against Pakistan and it lasted until 1950 when the brother of the Khan of Kalat was finally arrested.
Pakistan continued to intervene in Baluchistan, and since Baluchistan did not have a legislative assembly, Jinnah appointed a governor general`s advisory council which was directly under his responsibility. To strengthen his grip on Baluchistan and other frontier areas, Jinnah created a ministry of states and frontier regions and, in an unparliamentarily manner, kept the ministry under his own control. To rule Baluchistan as a governor general`s province was so surprising that, at a press conference, Jinnah was asked if “he was in favour of a dictatorial form of government, rather than a democratic one”. Jinnah`s reasoning behind this was based on this view that, since the British are no longer in control of India, there is no need to oppose central authority anymore, for the central authority now happens to be indigenous. Therefore, in Jinnah’s eyes, any Baluch demand for regional autonomy, let alone independence, was illegitimate. Jinnah’s stance reveals to us his complete ignorance of the social and political realities of the country he came to be a founder of, as well as his disregard for the aspirations of the people who were living under the nascent state.
Baluchistan’s territorial integrity was later completely absolved when Pakistan announced the One Unit scheme in 1954 and imposed it the following year, under which Punjab, Sindh, North Western Frontier Province, and Baluchistan would be merged together to form West Pakistan in order to counterbalance the political and demographic strength of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Moreover, in 1958, after the Baluch defiance toward the central government continued, Pakistan army moved into the region for the second time in 11 years. Tanks and artillery were deployed, villages were bombed, and Nauroz Khan, the leader of a guerilla group, was imprisoned – where he later died – and his sons and others were hanged on treason charges.
It was only in 1970 – 23 years after the creation of Pakistan – that Baluchistan was accepted as a province of the country. This was the also the time when Pakistan had its first elected government in the country. In Baluchistan, National Awami Party (NAP) won the largest amounts of seats and, in alliance with Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI), established a provincial government in 1972. Up till this moment, Baluchistan was practically a Pakistani colony, administered by mostly Punjabi bureaucracy, as well as some Sindhis. Neglected by the centre, Pakistan’s largest province had a per capita income of $54 which was 60% that of Punjab and the lowest in Pakistan. The literacy rate of the Baluch was only 6%, whereas in the rest of the country it was 18%. Despite the fact that Baluchistan provided 80% of Pakistan’s gas supplies, thus not only powering the country’s industry but also saving US$275 million in foreign exchange per year, the central government did not build any infrastructure in order to provide gas to homes in Baluchistan. Punjab took most of the gas, followed by Sindh, but the province that was endowed with this natural resource was, in return, sold gas to in cylinders by these two provinces.
Baluch representation in the central government was also marginal. In the first three decades of Pakistan’s existence only 4 of the 179 persons who joined Pakistani cabinet at different points of time were ethnic Baloch. In 1979, Baluchistan had 830 higher civil servants but only 181 of them were held by actual Baluch. . There was zero Baluch representation in the diplomatic corps. The military continued in the colonial tradition and recruited heavily from Punjab – in 1970, 70% of the army officers were from Punjab and only 5% were Baluch. In the upper echelons of the army, the Baluch representation was even worse. The famous Baluch regiment did not have a single Baluch and the Kalat Scouts only had two people from Baluchistan. The same was the case with Sibi Scouts. These regiments and scouts were populated by Punjabis, some Sindhis and some Pashtuns. It is important to note that it was Lord Curzon in 1907 who ordered these regiments to be established in order to police Baluchistan. Instead of treating it as a colonial relic and getting rid of it, the Pakistani government cherished this tool of coercion and used it in the same imperial manner, if not more enthusiastically. The Baluch, rightfully, see this as a master-slave relationship. Internal security and law and order is generally understood to be the domain of the provincial government, but the federal government continues to have a control over these regiments, which increases Baluch indignation as they see it to be a tool in the hand of the government in order to dominate them. As far as the police force was concerned, Baluchistan constituted only 25% of its strength and the entire top hierarchy consisted of non-Baluch officers.
Therefore when NAP won the elections in Baluchistan and sought to rectify the above mentioned imbalances, they quickly ran into the fact that the Punjabi-dominated country had no intention of paying attention to Baluch grievances. Despite the fact that Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which was not a Punjabi political party per se, held central power after the elections, it did not change the basic power dynamics in Pakistan. The fundamental characteristic of (im) balance of power in Pakistan, which is the domination by Punjab, especially through the army, continued under Bhutto since he owed his electoral victory to that province. Moreover, Bhutto was a centralist and thus had no desire to grant provincial autonomy to Baluchistan. Further, it is an elementary truth in Pakistan that not a single important decision on strategic matters can be taken if it contradicts the wishes of the Punjabi-dominated army. In 1974, Government of Pakistan’s White Paper on Baluchistan was revealing on this matter. As stated earlier in the paper, non-Baluch settlers were seen as a threat by the Baluch people since they considered outside immigration to be a demographic danger and a way to insure perpetual marginalization of the Baluch in their own province. However, Bhutto made it clear that equal treatment must be given to non-locals in Baluchistan. Another major Baluch grievance against the central government stems from the manner in which Baluchistan’s gas resources are exploited by Punjab and Sindh. Here again, Bhutto’s government made it explicit that no attempt by Baluchistan to exercise rights over its own resources will be tolerated. Lastly, Baluch nationalism was regarded a threat not just by Pakistan but also by Iran; therefore, to maintain friendly relations with the Shah of Iran, who also happened to be in the pro-American camp in midst of the Cold War, was a matter of great importance for Bhutto.
Baluchistan government had correctly pointed out that the lack of development in their province was due entirely to the economic and political exploitation of Baluchistan by the centre. They also sought to transfer non-Baluch administrative staff out of the province because they saw institutional control of the province by non-Baluch to be colonial in nature. For them, true development of Baluchistan could not take place without indigenous control over the provincial institutions. However, it is not in the nature of a nation-state to tolerate demands for regional autonomy, and any such demand is seen as narrow-minded provincialism and tribalism. A nation-state only recognises nationalism as long as it conforms to the official nationalism of the state. In the case of Pakistan, state nationalism, by default, is the Punjabi interpretation of nationalism since Punjab is the only province of Pakistan which benefited from the creation of the country. As a consequence of the nation-state, Baluch attempts to gain autonomy was qualified as “anti-Pakistan”, a conspiracy to break up the nation by a people who were against the nation from the start.
After the centre-provincial power struggle turned bitter, central authorities had to resort to inventing a pretext to dismiss the NAP government. In 1973, in a well-orchestrated operation, Pakistani authorities entered the Iraqi Embassy in Islamabad and “discovered” a cache of 300 Soviet submachine guns and 48,000 rounds of ammunition. The government alleged that the weapons were destined for Baluchistan, some 1,300 kilometers south of the capital. The truth of the matter, however, happened to be that these weapons were for the Iranian part of Baluchistan where Iraq was supporting Baluch groups in response to the Iranian support of Iraqi Kurds. Why Pakistan would allow its territory to be used as a conduit for a proxy war between two different countries is a question that does not come to the minds of many, but the propped up scandal was enough of a justification for the central government to dismiss the democratically elected government of Baluchistan. In place of the NAP government, the governor’s law was re-imposed, thus going back to the colonial method of administrating the province.
An added misfortune to the non-Punjabi peoples of Pakistan is the Punjabi penchant to resort to violence against those who try to run their own affairs independently. Soon after the Bengalis suffered one of the greatest genocides of the past century at the hands of the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani army, it was the turn of Baluchistan to face the music. As a reaction to the central government’s measure to dissolve the NAP government, the Baluch launched a massive armed rebellion against the Pakistani state in 1973 which continued till 1977. The response of the Pakistan army was fierce as 80,000 troops were deployed in the province, backed by not only the Pakistani air force but also the Iranian air force. The Shah of Iran sent 30 US-made Cobra helicopters to the mission, many of which were flown by Iranian pilots. In addition, Iran provided $US200 million in emergency and financial aid to Pakistan. The army took this opportunity to make amends for their humiliation in Bangladesh and used brutal methods, such as poisoning rivers using cyanide and indiscriminately bombing Baluch villages, to suppress the uprising. 5,300 Baluch were killed during these four years, whereas the army lost 3,300 of its men.
Once the insurgency was crushed, the Baluch enthusiasm for independence subsided. The wisdom of taking up arms against a professional army was interrogated, and the answers were discouraging. It became evident that it was impossible for Baluchistan to achieve its aims through violence since Pakistan army’s response was always going to be much greater. The insurgency of the 70s was a spontaneous response to the illegal measures of the Pakistani federal government, which meant that the Baluch strategy when it came to challenging the state was very poorly thought out. Even though the choice to take up arms was motivated by legitimate grievances, in retrospect the insurgency proved to be a folly and a case of political adventurism. It was impulsive rather than rational. It began as a sporadic revolt and more tribes joined in only when they were outraged by Pakistan army’s heavy-handedness; therefore, it can be discerned that there was no unity of purpose and there was no common goal to be achieved. What were the Baluch trying to accomplish? Did they want a place within the state but wanted to acquire it by attacking the state? Or complete independence and creation of a state surrounded by hostile powers in the shape of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan? How independence could be achieved from a state which had just lost its majority province of Bangladesh and in which there were similar nationalist sentiments in Sindh, and which was thus bent on maintaining the unity of the country? Furthermore, why was the insurgency launched right after it was graphically demonstrated in Bangladesh the predilection of the Punjabi army to use violence? Also, how far could the insurgency have gone without any international political, diplomatic and armed support? These were the painful truths that crushed the insurgency. After 1977 when the uprising ended, many Baluch leaders left politics completely, many left the country in exile, some chose to live in seclusion, while others became mainstream politicians and were co-opted by the Pakistani state. It was a show of disappointment and disheartenment, as well that of refusal and resistance as numerous leaders of Baluchistan rejected to live under Punjabi domination by opting to wash their hands clean from politics and even turning their backs to the country entirely.
Before we go into the specific reasons behind the latest insurgency in Baluchistan which started to make itself felt after General Pervez Musharraf took power following a coup d’état in October 1999, we should take a look at the general picture of impoverishment which has not only continued but has become starker since the end of the 1973 insurgency. The army had a minimum quota for Baluchistan in terms of recruitment, which was increased to 15% in 1991. Simultaneously, the education standards for new recruits were dropped in order to facilitate entry for this underrepresented province. However, there was no effort to ensure that ethic Baluch were recruited from Baluchistan – the major beneficiary of this change in policy were the Pashtuns and other settlers in the province, and the Baluch were kept marginalised. In 1980 after the insurgency, military ruler Zia ul Haq sought to pacify the Baluch by promising them jobs in the government relative to the size of their population. As a result, 3.9% of the government jobs were reserved for people from Baluchistan. However, the Baluch continue to be very poorly represented in the government and even the minimum level of representation (3.9%) has not been met. As is the case with the army recruitment, there is no sensibility towards the demands of ethnic Baluch, and the reserved governmental places for Baluchistan continue to go to the Pashtuns. In 2002, out of a total of 14 provincial government secretaries in Quetta, only 4 were Baluch; of a total of 3,200 students at Baluchistan University, fewer than five hundred were Baluch; of a total 180 faculty members, only 30 were Baluch. It is clear to see, therefore, that there is no reason to dismiss Baluch sentiment that they are divorced from the state institutions in their own province and that these institutions are controlled by outsiders which helps them maintain their authority over Baluchistan.
Baluchistan’s main natural resources are its energy and mineral deposits, which provide sustenance for the rest of the country but have failed to raise living standards of the Baluch. The province provides 80% of Pakistan’s gas requirements; however, only 6% of people in Baluchistan have gas connection. All most all of the gas is siphoned off to Punjab, followed by Sindh. And the population only received this 6% after Zia ul Haq decided to have an army cantonment constructed in Quetta. Over here we can notice the similarity, and in the Baluch eyes continuity, between the development carried out by the British and the Pakistan army – both of them had infrastructure built to meet their own needs, instead of the local population. The cantonment in Quetta is inhabited by mostly Punjabi officers and other non-Baluch, which, once again, incenses the Baluch as their province is not only settled by those who exploit them but the provincial resources are spent on serving them inside Baluch lands. They are seen as land grabs and Baluchistan government has vociferously opposed the building of more cantonments in the province. The provincial government does not even have the authority to levy taxes on these cantonments. Moreover, much of these lands are taken by force, for example in Sui – the area where all the gas fields are located – 500 acres of land was forcibly occupied by the army after the citizens refused to sell them. The same was repeated in Kohlu. Furthermore, military installations are seen by Baluch leaders as tool by the centre to keep their hold on Baluchistan. In the case of the British, one could say that they were colonialists; but what can one say about the behaviour of the Pakistani army? There is no wonder that the Baluch, along with many other minorities in Pakistan, have never considered this country to be free and independent, since the white policeman has been replaced by the Punjabi policeman, to his convenience. The central government also gives some of the lowest gas royalty in the world to Baluchistan. Sui gas fields consist of 5 gas-wells and Baluchistan receives a mere 12.5% of the money that is generated from its gas reserves. Baluchistan also supplies the rest of the country with coal but almost all of the coalmines are owned and operated by non-Baluch. Baluchistan, instead of using its coal for its own population, has to buy and burn wood from Sindh as its coal is shipped off to other provinces. One last remark remains to be made regarding the gas royalties: When late Nawab Bugti refused to stay silent about this issue, Pakistan government, or rather the army since General Musharraf was in power at that time, tried to bribe and coerce him to stay in line. However, when their efforts failed and the Nawab continued to instigate against the army, the military launched an operation against him in 2006 in which he was killed. Pakistani propaganda portrayed the operation as a patriotic success, one in the direction of national economic development, since the old feudal lords were blocking investment and infrastructure projects out of their selfish interests. However, as we have seen, the picture that Pakistan has normally painted of Baluchistan is completely unfounded.
There are two other factors that contribute to Baluch resentment against Pakistan: ethnic marginalisation, and a lack of cultural freedom and recognition. After the first and second Afghan war, there was a large influx of Pashtun refugees from Afghanistan and also from the Pashtun regions of Pakistan. This, along with influx of people from Sindh and Punjab who are involved in the development projects in Gawadar, are a cause of concern for the Balcuh since it contributes to their marginalisation in their own province. If the current rate of influx continues, especially if Gawadar becomes another Karachi, then the Balcuh will become a minority in Baluchistan. Therefore, the identity crisis in Baluchistan is very real. Furthermore, as a result if Pashtun refugees, religious parties have started to gain foothold in the province, and this has led the nationalist parties to be somewhat sidelined. Since Pakistan army has an alliance with religious groups, such as the Muttahida Majlis Amal, further fuel has been added to the fire which is already blazing between Baluchistan and the centre. Last but not the least, there is prevailing racism against the ethnic Baluch in the country, especially towards the Makranis who live on the Makran coast of Baluchistan. In fact, the word Makrani has become a derogatory term, especially in the urban centers like Karachi, where to insult a darker-skinned person, the term Makrani is used. Pakistanis had an even greater racial contempt for the Bengalis, who are also dark-skinned. To give a personal anecdote to prove this point, when my mother was younger she used to have several cats at her house. One of the cats, which was not only black but was also less clean than the rest, was named Bengali. The dehumanisation and animalisation of Bengalis by the dominant ethnicities of Pakistan could match the Nazi hatred of Jews, if not surpass it. Similar racist tendencies are manifest against the people who live in Baluchistan. The Baluch people, their languages, their cultures and their modes of living are considered to be primitive in Pakistan and they are often described in terms that are undistinguishable from the discourse of 19th century European colonialists. Ethnic Baluch are not allowed to propagate their languages, and they face extreme difficulty and prejudice in staging their music and cultural activities on a national level, which, not only prevents the Baluch cultures to flourish, but also leads to further ignorance towards the Baluch people in Pakistan.
What remains for us to analyse are the reasons for the latest insurgency in Baluchistan. After General Pervez Musharraf came to power in October 1999 via a coup d’état, Baluch leaders felt even more alienated since, as it has been demonstrated in this paper, they have almost no representation in the Punjabi-dominated army. The Punjabis, through the army, happen to be the only ones who hold firm to the idea of a nation-state because they are the only ones who benefit from it. Thus, after the coup, the Baluch knew that their demands have no chance of being met. However, there is another issue which added to the problems that we have already talked about: Mega infrastructural projects, especially the construction of the Gawadar port. The announcement by Musharaf in 2001 that, with the participation of China, the coastal city of Gawadar will be turned into the Dubai of Pakistan, with a port and other facilities to be a hub that will link the country with the Gulf, Central Asia and Afghanistan, triggered a new wave of nationalist militancy in Baluchistan. Essentially, the underlying factors behind the latest manifestation of Baluch nationalism were the same: marginalisation of the Baluch in their own province. The Gawadar port project had no local participation and entire scheme, especially the channeling of funds, is under the control of the federal government, which basically means the Punjabi bureaucracy. The signal to the Baluch was evident when Musharraf made the announcement and signed the agreement with the Chinese Premier Wu Bangguo in March 2002, without a single representative of the Baluch provincial government being present at the ceremony.
What infuriates the locals even more is the way in which the central government has gone about grabbing the land from the Baluch in order to construct the port. The Gawader project is perhaps the biggest instance of land grab in Pakistani history. The locals owned the land for generations but because they lacked official government papers, the state declared their properties to be eligible for sale. Land was sold for peanuts to property developers and land mafia from Karachi and Lahore, while much of it was illegally allotted to civilian bureaucrats and military officers. The Baluch were left landless and all most all of these plots of lands have gone to the Punjabis. Even though the Punjabi army is notorious for stealing prime residential lands in Karachi, such as Defense and Karsaz, as well as fertile agricultural lands in rural Sindh, their latest way to confiscate land in Baluchistan by declaring it no-man’s land, just because the locals do not have official papers even though they have been living there for centuries, has broken all previous records when it comes to such mafia tactics. The provincial government has lost trillions of Rupees as a result. Practices like these constitute internal colonisation, which reminds us once again why ethnic minorities in Pakistan do not consider the country to be a de-colonised one. Since the announcement of the project, Punjabi real estate speculators have been buying up property in Quetta as well, which is the provincial capital of Baluchistan. A part from the Gawadar port, other projects include the Saindak copper project, the coastal highway and the Mirani dam. The problem with the rest of the projects is also the same: lack of local ownership and decision making. It may baffle Western observers and many in the Pakistani elite, but the hostility shown by Baluch leaders is completely justified when one makes an effort to listen to what they have to say. Except for the issues of ownership and control, most of the labour power which is required by these projects is brought in from Punjab, Sindh and the Pashtun areas, while ethnic Baluch are left on the side even more. Since Baluchistan has the lowest educational levels in the country and their languages are not valued (if valued at all) the same way as English is, management of these projects and positions requiring technical expertise, by default, have gone to those who are from outside of Baluchistan. It is estimated that 1 million workers are required to work at the Gawadar port, while the local population of the city in only 60,000. This is a nightmare scenario for the Baluch as it will lead to the local, ethic population being completely obliterated if that many people come and live in Gawadar from the outside.
With the start of construction in Gawadar, social and economic disparity has actually increased, which goes to show how false it is to make the argument that these projects will bring prosperity to the people of Baluchistan. There is now an old Gawader city and a new Gawadar city. The old one lacks basic civic amenities, as well as health and education facilities. There is one hospital but it lacks modern equipment. There is one intermediate college, which has two shifts, morning and evening, one for boys and one for girls. There is no institution for technical or high level education, nor a research centre in what is supposed to be transformed into one of the most important cities in the region. Had there been an effort to utilise local human resources then institutions to develop these resources would have been built alongside the port and other projects. However, as the projects are handled by the Pakistani elite, who have the luxury to study, at not only Pakistan’s top schools, but also in Europe and North America, why bother to educate the primitive tribesmen and fishermen of Baluchistan? People from the surrounding areas have also poured into the city in order to find jobs, but there has been no increase in resources allocated for them, which is similar to how there was no allocation for resources for the Pashtun who have been coming to Karachi in search for jobs, which then led to bloody ethnic conflict between the Pashtun and the Mohajirs in Karachi. On the other hand, the new Gawadar city has created a parallel reality with shiny hotels, including a five-star hotel on a hilltop, for wealthy foreign and Pakistani businessmen and visitors. There is a naval base, an elite housing enclave and a high-class coastal resort, protected by paramilitary checkpoints. As was the case with British colonialists, powerful sectors in Pakistan are also interested in development that will serve them only, while the locals will see their lives degrade even further.
Therefore, we see what motivates the latest armed insurgency in Baluchistan, which took shape in 2005. Even though the nationalists have been painted as anti-development tribal leaders, the reality is the opposite. The new breed of Baluch nationalists are typical middle class intellectuals who have been inspired by Marxist thinking. Those who have taken the time to know them, such as Dr. Mubarak Ali who is one of the main historians of Pakistan, praise their secular and democratic values and their advanced social ideals. The 70s insurgency had a tribal character but dynamics have changed this time around, for the better. However, nothing has convinced the army to change its approach. General Pervez Musharraf’s tone against the Baluch was more arrogant and threatening than his predecessors. On one occasion, he told on national television that, if the Baluch did not get in line, “they will be struck with weapons – they will not know what happened to them”. And the army has stayed true to Musharaf’s statement – we do not know what has happened to the 14,385 Baluch who have disappeared from their homes since 2005. We know what has happened to the 400 of these missing persons as their mutilated and bullet-ridden bodies have turned up on roadsides, side of the highways, etc. Note that the figure of 400 dead bodies is only from July 2010 up till the present. There have been more than 5,000 arrests of Baluch people, and it would be plausible to assume that they have ended up in torture chambers, solitary confinement and other such hideous destinations. These abductions and extra-judicial killings are carried out by Pakistani secret services and the Frontier Corps – the same corps which was founded by Lord Curzon, the British colonialist, in 1907. Last April, the Supreme Court of Pakistan stated that “[there is] … no difference between a human being and animals in Baluchistan where mutilated bodies were found on a daily basis”. An estimated 84,000 people have been forced to flee their homes because of the military action.
Baluchistan is in a similar position today as East Pakistan was before it finally separated from Pakistan and became Bangladesh. What is common between the two is that the army has opted for violence instead of a political dialogue of any sort. What is also common is that many Baluch do not want to remain a part of Pakistan anymore due to their treatment at the hands of the Pakistani establishments. Pakistan’s biggest province is slipping out of hand precisely because of the violence that is being used to try to keep it under control. Its people are going through genocide. How further this violence will go on and what will come out of the present insurgency depends in many ways on the attitudes of the Pakistani people. Till now, they are acquiescent in one way or another, if not directly supportive of their army which has a holy status in the country. Many in the country are totally oblivious of what is taking place in Baluchistan, which is because of how Pakistani society views the Baluch and the ideological hold the army has over the people. Much of the attention is directed toward the War on Terror, which allows the army to increase its brutality in Baluchistan. Not that the Pakistani public will care about army’s tactics in Baluchistan in normal circumstances, if the past is of any indication.
On the 65th anniversary of the country, the need for its people to revaluate the foundations of Pakistan should be the main priority. Has it not become clear since the separation of East Pakistan that a country cannot be held together simply on the basis of religion, even more so if the provinces of the country are deprived of any rights whatsoever ? Pakistan faces a simple choice: Either continue to live as Greater Punjab and a garrison state and see the rest of its provinces die because of war and hunger, or change its course and give the due place to the non-Punjabi, as well as non-Muslim and non-Sunni Muslim, peoples of the land and develop a new idea of the country, which has to be radically different from the prevailing one.
Bansal, Alok. «Factors leading to insurgency in Balochistan.» Small Wars & Insurgencies, June 2008: 182-200.
Khan, Adeel. «Baloch Ethnic Nationalism in Pakistan: From Guerrilla War to Nowhere?» Asian Ethnicity, June 2003.
—. «Renewed Ethnonationalist Insurgency in Balochistan, Pakistan: The Militarized State and Continuing Economic Deprivation.» Asian Survey, November 2009: 1071-1091.
Mohanty, Tushar. «Pakistan: Balochistan’s Deepening Crisis – Analysis.» Eurasia Review A Journal of Analysis and News., 2012. http://www.eurasiareview.com/31072012-pakistan-balochistans-deepening-crisis-analysis/
Jahanzeb Hussain is the editor of http://collateraldamagemagazine.com. He is a 22 year old student based in Vancouver, Canada, where he goes to Simon Fraser University. He also represents the Vancouver chapter of Afghans for Peace.
Jannat Majeed is a Pakistani American and studies at George Washington University Law School. Her blog is http://feministorwomanist.tumblr.com/
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