So, what is going on in Baluchistan? Baluchistan is one of the 4 states/provinces of Pakistan. It constitutes roughly 40-43% of the land mass with only 5%-7% share in the population. It has the richest mineral and natural resources in the country, yet, is the most improvished area of Pakistan with the lowest literacy, health and infrastructre indices. Two days ago, “tribals” or “nationalists” or “foreign interests” launched an attack on the largest natural gas production facility in Sui, Baluchistan. This has halted the supply of natural gas to most of the country resulting in material and economic losses. The escalation comes after on-going sporadic violence in the region against the Pakistani military forces. The General unequivocally warned the tribal/nationalist/foreign elements that his retaliation will be swift and that “they will not even know what hit them”.
This has set the stage for a show-down between Pakistan military and what the Pak media is terming “terrorist organizations” like the Baluch Liberation Front and Baluch Liberation Army. At least Jang Daily expressed severe doubt in their editorial about the mere existence of these organization (which is the usual hint that India is behind it all). If they, uh, google’d it, they would know that not only do these organizations exist and have a fairly comprehensive web presence but that their greivances are long standing and, at least to this Punjabi/Kashmiri, fairly justified.
Let me start with a bit of history. The region was largely under Iranian kingly control and the autonomous principality of Kalat. The British wrested control away from the Khan of Kalat in the early 1840s and it became the staging ground for the various Afghan-British wars (the Great Game) in the later half of 19th century. The 1876 treaty between the Khan of Kalat and Robert Sandeman accepted the independence of the Kalat as an allied state with British military outposts in the region. After the 1878 Afghan War, the British established Baluchistan as a provinicial entity centered around the municipality of Quetta – Kalat, Makran, and Lasbella continuing to exist as princely realms. The British interest in the region was largely to use it as a land-mass bulwark against Central Asian encroachments. Besides a train track, the development and settlement of British holdings excluded most of the tribal population. The administrative and legislative reforms of late 19th and early 20th century India overlooked Baluchistan. Around the 1930s, Baluchi nationalist parties emerged to contest for freedom from British rule. They took the princely state of Kalat as the focal point of a free and united Baluchistan. Iqbal’s vision of autonomous federation of Muslim state included Baluchistan but the Khan of Kalat never brought into the Punjabi nationalist paradigm, arguing that the Kalat had special treaty powers. Baglar Begi Khan declared the independence of Kalat on August 15, 1947. He assured the neo-state of Pakistan that Kalat will participate in the defense and infrastructure but will be autonomous. That didn’t go over well at all and the Pakistani army entered the region to occupy the area immediately. On Mar 27, 1948, the Khan of Kalat gave in to the State of Pakistan and his old attorney M. A. Jinnah. His brother Abdul Karim Baloch refused to surrender and revolted until his arrest in 1950. Baluchistan was put under Governor General control and no elective body formed in Baluchistan until 1973.
After Partition, the threat of E. Pakistani – read Bengali – hegemony (55% of population at the time), forced the Punjabi military and civil elite (in 1947, Punjabis made up 77% of the army being only 25% of the population) to consitute W. Pakistan as One Unit in the 1956 Constitution. This was done presumably to guarantee equal representation for W. Pakistan but the measure was highly unpopular in Sindh, Baluchistan and NWFP because it meant rule of the Punjabi over their regional interests. Separatist, sub-national movements triumphing local languages and cultures and protesting Punjabi hegemony arose in all the three states. Especially in Baluchistan, the Khan of Kalat led a stringent opposition to the One Unit. But the wave of military dictatorships quashed all such designs. In 1970, Yayha Khan dissolved the One Unit to appease E. Pakistan but the horrific damage done by the army in soon-to-be-Bangladesh proved too much.
After 1971, the sub-nationalist movements in Sindh and Baluchistan demanded their fair share of the nationalist pie. With Bangladesh’s independence, Punjab became the most populous and richest state in the country. It had 58% of the population while Baluchistan had 4%. Led by Bhutto’s central populism, Baluchistan had its first elected body in 1972. The National Awami Party won the majority of the seats in Baluchistan and started making noises about state rights. In 1973, it was clear to the NAP that Baluchistan was the least developed province with the majority of civil and military bureaucracy coming from Punjab. They, quite correctly, saw this as a colonial exploitation. The discovery of natural gas reserves at Sui had made the area incredibly vital to Pakistan and Iran’s developmental programs. The refusal by the Bhutto’s central government to allow NAP internal autonomy escalated a tense situation into an outright revolt. Bhutto dismissed the Baluchistan assembly and re-instituted Governor’s rule. The Baluchi nationalists launched an all-out military resistance.
From 1973-1978, roughly 60,000 Baluchi tribesmen and militia have faced off against the Pakistani army. Iran, eager to quell any similar uprising in its bordering area, has contributed airforce and personnel to the Pakistani efforts. They bombarbed Baluchi villages into submission. Bhutto’s ouster, via Zia’s military coup, forced a calm onto the situation as Zia launched into his One Pakistan Through Islam program. The Afghanistan war, the Iranian revolution and the Zia’s policies made Baluchistan into an island of outsider activity. US/UN aid for Afghani refugees poured into the metropolitan areas. During the 90s, the Benazir/Nawaz Sharif governments did little for Baluchistan as the Baluchi nationalist parties floundered in exile.
After The General landed into power (get it?), he tried to foster new relationship with Baluchistan. Over the last three years, the Kachhi Canal, Mirani Dam, Gwadar Port, Makran Coastal Highway, Saindak Copper Project and Quetta Water Supply Scheme were announced by Islamabad. Over 300 percent increase was made in the national budget for development programs in Baluchistan. Yet,
all these things have failed to materialize from paper into concrete.
These latest incidents emerge from the same calls for Baluchistan’s equal share in the national programs and right to self-administer. The catalyst seems to be the assault on a female doctor, Dr. Shazia Khalid, by a gang of employees of the PPL at Sui. The company management, along with the local police, tried to quash the issue while the central authorities ignored all pleas to intervene. This caused the initial attack on the Sui facility. Nawab Akbar Bugti, the leader of Democratic National Party Baluchistan, clearly stated that the attack was borne out of frustration on the lack of action against the employees who did the assault and was NOT a nationalist struggle for freedom by the tribals. The General, on the other hand, is going to play this as another internal/extrenal threat to Pakistan and seems determined to carry out a military response. His pointed reference to the 1973 uprising is meant to warn the Baluchi tribals that he will not negotiate on his terms.
Today’s actions by the tribals and the military response in Baluchistan can be understood within the context of the acrimonious central-regional relationship in Pakistan. The rights of states, the rights of minorities, the rights of individuals are all negotiated within the vaccum of Islamabad military power-brokers. Having no access to that, the aggrieved parties find no alternative except violent struggle. The history of MQM, of Sindh, of Waziristan and, of Baluchistan provide ample attestation to that reality. I hate to say it again but here it goes: there is no way out except a democratically elected and constituted assembly that will re-imagine Pakistan as a federation with a secular and civil Constitution at the helm.
Also see, the Baloch Voice.
updated: Danial has more details on the rape case.