s Balochistan already another country? Are the Baloch nationalists fighting for secession or autonomy? Are they terrorists or freedom fighters? Where are all the “missing persons” of Balochistan? Who is carrying out ethnic cleansing of settler-Punjabis? Who is target-killing the leaders of the nationalist movement? What is the role of the “agencies” of Pakistan and India? What are the grievances of the Baloch? Is there a “solution” in sight?
Cut the propaganda. Here’s a reality check.
Balochistan is a sort of “tribal confederation” with its attendant internal pulls and pushes, competition and conflict. Baloch nationalism draws its inspiration from a refusal of the Khan of Kalat at the time of Partition to accede to the new nation-state of Pakistan in more or less the same manner in which the “princely” states of India acceded to the new nation-state of India, but with one critical difference. In India, the Congress leaders in Delhi negotiated the terms of accession patiently with the Hindu rulers of the Princely States – except in those states with Muslim rulers and Hindu majorities where the civilian carrot was backed by the military stick – whereas in the new Pakistan the Muslim League leaders tried to whip a fellow Muslim, the Khan of Kalat, into accession without due process and regard to the state’s rights.
The hurt and wound of the original sin has progressively become a rallying nationalist cause only because Balochistan’s enforced accession did not lead to a fulsome integration into the new nation-state of Pakistan that was dominated by Karachi, Lahore and then Islamabad. Indeed, in time the nationalist narrative has transcended the original agitation-politics of non-integration (how many Baloch have been recruited in the bureaucracy, army and public sector?) and sought to renew itself on the basis of the militant politics of exploitation (Sui gas royalties are inadequate, Gwadar Port is not in Baloch hands, Baloch lands are being bought up by Punjabis, Balochistan’s minerals are being extracted by foreigners for a song, etc.).
The case of East Pakistan’s slide into separatism and secession based on the progression of the politics of non-integration (rapid economic development in West Pakistan versus stagnation in East Pakistan during the “Decade of Development” under General Ayub Khan) into the politics of exploitation (foreign exchange earnings from Bengali jute went to line the pockets of importing Punjabi industrialists and licence-selling bureaucrats) comes to mind straightaway.
A comparison between Balochistan and East Pakistan is instructive for many reasons. A “confederation of tribes” with the big ones at loggerheads with one another was not as conducive to the growth of unified Baloch nationalism like the political and cultural homogeneity of the Bengalis was for their nationalism. Therefore Islamabad was better able to divide and rule the Baloch than it was able to subdue the Bengalis. This was reflected in the split between the nationalist tribal Sardars of the Marri and Bugti tribes in the resistance movement of the 1960s and 1970s when the former picked up the gun against Islamabad and the latter sulked on the sidelines or actually embraced it. The 1980s and 1990s were critical: the Marris, Mengals and Bugtis tried to work with Islamabad to obtain a sincere measure of political and economic autonomy, but their efforts came to naught. Pakistan’s “democratic” politicians were busy making and breaking governments without any consideration for the imperative of economic development and national integration through a process of trade and commerce. The military government of General Pervez Musharraf which followed in the 2000s concentrated on economic development (of sorts) but negated its benevolent effect by depriving the Sardars and middle classes of Balochistan of its largesse (Gwadar was tied securely to anchors in Islamabad and the Bugti tribe was threatened with military reprisals for agitating about royalties from Sui and contracts from Pakistan Petroleum). Worse, in the 2002 elections, the military regime propped up the mullahs and religious ideologues of Balochistan (and NWFP) at the expense of the militant tribal Sardars and mainstream middle-class politicians and effectively deprived them of power, privilege and spoil sharing. This culminated in alienating the Marri Sardars and forcing them into exile while antagonizing the Bugti Sardars and compelling them to resist by force. The premeditated “elimination” of Nawab Akbar Bugti via a military operation became the catalyst for an unprecedented unified stand by the Marris, Mengals and Bugtis against Islamabad.
This was a turning point for Baloch nationalism. It came of age on the basis of a tribal and middle-class unity that had long eluded it. Here was the necessary condition for revolt and rebellion. The sufficient condition was provided by a new twist in regional politics.
The American intervention in Afghanistan
brought an anti-Pakistan regime to power in Kabul. This regime saw
profitable leverage against Pakistan in hosting Baloch insurgents and
fanning Baloch separatism. On the other border with India, it was also
payback time for Pakistan’s jihadi incursions and provocations in Kashmir
throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Thus the Marri-Bugti leaders in exile
readily clutched at the new foreign facilitators and providers of arms and
funds from across Pakistan’s eastern and western borders and launched their
armed resistance against Islamabad.
The undemocratic “deep state” of Pakistan
has responded in the only way taught to it as the “sole guardian of national
security”: Repression. That is why Baloch nationalists are target-killed by
invisible agencies whose calling card is “Pakistan Zindabad”, or they
“disappear” in the dungeons of military field intelligence units where the
writ of the soft state (judiciary and civilian administration) is absent.
And that is why the Baloch nationalist movement is viewed as an
Indian-Afghan sponsored “conspiracy against the integrity and solidarity of
Pakistan” (which also explains some of the bombs that go off in Quetta).
The other side of the coin reflects a
definite Baloch resistance strategy of which ethnic cleansing, especially of
Punjabis, is an essential element. Since the deep state is dominated and led
by Punjabis, the settler Punjabis in Balochistan are viewed by the
insurgents as potential allies of the enemy, therefore they are being
eliminated or pushed out of Balochistan. Their fate can be laid at the door
of insurgent Baloch nationalism whose “freedom fighters” are “terrorists”
for the deep state of Pakistan. Is there a way out of this quagmire?
Theoretically, secession and the creation
of an independent Balochistan could provide a resolution for one side but
not for the other. The modern nation-state guards its territorial
sovereignty and integrity fiercely. India next door provides a good example
where half the country’s army has wiped out an entire generation of Kashmiri
freedom fighters without relinquishing an inch of territory. Therefore
insurgency will lead to more repression in Balochistan, not secession, as in
Kashmir. Indeed, the agencies may increasingly resort to physical
elimination of “troublesome separatists” if the pressure on them from the
Supreme Court of Pakistan increases to produce the “missing persons”.
This means that only a foreign intervention
and war could create conditions for Pakistan’s further disintegration and
Balochistan’s secession as an independent state as it did in 1971 for
Bangladesh. But nuclear equations tend to deter war with India. So if
secession can be ruled out, will the promise of political autonomy and
economic development and representation in the organs of the civil-military
bureaucracy persuade the insurgents to abandon armed struggle and accept
rehabilitation in Quetta?
No. The secessionists will cease insurgency
only when the external forces that feed and prop them up back off and their
safe havens in Afghanistan dry up. That is when they will consider returning
to the mainstream on the basis of credible and positive inducements for it.
Therefore what is now a sufficient condition for insurgency (foreign
support) must become (when it ends) the necessary condition for true
autonomy and integration of Balochistan into Pakistan.
But foreign support and safe havens for
Baloch nationalists will not end until there are mutually related
settlements of outstanding disputes between Islamabad and New Delhi and
Islamabad and Kabul so that their proxy wars can come to an end. This, in
turn, implies a stable, representative and peaceful regime in Afghanistan
that is not hostile to Islamabad or dependent on American military might to
sustain itself. It also implies a solid conflict resolution process between
India and Pakistan in which Pakistan is no longer distrusted as a
terror-exporting threat to India and India is not seen as an existential
threat to Pakistan.
Is that a tall order? Yes, it is, in the
short run at least. In the longer term, however, there is no alternative for
the three states in the region. Each must respect the territorial integrity
of the other two in the interest of peace, stability, integration and
economic development in the region and insurgencies and proxy wars must come
to an end. Indeed, an end-game in Afghanistan should presage an end-game
between India and Pakistan as well. Internal conflict has destroyed the
Afghan state. It is eroding the Pakistani state and fraying the edges of the
Indian state. External conflict will change the map of the region with