Tuesday, December 28, 2004

ORIGINS OF BALOCHISTAN VIOLENCE

The News International (Pakistan)
29 July 2000
Op-Ed.



by Asad Rahman

Since the end of the last civil war 1973-77, Balochistan as a whole has
been spared the bloodshed, terror and brutalisation of civil society
witnessed in Sindh and Punjab until the recent rocket and bomb attacks
over the past few months. From all the reports appearing in the press,
the local administration and security forces seem to be at a loss as to
the identity of the perpetrators. This confusion is a reflection of the
apathy of the internal security agencies towards law and order in a
province that has seen four civil wars.

The genesis of these civil wars lies in how Balochistan became part of
the newly created state of Pakistan in 1947. The first two, 1948 and
1958, lasted a few months and ended in surrender of the nationalist
groups along with the incarceration of the then Khan of Kalat, Ahmed Yar
Khan, under house arrest in Lahore for 15 odd years until a few years
before his death. The surrenders were brought about with oath on the
Holy Qur'aan by then Colonel Tikka Khan, later General, to right the
wrongs perpetrated on Balochistan by the federal governments. Nawab
Nouroz Khan, leader of the 1958 resistance, died at the age of 90 in
Hyderabad jail. Six of his companions, his sons and nephews, were hung
until dead in the same jail. His son tied a copy of the Holy Qur'aan
around his neck on the day of his hanging asking for it to be hung along
with him as it was on its oath that they had surrendered.

The third civil war lasted six years from 1962 to 1968. Only two battles
of any note took place in these six years with heavy losses on the
paramilitary side and victories for the Baloch. The Baloch did not
suffer much in terms of human losses but lost a huge number of livestock
(their mainstay economic activity) through bombardment. The fourth and
last civil war, 1973 to 1977, was the bloodiest in terms of human and
economic terms. The army and paramilitary forces engaged in this war
numbered around 80,000 men supported by Iranian helicopter gunships,
armoured vehicles and mortar artillery. It was the first civil war in
which the elite SSG Commando units were also sent into battle. Against
this the Baloch resistance fielded some 1,000 guerrilla fighters at any
given moment with antiquated second world war weapons like the Enfield
.303, hunting rifles and locally made Darra rifles. It is estimated that
the government forces suffered nearly 5,000 casualties while the Baloch
guerrilla forces suffered 1,500 casualties, both combatant and
non-combatant.

The scale in which modern weaponry was used in this civil war forced
some 7,000 families to seek refuge in Afghanistan where they remained as
refugees for sixteen years until their return to Balochistan in 1992.
These wars were the result of political and economic mismanagement by
successive federal governments in their relations and resource
allocations to the smaller (in terms of population) provinces of
Balochistan, Sindh and NWFP. The tribal setup of Balochistan, with some
radical nationalist Sardars, Nawabs and an armed population was always
in the forefront in demanding equitable provincial rights. Instead of
acting in a patriotic, nationalist and accommodating manner, all federal
governments have resorted to repressive force to quell their aspirations
of identity as Pakistanis, economic progress and a standard of living
equal to that of the other developed areas of the country.

With dismal education and economic standards, shackled in an oppressive
tribal system, the general public still has no say in the political
affairs of Balochistan and have to depend on their Sardars, Nawabs and
influentials to represent them at the provincial and national levels.
Historically, the institution of Sardar was democratic and was elected
from any section or family of the tribe whom they felt could best
represent the interests of the tribe. It was British colonialists who
converted this institution into a hereditary one and thus contributed to
the emergence of an oppressive, repressive and exploitative institution.
In the light of this development, some Sardars and Nawabs took on the
role of representatives for the whole of the Baloch nation. Thus formed
the ruling elite of the Baloch who, following in the footsteps of the
national ruling elite, indulged in corruption, repression of their own
people and used their people's armed power to serve their own self
interests, aggrandizement and projection.

This was the situation in the 1970s when a few young educated people
from Lahore and Karachi were invited by (then) radical nationalist
leaders of Balochistan, Nawab Khair Baksh Marri and Sher Mohammed Marri,
to come into their tribal area for social work. These boys not only made
significant contributions in the armed resistance from 1973 to 1977 but
also made another vital contribution in raising the awareness of the
people to the exploitative nature of the tribal and Sardari system. It
is because of this awakening of the people that has led to internal
tribal conflicts between the Sardars and their tribal subjects. These
conflicts are epitomised in the ongoing conflicts in the orthodox Marri
and Bugti tribes. In the Marri tribe, the conflict has its beginnings in
the refugee camps in Afghanistan when the Bijarani sections led by Sher
Mohammed and Mir Hazar Ramkani began to question the role of Nawab Khair
Baksh Marri, Sardar Ataullah Mengal in the 1973-77 resistance war and
the aid that they had purportedly received from various sympathetic
countries and sources for the war effort.

This falling out between the Bijaranis and the Nawab split the tribe
into three factions, the pro-Nawab and anti-Nawab factions and those
that remain neutral. The Bijarani section is the majority of the tribe
constituting nearly 55%, while the Gazainis number around 30% and the
remaining 15% are the Loharanis/Sheranis. Nawab Khair Baksh belongs to
the Bhawalanzai subsection of the Gazainis. The position of the Nawab at
present is very precarious even amongst the Gazainis as most have turned
away from him due to his stance against any economic or political/social
development for his tribe. The Bijaranis on the other hand are trying to
cooperate with the provincial and federal governments to develop the
areas that fall under their control. They have invited the oil company
that holds the lease for their area (block 28) to come in and explore
for oil and gas. On their own they have begun to mine coal from the
Kohlu area against the wishes of the Nawab. The Nawab allegedly
retaliated by having one of the coal transporting trucks attacked in
which one Pathan was killed and some others injured. The mining
operation continued with the Bijaranis providing security to the coal
transporters. Subsequently the murder of Justice Mohammed Nawaz Marri, a
Bijarani, was committed a few months ago. The local authorities arrested
Nawab Khair Baksh for allegedly instigating this murder. The Nawab's
sons are also wanted for interrogation but are absconding.

It is a known fact that Nawab Khair Baksh and Sardar Attaullah have
nurtured the dream of a greater Balochistan for decades constituted by
the Baloch areas of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistani Balochistan. It has
been reported that a hitherto undeclared Balochistan Liberation Army is
claiming responsibility for the recent bomb blasts and rocket attacks in
Quetta. It is also noteworthy that ever since Nawab Khair Baksh has been
under arrest that these bombings have taken place periodically and their
frequency has increased. Is there a connection keeping in view the
history of the four civil wars, the dream of a greater Balochistan, the
attacks on the Bijaranis opposing Khair Baksh, the murder of Justice
Marri and the emergence of the Balochistan Liberation Army? These are
the questions that the investigating and security agencies have to
answer in order to unravel this dangerous situation and stop it from
escalating.

The federal government too needs to play a positive role in
de-escalating the tension between the provinces and centre, while the
provincial government needs to patronise and help the forces that are
demanding development and groups that oppose the dismemberment of
Pakistan. Only by a concerted effort at both the federal and provincial
level, the feelings of deprivation, discontent and marginalisation of
the people of Balochistan can be obviated. Royalties, duties,
development surcharges and other levies owed to the province by the
centre must be paid. Development work should be carried out in the
fields of infrastructure development, water for irrigation and drinking,
education, health and productive economic activity.

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