Behind the Baloch insurgency
by Farooq Sulehria

Balochistan has 'plagued' many governments in Pakistan since 1947 when it was forcibly incorporated into Pakistan. At the time of Partition, besides British Balochistan, there were four princely states in what is now Balochistan: Kalat (the largest and most powerful), Makran, Kharan and Las Bela. The Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, wanted a Nepal-like status for Kalat, that unlike other princely states in undivided India had a treaty with Whitehall. Within twenty-four hours of Pakistan's creation, he declared Kalat's independence. The Khan of Kalat was not the only head of a princely state yearning for independence. The Maharaja of Jammu Kashmir and Nizam of Hyderabad had similar ambitions. But Pakistan and India frustrated all three in the same way: militarily.

The showdown between Kalat and Pakistan came on April 1, 1948. The army marched on Kalat. The Khan capitulated. But his younger brother, Prince Abdul Karim, declared a revolt against Pakistan. Prince Karim's band of 700 guerrillas (Baloch National Liberation Committee) took to the hills to fight the Pakistan army. The rebellion was soon crushed. Karim was trapped and arrested, but later granted amnesty.

In ten years time, Balochistan was in revolt again. Fearing that West Pakistan's three minority provinces might ally with East Pakistan and in an attempt to counter the numerically larger East Pakistanis, the West Pakistani ruling establishment merged the four West Pakistan provinces into One Unit in 1954. The move was greatly resented by the three smaller provinces in the western part of the country.

To crush the growing anti-One Unit movement in Balochistan, the army marched on the province a day before the first military rule was imposed. The Khan of Kalat was arrested. Large-scale arrests and house-to-house searches were conducted across Balochistan. The Baloch responded with armed resistance. A 1000-man militia under the command of Nauroz Khan launched a struggle against One Unit and for the release of the Khan of Kalat. The militia engaged the Pakistan army in pitched battles for over a year, until on May 19, 1959, both sides agreed upon parleys -- actually a trap for Nauroz Khan who was arrested. In July same year, five of Nauroz's relatives including his son were sent to the gallows. He himself died in prison in 1964 and became a symbol of Baloch resistance.

The Baloch resistance continued until 28 January 2021 when the Pakistan government announced a general amnesty. The decade old armed struggle ended, only to start in a few years again when Bhutto at the behest of the Shah of Iran started an ill-fated operation in Balochistan.

The first general elections in Balochistan in 1970 had helped Baloch nationalists secure the legitimacy they needed. Overwhelmingly voted in, the Baloch nationalists formed the province's first ever-elected government with the support of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI).

In 1973, Bhutto visited Iran where the Shah, concerned about the oil-rich Iranian side of Balochistan, warned him against any nationalist movement on his border and promised economic and military aid worth 200 million dollars. On his return, Bhutto dismissed the elected government of Balochistan, on the pretext that a cache of 350 Soviet submachine guns and 100,000 rounds of ammunition had been found in the Iraqi political attache's house in Islamabad. Bhutto claimed that the weapons were destined for either Pakistani or Iranian Balochistan.

Soon the Pakistan Air Force's French Mirage fighters and Iran's American Cobra helicopters (manned by Iranian pilots) were bombing Balochistan. The Mirage and Cobra squadrons were joined by 80,000 ground troops. The reaction against it was widespread too, with an estimated 80,000 rebels having joined the Balochistan Peoples' Liberation Front.

Though the insurgency remained isolated, mainly due to press censorship, it attracted some upper middle class radical youth from Lahore, who had been schooled in London. Some from Sindh also joined in. Bhutto was indeed annoyed when two Talpur boys joined the Baloch guerrillas.

The Bhuttoist misadventure in Balochistan cost the lives of 3,300 Pakistani troops and 5,300 guerrillas. Above all, Bhutto dug his own grave by involving the Pakistan army in civilian affairs and setting a precedent for its later behaviour. In July 1977, the army 'secured' Pakistan, the new military dictator declared a victory in Balochistan and the troops withdrew. The resistance eventually died down, only to re-emerge in present times, since for the Balochs, nothing had changed. Their province remains the country's economically the most backward, despite possessing rich mineral resources. Major Baloch grievances continue to revolve around the issue of natural gas royalties and use.

Discovered in 1952 at Sui, natural gas was not available even in Quetta until 1980s -- and that too when an army cantonment needed it -- although Sui gas had reached far-flung towns in Punjab. Gas from Balochistan meets 38 per cent of the national needs yet only six per cent of Balochistan's 6.5 million people have access to it. Adding insult to injury, Balochistan is not paid proper royalties.

For instance, during the current fiscal year, Balochistan, producing 950 million cubic feet (mcf) gas, will get Rs 5.996 billion compared to Sindh's Rs 19 billion despite the fact that Sindh produces 700 mcf gas. Punjab's share would be Rs 2 billion and its production is 250 mcf. The reason for this disparity lies in a money distribution formula which allocates different rates for energy produced in different provinces: Punjab is paid Rs 80-190 per British thermal unit (btu), Sindh gets Rs 140 per btu while Balochistan is doled out Rs 36.65 per btu (Herald, September 2004). Balochistan's deprivation is further aggravated when it comes to the Federal Divisible Pool as funds from that pool are allocated on population basis. In the current fiscal year, provincial share in Federal Divisible Pool is: Punjab -- Rs 115.22 billion, Sindh -- Rs 47.52 billion , NWFP -- Rs 27.76 billion and and Balochistan -- Rs 17.5 billion. No wonder Balochistan's debt to the Centre has amounted to the tune of Rs 43 billion while it has a State Bank overdraft of Rs 7 billion.

The Balochs have almost no representation in military and bureaucracy. None of the country's top 40 industrialist groups belong to Balochistan. Health and education facilities are widely unavailable to people in Balochistan. While tribal chiefs enjoying high standards of life, working people do not even have an access to clean drinking water.

Baloch concerns about their status were intensified when the federal government launched a project in the coastal town of Gwadar that they fear will lead to large-scale immigration from other provinces, adding to the existing large numbers of ethnic Pushtoons already present. With Balochistan's entire population standing at only 6.5 million almost half of which is non-Baloch, the Balochs fear that they are being 'Red Indianised'.

The Baloch demand, and justifiably so, that jobs at Gwadar be given to them. They also demand an end to the influx of outsider labour to Gwadar. Media reports suggest that only jobs below grade 15 are being doled out to the Balochs. Balochistan does lack professionals but it still does have thousands of jobless engineers and technicians, who must be accorded first preference while employing people for projects being carried out in their province. The Musharraf regime, instead of taking note of the Baloch grievances, has announced the building of three new military bases in Balochistan -- seen by the Balochs as an attempt to further subjugate them.

But when they protest, their protest is dismissed and hushed up. The Balochs then take up the gun and go back to the hills. Consequently, the once little known Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is fast becoming a household name. It has been engaged in guerrilla activities at least since 1999 or even before. What is clear is that if the Khakis march on Balochistan yet again, the Baloch will resist and the BLA ranks will swell.

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