Balochistan is distinct from rest of Pakistan not only geographically but also in its sufferings and the treatment meted out to it…
(from the Executive Summary of the White paper for the budget 2015-16, prepared by the Finance Department of the Government of Balochistan)
Balochistan, like the states of Nepal and Myanmar, had direct treaty relationships with Great Britain and as such was not eligible for accession to either of the Dominions. It was the treachery of Jinnah and the use of naked military force by Pakistan that forced an amalgamation of this state with Pakistan in 1948. Since then it has witnessed five major revolts. The conflict in Balochistan stems from the constant heroic efforts of the Baloch in trying to maintain their ethnic and economic identity. This triggered the Baloch nationalist’s desire to retain power of self-determination for Balochistan as a sovereign state, and hence prevent the loot of its resources and the colonial exploitation of its people.
Tracing the struggles of the Baloch post their migration in Balochistan, it is certain that seeds of conflicts were planted significantly since the very advent of the British Raj. Prior to the Raj, the Baloch leaders had worked towards the unification of the tribes in the face of external pressures. Mir Chakan Khan (a celebrated Baloch Sardar) had successfully unified the Baloch tribes by warding off the Mughal rule in 16thcentury. By the 18thcentury, the fourth Khan of Kalat – Abdullah Khan succeeded in unification of the tribes which had destabilized the rule of Mir Chakan Khan. However, the unification of Balochistan as a sovereign state was cemented finally under the 6thKhan of Kalat, Nazir Khan. He is credited with the formation of a Baloch army, the administrative structure and for fiercely battling the Afghans which led to the creation of Balochistan as a sovereign state. While sovereignty was declared under the Khanate of Kalat, the struggle to maintain the regime has continued even in current times.
The British impact on the Khanate can be viewed in two phases. The first was seen between 1837-76, when the British launched campaigns to control Baloch tribes. These forced the Khan of Kalat to sign treaties with the British. The result lead to easy military mobility of the British and also unimpeded trade with Balochistan. The second phase, saw large military forces enter into Balochistan in 1876 under the command of Sir Robert Sandeman (first Commissioner of Balochistan). An effort to broker peace between the Baloch sardars and the British was initiated which led to a complete British control over the Baloch tribes. In the following years, owing to the geostrategic significance of the region, Lord Lytton (Viceroy of India) established a military cantonment in the area and signed a treaty with the Khan of Kalat, Nasir Khan II. The treaty guaranteed autonomy of the Baloch tribes and the permission to place British troops in the Kalat territory. The significance of the treaty of 1876, is that it placed emphasis on the British recognition of Balochistan as a sovereign state. It also allowed amicable grounds of existing in Kalat territory, even though it was a compromise on the British end. However, by 1930’s the uprisings from the Baloch bourgeois class under Anjuman-e-Itthiad-e-Balochistan (Association for the Unity of Balochistan) followed to end the colonization and Sardari System. A constant strife to maintain self governance without any interference from external sources had greatly influenced the Baloch which predicted the future movements in due time. In 1947, four princely states of Balochistan – Kalat, Lasbela, Kharan and Makran existed. The Khan of Kalat who took Jinnah into confidence to gain legal expertise for securing Independence, succeeded in issuing a declaration of Independence on August 12, 1947. Governance was established under the constitution of the Government of Kalat State Act, incorporating a bicameral legislation, while establishing the Pakistani recognition of Kalat as an independent sovereign state.
The freedom of Kalat was short-lived. March 1948, foretold of the Baloch struggles to come. Mohammad Ali Jinnah became the Governor General of Pakistan and used brute military force to have the Khan of Kalat sign the Instrument of Accession. This led to the first uprising against Pakistan by the Baloch freedom fighters under Prince Abdul Karim, which was ultimately crushed by the Pakistani Army. Later in 1954, the Pakistani ploy of a ‘one-unit scheme’ to fuse entire West Pakistan as whole based on religion and geography (to counter demographic advantage of then East Pakistan), played against the secular sentiments of the Baloch tribes. Given the majority populace in Pakistan was Punjabi, it meant the “process of steam-rolling other ethnic divisions” such as the Baloch. The second rebellion sparked off but was soon crushed. In 1960’s, the third rebellion followed from the Baloch side. The Sardari system was revoked by the Pakistani government. The rise in Baloch insurgency began with demands for equal shares in revenues from the Sui Gas fields which now Pakistan controlled in Balochistan. The movement yet again was faced with air attacks, bombings and overwhelming military force employed by Pakistan. General Yahya Khan was forced to abolish the ‘one-unit scheme’.
The fourth uprising began, owing to President Bhutto calling the Baloch nationalists out for treason, dismissing the provincial government of Balochistan and NWFP and by further imposing martial law in those areas. Major corps sized Pakistani military operations were launched against the Bugti, Mengal and Marri tribes with the help of Attack Helicopters provided by the Shah of Iran. This revolt was crushed most brutally.
The fifth rebellion which is still persistent since 2004, started under the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf. Unlike the previous rebellions which were monopolized by Marri and Mengal tribes in fore ground, the uprising led by the Bugti tribe came into focus on account of the assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006 by the Pakistani government.
Further uprisings were triggered due to targeted killings, Baloch accusations of Pakistan’s ‘kill and dump policy’, and displaced Baloch Nationalists. An added play on the narratives of what may be considered as terrorists Vs insurgents by Pakistan within its territory, has greatly changed the perception of who the Baloch are. While one man’s freedom fighter may be another man’s terrorist, the Baloch uprisings which were once considered as insurgencies, are being pushed into the realm of terrorism, labelled by Pakistan to enforce its policy of extremism. This situation presents a difficult challenge while analyzing the data on Counter Terrorism situation in terms of terrorists Vs insurgents.
In the Pakistani military strategy, Counter Terrorism is not so much as containing terrorism but harvesting the raw materials of Balochistan, while outlining the Baloch nationals as a threat to the idea of Pakistani national security.
Due to the omnipotent control of the ISI in the Baloch affairs, state sponsored private militias have carried out a surge to eliminate the Baloch Nationalists. An open barter of allowing these killer militias, death squads, illicit trade of arms and drugs, with funds and military training for these criminal entities from the ISI and Pakistani army, is now clearly visible. “Peace force, Tehrek-e-Nifaz-e-Aman, Musalah Difai Tanzeem, and Mutahida Mahaz are the state sponsored terrorist outfits. While on sectarian grounds, Laskar-e-Jhangavi and Sipah-e-Muhammad are funded to carry out the massacre.” as stated by the Baloch National Council for Human Rights.
Pakistan’s Counter Terrorism policy declares the Baloch nationalists as anti-state elements. This current extremist policy, comes with sociological agendas of political struggle to impose Sharia Laws in pursuance of a rabid ‘Islamization’ program through institutional arrangements of Pakistan. This is now virtually amounting to genocide against the Baloch.
It is imperative to draw attention to the flexibility in interchangeability of labels used for the Baloch. There has been a constant displacement on the narratives of Counter Insurgency (COIN) and Counter Terrorism (CT) while regarding the Baloch nationalists. Hence the rules of both overlap, and are readily dispersed with no reason for accountability under an ‘enemy-centric strategy’ by the state. By labelling the Baloch as terrorists, it is easier to paint such a severity of the situation where the hopes of negotiations seem improbable.
According to the Director of Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), Amir Rana, the success of Operation Zarb-i-Azb and the National Action Plan (NAP) under General Raheel Sharif played an important role in incapacitating the conflict in Balochistan but not completely in eradicating it. Zarb-i-Azb focused on recapture of the areas, while Operation Raddul Fassad under General Qamar Javed Bajwa, was tuned to break the infrastructure and support network.
Recently, an operation by the Pakistani military called the Ground Zero Clearance Operation was carried out. Its aim was to neutralize the Baloch insurgent bases and support networks around the Pakistan-Iran border.
Pakistan has failed to differentiate between its narrative of who is a terrorist, who is a sub-nationalist and who are the insurgents, and has collectively proscribed most as terror outfits. Instead of addressing the grievances of the Baloch, it has created a divide amongst the interests of Pakistan and those of the Baloch. It has failed to mollify the Baloch and has alienated them by introducing its death squads to carry extrajudicial killings and abductions of the Baloch civilians. Already, Pakistan Army has been accused of various human rights violations in its crackdown in Balochistan. According to Mama Qadeer, the activist who started the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), over 47000 Baloch have gone missing since 2000, these figures were also cited by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recently.
The state of Pakistan has failed to take any tangible action against the perpetrators contributing to the massacre of Baloch individuals and has denied its involvement in its own ‘kill and dump policy’. The judiciary, media, human rights activists and Baloch nationalist parties have exhausted their efforts in trying to persuade the Pakistani government and international institutions to intervene and end these atrocities in Balochistan.
The uniformity in the denial from the political and military groups in Pakistan against the abductions and killings of the Baloch individuals, has led to the disregard, of the millions of cries which have demanded an international intervention before the United Nations and the International Court of Justice.
The Baloch feelings of resentment towards Pakistan continue to intensify with the growing Chinese influence in the province as well. The introduction of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has only caused a greater worry to the Baloch of being marginalized in their own province. CPEC is a leading project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the province. The CPEC begins at Khunjerab Pass in Gilgit-Baltistan and ends at Gwadar. The port city of Gwadar lies in Balochistan, but its post is being operated by the Chinese.
With China calling the shots on CPEC in Balochistan, the Baloch feel as though China has replaced Pakistan in exploiting Balochistan of its natural resources. Concerns are being raised by the Baloch nationalists over the growing Chinese presence in the region, but to no avail. Despite Baloch dissatisfaction, China and Pakistan have continued to reassure one another of their friendly ties and mutual respect. However, the security of Chinese citizens in Pakistan has become a concern for both nations. The Chinese have now become targets of religious extremists as well as the Baloch separatists.
It is apparent that China is seeking to secure its own geo-economic and geo-strategic interests in the region. Pakistan on the other hand keeps playing the devil’s advocate for maintaining local support groups in Balochistan, in pursuit of its own interests in CPEC. However, the effort is proving to be unsuccessful in gaining the Baloch trust.
With the news surfacing of the Pakistan Army planning a forced migration of local Balochi tribes in the areas of Rustam Khan Shehr, the fear of being displaced from their own province has become a concern for the Baloch. If the plan to carry out the forced Baloch migration is executed, the chances of seeing the insurgency dissipating in Balochistan is unlikely.
With the monotonous synchronicities continuing in the justifications provided by the Pakistani political and military administrations to silence the Baloch, it wouldn’t be surprising to witness a bigger wave of Baloch insurgency to rise in the future.