Friday, December 11, 2009




In a last-ditch effort to find a political solution to the explosive situation that exists in Balochistan province, the government of Pakistan has unveiled a package of economic, political, administrative reforms titled "Aaghaz-e-Huqooq-Balochistan". The very title of the package is an acknowledgement of the shabby treatment meted out to Balochistan for the last six decades. On the face of it, the AHB package appears to be a sincere effort on the part of the PPP-led government to address grievances of the disaffected Baloch. But whether this package will achieve its objective of bringing back the Baloch to the national mainstream of Pakistan and end the wave of separatist sentiment sweeping through the Baloch belt of the province will critically depend both on whether the infamous 'establishment' (read Pakistan army) will allow the measures to be implemented on the ground and on the acceptance or otherwise of these reforms by the Baloch.

Baloch nationalism has been an abiding feature of the political landscape of Balochistan. Four times in the past, the Baloch have gone on the war path to win their independence from Pakistan. Each time the Pakistani state has brutally crushed the insurgency. But despite the repression and the shenanigans of the Pakistani establishment to break or buy out the Baloch, the idea of an independent Balochistan has always stayed alive in the minds of the people of the province. If anything, it is the ham-handedness of the Pakistani establishment that has probably helped to keep the flame of Baloch nationalism lit.

Ethnicity intertwined with a sense of political marginalisation and economic deprivation continues to be a potent force in keeping the flames of Baloch nationalism alive. The Baloch feel that they have been denied representation in the government and perceive it as an alien government. There are hardly any Baloch in Army or top federal jobs, even most of the provincial jobs are held by outsiders. As a result the ratio of unemployment in Balochistan is highest in the country. They fear being marginalised in their own province by Pakhtuns and other Pakistanis and feel that the resources of their province are being exploited by outsiders, without any benefit coming their way.

Ostensibly to usher in development in the province, the Musharraf regime started a series of mega-projects in Balochistan – Gwadar port being the most notable. In principle, there was nothing wrong with these projects. But rather than uplifting the lot of the Baloch, they served to alienate them further. The reason was simple. The Baloch had not only no control over these projects, they had no stake in them – the entire labor force was imported from other parts of Pakistan and cronies of the establishment reaped all the benefits from these projects. At the same time the Pakistan army decided to establish a string of military cantonments across the province. This again was seen by the Baloch as a step to tighten the stranglehold of Islamabad on the resources of the province. The mega-projects and military cantonments were also seen as measures to alter the demographic composition in the province and reduce the Baloch into a minority.

With matters reaching a head, an armed insurgency broke out in Balochistan. Partly because of momentous political events taking place in rest of Pakistan and partly because of an unwritten media censorship on the coverage of the incidents in Balochistan imposed by the quasi-military dispensation in the country, an impression gained ground that Pakistan had got over its Balochistan problem. But while developments in Balochistan might not have made the front pages of newspapers, it did not stop the situation in the province from spiralling out of control. Today the situation in Balochistan is in many ways far more serious in terms of its potential repercussions for the Pakistani federation than even the militancy in the Pashtun areas.

The alienation of the people with Pakistan in the Baloch areas of Balochistan is almost total and separatist sentiments are now being openly expressed in colleges, universities, public meetings, TV programmes, newspaper articles and what have you. So widespread is the disaffection with Pakistan that even the moderate nationalist forces are being dragged by the nose to lean in favour of the separatists. Pro-Pakistan nationalist politicians are constrained to tell their Pakistani interlocutors that they are fast getting marginalised and that their pleas for seeking a solution within the Pakistani federation are finding fewer takers by the day.

After the 2008 general elections, attempts were made by the civilian government to reach out and assuage the Baloch. President Asif Zardari not only apologised to the Baloch for all the acts of state repression in the past and promised to address all the issues that agitated the Baloch. Apart from the pro forma development package, he assured the Baloch constitutional reforms that would make provincial autonomy a reality. In addition, the PPP government took steps to free political prisoners, including many of the so-called 'missing persons' who had been kept in illegal custody by the security agencies of the Pakistani state.

Despite Asif Zardari's peace initiative being welcomed accorded a cautious welcome, it was not able to make even a dent on the deep-seated sense of grievance among the Baloch. One reason for this was that the PPP-led coalition government was not exactly a representative government. Worse, the MPAs (Members of Provincial Assembly), including the chief minister, were nothing more than figureheads. They neither enjoyed any credibility among the disaffected people, nor did they have the power to do anything to satisfy the aspirations of the people. So much so that both the chief minister and the governor of Balochistan have stated on the record that they are powerless before the security establishment that pretty much does as it pleases in the province.

In any case, matters had moved to a point where what the Pakistani state was willing to offer to the Baloch in terms of autonomy, a larger share in the federal resources, a control over the province's resources etc. was no longer enough to satisfy the people of the province. Caught as they were in a time-warp of sorts, the Pakistani political authorities seemed unable to comprehend that the Baloch political and social scene had undergone a fundamental change. The disaffected Baloch are no longer likely to be satisfied by action on granting of provincial rights or even autonomy; their demand is now 'Azadi'. Complicating matters for the Pakistani state is another fundamental change: the tribal sardars no longer called all the shots.

In the past if you got the sardars on your side, more than half the battle was won. No longer is this the case. Although many of the tribal sardars continue to have a hold over their tribesmen, there has been a dilution in this hold. A lot of the young people and urban dwellers no longer blindly follow the line set by their sardars. As a result many of the sardars are now constrained to defend the separatists just to retain their relevance. Nationalist sardars like Attaullah Mengal and Khair Bux Marri are no longer the driving force of the separatist movement, only figureheads.

Much of the separatist violence in Balochistan has been claimed by organisations like the BLA, BRA, BLUF, BLF. Interestingly, despite these outfits operating on the scene for a number of years now, nobody seems to have a proper fix on them. There is more conjecture than any hard evidence regarding their form, structure, leadership and membership. The formless structure of the Baloch separatist armies makes them quite an enigma for the Pakistani security forces. They are almost like a phantom organization. And despite the mass arrests of alleged operatives of these organisations, it doesn't seem to have affected their operations or revealed their organisational structure, leadership, cadre, funding, training etc.

The guerrilla warfare tactics of these groups – planting roadside bombs and mines that target military convoys, targeting and eliminating people who are close to the government, ambushing soldiers and officers randomly while they are off-duty, target killings of people working for or supporting the state authorities, attacking and destroying economic infrastructure like gas pipelines, electricity lines, railway tracks, and carrying out reprisals against Punjabi settlers in Balochistan (which has led to an exodus on the Non-Baloch from the Baloch areas of the province) – coupled with mass public support they are attracting is now a major nightmare for the Pakistan establishment.

In order to snuff out the clear and present danger that the rising tide of separatist sentiment poses to the integrity of the Pakistani federation, a two-pronged approach has been adopted: military repression on the one hand and a political and economic initiative on the other hand. Quite aside the fact that the military prong effectively nullifies any good that could possibly come out of the political-economic prong, the strategy of the Pakistan security establishment to prop up counter forces to the Baloch nationalist too could end up making matters worse in the province. Not only is the security establishment using the Islamists, in particular the Taliban and political groups like the JUI sharing a fraternal relationship with the Taliban, to queer the pitch for the nationalist forces, they are also instigating ethnic conflict between the Baloch and the Pashtun in Balochistan. Under the circumstances, it is unlikely that there will be any positive movement towards restoring peace in the province, much less assuaging the litany of grievances that the Baloch harbour against the Pakistani establishment and state.


    <1580 Words>                    11th December, 2009



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis of Balochistan situation. In fact, Balochistan deprivation is worsening and there is little chance that Islamabad would be able to appease aggrivated Baloch people.

9:29 AM  

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