The Baluchistan Issue
06 February, 2006
By Farzana Shah
With the fast progress in the mega development projects in Baluchistan like recently completed Mekran Coastal Highway and the under construction Mirani Dam, Gwadar Deep Sea Port and Kacchi Canal along with the multi million dollar Saindak, which could transform the fate of the poverty stricken Baluchis soon, the Baluchistan is once again witnessing unrest due to the attacks on the government installations and counter operation by the government against the saboteurs. Who is (are) behind it all and whose purpose do such unrest and law and order situation serve? Who stands to gain and who stand to lose, should not be difficult to guess. Development in the region will usher in an era of progress, ameliorating the lot of the poverty stricken Bluchis. Once the down trodden Baluchis are freed from economic shackles and taste the fruits of development, their children graduate from schools and colleges opening vistas of future employment for them, roads are built in the difficult terrains connecting the interior and the hinterland with the main markets and big cities, their sick and ill children, women and the old get proper medical aid and care from the hospitals, and so on so forth, they will be a changed people and it shall not be possible for the Sardars to keep them subjugated any longer with the ease that they have been doing so for the centuries. Acts of sabotage and saboteur are, therefore, the only way of keeping the progress away from the Baluchis, which serves the purpose of the Sardars only too well.
When mortars and rockets fly around, the government is left with not much option but to use force to establish its writ in the area. Use of power, however, legit it may be is bound to draw criticism from most and particularly from the vested interests. This is what is happening in Baluchistan and the ongoing operation there has come under sever criticism from different quarters specially the nationalists and the opposition parties.
Keeping in view the critical strategic location of Baluchistan with 347,641 square kilometers - nearly 43 per cent of country`s total area, its command over 900 miles of the Arabian Sea coastline, vast potential for natural resources like oil, uranium, copper and other minerals and the massive development planned for the province specially the Gwadar Port, stabilizing Baluchistan and consolidating the administrative hold of the government there is of paramount importance.
Baluchistan and the Baluchis have a long history of heroic deeds in the face of its adversaries and resistance to external power. The proud tribal tradition and strong ethnic bonds make them a fearless and too independent in nature a people to accept any authority enforced upon them. They have to have their ‘leader’(Sardar) among from them and once he gains their confidence as a just and impartial Sardar nothing can wean them away from him. It is unfortunately an other matter that some of the Sardars exploit their such sincerity to their own advantage and extol the unwary poor simpletons to fight for their rights. The government would, therefore, be well advised that along with the use of minimal force to restore its writ there, it should also take steps to ‘re-engineer’ the Sardari system in the province keeping in view the long term interests of both – Pakistan as well as the Baluchis.
The British learnt their lesson after the internecine tribal wars in Baluchistan and started administering the province by dividing it into A and B Areas: ‘A’ areas were directly controlled and administered by the British (through a Regent to the Viceroy), whereas in the ‘B’ areas the British exercised proxy control through the princely Sardars. The system seemed to work and even continued after Independence by the Pakistan Establishment. Baluchistan remained a Regency till as late as 14 October 1955, when it became part of the West Pakistan province. It was only after the dissolution of the One Unit that Baluchistan became a full fledged province of Pakistan on July 1st, 1970, almost after 23 years of the existence of Pakistan!
The ‘B’ areas of Baluchistan - the largest province of Pakistan – mainly constituted of four States – Kalat, Las Bela, Mekran and Kharan. Three of these states acceded to Pakistan on 17 March 1948 and the Khan of Kalat acceded on 31st of March 1948. On 3rd of October 1952 these states formed ‘Baluchistan States Union’ with the Wali of Kalat as the Khan-e-Azam of the Union. Finally the State extinguished on 14 October 1955 when merged into the Province of West Pakistan. However, Baluchistan maintained its distinct identity and Khan of Kalat wielded great influence in the area.
Due to the fact that 95 per cent of the province was `B` or in a later term ‘unsettled’ area, police did not operate in it. That provided the Sardars with a free hand to control not only the resources of the province but also the destiny of the poor Baluchis and exploited their sense of deprivation to continue their own rule. Sardars administered the law, dispensed tribal justice and goaled the ‘culprits’ in their private jails. Their hold was so strong that nothing could move in their respective areas of influence without the explicit approval of the Sardar. Any ‘trespassing’ could erupt open hostility resulting in ambushing the public transport and kidnapping the government officials to be taken as hostages for bargaining.
Successive governments, one after another, kept negotiating with these influential Sardars to avoid the law and order situation and more often than not only the ‘bullion’ could keep the bully away. Political dialogue is the best way to solve the problems, however, one must not look for the immediate solutions only and should plan for the long term goals of bringing piece and prosperity to the area and its inhabitants.
Five districts of the `B` area were declared as ‘A` or settled areas in 2004 by the Musharraf government. The districts are enormous in size, the terrain mountainous and very difficult and the communications poor. Policing them effectively is a Herculean task, not possible without the most modern means and equipment – wireless sets for effective command and control, cross country going vehicles and helicopters for better mobility in the inaccessible areas and modern superior weapons for the ultimate showdown, if any. The entire power structure in the province has to be re-engineered gradually to send the message of ‘no-nonsense’ to the miscreants and the influential at their back. The task is not only difficult but unpleasant also, inviting trouble from the powers that be, as is evident from the reaction evoked after the Musharraf government showed its determination to bring most of the province under policing, who immediately started guarding their interests by targeting vital installations, security forces and state actors on the pretext of fighting for the rights of the Baluchis. Strangely, whenever there is an effort on the part of the government to start some small or mega development project(s) in the province to ameliorate the lot of the Baluchis, the so called Sardars raise the hue and cry, creating unrest and fuelling attacks on the government machinery and forces using sophisticated weapons reportedly with external support. Involvement of our next door neighbor in worsening the situation in Baluchistan is now an open secret. Apart from funding the miscreants and providing them with the weapons, the fomenters of the trouble are also suggested strategies and pattern of attacks to adopt through its websites and analysis. Commenting on the situation during 2004 one of the Indian analysts wrote "Nevertheless, the pattern of insurgent violence thus far suggests that the Balochis are essentially demonstrating their capabilities, rather than using them to the fullest.
Actions are being calibrated to a threshold that keeps the movement alive, while a fuller commitment is kept at abeyance till clearer assurance of support is secured from one or another external power." This clearly shows the designs of the Indian government and how are the saboteurs being constantly guided by it. Sudden increase in the hostile propaganda to the extent of brazen interference in our internal affairs coinciding with the eruption of the unrest in the province should not surprise our political pundits in any way. Note should in particular be taken of the strategies being suggested this time aiming at uniting the Sardars for a full scale insurgency through calibrated and widely dispersed campaign of attacks virtually across the length and breadth of Baluchistan changing the pattern of insurgency from that of 1970s. Also, the strategy seems to keep the Pakistan army engaged in the
conventional counter-insurgency operations, forcing it to deploy even more troops here which it would find difficult to move from other areas, specially from the Western front where it has around 70,000 men committed operationally. Similarly, a large number of the troops is engaged in providing relief in the quake-hit areas. Pakistan has to adopt measures to prevent miscreants from spreading insurgency to the entire geographical area of Baluchistan. Individual pockets of insurgency are to be effectively cordoned off and dealt with piecemeal. Individual rebels are to be kept away from forming a united front so that attacks on the Army, law enforcing agencies, vital installations and sporadic skirmishes could be controlled.
A strict vigilance has to be kept over the Pak-Afghan bordering areas (Nemroz, Helmand and Farah) that could provide a safe heavens to the rebels as heretofore. The sprawling routes connecting vast areas of Baluchistan with the rest of the country need to be effectively patrolled to foil any attempt of the saboteurs to disrupt or interdict these routes cutting the province from the other parts of Pakistan.
On the political front, the establishment has to deal with the Sardars cautiously but firmly. The process of political dialogue is considered certainly the most favoured option all over the world. They might have some genuine grievances which must be addressed to on priority basis. Patriotic and considerate Sardars believing in negotiating the political solutions be kept away from the hostile Baloch leaders given more to the power of the barrel. Removal of the grievances of the common Baluchis would also need urgent consideration. A common Balochi perception of the Panjabis exploiting their resources while they themselves remain deprived of even the basic amenities is abundantly exploited by their influential leaders. While the successive governments are also responsible for backwardness of the province as these have only added to the strength of the Sardars by providing them huge amount of money on the pretext of initiating development projects, knowing fully well that the money would be pocketed by the Sardars themselves. Is it not time that the establishment did away with this system and instead reached out to the poor? The common Balochis should be interacted with more and more but gradually to draw him into the main stream of the development projects instead of the few Sardars, who in any case spend the money on the maintenance of their private armies. The parliamentary committees constituted to find a political solution to the problems, specially the one headed by Mushahid Hussain had some excellent suggestions to deal with the situation and those should be implemented. Gas royalties, if to be paid, should go to the common Baluchis instead of the Sardars. This one act alone could make the Baluchis throw away the shackle of subjugation to the Sardars and make them better Pakistanis in the truer sense.
There is yet another dimension to the Baluchistan issue which is of international nature. Activities of the so called Balochi Liberation Front are viewed with much concern by the Iranian government who has its own share of substantial Baloch population. The proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipe line passing through the area and providing the Central Asian countries a land access to the warm waters of the Arabian sea through Kabul and Qandhar have given an altogether a different strategic dimension to the region. China is massively investing in the province in projects like construction of Gwadar Port and now in the expansion of its ability of handling larger vessels, apart from the already initiated multi million dollar Saindak copper and mineral mining project. The growing involvement of China in the region cannot be simply ignored by the sole super power who has her own designs for the Persian Gulf, the Indian and the Arabian seas. India can be an ideal ally for the Americans to counter the Chinese and the Pakistanis simultaneously. How long will USA delay this most likely course of action seems to apparently depend upon the war on terror in the Pak Afghan border areas. History could repeat itself in the USA re-enacting the part played by her in the post “Pakistan -Afghan Mujahideen war against the USSR” period.
All such factors warrant Pakistan to tread extremely cautiously in the ‘troubled’ waters and take well considered and calculated measures for the security of the region which could only be ensured through establishing the writ of the government in the province by winning over the Balochis diplomatically and peacefully.