Ongoing Balochistan Conflict

Source: Internet

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

Balochistan has been notoriously nicknamed as ‘Pakistan’s Killing Field’.  After four insurgencies in 1948, 1953, 1978 and 2004 (which continues till this date), it has largely been a known fact that political and socio-cultural alienation is the heart of the matter in the largest province of Pakistan.

When Pervez Musharraf, former President of Pakistan, launched military offensives inside tribal administered areas including Balochistan, the strategy had been quite inconsistent, unlike strategy of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who made cordial political relations with Balochi leaders like Nawab Akbar Bugti in events like the grand ceremony of Sibi Durbar.

Jinnah had visited Balochistan and made pacts with Balochis in his last years of life. Also, he had made some inevitable promises including their decision to join Pakistan through a referendum and also safeguarding their interests through ensuring autonomy and a direct supervision of Governor General's Office.

The times and perceptions have changed now. Musharraf, in his self-imposed exile in London, called Balochis ‘terrorists’ in 2012. Since then, military offensives are believed to have made the collapse of law and order in a province, which was thought to be the ‘steel frame’ of the country by the government.

Suicide bombings, attack on trains and buses, unidentified killings and disappearances have been rife in the area. The growing presence of Islamic State will further complicate the insurgency landscape. Infact, violence by targeted killings has continued unabated.

Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan, although sparsely populated. Many a times, Balochis have been treated with contempt over government policy matters, because Pakistanis believe their agitation as insignificant because they make only six percent of total Pakistani population. The Balochis believe that their oppression has demographic factors to it as well, including a huge influx of 1.5 million Afghan refugees in their land, during the Afghan war of 1979.

For the development of Gwadar port, many jobs and plots of land have been given to outsiders that have heightened resentments. They believe the Government of Pakistan to be nothing but ‘Punjabi Fascism.’

Over the period of time, the central government has also been in odds over their exploitation of Sui gas fields located in the Bugti Agency. Gas was discovered in Balochistan in 1953. The locals have been alleging that they have not been getting a fair share of deal for their resources. They also believe that the construction of highways during Musharraf’s time was an intention to bring more troops in the province.

When Pakistani troops were sent on orders of martial law in 1958, the leader of the Khan of Kalat was arrested, who along with his sons was executed. Historically, the Marri Balochis, have continued to rebel from the 1960’s.

In 1973, at the time of Z.A Bhutto’s government, many of their villages were destroyed. At the end of 1977, over ten thousand Balochs had been killed. These facts of history serve as harsh reminders of humiliation and betrayals.

Historical Balochistan covered the southern part of Sistan o Balochistan Province in Iran, in the west, the Pakistani province of Balochistan in the east and the northwest Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. It is even before the devolution of British India, the land of Balochs has remained divided.

The stern neglect of the political rights had given rise to local militancy over the years. Baluchistan Liberation Army formed in 1999 has remained active between 2005 and 2006 in subversive activities in Marri-Bugti areas, attacking gas installations, military and para-military forces and civilians including Hazara minorities. Baluchistan Republican Army has also made a shift from political struggle to militancy. 

Balochistan has remained as one of the poorest regions. 58% of their land is uncultivable due to water scarcity and 62% of people don't have access to safe drinking water. Many Balochis also seem to be unhappy with CPEC on political grounds.

When Akbar Bugti was killed in a military operation in 2006 in the Bhamboor mountain range of Kohlu, he was quickly declared as their national martyr. He was in fact depicted as a lion in the local folklore. Hours after his death, over five hundred people were detained in riots throughout the province, with many of the Baloch protesters targeting Punjabi-owned properties and businesses in Quetta, worsening already volatile ethnic divisions across Pakistan.

The movement for autonomy, which he had also supported at one point in time, had quickly changed into a movement for independence. It had changed because Bugti was believed to be the only link with Pakistan and after his killing, a secessionist movement emerged. Bugti leaders had put one billion rupees and 1,000 acres plot of land as a bounty on Musharraf’s head.

Since then, a policy of catch and kill followed and too many bodies appeared mysteriously in home villages. Messages such as  ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ and ‘Long Live Pakistan’ were engraved on their dead chests. Many Baloch scholars and journalists were targeted and it signified a decapitation of their cultural and social values.

In March 2016, when Pakistan claimed that a spy named Kulbhushan Yadav was tasked by India’s RAW to carry out terrorism in Pakistan to bomb a hotel in Gwadar, it stirred new controversies.

Conversely, Pakistani nationalists also cite newspaper polls stating that only a minority population around 37 percent support independence in Balochistan and hail the steps taken for democratisation. 


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