Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Indo Pak détente and The Future of Baloch Nationalism

Jan Muhammad Dashti



The global events for the last two years especially after 9/11 have shaped and reshaped foreign and domestic polices of many countries. The Western civil society has come to the conclusion that firm steps have to be taken to tackle the threat to their survival from “modern barbarians” specifically from the Muslim and their creed, Islam. Multi-dimensional steps both on political, military, economic and social fronts are being taken by the western countries to minimize this gigantic threat to their nations, their way of life and their democracies for which they have traveled distances of hundreds of years to achieve the present level of pluralism and decency. Punitive military actions against Afghanistan and Iraq can be seen in the background of this threat perception. Efforts for a Middle East settlement after Iraq, conceding sovereign autonomy to Kurds, taming the Libyan tiger, Ghaddafi, to bow before the American will on question of nuclear technology; compelling South Korean and the yet unrelenting Ayatollahs of Iran to open their nuclear installations to inspection, and initiating the process of Indo Pakistan détente are emanated from the overall policy objectives of the West conceived and perfected for the last many years in an overall strategy to withstand the threat to the west from the East.

We would like to discuss the issue of Baloch nationalism and their right to sovereign autonomy, especially in Pakistani context keeping in view of global changes in policy directions of US and its western allies. The Pakistan-India rapprochement would have wider dimensions in the context of Baloch national struggle than any event in recent history. Supporting the Baloch political aspirations in central Asia in the pattern of Kurds or Russian Central Asian states appear to be a much confused options for the super and regional powers to follow in case of Pakistan forgoing its dreams of hegemony over anarchic Afghanistan, turning it to its “strategic depth” in its endless fight against the Indian, giving up its territorial claims on Kashmir, minimizing its nuclear ambitions, reducing its army to manageable level, and above all denouncing its jihadi philosophy in its internal and external relations. It is still debatable whether the Punjab-muhajir axis of power in military and civil bureaucracy will be willing to sacrifice these dogmatically held policy approaches based on religious fantasies by falsifying history and negating ground realities in political and strategic arena and which have been cast in their psyche for the last five decades. It appears rather alien to the ruling mind to agree to live in peace and harmony by pursuing pluralistic, secular and decent policies particularly towards the national minorities within the country. Fatal attempts on the life of the Army Chief and the President of Pakistan in Rawalpindi a few days before the most important SAARC Summit, indicates grave scars of dissentions within the army and the intelligence agencies then filter out from within the establishment for public consumptions after the events.

Glancing into history, the subcontinent was divided in 1947 and permanent marks of peep hatred and enmity was ensured between the people of same racial and linguistic stocks, in pursuance of British global polices which were shaped taking into considerations primarily the mixed policy gestures of Indian Congressional leaders for a possible post-independent India, and of growing Russian influence in the East and increasing uncertainties coming from Maoist communist revolution in China. Pakistan was to serve as a British outpost in south Asia a responsibility which the country rightly fulfilled for succeeding decades. Balochistan was among the few states in British India that enjoyed a protectorate status. Balochistan which was never part of the sub-continent and had treaty obligations with the British Crown as a sovereign and independent state bordering the sub-continent, Iran and Afghanistan, and in effect a recognized buffer zone between the Russian territorial possessions in central Asia and the British possessions in India, was compelled to be part of the new scheme of partition plan for Pakistan. The deceptive referendum in British Balochistan and forceful annexation of Kalat confederacy into Pakistan after 9 months as a sovereign independent nation after partition are unparallel events in partition scenario of Indian subcontinent.

In an historical context, after the first Anglo-Afghan War the British entered into a treaty with the Khan of Kalat in 1854 for joint defenses against external threat ostensibly from Russia. At the same time the Iranian rulers who had lost their northern provinces to the Russians pursued a policy of expansion towards Balochistan in the West in order to compensate the territorial losses. After some bickering, the British and the Iranian governments agreed to demarcate the borders with the Khanate. A demarcation line, Goldsmith line, was drawn in 1871 dividing Balochistan into two parts. By all means Goldsmith’s line was based purely on political considerations without taking into account, geo-historical, cultural and linguistic realities and ignoring the wishes the Baloch people.

The State of Pakistan came as unique experience in statehood. A large part of its Eastern Wing got itself free in 1971 as Bangladesh after a bloody struggle. The British which has created the country is dubbing it as a failed state. The State from day one followed a path of irrationality in its internal and external policies. It refused to recognize the national entities within the country; denying them their political, cultural and social rights. The state overwhelmed by Punjab never think it appropriate to share state powers with national minorities. Therefore the issue of national autonomy to the Baloch, Pakhtoons or the Sindhis is still the cardinal point of dissent within the country.

Soon after separation of the eastern part in 1971, the country was given a constitution. Three lists of state powers were devised: Provincial, Federal and Concurrent. The concurrent list was to be handed over to the provinces after an initial period of 10 years. This never happened. The country is being run in a semi-federal status. The central government in all practical terms is running the affairs of the provinces in policy, planning and administrative spheres. The provinces have no tax collecting powers except for some minor and unimportant duties such as arms licenses fees or tax on transfer of properties from one owner to another.

For the last five decades Balochistan got nothing in financial resources to develop it. Being rich in minerals and having very negligible population it has no economic infrastructure to sustain any development efforts. The education percentage compare to other provinces is far less, no more than 10% of the total population. On Health sector there is one doctor for more than 3500 people. The government is spending 0.92 US Dollars [Rs. 55.33] per person in Balochistan on health care facilities. Roads density is the lowest in the province 0.05 km per square kilometer compare to other provinces. Except for three national highways including the recently constructed coastal highway, linking Balochistan with the Punjab and Sindh almost all the roads in the interior of Balochistan some 18157 kilometers in all are shingle or almost un-jeep able roads while the provinces territory [347192 squire KM] constitute 45% of the entire land mass of the country.

The province is getting from divisional pool of the federal revenue collections a meager amount of Rupees 2 to 3 billion annually which is less than 1% of the total development funds from the Federal budgetary allocation far less than the agreed share of Balochistan in terms of its population which is 5.5% according to 1998 Census. Balochistan has never got its proper share from the Federal funds supposed to be utilized for development projects throughout the country. If Balochistan share is calculated the federal government has withheld Balochistan shares in development sectors for the last five decades to the tune 500 billion rupees. The Baloch leaders are not unconscious of the fact that of all the mega projects of economic sustainability for the last 50 years initiated and completed by Pakistan, Balochistan have got almost nothing. They believe that the figures on royalty of Sui Gas per well according to international standard is far less and that the Federal government is always fudging the figures. They maintain that a total amount of around 3000 billion rupees is outstanding against the central government and this is the amount which has been fraudulently denied to the province since 1953 when Sui started producing Gas to the country[1]. Baloch leaders believe that the recent announcement of Gwadar deep sea-port and Miraani Dam are for strategic purposes and they have nothing to do with Balochistan and its development. Gwadar is required as a second viable port for the country and also for military use, and Miraani Dam is being constructed to support the drinking water provisions for an expending port of Gwadar and its military-industrial complex in future. Baloch leaders are apprehensive that the entire Baloch coast line will be reduced into colony with drastic demographic consequences for its people. Their fears are getting some credibility because of the fact that 80 % of land purchases during the last 6 months are being made by Punjabis and immigrant, muhajir communities from out side the province. More over, the armed forces: Navy, army and air force and intelligence agencies of various nomenclatures have acquired millions of acres of land along the coast. Most of the Baloch believe that land acquired by these institutions will ultimately be used for housing projects managed by these forces for re-settlement of the non-Baloch in those housing colonies. Since various branches of the armed forces have a very flourishing real Estate business in various cantonments of the country, the Baloch fears appears to be well-founded.

In Baloch perspective, they are a subjugated people. Their genuine leaders have been kept out of power and protégés of the Punjab are put into authority in the province. The federal law enforcing agencies keep on insulting and molesting the people. The provincial bureaucracy is imported from Punjab. The province has been turned to a police state with least regards to rule of law and morality. The Baloch resources are being exploited mercilessly to the benefit of others. Their language is being replaced by language of immigrants. The Baloch masses are living in pathetic conditions of hunger and poverty[2]. Their culture and traditions are being defaced and finer elements of their moral and cultural values are under constant media attack. A sustained and vicious propaganda of character assassination is being carried out in Pakistani Media against the Baloch leaders. Thus the secession has been the dominant theme and assertion in Baloch mind since their losing sovereign status over their country.

The Baloch went through three armed conflicts since forcible merger of their country with Pakistan. The first was at the time of merger in 1948 and later events occurred in 1958, and 1974. Although the central government’s political and economic incursions into the province triggered off the hostilities, the root cause lay in the unfulfilled national aspirations of the Baloch for an independent sovereign status of their own. Annexation of the Kalat confederacy in 1948, which led to a short-lived uprising, successive regimes had perceived Baloch nationalism as a grave threat to the state’s suzerainty. The incident that strengthened the center’s threat perception was the abortive attempt of the Khan of Kalat to convene a meeting of the Baloch Sardars in 1958 to work out plans to consolidate a Baloch state. The revolt of (1973–77) should be seen as the continuation of the previous insurgencies and was built upon the experience of the previous armed conflicts with Pakistani authorities. It was a relatively well-organized military event, spearheaded by a body that called itself the Popular Front for Armed
Resistance (PFAR). The strength of the insurgent force varied from 1000 to 10,000. They operated in small bands of 30 to 50 men equipped with light weapons and were based in hideouts in the mountains. The army deployed about 30,000 men who were equipped with sophisticated weapons of modern warfare[3].

In Baloch context, the process of military mobilization began simultaneously with political mobilization. Despite strong objective conditions, neither of these processes achieved the optimum level of mobilization when the armed conflict broke out in 1973. It was mainly due to cleavages in the Baloch society along tribal lines making it difficult to evolve collectively “agreed symbols” to ignite and sustain an enduring nationalist movement; the division of Baloch leadership on some very fundamental issues by pursuing divergent political objectives and options and the strong divisive and coercive tactics of Pakistani establishment to contain the growth of mobilization of the Baloch.

The political dynamics of the post-September 2001 had certain characteristics that are distressing Pakistani establishment and influencing its polity of religious extremism and militancy on the one hand and perpetuation of repressive policies towards national minorities on the other. The military junta in an apparent policy shift in order to affiliate the regime with the West, prompting new discourses by state elites in referring to the significance of a liberal and secular identity of Pakistan. This is heading towards the abandonment of Islamic ideology as a political manifesto[4]. In the course of these developments the religious elements and old guards of the so-called Pakistan ideology are re-emphasizing the significance of religious values and criticizing such a drastic policy shift.

In post 9/11 scenario, the national minorities in the country see the official shift in policy approaches from religious to liberal is a temporary maneuver mostly prompted by an urge to safe-guard the interests of ruling elites rather than motivated by a genuinely legitimate and sustainable interest in Pakistani identity. This is quite clear by the fact that in the recent rhetoric of tolerance and pluralism there is no easing of tyrannical policies towards national minorities or any mention of the fact that Pakistan being a multi-national state.

In a cold-war perspective the US and the West viewed the Baloch aspiration for autonomy as extensions of Soviet influence. They supported the Persian and Pakistani military and political campaigns against the Baloch. After 9/11 drastic changes are being observed in international relations in general and central and south Asia in particular. The dynamics of post September polity are bound to effect the national questions of the subjugated nations in the region. Balochistan is geographically and strategically important in respect of oil game being played in central Asia. Many western thinkers believe that a liberal and secular Balochistan located at the centre of three states of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan with their fundamentalist religious ideologies and wide spread discontent among their constituent nationalities, can play a positive and balancing role.

Although in the long run the Baloch question is that of a stateless nation, aspiring sovereign autonomy, a federalist solution could be envisaged within the boundaries of the existing nations of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan as an interim solution. A federal structure and national autonomous provincial governing mechanisms may address the problem and offer prospects of a new pleasant partnership of trust and coexistence amongst various nationalities. The central governments of the existing countries should take responsibility in areas of defense, foreign affairs, and on minimum of fiscal discipline. All other state functions should be taken care of by the federating units. Such a mechanism will generate participation, share responsibilities, and offer opportunities to all nations. Logically, such an arrangement will provide the foundations for stronger, civilized, prosperous peoples in multinational states with a new vision and civilized images of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nevertheless, many Baloch leaders and Baloch intelligentsia believe that a permanent resolution to Baloch question is that all parts of Balochistan, divided between the three neighboring countries could be equally federated between them, as a national sovereign entity. Undoubtedly the artificial political frontiers dividing Balochistan, which are in real sense inter-Baloch frontiers, would loose their raison d’être and disappear in the years to come. By its central geographical position, Baloch nation is predestined to play the role of a democratic link between the neighboring nations, to be perhaps at the heart of a kind of union between the nations of the southern tip of central Asia. Balochistan would then become a land of peace and a highway for co-operation and development in association with other liberal and democratic nations of the world[5].

Reverting to Pak-India détente, if Pakistan is really interested in a peaceful south Asia spearheaded by India, the country’s internal and external policies have to be reshaped. A hegemonistic India would certainly want democratic traditions to flourish in Pakistan. They want to keep out the huge Pakistani army from interfering into political arena in the country. They would also like a secularist approach and end to jihadi extremism sustained by the country’s intelligence institutions. The Indians who have no grudges against the Pakistani nationalities at least at this stage would positively stand for their rights: at the least India may advocate a similar quantum of autonomy which they are allowing to Indian provinces or states. India may also encourage demands for re-demarcation of provinces on cultural and linguistic basis because most of the Indian states are territorially reshaped on these percepts after independence. In such a dispensation Pakistan’s economic distribution of resources will also suffer a change to the benefit of the smaller provinces. These are possible plus points for national minorities of likely fall out of Indo-Pakistan détente.

The Western concern for security after 9/11 is based not only from the threat of jihadi philosophy of Islam where the Muslims are ordained by the Almighty to spread the words God to fore-corners of the world and subdue the non-believers by force, but by acquirement of nuclear technology by Muslim countries with a deep hatred towards non-Muslims especially the Hindu and Judaic-Christian civilizations, which they term as civilization inferior to Muslim. US led coalition of developed nations is clearly focusing on this menace. Libya, Iran and North Korea have visibly bowed down before the Western might. Pakistan is under high pressure to forego its nuclear technology and dismantle what it has manufactured so far and handover its nuclear scientists to extensive interrogation by the Western agencies, which the country is faithfully obliging.

By all indications Pakistan has only two options: Either to agree to the Indian hegemony by accepting the Indo-American security guarantees for Pakistan or to face the consequences for the Western manipulated Indian military onslaught to settle the Pakistani question once and for all. While discussing both the scenarios we must not dismiss the events which have a confusing mix of administrative philosophy, historical fantasies, of theoretical flaws in the very foundation of the Pakistani state and of its subsequent behavior we did refer to above, nor can we minimize the consequent implications of either option on regional political scenario.

If Pakistan trades its security in exchange for the nuclear technology, Kashmir, de-militarization, minimizing or totally curtailing the invisible power and authority of ISI and other intelligence outfits; reducing the support to the huge and threatening Mullaism and its numerous breeding grounds of religious intolerances; give up interferences in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and stop exporting religious fantasies to outside world; it should mean that Pakistan should accept civilized norms of society and agree to live in a decent and human manner, which is a very pinching formula for the state establishment which has been harping to tune of intolerance, distortion of the facts of history and geography in its internal and external approaches of polity for the last five decades. It has to concede more in terms of democratizing the Pakistani society, and to certain extent give rights to smaller nationalities within the country, against the clear distaste of Punjabi-muhajir power axis[6]. On the contrary refusing to heed to geo-political realities of the present day world does mean the break-up of the “failed” or “rogue state of Pakistan”. However in the former event, Pakistan assuming the role of a satellite state in the region, the national question in the three provinces of Balochistan, Sindh and NWFP should suffer a considerable set back. There is a possibility that the Baloch, the Pakktuns or the Sindhis may be treated like the Indians reacted to the nationalist demands of the people in Kashmir or Khalistan or Mezoram. The Baloch in a worst scenario will be facing the Indian army and anti-terrorist elite troops in their areas, or Indians guarding the Sui installations, Gwadar port facilities, Sandak Project in Chagai or securing Raskoh military installations housing sensitive military equipments against Baloch guerrillas. Similarly, Mezzos, Tamils, Sikhs in Khalistan and Kashmiris if they continue their struggle will face the Pakistan army and its elite troops in those areas[7]. After SAARC conference in Islamabad the Indian and SAARC leaders gave statements emphasizing that consolidated steps have to be taken by the member countries jointly against any national movements which they termed as terrorist activities in those countries. India would surely welcome such a development. Indian army were sent to Sari Lanka to crush the Tamil uprising during Rajeo Ganghi regime. The same could be repeated by the Indians in Balochistan in support of Pakistan whose security will be guaranteed by India in a new dispensation. The Pakistan and its intelligence agencies in reciprocation will be obliged to supply the names of their former Indian contacts and agents from their archives to the Indians. We have many example in recent past where the neighboring countries after reaching agreements on issues in their wider national interests have ditched those people they had been supporting for long against their respective countries. Iran under Shah supported Kurds insurgents against Iraq in 1970s but after reaching a rapprochement with Iraq on disputed Shath ul Arab in Algeria in 1975, Iran simply ditched the Kurds and thousands of Kurds were killed by Iraqi troops in subsequent fight against them in Kurdistan. Similarly the Iraqi support though negligible came to a halt for Iranian Baloch against the Shah regime. The Baloch were promised all out support by Afghanistan in their fight against the Pakistan army during 1974-1978. However after Afghan President Daud Khan’s official visit to Pakistan and reaching agreements with Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on a wider range of bilateral issues, the Afghans simply ignored frantic calls from the Baloch for military equipments for their guerrillas fighting the Pakistan government.

To sum up, Pakistan is passing through a crucial period of political and administrative uncertainty and policy confusions. However, in both the cases: Pakistan accepting a dictating position of its big neighbor in its internal and external polices, or choosing for a complete reversal of recent policy pronouncements of its peaceful intentions towards India, Baloch leadership have to tread very carefully in the muddy waters of international intrigues and internal conspiracies, and have to take into considerations all aspect of the impending conflict with Pakistan before going for an armed insurgency for realization for Baloch political rights.

(The author is editor in Chief of Daily Asaap, an Urdu daily being published from Quetta and Turbat, and Editor-in-chief Balochistan of News and Feature Services)

[1] During Nationalist Government of Akhthar Mengal (1997-1998), the Chief Minister of the province intended to prepare and send a demarche to the federal government regarding loss to Balochistan on account of Sui Gas royalties and balance amount supposed to be withheld through fraudulent means by the Federal government on Sui Gas income which is calculated to be in billions. The Chief Minister acquired the services an expert who started work on the project. His initial report to the Chief Minister was revealing which said that billion of rupees to be paid by the Federal government annually to Balochistan, not to speak the fudged figures or any withheld amount since 1953. Apart from many other reasons, disintegration of his party and dismissal of his Government through underhand tactics was the Chief Minister’s determination to bring the Gas figures public once it is calculated. Mr. Mengal was also determined to move the Supreme Court of the Country if the Federal government refuses to negotiate the figures.

[2] Every fourth able-bodied Baloch in the province is un-employed.

[3] Presently a Baloch Liberation Army is claiming rocket attacks on Pakistani security forces and in Quetta, the provincial capital for the last many months.

[4] The country’s military ruler in its address to both the houses of Parliament on 17th of January 2004 declared a war against religious extremism as one of the top priority of his government policies. However, apart from half hearted security operations against extremists who are allegedly responsible for the attack on the life of the President, no firm steps have been taken to rout out religious fanaticism in the country. Religious outfits are still operating with active connivance of the country’s main intelligence organizations.

[5] If Pakistan wants a democratic solution to the Baloch question, she must imperatively amend radically her fundamental perception and recognize, according to a new constitution, the existence of the Baloch within her boundaries as a people distinct from other nationalities comprising Pakistan, equal in collective rights and duties. Without such a democratic dispensation and political will it will be difficult to satisfy the Baloch and to reach a solution to Baloch question which may be in line with internationally recognized principles of justice and equality of all peoples in a multi-national state.

[6] Now question is will the Punjab seeing the writings on the walls allow such a rapprochement to be effected so easily? The muhajir factor in power is yet another irritant. They have enjoyed political and economic power for many decades. Being minority their language got the status of national language in the country. Obviously if everything goes smooth and a pluralistic polity of governance and rights of nationalities are guaranteed though may be in a later stage, the muhajir would be losers to a large extent after the Punjab.

[7] The Baloch had a first hand experience in 1970s when Iran under Shah actively supported Pakistani army in its campaign against the Baloch. Iranian government sent Cobra Helicopters to Pakistan army, which were used in military operations in Balochistan. Both Pakistan and Iran had big stakes in case Baloch are successful in obtaining any kind of autonomy in either part of Balochistan. The Baloch case is not much different from Kurds whose aspiration for national sovereignty is being seen as a threat to Iraq, Iran and Turkey.

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