March Issue 2012
Of Empire and Army: A Historical Understanding of Balochistan
The media is holding the security establishment solely responsible for the crisis unfolding in Balochistan. Unfortunately, most of our problems stem from jumping to conclusions that are based on misinformation, and then deliberately distorting those half-truths to suit mass perception. No one denies the fact that targeted killings of the Baloch are taking place, that people are being picked up and that state actors are involved in the killing and the disappearances. But it is equally true that an equal number, if not more, of Pashtuns and Punjabi settlers in Balochistan are being murdered in cold blood by the ‘sons of the soil.’ Unfortunately, our media seems to give it only a cursory mention.
I took part in the military operations in Balochistan in 1973, commanding a rifle company in 44 Punjab (now 4 Sindh). Even as my son was being born in Karachi on December 29, 1973, my company was coming under heavy fire from Marri insurgents near Kahan. Throughout that year, many soldiers were martyred and several injured. In one instance, the insurgents beheaded 19 of our soldiers. We could have retaliated in a similar manner when we surrounded and captured those who were involved in that brutal act — but we spared them. What held us back was that the Marris who were confronting us were basically simple people who had no reason to fight but for the fact that they were ordered to do so by their sardar, who was living comfortably in Kabul at that time. Incidentally, the 1973 military operation against the Marris (and, some time later, the Mengals) was ordered by a democratic government headed by President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, on the advice and instigation of then governor, Akbar Bugti, “to eliminate the miscreants.”
Historically speaking, Balochistan is a melting pot of various ethnicities. The Baloch/Brahui areas of the Kalat, comprising Sarawan, Jhalawan, Mekran and Kachi, are inhabited not only by the Baloch and the Brahuis, but also other tribes from Sindh. Of the three tribes in the forefront of the protest in varying degrees — the Marris, the Mengals and the Bugtis — the Bugtis are actually Rahejas of Sindhi origin. Conversely, the Bijaranis of Sindh originate from the Marris, and so on and so forth.
All this has been duly recorded by none other than Mr. A D Daudpota, a member of the Sindh Public Services Commission, at the turn of the last century. Out of the 7 million people inhabiting Balochistan today, the Baloch (including the Brahuis) and the Pakhtuns are almost equal in number, with about a million people of other ethnicities including the settlers resident in the province. More Baloch live in the Punjab (7 million) and Sindh (4 million) than in Balochistan itself, and almost all of them are concentrated in the old Kalat Division. Till a few years ago, it was traditional to have a Pashtun governor and a Baloch chief minister, so as to maintain an ethnic balance in the province. Why was this practice stopped?
As a multi-racial, multi-ethnic land populated by diverse races, it is ironic that a small militant minority, led by descendants of some cruel and despotic sardars, speak about “democracy and independence.” For the record, Brahamdagh Bugti is a descendant of Shahbaz Khan Bugti, who, along with Sardar Mehrullah Khan Mengal, was elevated from the rank of a Sardar to that of a Nawab by Colonel (then Major) Sir Robert G. Sandeman in 1890, for helping the British to quell the Hur rebellion in Sindh. This is the same Colonel Sandeman whom the proud Baloch sardars of yesteryear carried on a litter on their shoulders for many scores of miles from the Punjab into Balochistan when his horse died. Mounted on the walls of the Quetta Club are old photographs of the ancestors of today’s Baloch nawabs, prostrating themselves before their British masters in the club premises. There were no protests from the sardars when they were subjected to some of the most humiliating terms and conditions by the British during their continued rule on the nawabs and sardars, namely that a single heir would be designated by the British; he would serve conditionally at the government’s pleasure; his incumbency was strictly subject to good behaviour and his services to the British would be on call. Incidentally, all these rules lasted until 1947! The Baloch now protest against the presence of army cantonments but they did not protest when the British built the biggest cantonment in British India after Agra in Quetta in the early 1900s. Till the ’60s, Quetta was nothing but a garrison town populated mainly by the Hazara Pashtuns.
The three ‘nawabs’ of the Baloch, who are now agitating for ‘independence,’ as are some sardars, have taken repeated oaths of allegiance to Pakistan as governors, chief ministers, federal and provincial ministers, members of the Senate, and national and provincial assemblies. There has been a Baloch president and a Baloch prime minister. During their time in office, none of the Baloch nawabs and sardars made any effort to ameliorate the conditions of their own people. Most of the money meant for development purposes ended up in their pockets, and served mainly to finance their luxurious lifestyles and profligate ways, both at home and abroad. Has anyone ever taken the Baloch sardars to task and demanded an account of all the funds doled out to them for the uplift of their own people? The media needs to do an exposÃ©, comparing their lifestyle and their houses in Karachi and in Quetta with the squalid huts of the Baloch in Sui, Dera Bugti, Mavand, Kahan, etc. The provincial capital, Quetta, and other Baloch towns did not get gas from Sui till the mid-80s and it was General Rahimuddin who pushed it through when he was governor. If the Baloch people live in penury and poverty today, it is only because of the hereditary rulers planted on them by the British.
There is a problem in Balochistan and it has to be addressed, but for that we must get all the communities living in the province, except for the sardars, on the table. The sardars must be excluded because they represent their own narrow vested interests and not those of the people at large.
The situation is grave and complex and it can mostly be attributed to neglect, bad governance, corruption, inadequate capacities of law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to establish the writ of the state and foreign intervention. There is now a very deliberate attempt to create a perception of non-Baloch hegemony. The fact remains that the present political and administrative leadership comprises the native Baloch. And it must take ownership of territorial integrity and not dump it on the military. The army is sincerely committed to helping them and has acknowledged that in private, if not publicly. Despite information to the contrary, it has stopped construction of any further cantonments and there is no military operation going on at the moment — nor has there been one for several years now. However, critical areas like the coastal belt have to be guarded, as must the socio-economic infrastructure, by the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC). Which nation will allow its communication network and public utilities to be disrupted at will? The cantonment at Sui has been converted into an education centre. Primary schools, funded by international agencies, were turned into autaqs by the nawabs and sardars, Now children are getting education in these autaqs. Moreover, Baloch youth are joining the army and the FC in large numbers.
The problem is that the present federal government is all rhetoric and no action. Despite the latest NFC Award that doubled the allocation of funds to the province, virtually no development has been carried out. There is no account of how or where the money is being spent. No effort has been made by the government or civic society to address the social aspect of the issue. The tribal sardars living in self-imposed exile breathe fire against the state in the media but do not represent the majority of the ethnic Baloch nor the vast majority of the non-Baloch who populate Balochistan today.
‘Kill and dump,’ is certainly not the answer to Balochistan’s problem. Indeed, such acts should be condemned unequivocally. But what is the Frontier Corps (FC), who are tasked with defending critical socio-economic installations like gas pipelines and electric transmission towers that are regularly being blown up, expected to do when they are attacked violently?
Several FC personnel have died or been maimed in the line of duty. Further, should the FC allow the non-Baloch in the province to be murdered and driven out of their homes?
In my view, disproportionate media projection of the separatist leaders encourages ethnic divisions and violence. While the media must bring the excesses of the security forces to light, it has a responsibility to the people as well. It is their moral duty to also bring to light the excesses of the leaders, who wield “power” through the barrel of a gun rather by taking the democratic route. Who has given them the right to openly brandish their weapons in public?
While dialogue must be a constant process, history has proven that the concept of appeasement is disastrous for national security; it tacitly accepts the erosion of national interest. To negotiate with the hereditary rulers and their hired guns, who represent only a minority of the population, is tantamount to condemning the people to continued slavery. Compromising the basic tenets of society at the point of a gun will prove fatal for the federation. The people of Balochistan, both the Baloch and the non-Baloch, must be able to benefit from the rich mineral wealth of gold, copper, iron, etc. buried in their land — they have waited for this for centuries.
The Baloch must be taken out of their life of deprivation and want. They deserve all our sympathy and so do the other oppressed people in other provinces suffering under an extremely unfair feudal system that disfigures the electoral vote and ensures that merit is a disqualifier; only absolute loyalty gets a premium. The “democracy” that the feudal lords espouse is limited to their own version of despotic rule. Under its veneer, a vast majority of the people have been kept virtually as slaves by them. Almost every Baloch tribal serving out of Balochistan has to give a part of his earnings to his sardar or his family suffers. The incongruity of it all is that the military wants democracy for the Baloch people, but has not been able to translate its objectives into practice. This can only be achieved under a democratic dispensation, which must obtain freedom for the Baloch from its cruel depraved rulers, who hold the power of life and death over them and their children.
While the country cannot be held hostage by a militant minority, the answer to this raging problem is not to fight fire with fire, but to give a selective and tempered response, as and when needed. A dialogue must begin immediately with all groups who comprise the total population of Balochistan today. The Local Bodies Elections must be held and the state must ensure that these are free and fair, and not influenced by the diktat of the sardar. It is only by freeing the Baloch from the stranglehold of the nawabs and sardars that the benefits of democracy will accrue to the people of Balochistan, both Baloch and non-Baloch.
Feudalism is a curse, not only for the people of Balochistan but for the entire country. It can only be eliminated by empowering the people at the grassroots level.
This article was originally published in the March 2012 issue of Newsline under the headline “Of Empire and Army.”