Seething lava of Balochistan
27 February, 2012
By Asif Haroon Raja
During the British rule of India, the rulers had demarcated the provinces not on ethnic lines but suiting their administrative convenience. Balochistan, which is an arid mountainous region in southwest Asia, consisted of two entities; one comprising of princely states of Kalat, Mekran, Kharan and Lasbela in the south and west, and the other in north and east inhabited by various Pashtun and other tribes. Large numbers of Baloch got settled in Sindh and Punjab. At the time of creation of Pakistan in August 1947, except for Khan of Kalat Mir Ahmad Yar Khan heading Kalat National Party who openly advocated independence of Balochistan, all the Baloch and Brohi tribal leaders supported accession to Pakistan. They reminded him 'that both on grounds of geographic contiguity as well as wishes of 3000,000 Balochis', Kalat should accede to Pakistan.
Despite giving his pledge to Jinnah during his visit to Sibi in February 1948 that Kalat would accede to Pakistan subject to approval by State Legislature, he reneged from his word of honour. The rulers of Mekran, Kharan and Lasbela formally applied for accession to Pakistan on March 17, 1948. Since the stance of Khan of Kalat was not representative of the Baloch sentiment, Pak government took control of administration of Kalat on April 15, 1948.
On May 16, 1948, younger brother of Yar, Prince Abdul Karim who had formed a political organisation called Ustaman Gal, decided to lead the rebellion. He declared revolt against Pak Army and invited Kalat State National Party, Baloch League, Baloch National Workers Party to join him for the struggle of creation of 'Greater Balochistan'. Failing to solicit response from others he fled and took refuge in Afghanistan. Later on, when he returned to Balochistan, he was arrested, tried and sentenced to 10 years jail. A stage had however been set for the spate of insurgencies that followed in the later years.
In mid 1950s, Nawab Nauroz Khan hobnobbed with India, Iran and Afghanistan and besides fuelling idea of 'Greater Balochistan', he vied to declare Kalat as an independent state. On October 6, 1958, Pak Army had to be moved in to arrest him and his uncle who had been seeking help from Afghanistan and were planning a full scale Baloch rebellion. Nauroz surrendered and later on he was executed.
The persisting centralized policies of the central government kept nationalistic feelings alive in Balochistan. Among seventy Baloch tribes, Bugti tribe led by Nawab Akbar Bugti, Marri tribe by Khair Bux Marri and Mengal tribe by Akhtar Mengal are the largest tribes. Bugti tribe dominate Dera Bugti, Sui, Kahan areas, Marris Kohlu region and Mengals are predominant in Chaghai, Khuzdar, Kharan districts. Its leaders instead of bettering their respective regions remained at war with each other, each vying to overawe the other. As a policy the Sardras kept their tribes backward and uneducated so as to have readily available labour force. Gas royalties and development funds paid to the Sardars each year never filtered down to the poor of their areas. The money received was spent on personal luxuries or in maintaining private armies and jails and in inter-tribal wars.
While Sardari system was abolished by ZA Bhutto, on ground it has remained in vogue and subsequent governments kept the Sardars appeased. Their personal demands were promptly met and their corrupt practices and disdain for developing the province ignored. Notwithstanding the failings of the successive federal governments, the Baloch Sardars who have all along been in power are equally responsible for keeping Balochistan backward and neglected. They have been pilfering the funds meant to develop the province. As a consequence, all the Sardars are dirty rich; most have second residences in Karachi, Islamabad or abroad and lead a royal life, while their tribes reeling in absolute poverty live a slave life. Armed gangs of the Sardars keep them terrorized and suppressed. During the 2006 military operation scores of private jails were unearthed where some of the chained decade old detainees in horrible condition were set free.
Out of total population of 7 million in Balochistan, the Baloch are 3 million out of which about 30% are Brahvis. The Brahvis who are now being considered as Baloch speak their own language and are concentrated in Sohrab, Killi Shawani, Mastung, Kalat and Dalbaldin. There are 8 million Baloch settled in Punjab and 6 million in Sindh. That way the Baloch settled in Punjab and Sindh are almost five times more than the inhabitants of Balochistan. Sistan, which is a province of Iran, is inhabited by Baloch. The province is also inhabited by Hazaras who are Shias and speak Persian and are in small minority concentrated in Quetta. Settlers from other provinces, mostly Punjabis are in sizeable numbers, but now after their ethnic cleansing by Baloch rebels, their presence has been considerably reduced. Nearly 80% of the population of the capital city Quetta used to be of settlers, which has now dropped to 40%. Being more educated and skilled, they have played a dominant role in running the business, education, banking and management affairs.
East of Panjgur right up to Zhob and Tanai is the Pashtun belt which is relatively peaceful and is not linked with Baloch separatists, but has affiliations with neighbouring Pashtuns in South Waziristan. From among the Pathans, Samad Achakzai founded a pro-Indian Congress Anjuman Watan Party, which preached splitting up Balochistan on linguistic basis and creating Pakhtunistan province. It worked in harmony with Ustaman Gal and their objective remained common. He was arrested and his party declared unlawful.
Today, the ratio of Baloch and Pathans in Balochistan is near parity particularly after the influx of 406000 Afghan refugees in the early 1980s who have got permanently settled. One reason for the Pashtuns of Balochistan to be peaceful is that they are more educated and enterprising and are engaged in trade, business and transportation activities. Mahmood Achakzai who boycotted 2008 elections is their political leader.
In the aftermath of separation of East Pakistan in 1971, while the PPP formed a government in the centre and in Punjab, National Awami Party (NAP) led by Ghaus Bux Bizenjo, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Gul Khan Nasir, Khair Bux Marri, Nawab Akbar Bugti, Khan Wali Khan together with JUI dominated Balochistan and NWFP provinces. They demanded provincial autonomy in return for approving 1973 consensus constitution. Sacking of NAP-JUI coalition government in Balochistan in February 1973, arrest of three main Baloch nationalist leaders as well as Wali Khan and banning of NAP by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto sparked Baloch insurgency in 1973. The insurgency was spearheaded by Marri and Mengal tribes and Baloch Students Organisation (BSO) and led by Mir Hazar Khan. Intelligence about secret smuggling of weapons by Balochistan government and arming of dissidents through Iraq Embassy in Islamabad was given by Akbar Bugti, based on which the accused were charged under act of treason and Hyderabad Tribunal was formed. Mir Hazar managed to flee to Afghanistan.
Akbar Bugti was rewarded by replacing Ghaus Bux Bizenjo as Governor of Balochistan and the Army was brought in to launch counter insurgency operation. He was looked down upon by other Sardars and seen as a traitor and an establishment man since besides governorship, he also held the appointment of chief minister of the province and never supported the cause of separatists. Nexus of KGB-KHAD-RAW coupled with Iraq was fully involved in supporting Baloch insurgency. Iran helped Pakistan by providing 30 Cobra helicopters. 3300 Pak soldiers embraced Shahadat but after killing 5500 militants.
Insurgents came down from the hills in 1978 after Gen Ziaul Haq took over and Governor Rahimuddin desensitized the alienated Baloch and Pashtun separatist leadership by a multi-faceted strategy. As a consequence to well-thought out development program to uplift the province, 'Greater Balochistan' movement melted away. Ouster of Bhutto, his trial and death sentence combined with heavy economic dozes were contributory factors which took the steam out of insurgency. 1978-84 was the most stable period of Balochistan. Most people of Balochistan desired greater autonomy and very few Balochis favoured the idea of 'greater Balochistan'. In fact, the whole lot of Brahvis and Pathans were hostile to the idea of separate Balochistan.
Balochistan was once again heated up by foreign powers after 9/11. This time the sponsors of Baloch insurgency were USA, Britain, Israel, India and Afghanistan. Intelligence agencies of the five countries got actively involved in Balochistan from 2002 onwards. Learning from history, the schemers concluded that without the participation of largest Bugti tribe, insurgency may not achieve desired results. Akbar Bugti was therefore induced to gang up with Marris and Mengals and lead the insurgency. He was in return promised all out financial, weapons and equipment support as well as guidance and training facilities for the fighters. He was led up the garden path by promising him full control over tapped and untapped mineral resources of the province and kingdom of Balochistan. He got easily lured since his demand to increase gas royalty had been turned down by Musharraf regime on the basis that instead of uplifting his region, he had been devouring allotted funds and royalties.
Once the three main tribes as well as Baloch nationalist leaders were taken on board in 2002, RAW set up 26 training centres in Afghanistan along western border of Pakistan where Indian military trainers and RAW officials imparted training to Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Afghans, Arabs, dissidents from Balochistan. No sooner the insurgency gained momentum in 2005 in Dera Bugti, Sui, Kahan, Kohlu areas, over 60 Farari camps were established in interior Balochistan where trainers from Indian and Afghan Armies imparted training to the rebels. Refugee camps for Balochistan dissidents were established in Kandahar, Spin Boldak, Helmand, Nimroz. Supply routes were marked, one emanating from Spin Boldak in the west and the other from Shahgarh via Ubaro in the east.
When all possible efforts to pacify incensed Akbar Bugti, who had moved to the mountains to conduct guerrilla war, failed and law and order situation kept worsening, a military operation had to be launched in rebel infested regions in interior Balochistan in summer of 2006. After the death of Akbar Bugti in August 2006 as a result of caving in of the cave in which he was hiding, the planners in Kabul transformed him into a hero of Baloch nation and started inculcating hatred against Pak Army and federal government. Insurgency became more widespread.
After Akbar Bugti, the leadership came in the hands of absconder Balach Marri based in Kandahar. Several shady terrorist groups suddenly that were active in 1973 insurgency resurfaced from nowhere such as Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and BSO. Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and some more were new additions. After Balach was killed in 2007 in Afghanistan by unknown gunmen for unknown reasons, Brahamdagh Bugti, grandson of Akbar Bugti took over the command setup in Kandahar. In early 2011, he shifted to Switzerland since he felt unsafe in Kandahar. Helped by his patrons, he coordinates the activities of BRA, while Harbyar Marri, son of Khair Bux supervises the activities of BLA from London. Dr Allah Nazir heading BLF is based in Mashkai. He operates in western Balochistan between Panjgur, Mand and Turbat. Another rebel leader from Kalat Mir Suleman Daood Khan is in exile in London, while Akhtar Mengal is in exile in UAE and Dr Wahid Baloch is based in Washington. These and some other self-exiled Baloch leaders are actively working on a separatist agenda and foreign powers with vested interests in Balochistan are giving them all out assistance to espouse their cause.
Foreign hands are continuously pouring oil to further fuel insurgency and to inculcate hatred against the Army, FC and ISI and to alienate the Baloch people. Recent killing of wife (sister of Brahamdagh) and daughter of Bakhtiar Khan Domki in Karachi as well as mutilation of dead bodies of Baloch nationalists are the handiwork of RAW to accentuate alienation of Balochis. India is investing lot of money on the absconding Baloch leaders to make them sing songs of independence of Balochistan and to continue with their diatribe against Pak security forces and ISI. In fact they have become hostage in the hands of several foreign intelligence agencies and are in no position to change their stance or return to Pakistan. Money, comfortable living and coercive grip of the patrons keep them compliant. To expect that they would abandon their high life and free themselves from the clutches of their benefactors and return to Balochistan in response to the call of amnesty is wishful.
I remember the general amnesty announced in former East Pakistan for all the runaways after law and order had been restored in June 1971 and reception centres had been set up to welcome them. I recall how Governor Tikka Khan followed by Abdul Malik as well as Gen Yahya's regime had beseeched the exiled Bengali leaders based in India to return to Dacca. Messages were sent through the US and UN channels to the Bangladesh government in exile, but none was allowed by India to go back. Even the refugees languishing in dilapidated Indian camps were not permitted to return to their homes. This time it is not only India but USA and Israel blocking the way of exiled Baloch leaders. Likewise, the rebellious Baloch fighters are also stuck up in the mountains and are not in a position to give up violence and return home. All those showing inclination to give up militancy are killed and their bodies mutilated and dumped in public places in interior Balochistan and the responsibility pasted on the ISI and FC. The seething lava of Balochistan has reached the stage of bursting. Some novel ways will have to be found expeditiously to defuse the lava.
The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst.