Balochistan crisis Situated in the southwest of the country, and spread over 347,190 sq km, the province of Balochistan comprises 43% of Pakistan’s territory. In the west it has common borders with Iran and in the northwest with Afghanistan. In the south, Balochistan has a long coastline on the Arabian Sea. Greater part of Balochistan is mountainous, although there are some plains and desert areas also. The terrain is generally barren and rugged. The land of Balochistan is rich in mineral resources.
Apart from gas, it holds deposits of coal, copper, silver, gold, platinum, aluminum and uranium. It is also said to possess oil in substantial quantities. Balochistan has an estimated population of 7,000,000, (according to the census of 1998 it was nearly 6,511,000) which comes to about 4? % of the total population of the country. A little over half of this population is ethnically Baloch. The second largest ethnic group in Balochistan is that of the Pashtuns, which has concentration in the northern part of the province and along its border with Afghanistan.
Nearly 70% of the total Balochi population lives in Balochistan and other provinces of Pakistan, whereas about 20% inhabits the southeastern Iran or what is Irani Balochistan. There is a considerable population of the Balochis in Afghanistan also. The Balochis have preserved their ancient tribal structure. Each tribe or tuman has its chief and consists of several clans. Generally, the attachment to the tumandar i. e. , the tribal chief is very strong and the Balochis blindly follow him.
The prominent Balochi tribes in Pakistan are Mengal, Marri, Bugti, Mohammad Hasni, Zehri, Bizenjo and Raisani. Differences between tribes and clans are not uncommon. Describing the lifestyle of the Balochi people, Encyclopedia Britannica observes: “The Balochis are traditionally nomads, but settled agricultural existence is becoming more common; every chief has a fixed residence. The villages are collection of mud or stone huts; on the hills, enclosures of rough stone walls are covered with matting to serve as temporary habitations.
The Balochis raise camels, cattle, sheep and goats, and engage in carpet making and embroidery. Their agricultural methods are primitive. ” In 1952, the States of Balochistan __ Kalat, Mekran, Kharan and Las Bela __were permitted to form ‘The Balochistan States’ Union’. In 1955, these States were made a part of the ‘One Unit’ or the single province of West Pakistan to facilitate the framing of a constitution on the basis of the principle of ‘parity’ between the two wings of the country.
But by mid 1957 it became apparent that the political system established under the Constitution of 1956 was not likely to survive. Anticipating the break-up of the ‘One Unit’, it is alleged, the Khan of Kalat organized a rebellion to secede from Pakistan. On 6 October 1958, under the order of President Iskandar Mirza, Pakistan Army took control of the Kalat Palace and arrested the Khan on the charges of sedition. Another version is that it was the result of a plot hatched by Iskandar Mirza who wanted one more justification for imposing martial law.
He had encouraged the Khan to demand restoration of his state, and the Khan fell into the trap. On 7 October, Iskandar Mirza imposed martial law on the country, and on 27 October 1958, the Chief Martial Law Administrator, General Mohammad Ayub Khan, removed Mirza as the president to assume full authority. The arrest of the Khan led to disturbances in some parts of Balochistan that continued for about a year. It was during these disturbances that the sad episode related to Nauroz Khan, one of the Khan’s Sardars, occurred leaving lasting scars on the Balochi psyche.
After fighting for several months, Nauroz Khan agreed to surrender to the government of Pakistan. It is claimed that his surrender was secured through ‘etabar’ or oath on the Holy Quran. But instead of given amnesty by the government, he and his companions were tried in a military court and convicted. The government rejected their mercy petitions and seven of them were hanged. This episode made Nauroz Khan a hero in the Baloch folk-lore and the government of Pakistan untrustworthy in their eyes. The Khan of Kalat was subsequently forgiven and freed.
Although the Marris were radicalized during the 1960s, which resulted in some serious problems in 1962, the next major “insurgency” in Balochistan surfaced in 1973. Under Yahya Khan’s martial law, ‘One Unit’ was abolished and an integrated province of Balochistan, comprising former Balochistan States and directly governed Balochistan territory, was created on 1 July 1970. In the General Elections of December 1970, the National Awami Party (NAP) and Jamiat-ul Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) secured majority of seats in the Balochistan Provincial Assembly.
After the traumatic events of 1971, which delayed the transfer of power, they formed their coalition government in Balochistan under the Interim Constitution of 1972. This government, in which Sardar Attaullah Khan Mengal was the Chief Minister and Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo the Governor, was dismissed by the federal government in less than a year on the charges that it was receiving arms from foreign countries and preparing for rebellion or secession. Before the dismissal of the Balochistan government, arms and ammunition, allegedly meant for supply to Baloch separatists, were discovered in a raid on the Iraqi Embassy.
The actual reasons for dismissal of the NAP-JUI government were many: President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (he was not then Prime Minister) was not prepared to let the provincial government headed by the opposition parties function and pursue a separate agenda, the military establishment had suspicions about the NAP due to the past affiliation of many of its leaders with the Congress, their alleged links with India and the Soviet Union and their association with the ‘Pakhtunistan’ movement.
The Shah of Iran did not like the democratic institutions to flourish in Pakistani Balochistan for that had the potentials to destabilize Iranian Balochistan; and he also pressed Bhutto to act. As a result of the dismissal of popularly elected government, an unprecedented uprising took place in Balochistan in which the Marris were in the forefront and Sher Mohammad Marri became a legendary figure. The casualties on the sides of the rebels and the government troops were in thousands. Reportedly air power was also used and the insurgents had to withdraw to the mountains from where they conducted guerrilla warfare.
Ironically, Sardar Akbar Bugti, the tumandar of the Bugti tribe, and Ahmad Yar Khan, the Khan of Kalat, were on the side of the federal government under Bhutto and were duly rewarded for their roles. The insurgency continued from 1973 to 1977 when General Zia-ul Haq staged a coup to oust Bhutto and arrived at an understanding with the incarcerated NAP leaders and the rebels. With this background in mind we come to the present situation in Balochistan that needs to be looked at from domestic and international perspectives, for it is far more complex than what had been happening in the past.
The geopolitical changes in the post-Cold War period, together with the cataclysmic events related to 9/11, have imparted great importance to Balochistan and dragged Pakistan into what is referred to as the new ‘Great Game’, which is all about control of, and access to, the energy resources of Central Asia. In this regard, the following facts need to be highlighted: 1. The Central Asian Republics are rich in oil and gas resources. They are landlocked and in dire need of a corridor for export of their energy resources and a transit route for trade and commerce. . China has produced an economic miracle during the last decade or so. To maintain the momentum of its growth, China has three sets of requirements: a) Transit trade route for its western region b) Energy corridor to import oil from the Gulf region c) Naval facilities or foothold on the Arabian Sea coast to protect its energy supply line from the Middle East. 3. India’s growth rate is also spectacular. For catering to its increasing energy requirement, it needs to look towards the Central Asian Republics and Iran.
Its long-term strategic objective is to dominate the whole Indian Ocean region from eastern parts of African continent to South East Asia. It has its own version of ‘Monroe Doctrine’ for South Asian Subcontinent where it seeks absolute and exclusive hegemony. 4. The United States is pre-occupied with the obsession to maintain its super power status. To prevent the rise of any rival, be that China or any European power, the United States desires to dominate the Middle East and Central Asia, for they are rich in oil and gas resources.
Apart from ‘war on terror’ and bogey of weapons of mass destruction, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq should be seen in the context of its quest for world hegemony. The United States wants to command important sea-lanes, be that the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz or the Suez Canal. 5. Due to its common border with Afghanistan, the United States considers Balochistan territory as important for military operations against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In fact, the United States has military bases in Dalbandin and Pasni on the Balochistan coast.
Fully mindful of the tremendous opportunities at hand, Pakistan government has embarked upon or envisaged a number of projects that have potentials to change the destiny of Balochistan. The most important of all the projects is the Gwadar port that is being developed with the financial and technical assistance of China. The agreement for the construction of this deep-sea port on the Arabian Sea coast of Balochistan was concluded in 2001. The work on the project began in 2002 and its first phase was completed in January 2005.
The Gwadar Port is situated at a distance of 725 km from Karachi and 72 km from the Iranian border and on completion it would serve as a transit route for Central Asian Republics as well as China. The Gwadar Port would help China in enhancing its energy security by offering a transit terminal for oil imports from the Middle East and the Gulf region. At present the bulk of oil imported by China has to pass through the Strait of Malacca, a route that is quite long and increases the risk factor in abnormal times due to American presence in the region.
China is very much concerned about its energy security, and is, acquiring different facilities in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand.  After completion of the second phase, the Gwadar port would be able to receive oil tankers with a capacity of nearly 200,000 tons. Obviously it is not exclusively meant for China and a number of countries would use the facilities at Gwadar when it becomes the gateway to Central Asia. Apart from a source of earning, the Gwadar Port is important for Pakistan from strategic and defense point of view.
During the war of 1971, India had successfully blockaded the port of Karachi that could have choked the economic lifeline of Pakistan. There was a serious apprehension in the midst of the Kargil confrontation in 1999 that the Indian Navy might try to do the same again. To strengthen its naval defense, Pakistan has completed the construction of Ormara base. Now, the Gwadar Port would not only be a relatively secure alternative port for Pakistan but with Chinese presence it would be a strong impediment for India in the realization of its hegemony in Indian Ocean region
The Chinese have vital interest in sovereignty, political independence, security and territorial integrity of Pakistan. In politics one does not have permanent friends or foes but because of the nature of China’s stakes in Pakistan it can be relied upon to stand by Pakistan in thick and thin. Both China and Pakistan have identity of interests in denying India any hegemonic role in the Indian Ocean. Therefore, China’s presence on the Balochistan coast of Arabian Sea is beneficial for Pakistan. China is also expanding its cooperation with Pakistan in Saindak project.
It is also a positive sign that Pakistan is not prepared to play any role in American design to contain China and is not willing to offer any facilities to the United States that may be considered as detrimental to Chinese security interests. All credit goes to the Musharraf government for concluding the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good-Neighborly Relations with China on 5 April 2005 that has provisions to the above effect.  The United States does not seem to be very happy with the Chinese role in Balochistan.
In the first place, it goes against the America policy which is to develop India as a counterpoise to China in the Indian Ocean region. Secondly, Chinese presence at Mekran Coast, right at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, which enhances China’s energy security and enables it to intercept communications of American military bases in the Gulf and to monitor naval movements in the region, is something unpleasant for the United States. Therefore, it may be in the interest of the United States to let Balochistan remain disturbed to an extent where progress on mega projects slows down.
By promoting Balochi nationalism, America can also hope to create problems for Iran in its Balochistan. However, the United States is in a dilemma because it realizes that the Pakistan government may have to rely on Islamic militants to counter the Balochi nationalists and that would have a negative impact on its so-called ‘war on terror’. American dilemma is likely to restrain it from supporting the nationalists in Balochistan in any meaningful way. The United States ought to be well aware that by making any move that may antagonize Pakistan, it would only push that country further towards China.
The unrest in Balochistan is in India’s interest for various reasons: First to impede China from projecting its power in the Arabian Sea that India wants to be its domain. Secondly, to prevent Pakistan from offering safe transit route to Central Asian Republics, so that they opt for alternative Afghanistan–Iran route. India has been investing on Zaranj-Delaram road to facilitate trade links with Central Asia via Iran and Afghanistan. Thirdly, to apply pressure on Pakistan that it should give up support to militancy in Kashmir.
The opening of Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Kandhar has facilitated the RAW in its activities inside Balochistan. Indian statement on the situation in Balochistan was a blatant interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs and was duly rebuked. However, the Baloch nationalists, including the tribal chiefs, have other complaints also: 1. They perceive the policies of federal government as against their national aspirations and demand recognition of ethnic identities in ‘multi-national’ Pakistan. The nationalist leaders refer to past experiences of Baluchistan with Pakistan government, in particular during the crises of 1958 and 1973-1977.
They insist on greater provincial autonomy, including recognition of their rights on natural resources and ports, something that the federal government finds difficult to concede. 2. The middle class Baloch nationalists resent the fact they do not have proper representation in the armed forces and civil administration. 3. The Baloch nationalists also contend that the federal government ignored the economic and social development of Balochistan during last six decades. Potable water is not available in several parts of Balochistan. It lags in education.
There is hardly any industrialization in the province. Even Sui gas, which was discovered in 1953, was first supplied to big cities of Sindh and Punjab. 4. They resent the manner in which the mega projects have been conceived. Important jobs have gone to non-Balochis. The entrepreneurs from other provinces, in particular developers and builders, are minting money. Non-Balochis have benefited a lot from land speculation. Profitable contracts have gone to the armed forces personnel. 5. The Baloch nationalists are unanimously against the construction of cantonments in Kohlu, Sui or any other place. . In the past, the Bhutto government had failed to break the resolve of the Marris and Mengals, despite heavy deployment of troops and use of air power. According to one estimate some fifty-five thousand tribesmen fought against seventy thousand Pakistani troops during the 1973-77 insurgencies. The situation may not be much different today. The common Baluch, uneducated and nurtured in tribal culture, has strong commitment to his chief and military action may lead to the involvement of the Pakistan Armed forces in a protracted and costly conflict.
It is easy said than done that Pakistani troops can flush out the miscreants or destroy their sanctuaries. No doubt, the Baloch nationalists do not seem to have strength to secure separation of Balochistan, but they do have the capability to damage transport and communication network at will through guerrilla warfare. The sons of Khair Bukhsh Marri have established a foreign-based network to receive financial support and arms and ammunition. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) is said to be under their control. Akbar Bugti has his own force of about ten thousand tribesmen.
These tribal chiefs have managed to establish training camps where hundreds of disgruntled youth have been taught in use of weapons. The insurgents can also finance their war through drug-trafficking. The Pakistan government may be stretched to ensure security of pipelines, highways, railway tracks, electric towers and communication installations in sporadically populated and territorially vast Balochistan. Given its own limitations and precarious geopolitical situation in the region, the preferable option for Pakistan government is to go gradually for the introduction of reforms in the existing administrative system.
Rather than imposing from above, let the urge for reforms come indigenously at appropriate time. Both the sides__ the government and the tribal chiefs __ have shown their muscles. It’s the time if the tribal chiefs offered a guarantee that development infrastructure and installations related to mega projects would be not be targeted, they should be taken on board and due monetary benefits from mega-projects be shared with the tribal chiefs in greater national interests.
As regards other Baloch grievances, there cannot be two opinions that the provincial autonomy enshrined in the Constitution of 1973 be granted in letter and spirit, more jobs be reserved for locals in the development projects, the share of Balochistan in the award of National Finance Commission be enhanced and necessary legislation, to the satisfaction of all genuine concerns of Balochis, be done regarding the settlement of non-locals in Balochistan as a result of mega-projects.
As regards establishment of cantonments, they should be proceeded with as the National Interest demands securing the borders, safe guarding the coastline, precious economic, geo-strategic, (land bound and maritime), national interests. If the Baloch nationalists are not prepared to accept these conditions, the Pakistan government would have legitimate reasons to resort to selective military action against the miscreants.