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Saturday, July 25, 2009

The mystery behind Balochistan

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I am pretty sure that except for a few inquisitive people, not many Indians would have ever heard about Balochistan before the ho-halla over the joint declaration in Egypt recently. In this article, I would try to disseminate whatever knowledge I have gathered on this topic over a period of time (through various sources).

Balochistan, an immense desert comprising almost 48% of Pakistan's area, rich in uranium and copper, potentially very rich in oil, and producing more than one-third of Pakistan's natural gas, it accounts for less than 4% of Pakistan's 173 million citizens. Strategically, Balochistan is mouth-watering: east of Iran, south of Afghanistan, and boasting three Arabian sea ports, including Gwadar, practically at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz. (Source). Balochis are largely tribal and consider themselves much closer to the Afghans than the rest of Pakistanis.

When India and Pakistan eventually gained independence from the British in August 1947, provinces were given the choice of either joining Pakistan or India or being independent. Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan declared Kalat's independence. The Governor General Lord Mountbatten of Burma decided that the province would not survive as an independent entity and that offer was taken off the table.(Source)

As claimed by Baloch nationalists, "Baloch nation has gone through a lot since March 23, 1948, when the Pakistan army moved in and occupied Kalat, the capital of the free Balochistan. After experiencing only 227 days of freedom in which we elected our representative assembly and wrote a constitution as a free nation of this global village. Pakistan's army trampled every thing under their boots - Baloch nation's pride, freedom, representative assembly, constitution and mostly our mother land and declared it a part of Pakistan." (Source)

There have been several conflicts between the Baloch separatists and the Pakistan army:
  1. First conflict 1948 (led by Mir Ahmad Yar Khan)
  2. Second conflict (1958-59 led by Nawab Nowroz Khan)
  3. Third conflict 1963-69 (led by Sher Mohammad Bijarani Marri)
  4. Fourth conflict 1973-77 (led by Nawab Khair Baksh Marri)
  5. Fifth conflict 2004-to date (lead by Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Mir Balach Marri)
The Pakistani response to the demands of the separatists has often been brutal. Particularly in the mid-1970's, when Pakistani Army brutally crushed the Baloch struggle. Perhaps it came in the backdrop of recently lost war to India which had led to the creation of Bangladesh and Pakistan could not afford to loose another major province. In August 2006, Pakistani army killed Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, 79 years old, a very respected leader of the Baloch struggle.

The Grievances
The Baloch struggle and their demands are not entirely unjustified. The local grievances have seldom been taken seriously. Islamabad pays a pittance in royalties for the Balochis for exploiting its natural resources, and development aid is negligible; Balochistan is treated as a backwater and the Balochis remain largely poor and illiterate.

Moreover, Pakistan has essentially been ruled by its millitary for most of its 60 years of independence. Even when under civilian rule, millitary has flexed its muscles and indirectly controlled the govt. Pakistani millitary has traditionally been dominated by Punjabis (Punjab constitutes 60% of the population of Pakistan). It is this domination by just one selected group that has aggravated the problem as millitary plays a major role in Pakistan in shaping the policies. It must also be noted that in the undivided Pakistan, the Bengalis were hardly given any representation either in the millitary or in the civil services and there a complete domination of Punjabis. This was a major (Source)

The Indo-Pak joint statement
This certainly isn't the first instance when Pakistan has accused India of fomenting trouble in Balochistan, nor is it the last such instance. It must be noted that India does not share any border with Balochistan and hence it cannot support the Baloch struggle (if at all it wants to) in the same way as the state of Pakistan does to the Kashmiri struggle.

Pakistan has also accussed that India is using Afghanistan's territory to launch attacks in Balochistan and is training Balochis. Ofcourse it is difficult to ascertain the truth since just like Pakistan has never accepted the alleged role of its Army and ISI for the terrorism in India, India is unlikely to ever accept such a charge.

But the problem now is that Pakistan has been successful in equating terrorism in India to terrorism in Balochistan. The two can hardly be equated.
  1. As already mentioned, India does not shares a border with Balochistan.
  2. Terrorist groups in Pakistan like LeT have launched daring attacks on the Indian establishment like the attack on Indian Parliament or the Mumbai attacks. On the other hand, Balochi attacks have been of a much smaller scale.
  3. The Baloch struggle existed even before the 2001, when the Afghanistan was ruled by the Pak-friendly Taliban. On the other hand, Kashmir struggle has almost from the very beginning, involved a Pakistani hand. This is true even in 1947-48 when Pakistani sent its armed forces under the cover of the tribals. This strategy continued in subsequent war of 1965 and Kargil war of 1999.
  4. The Baloch struggle is hardly given any coverage in the Pak-media as compared to the Taliban struggle. Clearly, Taliban is a far bigger threat to Pakistan.
  5. Soon after the attack on Sri Lankan team, Pakistani govt. denied any Indian involvement and instead pointed towards Taliban. However, now it wants to paint the Baloch threat to be much graver so that it can be equated to the terrorism that India is facing, and thus countering the advantage that India holds with respect to the world opinion.
Can Baloch struggle ever reach the same level as that of Kashmir?
In the 1971 war, India defeated Pakistan and helped in creation of Bangladesh. In that case, India was able to use the unrest in Bangladesh against the Pakistani rule to its advantage. Even if the Indian state today wanted to use Baloch struggle to further balkanize Pakistan, it would be extremely difficult, almost impossible.

As already mentioned, Baloch population constitutes just 4% of the total population of Pakistan. In such small numbers, they hardly can hope to win against the Pakistani state without external help. Moreover, India does not shares any borders with Balochistan. Lastly, Pakistani today has nuclear weapons and hence it is unlikely that there would be a full fledged war.

Therefore, Baloch struggle can never really threaten the Pakistani state. Perhaps thats the reason no govt. has been serious enough to look into their greviances. Balochistan is a tool to counter India, something that Pakistan has successfully used very skillfully.

1 comment:

  1. Very well researched post. Thank you for the historical perspective.

    Clearly, India has fallen into a well laid Pakistani trap. And Pakistan is going to exploit it both domestically and in future talks with India.