A Home-grown Conflict
By Malik Siraj Akbar
11 August 2009, 12:00am IST
When the first Baloch insurgency broke out in 1948 to resist the illegal and forceful annexation of the Baloch-populated autonomous Kalat state with Pakistan, Manmohan Singh – today Indian prime minister – was barely a teenager while his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani had not even been born to witness the rebellion’s magnitude. Yet, last month, both leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh discussed for the first time the indefatigable Baloch insurgency.
Pakistan has been blaming India for causing trouble in its resource-rich province. Gilani broached the issue with India at a time disgruntled Baloch youth have removed the Pakistani flag from schools and colleges and stopped playing the national anthem. Punjabi officers refuse to serve in Balochistan, fearing they would be target-killed. Islamabad attributes the unrest to ‘foreign involvement’. India is not the first to be blamed. Similar allegations were levelled in the past against the now defunct Soviet Union, Afghanistan and Iraq to discredit the indigenous movement for retaining a distinct Baloch identity. Indian assistance sounds ridiculous given that the Baloch do not share a border, common language, religion or history with India. Hardly has 1 per cent of Balochs have visited India.
The idea of Pakistan never attracted the secular Baloch. Ghose Baksh Bizanjo, a Baloch leader, said in 1947: “It is not necessary that by virtue of our being Muslims we should lose our freedom… If the mere fact that we are Muslims requires us to join Pakistan, then Afghanistan and Iran… should also amalgamate with Pakistan.”
Over the years, Islamabad has applied a multi-pronged approach to deal with Balochista Apart from military operations launched in 1948, 1958, 1962, 1973 and 2002 to quash the rebellion, Islamabad adopted other tactics. First, it kept the province economically backward by denying it good infrastructure, mainly in education and health. Natural gas was discovered in Balochistan in 1951 and supplied to Punjab’s industrial units. The Balochs hardly benefit from their own gas.
Second, Balochs, whom the state views as traitors, were denied representation in the army, foreign services, federal departments, profitable corporations, Pakistan International Airlines, customs, railways and other key institutions. Third, Balochistan has historically been remote-controlled from Islamabad. A Pakistan army corps commander, often a Punjabi or a Pathan, and the inspector general of the Frontier Corps, a federal paramilitary force with less than 2 per cent Baloch representation, exert more power than the province’s elected chief minister. The intelligence agencies devise election plans and decide who has to come to the provincial parliament and who should be ousted.
Fourth, Islamabad has created a state of terror inside Balochistan. Hundreds of check posts have been established to harass people and restrict their movement. Forces and tanks are stationed even on campuses of universities. Fifth, national and international media are denied access to conflict zones in Balochistan. Several foreign journalists were beaten up supposedly by intelligence agencies personnel or deported when they endeavoured to report the actual situation. Sixth, international human rights organisations are denied access to trace the whereabouts of some 5,000 ‘missing persons’. Pakistan is also in a state of denial about the existence of around 2,00,000 internally displaced persons in Balochistan.
Seventh, Islamabad has been engaged in systematic target killing of key Baloch democratic leaders. Ex-governor and chief minister of Balochistan, Nawab Akbar Bugti, 79, became a victim once he demanded Baloch rights. Balach Marri, a Balochistan Assembly member, was killed to undermine the movement. In April this year, three other prominent leaders were whisked away by security forces and subsequently killed.
Eighth, Pakistan has pitted radical Taliban against secular and democratic Baloch forces. The state is brazenly funding thousands of religious schools across the province with the help of Arab countries to promote religious radicalisation. Elements supportive of Taliban were covertly helped by state institutions to contest and win general elections. They now enjoy sizeable representation in the Balochistan Assembly to legislate against the nationalists and secular forces.
Ninth, Islamabad has been using sophisticated American weapons, provided to crush Taliban, against the Baloch people. This has provided breathing space to Taliban hidden in Quetta and weeded out progressive elements. Finally, Afghan refugees are being patronised to create a demographic imbalance in the Baloch-dominated province.
Baloch leaders are critical of many democratic countries for not doing ‘enough’ to safeguard a democratic, secular Baloch people. I asked Bramdagh Bugti, a Baloch commander, about the India link. He laughed and said, “Would our people live amid such miserable conditions if we enjoyed support from India? We are an oppressed people… seeking help from India, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union to come for our rescue.”
The Baloch movement is rapidly trickling down from tribal chiefs to educated middle-class youth aggressively propagating their cause on Facebook and YouTube. This generation would understandably welcome foreign assistance but will not give up even if denied help from countries like India. The Baloch insist their struggle was not interrupted even at times when India and Pakistan enjoyed cordial relations.
The writer is Balochistan bureau chief of Daily Times .