Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Baloch rebels fight for their rights

The attacks and bombings point to a return of guerrilla insurgency again in Balochistan, Pakistan’s poorest province.

The ambush of troops near Khuzdar, about 20 km east of Quetta, in which five soldiers and one civilian died and two others were wounded, is the latest incident in what appears to be a rekindling of Baloch insurgency.

The same group which claimed responsibility for earlier such incidents –-the Baloch Liberation Army – has once again declared to a news agency through its spokesman, Azad Baloch, that it carried out the ambush.

To this incident may be added a series of varied attacks over the past few months, including the Gwadar bombing in which three Chinese technicians died, the frequent blowing up of gas pipelines and other infrastructure, and the rocketing of Quetta, the provincial capital, Sui, where Pakistan’s major gas fields are located, and Kohlu in the adjoining Marri tribal area.

Series of attacks

Taken as a whole, this series of attacks and bombings points in the direction of the beginnings of a full-blown guerrilla war breaking out once again in Pakistan’s poorest province.

The cause of this latest outbreak of guerrilla war is no different from the four previous guerrilla wars fought in Balochistan since independence.

They all stem from an acute sense of deprivation that fuels a nationalism that sees little hope of redressing its grievances within the political system in vogue in the country.

This latest round may also be considered the unfinished agenda of the 1973-77 guerrilla war in the province, which ended in a stalemate in 1977 after Gen Zia ul Haq thought it expedient to mollify the Baloch rebels to better tackle the bigger political challenge from the overthrown Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Broken promise

Zia’s broken promises of compensation for the losses suffered by the Baloch people during the 1973-77 war, redressal of longstanding complaints of neglect of the people and exploitation of the province’s resources without any share for the locals, etc, have been the source of simmering resentment for many years.

The civilian ‘democratic’ interregnum of 1988-99 too failed to live up to its promises as far as the Baloch nationalists were concerned. Some of them, it seems, have realised once again that there is no room for a peaceful struggle within the system, and have re-launched a guerrilla war for their long denied rights.

Those who are familiar with the history of the 1973-77 insurgency will know that this is a guerrilla war of a different kind, not to be subsumed, as ISPR chief Maj Gen Shaukat Sultan has attempted in describing the Khuzdar incident, under the current catch-all rubric of ‘terrorism’.

Tribal areas

It is likely to assume the same pattern of a see-saw protracted guerrilla and counter-insurgency campaign just as in the early 1970s.

However, the context in which the insurgency is unfolding today is far more explosive, given the struggles in Afghanistan, Iraq, and even in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

One of the reasons for ex-Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali’s ouster was his resistance to any plan to launch a military operation in Balochistan for suppression of the rebellious activity that has broken out.

Immediately after Jamali’s ignominious exit, one brigade of regular army troops each was dispatched to Gwadar, the Bugti and Marri tribal areas. This has had the same effect as the red rag to the bull.

Need it be so? There is no issue or complaint the Baloch have that cannot be sorted out at the negotiating table. They centre on lack of participation and share for the Baloch at the political and economic levels.

If our much touted ‘genuine’ democracy’s claims are to be taken at face value, why cannot the poor Baloch be given the same participatory rights in the politics and economic development of their province as the rest of the country enjoys?

Undeveloped area

The heavens would not fall if the nationalist irritations of the Baloch were met with a fair share for the people of the province in their own natural resources and generous help to overcome the legacy of neglect and underdevelopment from the past.

It would certainly be far less costly than another bout of guerrilla warfare and counter-insurgency, with their concomitant threat to human life and the welfare of not only the Baloch people, but also the people of Pakistan as a whole. What can be achieved peacefully need not be denied to the point where the aggrieved feel they have no choice except to go outside the pale and rebel. BY: RASHED RAHMAN


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