Trouble In Balochistan

The Balochistan situation has been in the news and in people’s minds. This has not been by any action of the government, which is content to leave that province to the tender mercies of the agencies, but because the California Republican Representative, Dana Rohrabacher, has followed up his Committee hearings on Balochistan with a resolution calling for the self-determination of the Baloch people. With the USA already viewed with great suspicion, this has also been viewed as an attempt to break up Pakistan. This, in turn, has two reasons. First, there is still the memory of 1971. Though the generation that saw the creation of Pakistan out of a united India is still alive, even those who remember the partition personally, were then (64 years ago) at best teenagers and are now old. More relevant has been the 1971 experience, with a much larger proportion of the populace having lived through the secession of East Pakistan and its conversion into Bangladesh. That experience makes it feasible for Pakistanis to accept that borders can be changed. Then, there is also, probably, the memory that when East Pakistan broke off, Balochistan became the next point of insurgency, and thus there is the greater likelihood seen of Balochistan breaking off.

Pakistan may be a large enough country to be a federation, but it is also small enough for all its provinces to be crucial. Balochistan has importance not just because it is by far the largest of the four provinces, but also because it contains mineral wealth. So far, only natural gas has been exploited, but it has important metal deposits, which have yet to be exploited. Incidentally, these deposits are, probably, the same as those in Afghanistan, being deposits within the Karakoram mountain range which reaches into both.

Actually, part of Balochistan was once Afghanistan. Balochistan was not given provincial status until 1970, and One Unit, when it was created in 1956, included both the princely state of Kalat, as well as British Balochistan, which consisted of the territories conquered from Afghanistan, and included the Pashtun areas. When One Unit was broken up in 1969, the former British Balochistan and Kalat state became the new province. It is because of Kalat state that the Congress got a foothold, for it had a pre-partition policy of focusing on the princely states. This translated into Baloch Congress leaders joining the NAP, where they joined hands with the pro-Congress Redshirts of NWFP. These were the first Government of Balochistan province, and it was here that the NAP government was dismissed and an insurgency started. Balochistan has continued disturbed since. And of the two Baloch leaders who went into exile then, Sardar Khuda Bux Marri and Sardar Ataullah Mengal, remain in exile today, only the latter has returned. His son Akhtar has served as Chief Minister of the province. It is, perhaps, symptomatic of how the insurgency has engulfed the entire province. While the Governor, Akbar Bugti, who dismissed Sardar Ataullah, then Chief Minister, was killed when the army conducted an operation against him in the Musharraf era. Nawab Akbar Bugti’s death created ripples throughout the province and the failure to try anyone for murdering him, let alone the then President, General Pervez Musharraf, has created a very negative impression. Bugti was, perhaps, the only major Baloch political figure who was not a nationalist. True, Balochistan had a Prime Minister in Zafarullah Jamali, but his area of Jaffarabad borders Sindh, and the Jamalis are settled and agricultural, as opposed to the Bugtis, the Marris and the Mengals, who are more pastoral, more tribal and simply more Baloch.

Balochistan is not solely about Akbar Bugti. There is the more immediate problem of missing persons. In the rest of the country, the missing persons are thought to have been involved in militancy, but not in Balochistan, where the Baloch claim to have been targeted by the agencies. The military has long been concerned about Balochistan, to the extent that, when he took over, Musharraf singled it out as the only province for mention in his first speech, in which he outlined his (and the army’s) seven-point agenda. The military as an institution has been paying much attention to Balochistan, and has tried to give the youth of the province both training and jobs.

However, there is just so much that the government can do. There are two factors that have recently developed that need consideration. The first is the establishment of Gwadar port, and the tussle between China that wants to use it, and by the USA that wants to stop it. Apart from its rivalry with China, the US has Afghanistan as a reason to want to create a separate Baloch state, not to mention its desire to corner Iran. Linked to this is the gas pipeline from Iran. Without going into the geopolitics, it is a physical fact that it must come from Iran, and it does not matter what is the nature of the regime in Tehran. Gwadar has not just provided a new cause of superpower rivalry, but created more reasons for the Baloch to feel deprived. At the same time, the military has used the only means it knows to pacify the province. It has used the means it has learnt from the USA in the war on terror. Those methods do not work, and have created an atmosphere in which other powers can intervene. As it is, not only is India interfering from the consulates it has obtained in Afghanistan, but the USA and Israel are too.

It is in that context that Mian Nawaz Sharif’s demand for the apprehension of Nawab Bugti’s killers, and an end to the disappearances plaguing the province, must be understood. It appears the opinion of Mian Nawaz, presumably based on information received from the PML-N Balochistan, must be that these are preconditions for an All Parties Conference. The Baloch parties have already announced that they will not attend, so it seems that the government’s APC effort is over before it started, what with the main national opposition party, and the Baloch parties not attending. However, if the government could ensure the recovery of the missing persons, and prosecute the Bugti murder case, it would, probably, help bring the Baloch parties to the table.

If the agencies are getting in the way, they must be convinced of how harmful their actions are. There is some talk of an amnesty, because Baloch nationalists, the most extremist fringe, has been killing Punjabi settlers, and as a result, would need it as much as the agencies’ operatives. One reason for the resentment over Gwadar was because it was treated as a real-estate bonanza from which ordinary Baloch were excluded, with carpetbaggers being most prominent during the Musharraf era.

The PPP has already to bear the burden of being at least partially responsible for the loss of East Pakistan. It has been saddled with the government, both at province and centre, with the burden of a province that is thinking of leaving the federation, and which is being encouraged to do so by the people the PPP is trying to serve – the Americans. It is being recommended by some that an election might help. However, the problem is not that of unrepresentative government, for there have been as many elections in Balochistan as the rest of the country. However, its citizens feel that they are not part of the national mainstream. This feeling has to be removed first, and supposed allies posing an existential threat warned off. Those who feel that another secession is part of the price for the dubious privilege of being part of the USA’s war on terror, need to be told that Pakistan prefers to remain whole.