Friday, March 25, 2005

Baloch Rights or Sardars Rights?

Baloch Rights or Sardars Rights?

The land of Balochistan is exceedingly inhospitable; geologists have even compared the landscape with Mars. A Pakhtu _expression, reflecting on ethnic relations as well as on geography, describes Balochistan as "the dump where Allah shot the rubbish of creation."(1)

With a prolonged army rule and the federal governments efforts to centralize power in Pakistan, provincial autonomy and national rights have been vital issues for the small provinces. Balochistan despite being the smallest in population is usually in front of the provincial and national rights movement.
From the day one when Pakistan became an independent country, relations between the federal government and Balochistan remained contentious. The Khan of Qalat, like many other rulers in the undivided India, was hoping that he and the Baloch would be able to inherit a semi, if not fully, independent Balochistan when British left India. The Pakistan movement and the Muslim League never really had any influence in the tribal Balochistan. Baloch never warmed up to the ideals of Pakistan before or right after the Partition. The Baloch Sardars were more interested in their own fiefdoms rather than becoming a part of overall Pakistani structure.

The federal Government in Pakistan, mindful of the initial resistance from Khan of Qalat to accede to Pakistan in 1947, did not waste time in forcing the annexation on Balochistan. Once the tribal resistance was broken, the federal government, then in Karachi, totally forgot about Balochistan until the discovery of natural gas in 1952. From 1948 to 1956, Balochistan was an administrative unit ran by a commissioner sitting in Quetta. Most of the Baloch Sardars from the British days were on a stipend from the federal government and were never considered to have enough political muscle to attract busy central politicians and political parties in Pakistan. During this period, neither the Baloch nor the Baloch Sardars had any representation at any level of politics in Pakistan.

This neglect by the central government further provoked a sense of isolation and alienation that later developed into a full-blown distrust of the central governments.

Mir Ghous Bux Bizenjo, (not a Sardar) emerged as a prominent political leader in Balochistan. He was a well-known figure in Quetta and one of the few Baloch to have attended college. He enjoyed tremendous respect amongst the Baloch Sardars. Before the 1956 One Unit, he had already started guiding the Baloch Sardars to the Azad Pakistan party and then its successors, National Awami Party. These parties consisted of remnants of the Indian National Congress cadre in Pakistan.

In 1958, the first dispute about the gas royalties emerged. The Central government wanted to give a minimum amount to the Bugti tribe and although other Baloch Sardars were not going to share anything in the royalty, they still supported the Bugtis in negotiations. In 1958, the Pak army for the first time took over the reins in Pakistan instead of operating from behind the scenes. The army tried to strong arm the Baloch, Sardars defied the army with armed resistance. Some Baloch Sardars including Sardar Nauroz Khan were arrested. Sardar Nauroz Khan, a 90 years old man died in captivity. The Pakistan army hanged his son and five others. (2)

The National Awami Party all over Pakistan, especially in Sindh and NWFP, organized several political rallies to inform people of Balochistan turmoil. The Army immediately pounced on the National Awami Party (NAP) and murdered one of its leaders, Hasan Nasir in Lahore fort. Hasan Nasir actually belonged to the Pakistan Communist Party. The Pakistan Communist Party was a part of an alliance of various political groups within the NAP.

Throughout the Gen. Ayub regime, only the NAP and the Baloch kept fighting the army in Pakistan on different fronts.

After the 1970 elections, the NAP emerged as the largest political party in Balochistan as it captured all National Assembly and all Baloch area Provincial Assembly seats. Mir Bizenjo, Sardar Khair Bux Marri, and Dr. Abdul Hai Baloch were elected to the Pak National Assembly. Dr. Adbul Hai Baloch was the president of Baloch Students Organization (BSO) student wing of the NAP but reportedly under the influence of the Communist Party.

The Iran Connection

The alliance between the Baloch and the communists became a thorn in the side of the Shah of Iran and his intelligence agency, the infamous SAVAK. The situation was further aggravated when the members of the Tudeh Party (Iranian Communist Party) started taking refuge in Balochistan and Karachi whenever they were on the run from SAVAK. Both Quetta and Karachi have small Iranian ex-pat communities, mostly Bahai, and hiding theses Irani communists was not difficult in Pakistan. This irked the Shah and SAVAK and they insisted that National Awami Party sever its relations with the Pakistan communist Party before they were to be given power in Balochistan. In 1973, before becoming governor of Balochistan, Mir Bizenjo had to spend two weeks in Iran listening to lot of threats and lectures from SAVAK and other Iranian officials.

This was not the only issue that Iran had with the Baloch; there was another more important problem. Iran also had a restive Baloch population and a brewing political turmoil in its hands. The Irani Baloch looked to the Pakistani Baloch to provide leadership. Extensive contacts were developed and both the Pakistan army and the Shah of Iran felt that this Baloch alliance might result in the forming of an independent Baloch state carved from areas in both Pakistan and Iran. For both Pakistan and Iran, this was an intolerable situation.

Zulfiqar Bhutto needed NAP support to get the constitution passed in the assembly. Once accomplished, under pressure from the Pak Army and the Shah of Iran, he moved to dismiss the NAP government in Balochistan and arrested several Baloch Sardars and Baloch students. Incidentally, the Pak government engineered an Iraq connection to dismiss the Baloch government. The central government claimed that the Iraqi government had sent arms through its embassy in Islamabad for distribution to Baloch in Khazdar and Kohlu (Marri tribe area). The whole thing was so ridiculous that no sane person would have believed a word of it. But the Pakistani press was under government control and the ZAB government got away with blatant lies.

Emergence of Baloch National Rights

It is always hard to distinguish where Baloch Sardar rights end and Baloch peoples rights begin. From the very beginning, the issue was never the Baloch rights but rather Sardars' rights, as the Khan of Qalat and his fellow Sardars wanted autonomy or semi autonomy for them in governing Balochistan without any interference whatsoever from Pakistan. In exchange, they were willing to stay within the Pakistan federation. Baloch Sardars were always quick to assert their right to self-rule but were also steadfastly against sharing power with their own subjects.

Sardars opposed opening schools in areas under their control. Some Sardars even opposed electrification in their area. Girls schools are still non-existent and there are few educated Baloch girls from the tribal areas.(3)

A small Baloch middle class emerged as some Baloch from the coastal areas moved to Karachi for employment and were able to educate their children. During the Election campaign in 1970, Sardars would not allow Baloch students to travel to their areas for campaigning. Baloch students ended up campaigning for Dr. Hai Baloch who defeated son of the Khan of Qalat in the 1970 Election.

Three Sardars

For Sardar Bugti the issue is always royalty from Sui. There are four gas wells in Bugti area but only one is actually located in Sui. In the early days, Sardar Bugti was able to collect all royalty for himself but now other sub tribes of Bugti, where the other three wells are located demand their share. A controversial figure in the Baloch politics, some of his actions in Baloch politics border on treachery. After the dismissal of the Baloch Govt. and the army action in 1973, he became the all-powerful governor of Balochistan. While other Baloch were fighting the army, he was enjoying his newfound love with the Pakistan Army. His links with the army go far back though. He was the only Baloch Sardar in a federal Ministry for a brief period before 1958 as a Minister of State for Defense. And, he was the only Baloch Sardar to welcome the Gen Zias army takeover in 1977.

Sardar Khair Bux Marri-- a legendary figure in all the Baloch rights struggles, heads the militant Marri tribe. His tribe bore the brunt of the Pak army onslaught on Baloch and many of the Marri tribe went up in the mountains to continue with the armed struggle, which eventually petered out in 1975. He self exiled himself to Kabul and London and then came back after working a deal with the Zia regime in early 1980s. He mostly kept to himself after his return. But recently, he was indicted in the murder of Balochistan High Court Justice Khuda Bux Marri. It was rumored that his son Mir Ballach Marri actually pulled the trigger in the elder Marris presence. His son is now hiding in the Marri tribal area and supposedly leading the current resistance from that area.

Sardar Attaulllah Mengal was the first Chief Minister of Balochistan. Though he was somewhat of a hardliner in fighting for Baloch rights, his government took a strange decision when it declared Urdu as the official language of Balochistan. That surprised and alienated many Baloch. He has never explained his reason for doing that. Later, during the first Nawaz government, his son Akhtar Mengal became the Chief Minister of Balochistan. Stories abound that his current struggle is more about getting back in power than any thing else.

Baloch National Rights

In Pakistan, the struggle between the center and the provinces is about the control of resources. Punjab, the largest province and the main provider of the armed forces has ostensibly wrested control of resources - via the central government - that should always be under provincial control. The Pakistani constitution - barely recognizable now - provides more autonomy and control of local resources to provinces than the Indian constitution delegates to Indian states/provinces. The lack of respect of the constitution by the Pak army, civil bureaucracy and generally the ruling elite from Punjab, has deprived the small provinces the means of legal and constitutional struggle for control of even the resources that duly fall within the provincial or concurrent list in the constitution.

The contentious issues may be the natural gas in Balochistan or the taxes/revenue generated in Karachi; while the center takes a lions share and the provinces, which should have the surplus revenue, end up meeting their budget needs through subsidies doled by the center. The Pak Army being the dominating political force in Pakistan, cannot afford to relinquish control of resources, as doing so would force a reduction in the defense budget as well as in the entrenched central government bureaucracy.

Balochistan situation is different from Sindh or NWFP. There the only revenue source is natural gas. The central government pays barely one to two percent royalty and that too ends up with Sardar Bugti, as there is no system for equitable distribution of the royalty. The Balochistan provincial government has to rely on huge federal subsidies to meet its needs.

The basic element of Baloch National rights is the control of natural resources. Baloch nationalists on the surface support that the increased royalty/revenue from the natural gas be given to the Balochistan government but the dominance of Sardar Bugti in the Baloch nationalist politics splits this into an ambiguous stand as Sardar Bugti is unwilling to share the royalty or revenue with any other group in Balochistan.
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The Current Crisis

The last 20 years of the 20th century saw Pakistani politics dominated by the Afghan crisis. The Pak army-sponsored mujahideen and their brand of fundamentalism was an intimidating force. The national rights movements in the smaller provinces were overshadowed by a strong surge in religion-based politics, the Afghan war and refugees, army-orchestrated swift changes in the civilian governments, and finally the army coup in Islamabad. The uncertainties at the center stagnated the national rights movements and in Balochistan, the nationalists split into three or more parties after the National Awami Party folded in the Zia Regime. Both Sardar Akber Bugti and Sardar Attullah Mengal have their own political parties and Dr. Abdul Hai Baloch leads a third.

The current crisis still revolves around the royalty issue. However, there are several other important issues wrapped up in the grim tale of Baloch history.
The emergence of a left leaning government in Afghanistan, then the Taliban, and now the US presence, has influenced the Baloch politics immensely. The burden of the Afghan refugees and resultant huge arms trade, where the Baloch coast was the major port of disembarkation of all kinds of legal and illegal arms have created new economic realities in Balochistan. The development of the Gwadar port has opened the possibility of an emerging free port in Balochistan, which would create a massive economic windfall for the province. The Baloch Sardars and the tiny middle class would like to share the booty instead of losing all benefits to Karachi investors and the Punjabi bureaucracy. Hence, all Sardars are clamoring to pressure the federal government as much as they can now in order to grab their share.
With the US army in the vicinity and increased likelihood of major turmoil in the area, Balochistan presents a good prospect for permanent US bases in the area. The Pak army is more than willing to oblige the US, and in the guise of setting up bases for the Pak Army, it is earmarking the areas that will eventually serve as US military bases. This too provides an opportunity for Baloch Sardars to extract some financial benefits.

The proud and militaristic Baloch are in for difficult times. The leadership that held them together on nationalist rights has now become too entrenched with its own interests and monetary gains. The chapter of final deception by the Baloch Sardars is about to be written and the poor Baloch, who still dont have a choice in Baloch leadership, have to rely on Sardars to deal with the central government, are in for a surprise that may change Balochistan for good.

Ref:
1. http://countrystudies.us/pakistan/35.htm
2. http://www.dawn.com/weekly/dmag/dmag2.htm
3. for details about Balochistan education and other info
http://www.bdd.sdnpk.org

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