Is Balochistan Doomed?

Is Balochistan Doomed?

by Subroto Roy


First published  in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article Sep 3 2006


Nawab Mohammad Akbar Khan Bugti’s death (apparently in a cave that was precision-bombed by the Pakistani military using American equipment after he had spoken on a Thuraya satellite-phone) lengthens Pakistan’s list of political killings and assassinations, many still unsolved.  Liaquat Ali Khan, Dr Khan Sahib, ZA Bhutto and sons as well as their enemy Zia ul Haq, are prominent members of the list. The Rule of Law is better in India to the extent we tend to solve and punish our major assassinations.

Bugti’s killing is symptomatic of many of Pakistan’s continuing ills, not least of which is the continuing inability of the military to comprehend politics as a discipline that accommodates competing interests and uses two-way dialogue, not one-way instruction, as its method. There is also the personal failure of Pervez Musharraf, seven years after his coup détat, to transform himself into Pakistan’s first genuine statesman in many years. Musharraf is a well-read, well-spoken soldier who sees himself as a man of destiny but he has quite simply failed to recognise statesmanship requires far more than personal ambition; he has become a Napoleon at home and a Quisling abroad when what he aspired to become was Pakistan’s Attaturk.

The roots of Pakistan’s Balochistan problem are depthless. When Pakistan was first created, Punjabis constituted 25 per cent of the population but 77 per cent of the new armed forces. East Bengalis constituted 55% of the population ~ a fact inevitably leading to the idea of a “one-unit West Pakistan wing” governing itself independent of the numerical majority of Bengali-speakers. Equally inevitably perhaps, this led to Punjabi military domination of East Pakistan; the history of Bangladesh’s creation is too well-known to need recitation here except to say the Mukti Bahini, like Balochi separatists today, were incapable of taking on Pakistan’s military on their own.

After Bangladesh’s secession, Pakistan became the four areas originally named in Iqbal’s 1930 speech conceptualising a Muslim country in North Western India (which, incidentally, excluded J&K despite Iqbal having been Kashmiri). Pakistan’s Pashtun and Baloch highlanders were never of Hindu/Indian origin, whereas the plainsmen consisting of Punjabis, Sindhis and migrants from India were (despite protestations and pretensions), closely related to their Hindu/Indian cousins and neighbours. Muslim and Hindu religious and cultural beliefs and practices may be very different, but DNA testing would likely identify most of the subcontinent’s Muslims and Hindus as ethnically indistinguishable from a scientific point of view.

The central fact driving and explaining Pakistan’s political history has been that the idea of Pakistan arose in the subcontinent’s Muslim-minority areas, not among the peoples of the areas that today constitute Pakistan ~ least of all the Baloch (viz., F Robinson in WE James & S Roy (eds) Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy). Having created a country based on an ideology imported by a handful of super-elite Indian migrants like Jinnah and Liaquat, serious political conversation and democratic nation-building of a high order was required immediately from Pakistan’s national statesmen to make the enterprise a success. That was never forthcoming simply because there were no such national statesmen, only rather thick bungling soldiers and some corpulent corrupt politicians. In an alternative universe in which ZA Bhutto had been born a generation earlier, things might have been different. Musharraf’s efforts since his January 2002 speech to become an intelligent modern soldier-statesman amount to far too little, far too late, rather the way the French physiocrats were too late and came to be swept away by revolution.

The Baloch are a tribal people who defeated and later assimilated the Dravidian(?)-Brahui inhabitants of the area. For most of their modern history they were independent though owed nominal allegiance to the Afghan ruler in Kabul. The 19th Century British created a strip known as “British Balochistan” including Quetta and Sibi, but were interested in the region solely to the extent it controlled access to Afghanistan and otherwise left the Khan of Kalat to himself. The British also annexed Sindh from a Balochi dynasty. In the 21st Century, it has become Balochistan not Afghanistan which has immense economic potential and strategic value in international politics. Yet its future must be filled with foreboding because Musharraf’s military-business state, goaded on by Western and Chinese business and military interests, has recognised its potential and begun to behave ruthlessly against Balochis as a result. Balochistan contains Pakistan’s reserves of uranium, coal, gold, silver, copper, aluminium, and of course plentiful natural gas at Sui. The Makran Coast had been gifted by the Khan of Kalat to Oman, and was bought back by Pakistan in 1958. Development of Gwadar and Ormara ports and naval bases (whose strategic value is self-evident) and a road link through the Karakoram to Sinkiang have now become top Pakistani and Chinese military and business priorities.

Gwadar real-estate speculation is rampant among Lahore and Rawalpindi’s military-businessmen, while two Chinese workers were killed in Gwadar by Balochi nationalists in 2004 causing ruthless Punjabi reprisals. Also, the Americans have long had secret CIA-built bases in Pasni and Dalbandin in Baloch territory, which are being used presently in military operations in Afghanistan; their Pashtun/Taliban enemy also use Quetta and northern Balochistan for rest and recuperation while fighting in Afghanistan! And Balochistan’s caves are where Pakistan’s nuclear-armed F-16s against India are hidden. The Balochi are a small, poor, traditionally peaceful, politically divided tribal minority of perhaps 6.5 million people spread sparsely over this vast arid area that constitutes more than 48% of Pakistan’s present territory. Despite the pretensions of an articulate expatriate rebel elite (including even a self-styled Government-in-Exile based in Jerusalem dreaming of a secular free Balochistan), Baloch guerrilla fighters are wholly incapable of taking on the organised military might of the Pakistani state, armed by America and China. The expansion of Pakistan’s 74 million Punjabis, 30 million Sindhis and 17 million Pashtun into Balochistan seems as inevitable at present as the expansion of the Han Chinese into Tibet ~ a similarity doubtless noted by Musharraf’s Communist Chinese friends and advisers. Also, because there are two million Balochis in Iranian Balochistan, Pakistan’s Balochi nationalists have had a declared enemy to their west in the Iranian Government ~ the Pahlevi regime even provided Italian-made American Huey helicopter gunships with Iranian pilots to help Bhutto crush the Baloch rebellions of the early 1970s. In fact, Balochi rebels have had no military allies except the pre-communist Government of Afghanistan under Daud, who “ordered the establishment of a training camp at Qandahar for Baloch liberation fighters. Between 10,000 and 15,000 Baloch youths were trained and armed there” (R Anwar, The Tragedy of Afghanistan 1988, p. 78). The Governments of India or the United States lack motivation or capability to help, and Balochistan may be doomed to becoming a large human rights/genocidal disaster of the next decade.

An independent Balochistan may be unviable, being overwhelmed by its riches while having too small, uneducated and backward a population of its own, and powerful greedy neighbours on either side. In effect, a weak Balochistan has been divided rather like a weak Poland was divided by Hitler and Stalin in the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact.

Today, the Pashtun of Pakistan and Afghanistan (as well as perhaps Sindhis of Baloch origin) may be the only interlocutors who can prevent a genocide and mediate a peace between Balochi nationalists and Musharraf’s ruthless Punjabi military-businessmen determined to colonize Balochistan completely with Chinese help, effectively subsidising their misgovernance elsewhere with Balochistan’s riches. Like Bhutto and Zia, Musharraf has chosen military suppression and failed to see the only way forward for Pakistan is political accommodation of both Baloch and Pashtun aspirations and desires, while solving Pakistan’s grave fiscal and monetary problems separately. The terms of a peaceful accommodation could involve e.g., a vertical administrative division of Pakistan between its tribal highlander peoples and its Indus Valley plainsmen (viz., The Statesman 16 July 2006) followed by slow, steady, sustainable development and modernization consistent with tribal cultural wishes ~ not Shanghai or World Bank capitalism. To be a man of destiny, Musharraf must transcend the military-business complex he rules over and reduce its role in Pakistani life, not increase it. Statesmanship involves taking risks for a noble cause and these are the main risks he needs to address and build a national consensus upon. Instead, he has enhanced military capabilities and seems hell-bent (perhaps on advice of his MBA prime minister) on ruthless exploitation of Balochistan as a Lahore/ Rawalpindi colony. It is the road to catastrophe.

(NB The original article said grandsons of Nawab Bugti had been killed with him, but this is not confirmed.)


2 Responses to “Is Balochistan Doomed?”

  1. Shiva Says:

    Musharraf wants to suppress the Baloch freedom struggle but it grows day by day.

  2. Jay Says:

    It is shameful that Pakistani Punjabis want to do a “Tibetisation” of Balochistan . This military force and suppression will come back to haunt them in the future. Balochis should be provided equal participation in the development of Balochistan be it in Gwadar port, gas exploration or real estate. Punjabis need to understand that the land is not theirs and doing a cultural genocide of Balochs will be a black mark on their history. Baloch are brave people and they will not give up easily if force is used against them. Consolidation, diplomacy , providing infrastructure and development of Balochis is the only way to move forward.

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