By Najam Sethi
THE Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says the situation in the province of Balochistan is on the brink of civil war.
Since July 2010, 45 decomposed bodies have been found and 298 persons are “ missing”. Last year, there were 117 incidents of targeted killings; another 119 people died in bomb explosions and 19 were killed in sectarian attacks. NATO tankers are routinely torched. Taliban Shura leaders are holed out in the Quetta region from where they are directing attacks on NATO forces in Southern Afghanistan. NATO wants to bomb their hideouts. Gas pipelines to Punjab are constantly attacked and supplies disrupted. Ethnic cleansing is increasing.
Many questions arise. Are the Baloch nationalists fighting for secession or autonomy? Are they terrorists or freedom fighters? Where are all the missing persons? Who is carrying out ethnic cleansing of settler- Punjabis? Who is target- killing leaders of the nationalist movement? What is the role of the “ agencies” of Pakistan and India? What are the grievances of the Baloch? Is there a “ solution” in sight? Balochistan is a sort of tribal confederation with its attendant competitions and conflicts. Baloch nationalism draws its inspiration from the enforced accession of Kalat state to Pakistan at the time of Partition.
The hurt of the original sin has progressively become a rallying nationalist cause only because accession did not lead to any fulsome integration into the new nation- state. Indeed, in time the nationalist narrative has transcended the original agitation- politics of non- integration ( how many Baloch are there in the bureaucracy and army and public sector?) and sought to renew itself on the basis of the militant politics of exploitation ( Sui gas royalties are inadequate, Gwador Port is not in Baloch hands, Baloch lands are being bought up by Punjabis, Balochistan’s minerals are being extracted by foreigners for a song, etc.). The case of East Pakistan’s slide into alienation and separatism comes to mind straightaway. But a comparison points to some critical differences.
A “CONFEDERATION of tribes” with internal jealousies and conflict was not as conducive to the rise of unified Baloch nationalism like the homogeneity of the Bengalis was for their nationalism. Therefore Islamabad was better able to divide and rule the Baloch. This was reflected in the split between the nationalist tribal sardars of the Marri and Bugti tribes in the resistance movement of the 1960s and 1970s when the former picked up the gun against Islamabad and the latter sulked on the sidelines or actually embraced it. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Marris, Mengals and Bugtis tried to obtain a measure of political and economic autonomy from Islamabad but failed because the PPP and PMLN were busy making and breaking governments and ignoring economic development and national integration. The military government in the 2000s negated the benevolent effect of economic development by depriving the sardars and middle classes of Balochistan of its largesse ( Gwador was tied securely to anchors in Islamabad and the Bugti tribe was threatened with military reprisals for agitating about royalties from Sui and contracts from Pakistan Petroleum). Worse, in the 2002 elections, the military regime propped up the mullahs and religious ideologues of Balochistan ( and NWFP) at the expense of the tribal sardars, mainstream politicians and middle classes, effectively depriving them of power sharing. This culminated in alienating the Marri sardars and forcing them into exile and antagonising the Bugti sardars and compelling them to resist by force. The premeditated elimination of Nawaz Akbar Bugti via a military operation became the catalyst for an unprecedented unified stand by the Marris, Mengals and Bugtis against Islamabad.
This was a turning point for Baloch nationalism. Here was the necessary condition for rebellion. The sufficient condition was provided by a new twist in regional politics. The American intervention in Afghanistan brought an anti- Pakistan regime to power in Kabul that saw profitable leverage against Pakistan in fanning Baloch separatism. On the other border with India, it was also payback time for Pakistan’s jihadi incursions and instigations in Kashmir. Thus the Marri- Bugti leaders in exile readily clutched at the new facilitators and providers of arms and funds from across Pakistan’s eastern and western borders and launched their armed resistance against Islamabad.
The undemocratic “ deep state” of Pakistan has responded in the only way taught to it as the “ sole guardian of national security”— Repression. That is why Baloch nationalists are target- killed by invisible agencies or they “ disappear” in the dungeons of military field intelligence units where the writ of the soft state is absent.
And that is why the Baloch nationalist movement is viewed as an Indian- Afghan sponsored “ conspiracy against the integrity and solidarity of Pakistan”. THE other side of the coin reflects a definite strategy of which ethnic cleansing, especially of Punjabis, is a core requirement. Since the deep state is dominated by Punjabis, the settler Punjabis in Balochistan are viewed as potential allies of the enemy who must be eliminated or pushed out. Their bloody fate can squarely be laid at the door of insurgent Baloch nationalism whose “ freedom fighters” are “ terrorists” for the deep state of Pakistan. Is there a way out of this quagmire? Theoretically, secession could
provide a resolution for one side but not for the other. The modern nation- state guards its territorial integrity fiercely. India is a good example where half the country’s army has wiped out an entire generation of Kashmiri “ freedom fighters” or “ terrorists” without relinquishing an inch of territory.
Therefore the insurgency in Balochistan will lead to repression, not secession. Only a foreign intervention and war could create conditions for Pakistan’s disintegration and Balochistan’s secession as it did in 1971 for Bangladesh. But nuclear equations tend to deter war with India and secession can be ruled out. Will the promise of political autonomy and economic development and representation in the organs of the civil- military bureaucracy persuade the insurgents to abandon armed struggle and accept rehabilitation in Quetta? No. The secessionists will cease insurgency only when the external forces that prop them up back off and their safe havens in Afghanistan dry up. That is when they will consider returning to the mainstream and that too only if there are credible inducements for. Therefore the sufficient condition for insurgency today ( foreign support) must become the necessary condition ( by being withdrawn) for negotiating true autonomy and integration of Balochistan into Pakistan.
But foreign support for Baloch nationalists will not end until there are mutually related settlements of outstanding disputes between Islamabad and New Delhi and Islamabad and Kabul so that their proxy wars can come to an end. This, in turn, implies a stable and representative regime in Afghanistan that is not hostile to Islamabad or dependent on American military might. It also implies a solid conflict resolution process between India and Pakistan in which Pakistan is no longer distrusted as a terror- exporting threat to India and India is not distrusted as an existential threat to Pakistan.
Is that a tall order? Yes, it is, in the short run at least. In the longer term, however, there is no alternative for the three states.
Each must respect the territorial integrity of the other two in the interest of peace, stability, and economic development in the region and insurgencies and proxy wars must come to an end. Indeed, an endgame in Afghanistan should presage an end- game between India and Pakistan as well. Internal conflict has destroyed the Afghan state. It is eroding the Pakistan state and undermining the Indian.
The writer is editor of The Friday Times