The Balochistan Conundrum


The Balochistan Conundrum


This Land of the Pure has had a tumultuous history. It saw the tragic episode of the dismemberment of East Pakistan. However, unfortunately, we the Pakistani nation, have not learnt any lesson from this national tragedy. Our rulers, both civilian and military, have had the same authoritarian attitude towards Balochistan as they had towards the then-East Pakistan (today’s Bangladesh). Indeed, there are centrifugal forces active in the province, but it is the state itself which has, time and again, provided opportunities the enemies have taken advantage of. The callous attitude and apathy of the centre towards the sufferings of Baloch have only crystallized further the differences. Had one have a bird’s eye view of the history, one would understand why Balochistan is a simmering volcano today.

At the time of Pakistan’s independence, Balochistan consisted of four princely states— Kalat, Lasbela, Kharan and Makran—under the British Raj, with Kalat being the largest one. Like all other princely states of the Indian Subcontinent, Balochistan was also given three options: accession to India, accession to Pakistan, or independence. The Khan of Kalat and tribal elders were reluctant to accede to Pakistan but ready to concede on defence, foreign affairs and communications. However, on the orders of Quid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Balochistan was annexed to Pakistan on 28 March 1948. The Khan of Kalat was forced to sign the instrument of accession with Jinnah. However, it was agreed in this agreement that, as described in Pakistan’s Resolution 1940, the province will have autonomy over all its affairs except defence, external affairs and communication which would be dealt with by the federal government. But, hitherto, this agreement, regretfully, have remained a dead letter.5981963492432

Then in 1954, the government merged all the four provinces of the then-West Pakistan into One-Unit to establish parity between the two wings of Pakistan. Consequently, the Baloch, like the people of all other provinces, protested against this scheme as it would create the Baloch identity crisis under the influence of the behemoth population of Punjab. Thus, in the aftermath of the scheme, violence erupted in 1960s. Instead of defusing the tension politically, Ayub Khan, the then-president of Pakistan, deployed over 1,000 troops in the province to quell the upsurge, thus favoring the repressive measures instead of negotiations.

Such repressive behaviour towards Balochistan has also been adopted by the civilian rulers. In 1972, the newly-elected government of Balochistan announced that, by replacing non-locals with locals, it would indigenize the administration of the province to exercise the provincial autonomy. Along with this move, the government also accused Islamabad for not investing in industrial development in the province, and demanded more provincial autonomy. These moves irritated the central government led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.5981967e86af4

Pakistan People Party (PPP) and the elite of the country feared that these moves would deprive them of authority. Consequently, Bhutto deposed the non-PPP elected government of Balochistan and incarcerated many of its leaders. He justified his action on the ground—may be genuinely or otherwise as a ploy to teach a lesson to the Baloch leaders who were bold enough to demand authority over their own provincial resources—that separatist elements in the province were trying to dismember the country, as evidenced by large cache of arms and ammunition, which were recovered from the house of Iraqi military attaché. Resultantly, protests erupted in the province against the barbaric action of the federal government. Thus, instead of engaging the dissenters in political dialogue, Bhutto, though admirer of democracy but himself an authoritarian, sent over 80,000 troops to crush the rebellion, thus favouring, once again, the use of force than democratic values.

Though this episode of violence ended in 1977, the fight for provincial autonomy was now intensified into the fight for self-determination, regretfully. Had the government adopted democratic attitude, the situation would have not peppered to that extent.


Nawab Bugti Birthday

The government and security institutions have, over the years, tried to hush any dissenting voice in Balochistan. In January 2005, a man, allegedly an army captain, raped a female doctor of Bugti tribe in a heavily-guarded government-owned natural gas plant in Sui, Dera Bugti. She was denied the registration of a case, and was threatened to keep quiet. After reporting her case, she was put under house arrest. This incident led to violent upsurge, especially from Bugti tribe. Upon this, the government sent over 10,000 police and soldiers to suppress the rebellion. It was on this occasion when Pervez Musharraf, the then-president of Pakistan, warned the Baloch: “[D]on’t push us. This is not Seventies. They [the Baloch] will not even know what has hit them [when the army strikes].”








The exploitation of resources has also made the Baloch resentful. Balochistan, being rich in natural resources like gas, copper, gold and other reserves, has been exploited over the years. But, it has, in turn, never gotten its due share in revenue generated from its own resources. Natural gas, for instance, was discovered in 1952 near Sui, a small town in Dera Bugti district. This gas had reached Rawalpindi and Multan by 1964 but never to its own town of Sui, which harboured Pakistan’s biggest natural gas field—until 1990s. And that too, was only made possible when the paramilitary camps were established there by the federal government. Even the provincial capital, Quetta, got gas connections in 1970, while it had reached Lahore and Karachi by 1955.

Regrettably, even today, out of the 34 districts of Balochistan, only 14 have access to natural gas, let alone mentioning access to other basic amenities: 85% population have no access to safe drinking water, around 75% do not have access to electricity, 63% are below the poverty line, and 70% children do not have access to education. This scenario shows that, unfortunately, the rulers are not interested in Balochistan, but its land for its natural resources and strategic location.

As they have minimal representation in the centre, Baloch have been consistently demanding an increase their representation in central bureaucracy and other federal government bodies. In 2005, there was not even a single Baloch among Pakistan’s ambassadors. No Balochs was at the helm of one of the 200 corporations while only 502 young Baloch were recruited in the army, according to a report by Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS). Baloch representation in the army, which was nil in 2001, rose to 3.2% only in 2007. Even in Baloch regiment, 80% personnel are Punjabis. Baloch even have no considerable share of jobs in Gwadar port and other CPEC-related projects in their own province. At one time, there were only thirty Baloch out of 600 workers hired for the development of Gwadar port.

Thus, it can be inferred from the foregoing discussion that Baloch have genuine grievances. However, Islamabad, unfortunately, has had kept its iron curtain policy towards them.

Our rulers have, sadly, never heeded to the sufferings and legal demands of the Baloch. Due to its meagre population, politicians have always been concentrating on other provinces, especially Punjab, which garners them more seats to make their way to the treasury benches. Such attitude has alienated our Baloch brethren in their own country, and has made ways for the centrifugal forces in the province.

The destructive elements exploit the vulnerable segment of the society to inflict collateral damage to this beloved country of ours. Indeed, the enemy is exploiting the current situation in Balochistan, but the state itself is responsible for creating such conditions which enemies are out to take advantage of. External forces can only build on local fissure and take advantage of conditions created domestically.

Being the victims of historical amnesia, we have forgotten the East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) debacle where such behaviour of our rulers led to the national tragedy. Regretfully, the current situation of Balochistan and that in the then-East Pakistan are becoming Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Nations that learn from their history have better chances of survival and progressing than those who don’t.

Despite the fact that political engagement and negotiations will earn the state the trust of the aggrieved Baloch people, the state is reluctant to engage politically of the fear that softer approach towards insurgents would be interpreted as weakness on the part of the state. However, the hard security engagement builds up anger in communities, especially the youth. Being half-hearted towards the political solution, even our democratic leaders have always viewed Balochistan from security prism.c9f0c030afc4d687b110269a9dc071be

Recently, Akhtar Jan Mengal, the chairman of Balochistan National Party (BNP), withdrew from the PTI coalition government over its failure to implement the Six-Point Formula signed with the party in 2018. These six points included: recovery of missing persons, implementation of National Action Plan, implementation of six percent quota for Balochistan in the federal government, immediate repatriation of the Afghan refugees, and construction of dams in the province to resolve the acute water crisis. When the centre turns a deaf ear to such legal and constitutional demands, it further alienates the already aggrieved Baloch.

Remedially, to pacify the Balochistan cauldron, and to resolve its decades-old issues, the state should remove the grievances and reservations of the Baloch people, and incorporate them in CPEC, which may prove a game-changer for Baloch people, too, to bring peace to their province.

Long-term solution to the violence is to politically engage the Baloch population and restart a reconciliatory dialogues with the separatist leaders in order to bring them back to the political mainstream in a peaceful manner. It will only happen if the state is willing to take bold steps, and shuns its myopic vision.

The author is currently serving as a teacher in KP government.

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