July Issue 2015
Balochistan’s Tragic Saga
Was the United Baloch Army (UBA) behind the massacre of 20 Pashtuns in Mastung? According to newspaper reports, the UBA claimed responsibility, but the group’s self-exiled leader, Mehran Marri, denied it and put the blame on the intelligence agencies instead. He tweeted, “Vile Pakistanis say I’m behind Mastung attack on Pashtuns. U shd know my mom is a Pashtun…” In another tweet he declared, “A free Balochistan will be 4 all its citizens irrespective of their ethnicity…”
Journalists in Quetta are of the view that the exiled leaders of militant Baloch groups are losing control of their field commanders, and hence cannot deny or vouch for the acts of their fighters with confidence.
Nearly a month ago, 20 Punjabi and Sindhi workers were killed at a construction site near Turbat. The Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), led by Dr Allah Nazar, claimed responsibility for the murders. That claim was never retracted. Allah Nazar, a middle-class Baloch, is the only leader among the militants who is fighting alongside his people. And it comes as no surprise that he is massively popular among students.
How does the present Baloch insurgency compare with the Baloch movement of the early ’70s? The latter was a consequence of the dismissal of an elected government by then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. When he dismissed the NAP government in Balochistan, the Pakhtun-centric NWFP (now KP) government resigned in protest. Soon after, the boys of the Pakhtun Students Federation joined the Baloch fighters in the mountains. I still remember Noor Mohammad Achakzai clandestinely travelling between the mountains and Karachi. At that time, there were many Punjabi and some Urdu-speaking leftist leaders who took to the mountains to show their support for the Balochistan rights movement. When the Baloch and Pakhtun leaders were arrested and incarcerated in Hyderabad jail, it was the Punjabi- and Urdu-speaking lawyers and democrats who defended them.
The ’70s Balochistan movement was not exclusionary. It had the support of all progressive groups of Pakistan. But the present Baloch separatist movement is becoming increasingly desperate, and hence xenophobic. The state’s response to the insurgency is not political either; its failure to acknowledge Balochistan’s political grievances and resorting to fascist tactics like kidnapping activists, killing them and disposing of their bodies is strengthening the separatists’ case for independence.
There are allegations that the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, is responsible for fomenting trouble in the province and there is strong evidence to prove it.
That may well be true. But the crucial question is: could RAW have operated successfully in Balochistan if the Baloch were content in the federation of Pakistan? If they were, they would not play into the hands of foreign spy agencies. The establishment believes that a military solution is the only solution to the complex political and economic situation in Balochistan. In effect, they are attacking the symptoms and not the disease itself.
Both the Pakistani establishment and the separatists make the ludicrous claim of killing in the interests of the people. Let’s briefly examine the claims from both sides, starting with the claim made by the major militant Baloch separatist groups. Most of the groups have emerged as a reaction to the state’s violent coercion of the Baloch rights activists. Decades of exploitation and violations of human rights by the centre has led to calls for an independent Balochistan. The violation of the Khan of Kalat’s agreement with Jinnah and the forced annexation of the Kalat state by Pakistan took place in 1948. The present Khan of Kalat went into self-exile after Bugti’s killing with a mandate from the Baloch sardars’ jirga to appeal to the International Court of Justice against the violation of the 1948 agreement. His brother, Prince Mohyuddin Baloch, has now been sent by the government to bring him back. But experts on Balochistan believe that even if he comes back, it will not make a difference to Balochistan’s independence movement. The family has little political influence. Prince Mohyuddin lost the 1970 election to the BSO leader Dr Haye Baloch, which tells us how much Balochistan is politicalised. The amnesty and rehabilitation package being offered to the separatists by the government may bring down some tired and frustrated fighters, but it will not dent the independence movement. It is a political issue that needs a large-hearted political solution.
Calling for independence is the right of major ethnic groups in all societies. Britain and Canada allowed a referendum to the Scots and QuÃ©bÃ©cois respectively, and when the separatists lost these polls, the state agreed to give them maximum autonomy. The Czechs and the Slovaks separated in what is called ‘the velvet divorce,’ an example of a civilised way to end a relationship. But in South Asia, divorces are mostly bitter in individual relationships and bloody in state politics.
While the independence of Balochistan appears to be a distant dream, I believe that Baloch leaders who have struggled for their people’s rights through democratic means have been able to acquire more benefits for the people of Balochistan, as compared to the militant separatists who are hiding in the mountains. A major breakthrough was made in securing Balochistan’s economic and political rights by coming to the table for negotiating the 7th NFC Award and the 18th Amendment. Baloch leaders rightfully demand more control over their economic resources. These rights cannot be taken away from them through the barrel of a gun and by the ethnic cleansing of the Baloch.
The xenophobia of some Baloch leaders is understandable. Most ethnic groups that constitute a minority in their homeland feel apprehensive when they see that incoming migrants could change the demographic balance. This fear of the Baloch was further accentuated when General Zia-ul-Haq opened the floodgates to Afghan refugees in the ’80s. Then, with the development of the Gwadar port, the Baloch feared the arrival of another wave of economic migrants to the province from the rest of the country.
The establishment’s view is that Balochistan is a part of Pakistan, that every Pakistani is entitled to settle wherever he/she wants, and that migration is a natural process. However, given Balochistan’s complicated socio-political issues, they cannot get away with such simplistic statements. A constitutional solution to this issue is needed to ensure that the Baloch will not be turned into a minority like the Native Americans or the Australian Aborigines and be deprived of their economic resources. Only this will appease the nationalists. Let’s assure them that the centre is not going to outvote them by establishing settlements of immigrants from other provinces. The ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) should not be dependent on building an armed force that appears to override the social, political and economic interests of the Baloch.
Security establishments cannot resolve political and sociological issues in any state. A democratic solution is the only answer. Military establishments all over the world see themselves as defenders of the status quo. History, on the contrary, has proven otherwise. The state is actually the people who live in it voluntarily; coercion cannot keep the people together.
In the case of Balochistan, its nationalism is based on its history. “From the 17th century until 1928 and 1948 respectively, Balochistan preserved its independent status. The Baloch country maintained diplomatic relations with Mughal India, Ottoman Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, Oman and British India. Its occupation by the modern armies of Iran in 1928 and Pakistan in March 1948 led to the birth of Baloch nationalism.” (Breseeg 2004)
Now Balochistan’s tragic plot is thickening. The haunting spectre is that in the post-Afghanistan scenario, the US and India would like to keep China off Balochistan’s warm waters. The reason being that the Americans want to keep their control over the energy routes of China. Remember, the great American plan is to have a bamboo-curtain around China in the East, and to control the Persian/Arabian Gulf. In this game, Balochistan’s water and natural resources are important.
Once again Pakistan is desirous of playing a grand role in this tussle for energy routes, but is finding it hard to do right by both its allies — the US and China. The establishment is in the mood to go with China, instead of its ‘unreliable American allies.’ And they believe that anybody who is asking for independence is serving the US-India alliance.
The only solution to the Baloch problem is to give the seven to eight million people of Balochistan control over their own natural resources, and assure them that the establishment will not turn them into a colony overlooked by alien forces from security forts. Only then will peace return to Balochistan.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s Julyt 2015 issue.