Insights into Editorial: Behind the opening of the Balochistan front
Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the issue of Balochistan conflict in his recent Independence Day address. While this was appreciated and welcomed by the Baloch leaders, it was criticized by Pakistani leaders. Using the Balochistan card in the battle for Kashmir has also invited criticisms from few Indians.
- The government of Pakistan has been dealing with animosity among the tribes of Balochistan since the time the country came into existence in 1947.
- The causes of the conflict with Balochistan include a ripe ethnic nationalism along with feelings of economic and political exclusion.
Geography of Balochistan:
Balochistan is located in the South West of Pakistan and constitutes half of the country’s territory. Demographically though it constitutes a mere 3.6% of the total population of Pakistan. The province is home to over 13 million people, mostly Balochis.
Geo-Political significance of Balochistan:
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest, but least developed province, which is sharing its border with Iran and Afghanistan due to which it is one of the most important states for Pakistan geo-politically.
- In April 2015, Pakistan and China announced to develop $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which in turn forms part of China’s ambitious one belt, one road.
- It is one of the four provinces of Pakistan and is strategically extremely important to the country because of the high concentration of natural resources including gas, oil, copper and gold. However, despite the richness in natural resources, Balochistan continues to remain the poorest province of Pakistan.
How it became a part of Pakistan?
Prior to independence from British rule, the province of Balochistan comprised of four princely states; Kalat, Lasbela, Kharan and Makran. Three months before Partition, Mohammad Ali Jinnah mooted an independent state of Kalat which would consist of all four princely states. Accordingly a communique, was released on August 11, 1947, which gave an independent sovereign status to Kalat.
By October of 1947, however, Jinnah changed his mind regarding the status of Kalat and voiced his demand for Kalat to formally join the state of Pakistan. The Khan of Kalat refused to let go off his independent sovereign status and a standstill pursued between two leaders regarding the status of present day Balochistan.
On March 26, 1948, the Pakistan Army moved into Balochistan and captured Kalat on April 1, 1948.
Why worry about this?
Following the capture of Kalat, cases of military atrocities have been a recurrent occurrence in the province. Acts of ill treatment by officials in the region included torture, arbitrary arrests, executions and acts of indiscriminate violence. Thousands of people have been reported to be missing.
Root causes of the conflict between Balochistan and PAK:
Unstable Politics: The Baluch people have never had their required representation in politics, including the military. Sometimes they were not able to complete their tenure in the provincial council of Baluchistan due to political exclusion tendency of the central government. This exacerbated the ethnic conflict in the province with the goal of autonomy or possibly independence. The Military coup in 1999 that brought Parvez Musharraf into power increased the sense of general alienation among the Baluchs.
Ethnic difference: It remains the single biggest fault line in Pakistani politics. When Pakistan was formed, skewed power relations among the different Muslim ethnicities was visible. The Punjabi landlords had an almost unchallenged hold over Pakistan’s bureaucracy. The people of Balochistan also felt a sense of separate identity on account of a shared history, language and other cultural aspects. This shared culture among the Balochs led to the ripening of a strong sense of nationalism that propounded for a larger political autonomy and a separate state for Balochistan.
Resources and Development Issues: Unequal distribution of resource revenues remains one of the major sources of the problem. The resources in Baluchistan province consist of gas, which is used to produce energy for Pakistan. Though the government of Pakistan claims credit for the economic progress in the province, Baluchs deem the policies by the Pakistan government, including the Economic Package called ‘Aghaz e hoqooq e Baluchistan,’ as being inefficient and having not accrued any benefits to the residents of this province.
Human Rights: It is reported that from 2003 to 2008 more than 8000 people were kidnapped by Pakistani security in the province. Cases of torture have also been reported. Bodies are found with physical evidence of torture such as burn marks, broken limbs, nails pulled out and drill holes in the head. In 2011 the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan issued a report about disappearances in the province and identified the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) and Frontier Corps as the perpetrators. According to the report from the Human Right Commission of Pakistan (2006), the population also lacks in the area of basic services.
Terrorist Organizations and Islamic Extremism: A number of extremist groups such as Al Qaeda, Quetta Shura e Taliban and Tahreek Taliban are active in Baluchistan province. The operations of these groups have complicated the conflict situation. The strategic location of Baluchistan and the lack of a functioning economy in this province have deeply helped these groups to carry out their organized crimes with a religious label.
Foreign Support: The government of Pakistan has accused the Indian government and occasionally the United States for supporting the Baluch movement to destabilize the country. Both countries have rejected these claims.
Education: Education is also one of the main factors in the Baluchistan conflict. The Baluchis allege that their right to education is neglected. Although the Pakistani government is seen to have taken steps by doubling scholarship numbers in 2010 onwards, which can be seen as a way forward towards development, the Baluch nationals claim that the Pakistan government is neglecting their duties in terms of providing education, and that not enough is being done towards the development of educational institutions.
Gwadar issue: The current developmental issues are the construction of Gwadar Port as a major transportation hub with Dubai. This project was announced in 2001 and is being implemented by the Chinese. The Baluchs have been totally excluded from the construction of the project.
Gas pipeline issue: The Baluchistan area is also the hub for the Iran- Pakistan- India gas pipeline and has been targeted several times by the Baluch’s militia to show their disagreement with the government in its exploitation of the province.
International condemnation of Pakistan’s action in Balochistan:
The Pakistani military actions in the province had attracted international condemnation. In 2015-16 Amnesty International’s annual report on Pakistan, “enforced disappearances continued with impunity” in Balochistan and other parts of the country.
What needs to be done?
This is not the problem of one class, section, province or one dimensional. Therefore the response needs to be wholesome. The most fundamental and urgent requirement is for trust building. And the only way this can even begin is, by governance measures that are urgent, transparent and reach the door step of the ordinary masses.
- For its part, Pakistan needs to learn that the problem of Balochistan must be given urgent attention and top priority in good faith and measure. The governing elite in Pakistan have to be sensitive to the genuine demands placed on the federal government by the Balochis. These demands are protected and guaranteed by the constitution of Pakistan.
- The government has to adopt a multi‐pronged anti‐insurgency strategy to placate the Baloch poeple. The use of force will not lead to a peaceful solution. History is witness to the fact that suppression further ignites such movements. The situation calls for strongest possible political will to deliver and implement the solution among all concerned.
- It is true that insurgency still does not command the majority support. This fact must be capitalized on. By taking serious and urgent socio economic measure and by providing justice and fair play as basis of governance, the back of the insurgency can be broken.
- There is still an attitude among the Pakistanis establishment led by military that insurgency depends on some individuals. This is no longer the case and grass root support has widened in past few years. This can only be countered by urgent and fair governance. This can be achieved if the federal government, in conjunction with the provincial government, applies the will to ensure that the legitimate rights of the people of Balochistan are granted and delivered immediately.
In Short there are three components to the comprehensive solution to Balochistan problem:
- One, recognition of the legitimate demands of Baloch people and assessment of the ground reality.
- Second developments of sound policies and plans that would address the economic deprivation and sociopolitical issues and empower people.
- Third and final, immediate, direct, accountable and transparent delivery through provincial and local governors.
Why is India interested in this?
India has long maintained a political stance of not interfering in the internal matters of Pakistan or any other country. Despite Pakistan repeatedly bringing up the Kashmir issue over the years, India had maintained silence on Balochistan.
- Recent remarks on Balochistan come in the immediate aftermath of the Independence Day celebration in Pakistan that was dedicated to the independence of Kashmir. India’s response was quick with Modi clearly putting his foot down and reminding the neighbours of the atrocities they mete out upon their own countrymen.
- However, the Pakistani government has for years been accusing India of instigating unrest in the province of Balochistan. His speech was immediately met with a Pakistani cabinet official commenting upon it to be proof of India’s role in the region. On the other hand, Baloch nationalists welcomed Modi’s comment with full enthusiasm, saying it is the first time their cause has acquired international support.
Balochistan to Pakistan is much the same as what Kashmir is to India. Recent remarks by Indian PM sends out a clear signal that India will no longer be “cornered and submissive” on the Kashmir issue. This has clearly opened up a new chapter in India-Pakistan relations. However, the conflict in Baluchistan is protracted and extremely complex. Basically, the root causes of the conflict are both historical and political. Besides the historical and political reasons, the social factors such as ethnicity and religion has also played a vital role in the continuance of the conflict. Lack of representation at the decision-making level and low quotas for political representation are the prominent factors that have added more misery to the ongoing problems, thus spiraling this conflict out of control. It is time for Pakistan to sort out the issue before any international intervention is necessitated.