December 11th, 2009 Aditi Phadnis
Attending a conference of Indians and Pakistanis hosted by the German NGO Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) which is affiliated to the Social Democrat Party (SPD) in Germany, I realized how little we know about Pakistan generally, but specifically about Balochistan. This region has been in the news in Pakistan for some time, but shot into prominence when the India Pakistan joint statement at Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt issued by the Prime Ministers of the two countries accepted that Pakistan had concerns about India’s role in Balochistan. The storm this kicked off is well known and there is no need to recount the background. The interesting this about the conference was, there were differences between the Indians and Pakistanis on all other issues. But on Balochistan both sides – I repeat both sides – agreed that Balochistan had been treated very badly for several decades.
Pakistani delegates however, said a new Pakistan was in the making and things were beginning to be set right in Balochistan.
This was most forcefully brought to the forefront by a young journalist, Malik Siraj Akbar who presented a strongly argued paper. Reproduced here, with his permission is a copy of the paper. I have made no changes in it. It shows what a Pakistani Baloch feels about his own country. Reading it, one can understand and sympathise both the Baloch people and the Pakistani state. The Baloch people, because of the way they’ve been treated; the Pakistani state, because it must be so hard to govern a set of people as alienated from the country as those in Balochistan.
I have added some explanatory comments in brackets.
Here is what Malik Siraj Akbar had to say:
The Baloch sense of alienation dates back to the forceful annexation of the Kalat State (present Balochistan) with the fledgling state of Pakistan in 1948. Resentment in Balochistan against Islamabad reached its nadir during the ten-year rule of General Pervez Musharraf. As the former military ruler applied a militaristic solution to a political demand by the Balochs for maximum provincial autonomy and control of the provinces over their natural resources, an organized military operation was unleashed in Balochistan for the fifth time by the country’s military.
The Balochs grumble that they do not control or benefit from their own natural resources nor are they equally represented in the country’s civil and military bureaucracy. (The number of Baloch soldiers in the military is miniscule. And it is the Sui gas fields in Balochistan that provide Pakistan with its entire LNG reserves. The Baloch people get no special royalty from the exploitation of these reserves) It is the country’s military, not the elected government of Balochistan, that calls the shots in the province, as confirmed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
The military operation initiated by General Musharraf led to the killing of former governor and chief minister of Balochistan, Nawab Mohammad Akbar Khan Bugti, 79, also a towering Baloch tribal chief, and Nawabzada Balach Marri, a member of the Balochistan Assembly. Hundreds of young Baloch political activists were picked up by the state-controlled intelligence agencies and subjected to “enforced disappearance”. Opposition political leaders were arrested; Talibanization was promoted to counter the Baloch nationalistic movement and American weapons provided to Islamabad to fight the Islamic radicals were used to crush the Baloch nationalistic movement.
Islamabad’s repressive policy was responded by the alienated middle-class educated young Balochs who began to assert overt support for an independent Balochistan. Carrying an appealing slogan for separation, this school of thought has now become the most significant stakeholder of the Baloch conflict. The Baloch armed groups have started to target kill top government servants, burn Pakistan’s flag and stop playing the national anthem in all educational institutions of the province to vent their growing hatred against Pakistan.
For the first time in the Baloch history, women and children have now come out of their homes and joined the movement for an independent Balochistan. These women mostly come from professional medical colleges and view every Baloch leader as a national traitor who believes in coexistence with Pakistan. As the movement for separation gains popularity among the younger generation, it has made it impossible for the moderate nationalistic parties to reconcile with Islamabad on mere economic packages.
Unfortunately, Islamabad is not apologetic about its flawed policies in Balochistan. In an effort to discredit the indigenous Baloch movement, Pakistan has been blaming India and Afghanistan for the unrest in Balochistan, an allegation vehemently and repeatedly spurned by the Baloch leaders.
If Islamabad squanders more time in addressing the genuine Baloch political demand for provision of self-rule, economic justice, equitable representation in the federation and respectful treatment in the federation of Pakistan, the situation in Balochistan might become very difficult to handle in the near future where a 1971-like situation already prevails. The growingly popular appeal for an independent Balochistan may reach a no-point return if a few more policy blunders are committed by Islamabad rather than ending the ongoing economic exploitation and massive violation of the Baloch rights in the province.
(The non-Baloch Pakistani speakers at the conference were in agreement with most of the above. Lt Gen Moinuddin Haider, former Governor of Sind and former Interior Minister murmured : “Hamse bahut galtiyan hui hain”.
The Baloch people are not homogenous: about 45 per cent of the people are pashtoons and speak pashto. It is the latter who monopolise the Baloch regiment in the Pakistan Army. Hence the rest of the Baloch population finds no voice.)
Journalist Mariana Babar who attended the conference agreed with Siraj for the most part but disagreed on India’s role. Babar said insurgency was nothing new to Balochistan, but it rose in 2002 and it almost at one stage appeared uncontrollable by 2006 after the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti who like other leaders was always willing to talk to Islamabad . This saw his grandson Bramdagh Bugti starting an armed struggle who commands the Balochistan Liberation Army.
Soon there was alienation from the Marri tribe as well whose commander Balaach Marri was killed in 2007, with no-one claiming responsibility.
Even the Khan of Kalat, today in exile is asking for moving the International Court of Justice and the UN, she said. The youth have killed many Punjabis and Urdu speaking people settled in Balochistan. Sectarian killings are rampant where those from Hazara community are singled out by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jundullah, the latter a Sunni extremist group which recently took responsibility for terror attacks in Iran. Babar said the issue of Indian interference inside Balochistan had been flagged at the meeting between Gilani and Singh at Sharm-el-Sheikh. But added that recently, the Pakistan government came out publicly to name India as one of the external factors which are aiding insurgency inside Balochistan. However when the American Ambassador in Islamabad , Anne Peterson was questioned about this, she said that Pakistan had not shared any such intelligence regarding India, but if they did, the US would take action. She did not elaborate what she meant by ‘action’.
The fact is Balochistan is one of the many landmines Pakistan is sitting on. Former Pakistan Ambassador to India, Aziz Ahmad Khan, while not denying any of the arguments, said the Baloch people had been sensible in not letting the mullahs get into Balochistan. The Gods must be thanked for small mercies !!