BY RSN SINGH
Balochistan province of Pakistan constitutes nearly half of country’s landmass, i.e. 347,190 sq km. This province has never accepted the Pakistani framework of nation-state. Most Balochis maintain that they have been Balochis for three thousand years, Muslim for may be thousand years and Pakistani for 70 years, therefore, the Pakistani identity means nothing to them. The Balochis straddle the Iran and Afghanistan border, at least 30 per cent are in these countries.
The contrast between Balochistan and Kashmir Valley in geopolitical terms is telling. While Balochistan which is half of country has been in incessant struggle to secede from an artificial nation-state entity, the separatists in the Kashmir Valley that comprises less than seven per cent of the geographical area of J&K are clamouring for Pakistan.
Just as Pakistan is not interested in Kashmiris but the territory of J&K because of its innate desire to control the complete Indus River system, it is also not interested in Balochis but the land of state for its mineral resources and strategic location. Pakistan in a way has sold both the Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gwadar Port in Balochistan to China by way of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The province has one of the world’s richest copper and gold reserves. Forty-five per cent of Pakistan’s energy needs are met by Balochistan. As per a Baloch activist Dilshad Baloch, Chinese have been carrying away 16 kgs of gold every day from the mines under an arrangement with Pakistan. The Sui Gas Field in Balochistan supplies gas to the country’s household in most urban areas. Such is the attitude of the State and of the country’s elite towards Balochistan that a nominal sum of Pakistani Rupees 6 is charged monthly for 24 hours supply of gas.
Some Punjabis in Pakistan have told this author that they do not even switch off the gas during winters to obviate the sacrifice of a matchstick. Pakistan’s three nuclear weapon sites are also located in the province. And yet, 85 per cent of the population in the province does not have access to safe drinking water, some 80 per cent do not have electricity, 63 per cent are below poverty line, and 70 per cent of the children do not have access to education.
The Baloch are Hanafi Sunnis. A strong group of Zikri Baloch, having a population of about 700,000 inhabit the Makran area. They believe in the 15th century teachings of Madhi Nur Pak – an Islamic Messiah of the 15th century. They have their own prayers and do not fast during Ramadan. Significantly, Hindu Shrines in Balochistan continue to be revered and zealously preserved by the Balochis, the most important being the Hinglaj Mata Temple, one of the major Shakti Peeths in Hindu religion. Despite every kind of exertion by radical organizations like Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Baloch people have fiercely resisted the spread of Wahabi brand of radicalized Islam. Balochistan has so far not produced one suicide bomber. But unabashedly Kashmir Valley has allowed itself to be radicalized by killing Kashmiriyat.
The province comprises four erstwhile princely states of Kalat (largest), Makran, Kharan and Lasbela. In the second half of the 18th century, the Khan of Kalat, Naseer Khan, had unified most of Balochistan. During the British rule, Balochistan was divided into British Balochistan and Native Balochistan, having control over 25 per cent and 75 per cent of the total territory, respectively.
The British Balochistan primarily constituted the Pathan belt. In Native Balochistan, most tribal leaders paid tribute to the Khan, who in turn paid royalty to the British. The tribal sardars (leaders) continued to exercise overwhelming political, economic and social influence over their tribe. Just after Pakistan came into being, Mir Ahmad Yaar Khan, descendent of Naseer Khan, declared independence in accordance with the three options given to the princely states before partition — independence, accession to India, or accession to Pakistan. To facilitate independence, Yaar Khan had also appointed a Briton, Douglas Fell, as his foreign minister.
In April 1948, the army was deployed in Kalat, and the Khan was forced to accede to Pakistan. The Khan’s brother did not agree to the accession and established himself in the border regions in Afghanistan from where he launched an armed campaign against the Pakistan troops in Balochistan. By June 1948 Balohistan was merged with Pakistan. The rebellion against the merger was not countrywide, but it did add to the serious doubt about the capability of any religion to be the sole cohesive force to hold a nation together.
While Indian leaders were busy issuing contradictory statements, Pakistan acted swiftly. According to human rights defender Waseem Altaf in Viewpoint: “On orders emanating from Mr Jinnah, Balochistan was forcibly annexed to Pakistan on 28th March 1948 when on 27th March 1948, Lt Colonel Gulzar of the 7th Baluch Regiment under GOC Major General Mohammad Akbar Khan invaded the Khanate of Kalat. General Akbar escorted the Khan of Kalat to Karachi and forced him to sign on the instrument of accession while Pakistan Navy’s destroyers reached Pasni and Jiwani.”
The criminality and immorality of Jinnah lies in the fact that he had been hired by the Khan of Kalat to negotiate the ‘Independent Status’ of Balochistan with the British, and indeed three months before partition he mooted an’ An Independent State of Kalat’. As per a communiqué of 11 Aug 47 sovereign status was conferred to Kalat. Baloch activists have told this author that the Khan weighed Jinnah in gold and his sister, Fatima, in silver for the legal services that he had provided. The same Jinnah by Oct 47 decided to betray and eventually invaded Balochistan. For seven months, i.e. August 1947 to March 1948, Balochistan was a free country. The comparison between Balochistan and J&K is again tempting, i.e. while Balochistan was annexed by Pakistan, J&K acceded to India.
Even as the Pakistan Army invaded Balochistan, none of the Congress leaders including Gandhi as well as the then Governor General Lord Mountbatten made a whimper of protest or condemnation. Maulana Azad, it is said was steeped in Arab version of Islam and therefore considered all other brands like Balochi brand as inferior.
Former R&AW Chief, Vikram Sood, in an article in February 2006 said that the Baloch leaders visited India and wanted to draw attention to the fact that their state was different and wanted to be treated on par with Nepal. He further maintains that the new Indian rulers Delhi were too pre-occupied with Kashmir to realize the strategic significance of a sovereign Balochistan.
The upheaval being witnessed today in the Islamic world is largely due to the struggle between Islam and ethnicity. This has been endemic in Islamic countries right from the beginning. Islam actually encountered some very superior civilizations in Byzantine (present day Syria), Persia (present day Iran) , Central Asia and of course the Indian subcontinent. The Arab forces could impose religion but could never conquer ethnicity, culture and language. Ethnicity in case of Pakistan triumphed over religion and consequently Bengali speaking East Pakistan became an independent country, Bangladesh. The same narrative continues to struggle with Islam in states of Pakistan like Khyber-Pakhtunkawa, Sindh and Balochistan.
To forge national unity on basis of geography and Islam, the rulers of Pakistan introduced the one-unit scheme in West Pakistan, thereby merging Khyber-Pakhtunkawa, Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab. It triggered violence throughout Pakistan including Balochistan. The Balochis considered this as a ploy of Punjabi domination. Punjab with 56 per cent population, the Punjabis are seriously afflicted with the attitude that they are the sole owners of Pakistan. Seventy per cent of the Pakistan Army is Punjabi and even in Baloch Regiment, Punjabis comprise of 80 per cent. Even in PoK, the area which Pakistan designates as Azad Kashmir, there are no Kashmiris and the Kashmir narrative is scripted by Punjabi politicians, Punjabi Army and Punjabi jihadi organizations like LeT and JeM.
When under the One-Unit Scheme all the provinces were dissolved in West Pakistan in Oct 1954, entire Balochistan rose against it. More than 1000 army troops were deployed to quell it. The violence came to an end only after the one-unit scheme was abolished in 1970. After the loss of East Pakistan in 1971, Bhutto considered Balochistan to be the greatest threat to national integrity. A new wave of unrest was sparked off by the dismissal of a non-PPP government by Bhutto. He justified his action on the grounds that there were serious designs to dismember the country, as evidenced by large cache of arms and ammunition (350 Soviet sub-machine guns and 1000 rounds of ammunition), which were recovered from the house of Iraq’s political attaché in Islamabad.
It may be mentioned here that until 1973 Balochistan did not have an elected body and was ruled by the Governor General. This is the reality of democracy in a Pakistani province which constitutes nearly 50 per cent of the territory. Even before Pakistan had recovered from the loss of East Pakistan, a full-fledged insurgency broke out in 1973 in Balochistan. The Shah of Iran was highly apprehensive that the Baloch insurgency would encompass the Baloch population in Eastern Iran. He even sent 30 Cobra helicopter gunships with Iranian pilots to help Pakistan.
In the four years (1973-77) that the insurgency lasted more than 80,000 troops were deployed to suppress the rebellion, and 5,300 Balochis and 3,300 army personnel were killed. Ironically, a large number of troops that were deployed against Balochis, their own countrymen, were the ones who had been repatriated from India as POWs in 1971 war. There were 93,000 of them.
At one stage in 1974, Mirage aircraft and helicopters were also used, when some 15,000 rebels took on the army and a pitched battle ensued. The Baloch insurgency did peter out, not only because of the army action, but also due to the lack of coordination among various groups. The most important groups were Baloch Peoples Liberation Front (BPLF) and Baloch Students Organisation (BSO). The leftist elements played a key role in this insurgency, but later split up into pro-Soviet and pro-China factions.
The Zia regime can be credited with bringing a fair degree of stabilisation in Balochistan. He appointed Lt Gen Rahimuddin Khan as martial law administrator and Governor. During the eight years that Gen Rahimuddin presided over Balochistan, he acted like a dictator of the province, almost independent of Islamabad. His authoritarian style of governance, coupled with good administration did bring about social stability to the province.
With the restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1988, the Baloch leaders began to participate actively in politics. The two important parties were the Balochistan National Movement of Sardar Akhtar Mengal, and the Balochistan National Alliance of Nawab Akbar Bugti. Gradually, these political outfits began to be ridden with factionalism, and many splinter groups arose. Each splinter group made alliances with one mainstream party or the other like the PPP, PML (N), as well as the JUI.
The Baloch, who in general had supported the overthrow of Bhutto by Zia-ul-Haq, have not actually let their struggle die. Army and Frontier Corps personnel continue to be deployed in large numbers. The insurgency under the leadership of Bugti intensified soon after Musharraf’s coup in 1999. Nawab Bugti was killed in Bhambore Hills of Balochistan on 26 August 2006 in a military operation, in which helicopter gunships reportedly fired cluster bombs and laser guided missiles to target him. The killing was in retaliation to the firing on Musharraf’s helicopter by Bugti’s lieutenants, when the former was carrying out aerial survey of the area a few days earlier.
During the annexation of Balochistan and thereafter the Pakistani military has used every conceivable arsenal against the Balochis, this includes fighter aircraft, tanks, armoured personnel carriers and helicopter gunships. In contrast, India has also tackled many insurgencies including the Pak-sponsored proxy war in Kashmir but has never used such arsenal against its own people.
The Baloch oppose the establishment of army cantonments at Kohlu, Dera Bugti and Gwadar. In Balochistan, with its highly inhospitable landmass, daily subsistence is itself a stark, tough problem. Quite naturally, they resent its energy supply serving the rest of Pakistan with no real benefits accruing to the Balochis. Nor are they happy about the Centre’s appropriation and gifting of Gwadar Port to China as part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
There was a significant escalation of violence in the region after Musharraf signed a deal with China in March 2002 for the development of Gwadar Port. The Baloch people lament that the Gwadar area had been appropriated by the Generals and sold to Karachi and Punjabi business magnets at astronomical prices. The Gwadar city, 650 km from Karachi with a population of 100,000 became part of Pakistan only in 1958.
In the late 18th century the local ruler had ceded Gwadar to the ruler of Muscat, who used its port for trade with Central Asia, which included slave trafficking. The progeny of some African slaves continue to be a part of the ethnic fabric of Balochistan. All the 22 districts of Balochistan have been impacted by insurgency. Gas supplies from Sui, Loti and Pir Koh gas fields have been disrupted on several occasions.So far nearly two lac people have been displaced in Balochistan due to the ongoing insurgency.
The Pakistani establishment has been unleashing suicide bombers to tackle the insurgency in Balochistan. Its actions have become more desperate in view of the pressure to remove obstacles in the implementation of the CPEC. Recently, on August 8, 2017, 54 lawyers became victim of suicide attack in a Quetta hospital. They had gone to the hospital’s emergency ward to lookup one senior lawyer, Bilal Anwar Kasi, who had been killed earlier in a suicide attack. Most Balochis are of the firm belief that the killings were handiwork of the Pakistani State as many of the lawyers were Baloch activists – supporters, and very much vocal against the interference of the Pakistan military in affairs of the state. Thus an entire generation of young Balochi intellectuals was wiped out.
Balochistan under the present military, Islamic and historical narrative will continue to defy the idea of Pakistan. Aitzaz Ahsan in his book, ‘The Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan’ writes: “A nation in denial of its national identity is unfortunate, but when it chooses to adopt an extra territorial identity, it becomes a prisoner of propaganda and myths.” He further adds that if Pakistan is to resolve its tortuous identity crisis, it has to accept its non-Muslim history. It is the denial of historical and cultural forces that do not allow Balochistan to integrate with Pakistan. On the other hand, an acceptance of these forces has the potential to kill the idea of Pakistan.
It is therefore a Catch-22 situation, even as the Punjabis and Pakistan military keep the notion of Pakistan alive.
(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)