Let there be a Referendum in Balochistan
23 February, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi
In the wake of inexorably heightening insurgency and swelling separatist movements in Balochistan, the most direct and anecdotal recipe of this festering wound is the holding of a rereferendum without further loss of time. If the government believes that there are a few handful or anti-federation and secessionist elements, it should go into the preparation of such a referendum to elicit from the Baluchis whether they would wish to stay within the federation of Pakistan or become independent.
The Chaos in Balochistan is a mammoth challenge and might become a replay of former East Pakistan if not addressed as the outstanding and top most priority issue. Because of escalating fires of insurgency, the territorial integrity, the writ and sovereignty of state of Pakistan is at stake. How long would the agencies and the army run this volatile province with terror, oppression, intimidation, ruthless persecution and horrific extra judicial killings?
While taking such a crucial decision and announcing it well in advance of the projected referendum, the government can withdraw the bulk of the dreaded military and para-military network from Balochistan, that has come under burgeoning scrutiny and censure even from such elements who do not want to see this land being cut off through an armed struggle, rebellion or insurgency from the rest of Pakistan.
In 1971 Pakistan lost the Eastern wing, and now the biggest, geographically contiguous and strategically crucial part seems to be moving towards the verge of breaking away. The catching of this wild bull by horn is also indispensible as later it could prompt other two provinces; Sindh and NWFP to follow suit; not immediately yet in the longer run. Let us not repeat the blunder that Pakistanis military and civilian leadership committed in case of erstwhile East Pakistan.
If the separatist elements that are being supported and abetted with weapons and money and propaganda, by foreign inimical forces one of which is India, Pakistan may finally disintegrate and all the four provinces might also become independent states. This dreadful scenario might entail Punjab taken over by India and annexed with the East Punjab. India can also slice away a portion of Sindh. Pakhtunkhwa may also opt for independence. Thus Pakistan as a state would disappear from the world map.
The paramount interests of China, a trustworthy and all weather-friend of Pakistan, would also suffer, as the New Baloch government would likely be dancing on American and Indian tunes. The root cause for America and India to foster and foment insurgency and perpetual instability in Balochistan is the Gawadar port that was built by China and can serve as a huge facility for China for overland trading, besides exercising massive influence in the Persian Gulf precincts.
A volatile Balochistan ultimately getting out of the federation of Pakistan and emerging as an independent country would be a protégé of both America and India. That eventuality can provide them a rare and unique opportunity to destabilize Iran and also keep a watch over Afghanistan, the Central Asia and the Strait of Harmuz.
Balochistan has remained neglected and no meaningful and far reaching policies, projects or plans have ever been contemplated to take this region out of poverty, create widespread road network to link it with the rest of Pakistan, set up industries to provide jobs to the local population and explore the hidden natural resources with allocation of major share of proceeds and income to the province. Balochistan is as rugged, obsolete and backward as it has even been, before and after the inception of Pakistan.
The dream of the separatist elements for creation of greater Balochistan cannot be realized as Iran would not relinquish her hold over their part of Balochistan. In comparison to Pakistan, Iran's control over their part of Balochistan is firm and unshakable.
A referendum would make it manifest for all time to come if the Baluchis would wish to stay within Pakistan or go their own way. Keeping in view the ethnic divide and almost the equal proportion between Baluchis and Pashtoons and some 20 per cent non Baluchis races living in Balochistan, the verdict or the outcome of such referendum would not be entirely in favor of the secessionists. But as long as that is not proven through the referendum, the secessionists would not recoil from their demand which can even gather more steam if this incendiary issue is not dealt with politically and by getting a fresh mandate via the popular opinion.
There are several precedents of such referendums. One of these outstanding referendums was conducted in Canada for eliciting the choice of the French speaking citizens in Quebec province whether they wanted to be independent or remain within the Canada. Incredibly and against all predictions, the Quebec residents decided to live within the commonwealth of Canada and this thorny and perennially troubling issue for Canadian federation was resolved once and for all.
Referendums on independence as demanded by Party Québécois were conducted in 1980 and 1995. Both were voted down by voters, the latter defeated by a very narrow margin. In 2006, the Canadian House of Commons passed a symbolic motion, the Québécois nation motion, recognizing the "Québécois as a nation within a united Canada."
The Balochistan conflict is the offshoot of the accession of Kalat with Pakistan in 1948 by the then Kalat ruler Mir Ahmed Yar Khan. Prince Abdul Karim Khan (the brother of Mir Ahmed Khan) who had rejected the Khan of Kalat's decision to accede to Pakistan led a small fighting force to restore the independence of Kalat state but was subdued by the Pakistan army.
That conflict was followed by four more subsequent similar conflicts by Baloch dissidents. The second conflict was spearheaded by Nawab Nowroz khan in 1958-59.The third was started by She Muhammad Bijrani Marri in 1963-69.The final and the fifth organized insurgency was launched in 2004 by Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Mir Balach Marri in the wake of which Nawab Bugti was killed in August 2006.
On August 12, 2009, Khan of Kalat Mir Suleiman Dawood declared himself ruler of Balochistan and set up a Council for Independent Balochistan that contains "all separatist leaders including Nawab Bramdagh Bugti. The Council's also claimed Baloch territory in Iran besides that of the Pakistani Balochistan. However, it excluded the Afghan Baloch regions,
The cessation movements braced against Pakistan's federal government, its army and are active for creating an independent Balochistan, are varied and multiple. These are Parrari (later replaced by BPLF), Baloch Republic army, Baloch Autonomist Movement, Baloch Peoples' Liberation Front, Balochistan National Liberation Front, Balochistan National Movement and Jundullah.
Jundullah is alleged to receive support from the United States against the government of Iran, although the US denies any involvement. It is a militant entity that is based in Balochistan and is fighting for the rights of Iranian Taliban in Afghanistan. The other supporters of Jundullah are said to be the Iraqi Intelligence Service, Pakistani Sunni extremist group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and the Mujahedin e-Khalq.
Although Balochistan is the largest (44% of the country's area) region of Pakistan, it is the least populated (8 million population) and the least developed area. The demographic complexion is rather diverse that might provide a saving grace and a cushion to federation to rescue the situation from a total collapse. The Baloch speaking population that is fully involved in insurgency or rebellion is around 40 per cent of the total population. The Pashtu speaking population has the same percentage of 40 per cent. The remaining segments like Sindhis, Punjabis, Siraiki and Brohi are around 20 per cent.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's announcement to soon hold an All Parties Conference on Balochistan is a belated yet good decision to attend to this most delicate and pressing issue. But this initiative would remain a non starter unless voluminously represented by all shades of public opinion and wider array of political parties and even the separatist groups.
The inclusion of separatist groups in such conference can be least expected but the political parties from Balochistan should be motivated and persuaded to take part for finding some resolution of this mess that if not handled dexterously would land Pakistan into a geographical catastrophe.
It would be difficult for Baluchis and Pashtoons to be unanimous on one united Balochistan even if they manage to secede or given maximum autonomy through a political process. The Pashtoons deem themselves as a different ethnic entity and their rivalry with Baloch race is deep rooted and trenchant. As such one can anticipate a long civil war between the Baluchis and Pashtoons if the separatist movments somehow succeeds in wresting away this largest province from the rest of Pakistan.
The Balochi revolutionaries, nationalists and rebels would not be able to capture the Iranian part of Balochistan no matter they fight for ages. Iran would not tolerate the chunks of their territory torn away by Baloch separatists to make that a part of greater Balochistan.
The Baloch secessionists should eschew the foreign support for separation as their interest could be best served by remaining allied with Pakistan as was proclaimed and consented by them at the time of the creation of Pakistan in August 1947.
As such the best way-out for disparate and myriad separatist Baloch liberation movments and groups is to live within the federation of Pakistan and demand an autonomous status as was given to Quebec by the Canadndian federation. One of the stipulations of this autonomy should be a major portion of income from their natural resources and control of those resources by Baluchis themselves.
Keeping in view the tribal nature of Baloch society and their colliding interests, Balochistan, in case of an independent land, would turn into another Afghanistan with an interminable civil war between the war lords and tribal chiefs and Sardars for sway and control over the country. Thus what they could achieve through a separatist movement would be wasted away by internal feuds and fighting, exposing that vast land, once again, to further disintegration.
Pashtoons claim parity between themselves and Baluchis and want to be part of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa. Pashtoons and Baluchis have been separated into different administrative units till 1970. Balochi population is concentrated in the sparsely populated west, east, south and south of Balochistan; the Brohis in the center, while the Pashtoons are the majority in the north with Quetta as the main city. Two million Afghan refugees also live in and around Quetta. The proposed APC must discuss Pashtoons and Baluchis as separate entities, their mutual integration and how both can be amicably accommodated within one united Pakistan.
There are anti-Pakistan politicians in both American Senate and House of Representatives that daringly oppose Pakistan. This lobby, on the hand is, pro-India while on the other do not miss any chance to malign and despise Pakistan despite its being a close ally of the United States.
The chairman of the sub-committee on Oversight and Investigations of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dana Rohrabacher, introduced, a resolution last Friday in Congress, in support of the "right of self-determination of the Balochi people, for being victims of human rights violations and oppression despite being the largest province",
Although the ill-timed resolution has been widely condemned in Pakistan by all sections of society, it nevertheless indicates that United States is now contemplating to openly support the insurgency of the dissident Baluchis against both Pakistan and Iran for an independent Balochistan.
“Selig S. Harrison of the George Soros-funded Center for International Policy has called for dividing Pakistan and supporting an independent Baluch province as a means of weakening any alliance between Islamabad and Beijing. Relations between the two countries have warmed, with Pakistan granting China access to a naval base at Gawadar. Similar views have been promoted by Ralph Peters, a strategic affairs analyst, former U.S. Army officer, and an expert on the Middle East and the Islamic world.”
These are extremely ominous indicators and direly forewarn about the coming events and situations that might be difficult for Pakistan to deal with. It should be unmistakably understood that while United States is getting out Afghanistan, she is trying to be relocated in a more vulnerable and safer haven called Balochistan.
Pakistan needs to focus on Baluchistan's ballooning imbroglio with utmost urgency and in order to find a political solution of this complicated tangle for which the best course is to hold referendum. The Pakistan government should create conducive environment in advance, to pave way for pro Pakistan votes, so that the federation of Pakistan and its geographical cohesiveness can be saved and shored up.
The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat.