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PAKISTAN :THE BALOCHISTAN CONUNDRUM

*Book Conclusion

PAKISTAN THE BALOCHISTAN CONUNDRUM

TILAK DEVASHER

Conclusion

ESSENTIALLY, PAKISTAN’S BALOCHISTAN CONUNDRUM IS that the state is
trying to resolve a serious political issue militarily; instead of a surgeon’s
delicate and deft touch, Pakistan is using a butcher’s cleaver. The roots
of Baloch alienation and resentment run deep. The state, led by the
army, just cannot or does not want to understand the import and depth
of Baloch nationalism. Having learnt very little from the past, the
Pakistan state, led by the army, sees the insurgency as a law and order
problem that needs to be tackled militarily.
The army does not see that the insurgency is not the real problem
but is the result of a problem, and the problem is political. It goes to
the heart of what kind of a state Pakistan is and whether minority
nationalities like the Baloch can be accommodated equitably or will
have to live subserviently under the dominant Punjabis. The army being
overwhelmingly Punjabi is also part of the problem. In Punjab the army
is seen as a friend but in Balochistan, or Sindh for that matter, the army
is not a friend but a force of oppression.
The results of tackling a political problem militarily are there for all
to see. The International Crisis Group (ICG) perhaps summed it up
best when it noted, ‘The military can retain control over Balochistan’s
territory through sheer force, but it cannot defeat an insurgency that
has local support … its policy directions will likely undermine the
remaining vestiges of state legitimacy in the troubled province … The
insurgency is not likely to recede, nor will Islamabad manage to
dampen the Baloch’.
1
There is no doubt that Balochistan poses a complex problem and it
is this complexity that poses a challenge to the military mind that is
used to seeing things in black and white. Even so, the fact that the problem in the province resurrects after a hiatus of few years must
make the leadership, including that of the army, think why this
happens. The simple answer is because political remedies have always
been ignored.
If there is one thread running through the problem, it is the memory
of the forced accession of Balochistan in 1948 and the economic
exploitation of the province for the benefit of Punjab leading to severe
deprivation, which, in turn, has fuelled political alienation. The Baloch
believe that their land is rich but they have been kept poor by the state.
As Kaiser Bengali puts it: ‘The province has, for seventy years, suffered
a situation where the country has taken much from and given little to
it. That the province can be rich in natural resources and yet abjectly
poor is a testimony to long years of neglect and exploitation. It is a saga
of resource transfer on a massive scale, a saga of colonial style political
and economic management.’
2 Haunting deprivation, discrimination and
disenchantment are starkly evident and cannot be callously refuted by
merely alleging that it’s the handiwork of a few sardars, or of foreign
hands.
Politically and socially, the Baloch believe that their secular
democratic mindset is not compatible with religious fundamentalism
and dictatorial behaviour of the state’s ruling elite.
3 According to
Naseer Dashti, ‘… the essence of the Baloch national struggle is the
assertion that the Baloch have their separate cultural, social and
historical identity which is markedly different from the fundamentalist
ideology of the religious-based state of Pakistan.’ Baloch nationalist
politics has always been based on secular principles and they have not
politicized religion that has remained in the personal sphere and
tradition.
4
In the initial decades, alienation provoked by the above factors was
limited to a few tribes who intermittently broke into rebellion. Now,
since the basic issues have been aggravated instead of being resolved,
the insurgency has spread to all parts of the province. The fact is, in
large parts of Balochistan, the Pakistani state is considered anillegitimate actor.
5
The army seems to be unwilling to concede that unlike in the 1970s,
the insurgency in Balochistan today is not limited to a handful of
sardars. The insurgency is truly a nationalist one with the participation
of a wider spectrum of the Baloch. They are not fighting to preserve
individual sardari rights but to become masters of their own destiny, of
their own resources and be responsible for their own political,
economic and social empowerment. According to a Baloch nationalist,
the military cannot crush the insurgency, since ‘there is no single
messianic leader whose removal will end it. This movement is based on
an ideology that cannot be wiped out, and that ideology is Baloch
nationhood’.
6 Even those Baloch who are participating in the political
process are just as concerned about the narrowing space for the Baloch
in Pakistan as those who have taken up arms against the state. It is just
that their methods are different.
In the collective Baloch memory, injustices of the Pakistani (read
Punjabi) state began with the creation of Pakistan itself, when they lost
their independence, when their distinct national identity was snuffed
out. Over the decades, the injustices have been fuelled by broken
promises, and betrayals like the arrest, imprisonment and execution of
Baloch leaders after the revolts of 1948 and 1958 despite solemn
guarantees of amnesty and safe passage, sworn on the Koran. This was
followed by the arbitrary dismissal of three democratically elected
provincial governments, especially the one in 1973 that led to the four-
year insurgency. Compounding matters was the killing of Nawab Akbar
Khan Bugti in August 2006 that has become a defining moment in the
current insurgency. Other injustices include: the lack of, or inadequate
representation of the Baloch in the state and administrative structures
of Pakistan; the continued exploitation of the province’s natural gas and
other resources for the benefit of other provinces, especially Punjab; the
appalling socio-economic indices of the province; the construction of
mega projects like Gwadar deep-sea port and the CPEC that do not
factor in Baloch aspirations and ownership and could turn them into a minority in their own province. Topping it all are the brutal tactics of
enforced disappearance and especially the wanton kill-and-dump
operations adopted by the army. The weight of such past and present
injustices cannot be lightly brushed under the carpet by touting distant
development goals.
Perhaps the former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry
summed up the conundrum best during a hearing on the law and order
situation when he remarked: ‘We are all responsible for the destruction
of Balochistan ourselves.’
7
Facing absorption and subjugation, a growing section of the Baloch
seem to have had no other choice than to resort to arms. They have
chosen the option to fight to be alive rather than being submissive and
becoming extinct. As Declan Walsh put it, ‘Balochistan’s dirty little war
… highlights a very fundamental danger—the ability of Pakistanis to
live together in a country that, under its Islamic cloak, is a patchwork of
ethnicities and cultures.’ He quotes Haris Gazdar, a Karachi-based
researcher, saying, ‘Balochistan is a warning of the real battle for
Pakistan, which is about power and resources and if we don’t get it
right, we’re headed for a major conflict.’
8
The roots of these problems lie in Pakistan’s failure to acknowledge
and accommodate its ethnic diversity, economic disparities and
provincial autonomy. In the process of constructing a national ideology
based on a purely mechanical unity and simplistic idea of religious
homogeneity, the ruling classes of Pakistan neglected the diversity of its
people and ignored the interests of ethnic and regional minorities. This
gave a deathblow to Pakistan as it was created in 1947. A majority of its
people broke away to form a separate country in 1971—Bangladesh.
The remainder of Pakistan is marred by ethnic and sectarian conflicts,
religious terrorism and economic inequality.
9
For Pakistan the dilemma is that given the economic and strategic
importance of Balochistan, it cannot afford to fail. Loosening of the
links with Balochistan would be a signal for other nationalities, like the
Sindhis especially, to put forward claims for independence of their own. However, continuation of the conflict, let alone its escalation,
could seriously impact the image of stability and could potentially raise
doubts about its territorial integrity. Thus for Pakistan, Balochistan is a
test case of its resolve not only to hold Pakistan together but also to
weld the various nationalities into a larger whole. However, the way it
is doing so is ensuring just the opposite.
As the equations stand today, the needs and interests of the state
establishment and the Baloch are diametrically opposed to one another.
The Baloch are fighting for their identity and their cultural, historical,
geographical and economic rights. The state, including the army, is
concerned with making an artificial Islamic nation, politically
marginalizing the Baloch and ruthlessly exploiting Baloch resources. For
the army, to reverse the course in Balochistan will not be easy given its
mindset.
The moot question is whether the situation in Balochistan is
irretrievable for Pakistan? Will the insurgency dissipate with economic
development and improvement in social indicators? Will the state put
an end to the policy of kill-and-dump and release those in illegal
captivity? Will Balochistan see a lessening of the presence of security
forces? Will the state ensure provincial rights and autonomy, allowing
the Baloch to genuinely use their resources for their benefit first?
While the jury is out on this, what is clear is that such measures are
unlikely to be taken and will certainly not be taken simultaneously. For
one thing, the military is averse to provincial rights and autonomy. For
another, Pakistan has gone too far down the road in terms of
commitments to the Chinese on Gwadar and the CPEC to tweak the
projects to give the Baloch a stake. For most of the Baloch themselves,
the struggle seems to have gone beyond economics.
In any case, the Baloch have come to view development projects as
more examples of the exploitation of the resources of Balochistan for
the sake of the Punjabi state. For most of them, it is now about their
honour, their survival with dignity on their own lands, about preserving
their national identity, culture and language—in a word, about independence. Pushed to the wall, facing marginalization and
subjugation, an increasing number of Baloch are now willing to pick up
the gun for the sake of preserving their rights.
There is also a huge trust deficit. The people in general and the
militant groups in particular no longer trust the government because of
the frequent betrayals, military operations and the continuing policy of
systematic enforced disappearances. Blood has been spilled; among
others, the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, the mysterious killing of
Balach Marri, the brutal murder of three Baloch leaders in 2009 and so
on. For the Baloch, revenge is a key element in their honour code,
Balochmayar. Clearly, one of the biggest obstacles in stabilizing the
situation is the repugnant policy of enforced disappearance and kill-
and-dump.
10 The trust deficit is too huge; moreover, the establishment
is totally intransigent because it believes, as it did in East Pakistan, that
they are powerful enough to crush people’s aspirations in Balochistan.
11
Not surprisingly, the HRCP warned that the decades-long history of
neglect and betrayal combined with systematic human rights abuses
carried out with impunity had made a vast number of Baloch people
desperate. In such a situation ‘… a large section the Baloch youth has
been driven into repudiating their allegiance to the state. When the
people’s will is being broken, their voice ruthlessly stifled and their
bodies charred in torture cells; where mothers are dying to hear any
news of their disappeared children, the state cannot expect any other
reaction but one of rebellion.’
12
There were windows of opportunities for peace in the past but were
squandered through arrogance and ignorance; the best among them was
the 1972-73 Attaullah Mengal government. In September 2008 the
Baloch militant groups unilaterally observed ceasefire but there was no
response and in January 2009 they ended the ceasefire.
The current spate of insurgency is the fifth in Balochistan. In other
words, in the seventy years since the creation of Pakistan, almost every
successive generation of the Baloch have risen in revolt, having lost
faith that their grievances could be addressed within the political system. Every time the Baloch have risen, they have been put down
militarily without any attempt to address their basic problems and
issues and without giving them an equal opportunity to become
stakeholders in Pakistan. As a result, these issues have festered and
erupted whenever the Baloch have thought they were strong and able
to assert their rights.
What is the likelihood of the establishment of an independent
Balochistan? Despite Baloch determination and resolve to preserve their
specific and unique identity and not be subsumed into a larger Pakistani
identity, the political realities are indeed very challenging and pose
major obstacles to the realization of their hopes. Many analysts have
argued that Balochistan is an unlikely candidate for a successful
separatist movement. Stephen Cohen, for example, has written that it
lacks a middle class, a modern leadership, and that the Baloch are a tiny
fraction of Pakistan’s population—and even in their own province are
faced with a growing Pashtun population. Further, neither Iran nor
Afghanistan shows any sign of encouraging Baloch separatism because
such a movement might encompass their own Baloch population.
13
Selig Harrison remarked that the insurgency itself is scattered and
weak but enough to keep a portion of the Pakistan Army tied down.
Earlier, the insurgency was tribal-based but now, in the last decade,
there has been a greater political awareness among the common people
about their exploitation and hence there has been greater political
mobilization. Even the moderate Baluch politicians have to articulate
issues of provincial rights, missing persons, etc.
14
At present levels, therefore, the conflict is unlikely to threaten the
integrity of the state. Pakistan’s military is large with well-trained
troops and sophisticated weapons, making it capable of holding the
country. The Pakistan Army will manage to outfight the Baloch
fighters. Whether it will manage to outlast a people who are fighting to
protect their identity and their homeland is a different matter
altogether. What is likely is that protracted violence will continue to
afflict Balochistan. The Baloch insurgents cannot defeat the army but as they have demonstrated, they can certainly defy the writ of the state,
increase the cost for the army to maintain its grip on the province and
prevent further exploitation of their resources.
15 The resistance groups
have come to view the conflict with Pakistan as a prolonged struggle
and are devising appropriate methodologies, involving both political
mobilization and armed resistance.
16
For Pakistan the question is what cost would it have to pay for
holding on to Balochistan for the present and in the future. So far,
previous military ‘victories’ have not resolved the Baloch question and
there is nothing to suggest that another military ‘victory’ will either. If
anything, the way the government and the army are handling mega
projects, making the Baloch a minority in their own province, will
increasingly ensure that in the future more and more ordinary Baloch
will be alienated and take to armed insurrection.
Thus, neither the army nor the Pakistan state can get much comfort
from the situation. Even at its present level, the insurgency is enough to
target various pipelines and other infrastructure that gives the
impression of instability to the outside world. The Chinese would be
especially worried since they are investing huge sums of money.
A comparison with the situation in the then East Pakistan is
instructive. The Bengali discontent that led to their independence in
1971 was driven by economic as well as political grievances. Baloch
alienation, too, is driven by much the same grievances with the addition
of historical wrongs. Speaking at a function in February 2018 in
Karachi, former diplomat Jehangir Ashraf Qazi said that it was criminal
governance not bad governance and sustained transfer of income from
East Pakistan to West Pakistan, without benefits in proportion, that led
to a kind of alienation, which was widespread and legitimate. He
warned: ‘The same process is taking place in Balochistan today,’ adding
that ‘unlike East Pakistan, the population in Balochistan was lesser and
there was a tendency to say that they can be crushed because there are
just pockets of rebellion and resistance’.
17
The difference between the two is that the Bengalis were relatively homogenous, had a significant middle class, a well-established cultural
and literary life, a standardized language, a broad base of nationalist
activists and a history of mass politicization that dated back to the
struggle against the British Raj.
18 The Baloch nationalist movement, on
the other hand, was built on ‘uncertain social and cultural foundations
of a fragmented tribal society’ that had only a minuscule middle class,
widespread illiteracy, underdeveloped literature, only a narrow base of
nationalist activists and no real history of mass participation in the
political process.
19 Moreover, the Bengalis obtained the support of India
while the Baloch do not have a foreign backer. Resultantly, they have
not been able to pose a grave threat to the Central government’s hold
on power.
The Baloch have, however, come a long way from the 1970s. The
nature of the Baloch society is evolving. With the gradual dismantling
of the age-old ‘sardari nizam’ (tribal structures), a new generation of
leaders is taking root and these young and dynamic leaders are at the
forefront of the Baloch struggle now. As the Foreign Policy Centre
notes: ‘The Baloch have also started defining their nationhood
consciously and have assumed greater international visibility now than
ever before. While there are many weaknesses within the movement,
the spirit of independence and the will to fight, partly induced by the
undemocratic and excessive measures by the Pakistani state, may turn
the tide in favour of the Baloch, but only if there is exemplary
leadership, unity among the ranks, a long-term strategy and resources to
keep the movement alive.’
20
Where would Balochistan be, say, ten years from now? How will its
political dynamics play out when the Baloch become a marginalized
and impoverished minority in their own province and the demography
shifts decisively in favour of other groups? What about the Baloch
youth? These questions need answers. However, answering them today
can only be hypothetical given that there could be many variables in
the developing situation.
One thing that is clear is that unless resolved the insurgency in Balochistan, even at current levels, will eat the innards of Pakistan.
Unfortunately, Pakistani leaders have selective memories and learn
selective lessons from history. For them, there is hardly any incentive to
resolve such issues, given the fact that they are invariably bailed out by
the US/West (and now by China) on the one hand, and on the other,
the insurgency is not of such intensity yet as to threaten Pakistan’s
existence. However, what they seem to overlook is that it took nineteen
years for the language riots in the then East Pakistan that broke out in
1952 to mature into the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. During this
period, resentment among the Bengalis continued to grow unabated,
just as it has been growing in Balochistan.
The overall prognosis has to be that given the current military
capability of the Baloch and without a catalyst like massive
international support, Balochistan is unlikely to break away. However,
having sustained the insurgency for over a decade, it has developed a
momentum of its own. Hence, military force alone will not break
Baloch resistance. Pakistan would have to be prepared for a long haul
unless there is a radical change in the way the army decides to deal with
the Baloch. This, at present, seems unlikely.
For the long term, the Pakistani state will have to compromise with
the Baloch. Continuing to seek a military solution to a political problem
may make sense tactically in softening the opposition. But it can never
be the long-term solution. One of the key factors for the future
development of Pakistan would be a just solution to the Balochistan
conundrum, a solution that puts the Baloch in the centre rather than
the resources of the province. Failure to do so will slowly but
inexorably exacerbate the crisis in Balochistan till it explodes with dire
consequences for Pakistan.

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