Reflections on Balochistan
The reason why foreign powers get attracted towards Balochistan is because of its strategic importance and wealth. It has Makran coastline in the south, which connects it with Iran in the southwest and Afghanistan in the northwest. It has a seaport at Gawadar that was built by China. Gawadar along Makran coastline lies at the opening of Strait of Hormuz. Balochistan has huge quantities of natural gas, and unexplored oil reserves apart from gold, copper and variety of other costly mineral resources. More importantly US want to control the port of Gawadar, and eventually start its dream oil pipeline from Central Asia through Afghanistan.
In 2006, Carnage Institute of International Peace identified Balochistan as an area of interest for the US in subverting Pakistan. Selig Harrison in a seminar held in Washington recently stated, “The US is ready to recognize independent Balochistan because it serves American interests; its accession to Pakistan was not legitimate; Pak Army is a suppressing force; Zardari government’s policies have further ignited separatist movement; four million insurgent Baloch people want independent state of Balochistan”. Declan Walsh of Britain unveiled international conspiracy cooking up in Balochistan. RAW run South Asian Analysis Group (SAAG) website openly claims India’s involvement in Balochistan and equates it with Kashmir.
Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan in terms of area and it covers almost 48% of Pakistan’s area. But its population accounts for only 5% of the total population of Pakistan. Ethnically Balochistan is divided into Balochis and Pathans, followed by other small minorities. The state capital is Quetta, (termed as nerve center of Afghan Taliban by US Generals who allege that Mullah Omar led Shura is based in that region). From among the Baloch tribes, Magsis and Jamalis are relatively prosperous while all other Baloch tribes are backward and poverty ridden. Among the Sardars, Bugti and Marri Sardars are the most ruthless. Bugtis and Marris being neighbors have remained arch rivals. Their marrying up in 2004 was out of political expediency and the US influence. Mengals command influence over largest part of Baloch populated Balochistan and are in commanding position to either keep the pot of Balochistan simmering or defuse it.
Balochistan like, Afghanistan and Tribal Areas of Pakistan is a tribal society. Baloch Sardars (tribal chiefs) rule their respective tribes, often with serious disregard for human rights. Development wise, Balochistan is the most backward province in Pakistan. There may be some weight in the argument that the federal government in Pakistan has neglected the development of Balochistan, but equal responsibility lies with the Baloch Sardars who enjoy immense power in their tribes. Sitting in provincial and national parliaments, they don’t work for the development of their own people. Among the Sardars, handful of dissident Baloch Sardars have never reconciled to the amalgamation of Balochistan into Pakistan and have always looked for outside help to make Balochistan independent.
Balochistan has the worst human rights record out of all the provinces of Pakistan. Every time horrific human rights atrocities are committed in Balochistan, tribal chiefs defend the abuses by claiming them to be part of their tribal cultural norms. Since the independence of Pakistan, most of the tribes have accepted Pakistan as their homeland and have tried to come into the mainstream Pakistani society. But Bugti and Marri tribal leaders have always been a source of trouble for Pakistan. Brahamdagh Bugti (grandson of former Bugti tribe leader and former chief minister of Balochistan, Nawab Akbar Bugti) is the leader of a runaway terrorist group, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA). He has till recent been operating out of Kandahar. Before Brahamdagh, Balach Marri, son of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, was leader of BLA, and he was killed in Afghanistan in 2007. Brahamdagh has now shifted to Switzerland and continue to badmouth Pakistan.
A new dirty game of geo-politics is going on in full swing in Balochistan. To understand the ongoing wave of violence in Balochistan we must understand the vested interests in Balochistan. The root cause of violence in Balochistan is not internal poverty or lack of development but the covert operations of foreign intelligence agencies. Internal issues might act as catalysts to inflame the situation but the root cause is foreign interference in internal affairs of Balochistan. The main group responsible for violence in Balochistan is the BLA. Brahamdagh Bugti, in his interview with Pakistani news channel AAJ TV declared that he will attack and kill non-Baloch population of Balochistan. In other words he threatened killing of innocent Pakistani civilians on ethnic lines. This is just taking words out of Col Ralph Peter’s plan for balkanization of Pakistan, along the lines of Yugoslavia (June 2006 issue of ‘The US Armed Forces Journal’). His article ‘Blood Borders’ envisaged redrawing map of countries in the Middle East in accordance with oil and gas contents of various regions. The map showed truncated Pakistan with Greater Balochistan as a separate state. The contents of this article were included in a course run at US military academies. Brahamdagh also asked for support of India and other powers to help him break away Pakistan’s Balochistan. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is affiliated with BLA, al-Qaeda and TTP and has taken upon itself to target Hazaras in Quetta.
After the termination of Bugti-Marri led insurgency from 1974 to 1978, Balochistan remained peaceful till such time Gen Pervez Musharraf took over power and decided to remove its socio-politico-economic deprivations through mega projects and other development works, which went against the vested interests of Sardars. Development of Gawadar deep seaport and construction of water dams were aimed at alleviating the poverty of the province and bringing the neglected province into socio-economic mainstream.
Commencement of work on several mega projects in Balochistan caused deep resentment to Akbar Bugti and other troublesome Sardars as well as to the US harbouring ill designs against Balochistan. The coercive Sardars who had kept their respective tribes in bondage viewed development works in interior Balochistan a threat to their Sardari system. On one hand they aired political and economic grievances and on the other they objected to the mega projects vehemently. They propagated that Gawadar Port would be monopolised by the affluent class from other provinces at the cost of people of Balochistan. Opening of schools and colleges and development of road infrastructure in rural areas was also resented. Anti-development stance contradicted their earlier stance that Balochistan being the biggest province and rich in resources had been kept backward and neglected.
At the behest of foreign powers that had deep-seated interest in the province, Nawab Bugti who was already miffed over gas royalty issue, kindled insurgency in Dera Bugti in 2004 which later spread to other Baloch inhabited regions of Sui, Kahan, Kohlu, Kalat, Turbat, Khuzdar, Panjgur, Pasni, Lasbella, Awaran, Kharan, Machh, Dhadhar, Sibi, Dera Allah Yar, Dera Murad Jamali and also to Quetta city. Terrorists targeted gas pipelines, electric grid stations and pylons, railway lines, security check posts, military convoys, passenger trains and buses. 65 Farari camps were made operational by foreign agencies in interior Balochistan to train and launch terrorists. Kohlu was attacked with rockets when Musharraf was addressing the people and helicopter carrying IGFC was hit by bullets, injuring the general officer. When the insurgency assumed dangerous proportions, a military operation had to be launched in mid 2006 in selective troubled areas. Most of the 65 Farari camps were dismantled during the six-month operation. Death of Akbar Bugti in his mountain hideout in August 2006 further intensified the insurgency, which was supported by RAW, RAAM and Mossad from Afghanistan and CIA and MI-6 from within.
Continuous funding and material and moral support by foreign governments and agencies to the dissidents in Balochistan together with policy of softness adopted by the elected government has converted the insurgency into separatist movement. Pressure exerted by foreign powers together with human rights activists, NGOs and foreign/local media forced the military to return to barracks and hand over dual internal and border security charge to Frontier Corps (FC). Farari camps that were destroyed have become functional again. In 2009, a deadline was given by BLA to non-Baloch settlers to quit Balochistan or be prepared to get killed. On 29 March 2012 Nawab Khair Bux Marri demanded that all (Persian speaking) Hazaras being settlers from Afghanistan since the British period should leave as should Punjabis, or else, they would be killed.
The FC is now in the firing line and demand for its withdrawal from counter insurgency operations is getting louder. After airing grievances over political disempowerment, distribution of federal budget, political autonomy, control over provincial natural resources, the thrust has shifted towards target killings of nationalists, missing persons, mutilated bodies, military cantonments, and trial of Musharraf. The FC and ISI are being accused in the case of missing persons. While Punjabis have vacated Baloch inhabited regions and shifted to Quetta and other provinces, large numbers of Hazaras have been killed. Killing of ten Pakhtun labourers in Mastung on 13 September 2012, which was claimed by United Baloch Liberation Army, has been resented by the Pashtuns who are otherwise complaining of political inequities. It has added to the Pakhtun-Baloch divide.
Encouraged by foreign powers, the fugitive Baloch leaders are now demanding independence. Sardars Brahamdagh Bugti, Harbyar Marri, Suleiman Khan and Dr Wahid Baloch are promoting the idea of independent Balochistan. Three US Republicans moved a highly controversial bill in the Congress which supported the cause of Baloch separatists. The US Congress Committee on Foreign Affairs chaired by Dana Rohrabacher on February 8, 2012, advocated right of self-determination for the Baloch and championed the cause of independent Balochistan. He pleaded the case of the Baloch saying that they were natural allies of USA who would gladly share the mineral resources of Balochistan and would let the US run Gawadar Port. Christine Fair was the only one to shun the notion of independent Balochistan. She asserted that it was unsustainable because of ethnic diversity and geographic constraints. Congress support has further emboldened anti-Pakistan Baloch Sardars to spew out poison against Pakistan.
Issue of missing persons in Balochistan was drummed up under a calculated scheme. The US, the West and India helped in internationalizing it and coaxing the UN team to visit Pakistan and carryout ground assessment. Our government instead of forbidding the team welcomed it and facilitated its visit to Balochistan. It is still not clear who invited the UN delegation. Talal Bugti presented the visitors a list of 638 missing persons and demanded UN intervention. This is a very sinister move and seems that the schemers are feeling confident that the endgame has begun. Our leadership and the media are either a party or are criminally negligent. We must not forget that this was exactly the same framework used by the UN to intervene in Sudan, Indonesia and other countries. A UN mandated case against Pakistan is now being hatched by our adversaries and our leaders have helped them in putting Pakistan in awkward situation and in paving the way for propaganda hell to break loose once this team returns and hands over a jaundiced report.
Although the armed forces are doing an excellent work in motivating the misled Baloch youth by undertaking host of development works and spreading education in interior Balochistan, however, the provincial government mired in corruption and lacking political will and commitment to redress law and order is a huge disappointment. While the US resolution moved by Rohrabacher has not been condemned by Balochistan Assembly, Federal government is appeasing the rebels and ignoring the patriots and so is our media. Despite its policy of appeasement, the government has failed to woo back the dissidents. Law courts have so far not convicted any terrorist nabbed by security forces while no effort has been made to expose involvement of RAW in Balochistan about which the government claims that it has undeniable proofs.
Baloch nationalism is assuming dangerous proportions because of heavy involvement of foreign agencies and deleterious role of dissident Baloch Sardars who are prepared to go to any extent to save their Sardari system. However, they are not making any headway since the people of Balochistan do not subscribe to their separatist ideas. The Baloch neither represent the whole of Balochistan nor do they have sizeable following. The Pashtuns, Brahvis and Hazaras in Balochistan comprise 60% of the province and are averse to the idea of independence and fully support the federation. Majority of Baloch are patriots and loyal to the federation and the youth have started joining cadet colleges and taking up service in armed forces in great numbers.
The problem for US is that BLA together with BRA and BLF with no more than 3500 fighters are not able to break away Balochistan from Pakistan. Of the 8 million population of Balochistan, 3.5 million are Baloch and among them the trouble makers supporting the terrorist groups are about 3-5 lacs only. They don’t even have support of 10% Balochi population. With this narrow support base confined to limited space, the dissidents are neither capable of building mass movement nor have the ability to defeat the security forces. That is why their exiled leaders keep urging foreign powers to step in and make Balochistan an independent state as had been done in former East Pakistan in 1971.
The Pakistan Army and ISI are resisting the assault in national and strategic interests of Pakistan. The Great Game of Brzezinski will surely continue in Balochistan and rest of Pakistan. The people of Pakistan are ready to counter this great game but need leadership and some courage. Among the array of politicians, Nawaz Sharif has better equation with dissident Sardars like Khair Bux Marri and Akhtar Mengal and even with Mahmud Achakzai who is a popular leader among the Pashtuns of Balochistan. The other party is Imran Khan led Tehrik-e-Insaf (TI) whose agenda of eliminating corruption within 90 days, strict accountability and delivering equitable justice has appealed to the senses of masses. It is opined that if any of the two parties gain power in next elections, it will be in a better position to normalize the situation in Balochistan. It will be ideal if the two together with Jamaat-e-Islami marry up and form a coalition government. Unity of the three will be the only way to prevent PPP from getting re-elected in 2013. However, so far, much to the delight of the PPP, the TI and PML-N are on a self-destructive warpath, while Zardari is employing variety of tricks to postpone the elections for another year, or how to win the next elections by hook or crook.
Feeling the pulse of the people, exiled Gen Musharraf is suggesting an interim government of top class technocrats for three years to cleanse the rot, carryout suitable amendments in the constitution to correct the anomalies in sham democracy and ensure growth of true democracy, and then hold fair and free elections under the supervision of the Army and judiciary. He prods the judiciary to marry up with the Army and play its role in getting rid of the gang of corrupt and save the country rather than the constitution. He gave an example of his first three years tenure in which his selected technocrats had made substantial progress in all the fields. There is no denying the fact that Field Marshal Ayub Khan, Gen Ziaul Haq and Gen Musharraf were competent rulers and had lifted the GDP to over 7% because of superior governance and dedicated approach. Their performance declined after the induction of politicians in the government. Though I do not hold high opinion about Gen Musharraf, however, his suggestions need to be critically examined and pondered over. Team of spotless technocrats led by Imran Khan assisted by honest and hard nose provincial governors like Nawab of Kalabagh, Lt Gen Azam Khan and Air Marshal Nur Khan will be most desirable to cleanse the stables. In order to cure the diseases, the surgeon’s knife rather than treating the symptoms must dig deep down to remove the malignant part of the body.
The writer is a retired Brig, a columnist, defence analyst and historian. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org