Pakistan The Baloch Factor
If one believes in this dictum coming events cast their shadows before—the reported introduction of a resolution in the US House of Representatives stating that the Baloch nation has a historic right to self-determination does not augur well for Pakistan. The resolution notes that Balochistan is currently divided between Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan with no sovereign rights of its own and the Baloch people who are subjected to violence and extrajudicial killing, “have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country; and they should be afforded the opportunity to choose their own status”.
The resolution also states that historically Balochistan was an independently governed entity known as the Baloch Khanate of Kalat which came to an end after invasions from both British and Persian armies. An attempt to regain independence in 1947 was crushed by Pakistan. The ground reality shows the insurgency in Balochistan is spreading to non-tribal western parts of the province, beyond the traditional stronghold of the rebels, while attacks against security forces by “emboldened insurgents” have risen, according to security sources. More and more areas are now witnessing growing militant activities which are fuelled by the activists of Balochistan Liberation Front, which belongs to literate, middle-class and non-tribal segments of Baloch society.
Indian leaders have widely been in favour of a strong and stabilised Pakistan. A volatile neighbour on our west, some of them argue, can cause tremors of instability in India as well. However, in the present context such an assessment may need a cautious reappraisal in view of Pakistan being labeled as the most dangerous place in the world besides the epicenter of global terrorism. Moreover, the country is showing signs of gradual sliding down into the discomfiture of a likely failed state on the lines of North Korea, also a nuclear and missile power like Pakistan. Will the capability of a truncated Pakistan to harbour terrorists and sponsor militant groups of various hues for operating in Afghanistan and in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir not be drastically reduced?
If the answer to the preceding question is in the affirmative, the global democratic polity for the sake of peace in the region may weigh pros and cons of balkanising of this somewhat wayward nation carved out of India by the then British rulers as the homeland for the Indian subcontinent’s Muslim minority. In fact, the process of balkanization had started way back in 1971 when the East Pakistan after being economically exploited and politically ill-treated by the western wing, violently seceded emerging as an independent nation of Bangladesh.
Now history seems to be repeating itself in Pakistan’s largest province—Balochistan where the home-grown insurgency in support for independence is showing signs of escalation. The earlier demand of autonomy as well as royalty from their natural wealth is now being replaced by total independence. Balochistan is the only province of Pakistan where anti-country slogans are being openly heard in the streets. Rightly, parallels are being drawn between the then East Pakistan and the province of Balochistan. It is being often said that the eastern wing got separated due to similar repressive policies now prevailing in Balochistan. Veteran Baloch nationalist leader Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal has accused Pakistan’s “Punjabi army” of committing atrocities against the Balochis that has pushed the situation to a ‘point of no return’. He also asserted that if such oppressive acts continued, the Baloch would never accept a united Pakistan.
Strangely, ever since the creation of Pakistan, various civil and military governments of the country have been indifferent to the people’s problems in the province. Instead, several merciless military operations in the province have turned successive generations of populace against Islamabad. Former President Pervez Musharraf is known as the butcher of Balochistan who as the army chief was responsible for throwing the territory into a boiling cauldron. The mutilated bodies of hundreds of Balochi youth dumped in various parts of Balochistan were examples of his ruthless handling in the province. In August 2006, his troops had shot dead a highly regarded local leader Nawab Akbar Bugti who also happened to be a former provincial governor. His cruel murder led to boycott of elections by the Balochi nationalist parties in 2008 in protest against the murder of Nawab Bugti.
Thousands have died in the insurgency in Balochistan in separate spats of violence that peaked at various points in time in the past six decades. The Balochi insurgency during the 1970s resulted in blood-curdling mayhem when 55,000 armed Balochi insurgents faced off against heavily armed 80,000 Pakistani troops. Hundreds of thousands of tribesmen have been forced out of their lands to take refuge in the mountains and elsewhere. It is estimated that as much as six brigades of Pak Army besides much maligned troopers of Frontier Corps are currently deployed in the restive province.
The Frontier Corps officered by Pakistani Army is said to be running a parallel government in Balochinstan. Pakistan Army is further expanding its foothold in Balochistan by constructing new cantonments in the region. Balochis are weary of such expansion of military stations and housing schemes, which they believe will turn them into a minority on their own soil. Pakistani Army is also reportedly acting as land mafia and is giving away land in the coastal Balochistan especially in the vicinity of port of Gwadar to people from Punjab.
Balochistan produces much more natural gas than it consumes but is denied a fair share of this money spinning natural resource. With the land grab in Gwadar and elsewhere by the Punjabi army personnel, it is no surprise that Balochis see no incentives in staying within Pakistan. Balochistan is an immense desert comprising almost 48 per cent of Pakistan’s area. Having a population of nearly 8 million, the territory accounts for less than 4 per cent of Pakistan’s 173 million citizens. The area is rich in uranium and copper, potentially very rich in oil, and producing more than one-third of Pakistan’s natural gas.
Balochistan is strategically located in the proximity of the Strait of Hormuz, a vital Gulf waterway through which bulk of world’s oil trade is conducted. It has three Arabian sea ports, most important being the newly developed Gwadar in the vicinity of Strait of Hormuz. Pakistan has repeatedly accused India of supporting the Balochi insurgent groups which New Delhi has all along been denying. Islamabad also suspects the US and Israeli intelligence agencies of hatching plans to divide Pakistan into smaller states. In view of China getting access to Gwadar with plans to develop it into a naval port, some US strategists have called for supporting an independent Baloch province as a means of weakening any alliance between Islamabad and Beijing. If the resolution tabled by the US Congressmen seeking Balochistan’s independence is the political follow-up to the American strategic thinking, one may find emergence of another nation in India’s neighbourhood in not so distant future.
By NK Pant