A Glimpse On The Baloch Nationalim By Professor Dr. Taj Mohammad Breseeg

The Baloch people are distinct from the Punjabi and the Persian elite that dominate Pakistani and Iranian politics – they are Muslims but more secular in their outlook

Note: This paper is a revised version of the final chapter (chapter seven) of my doctoral dissertation: “Baloch Nationalism: Its Origin and Development up to 1980”, submitted for the degree of PhD, University of London in 2001. The paper, as originally published in: Abid Mir & Parveen Naz (ed.), The Baloch,A book series, Published by Balochistan Volunteer Foundation, Volume No.1, June 2010, (pp. 65-94) examines the historical aspects of Baloch nationalism. The paper concludes that though the seeds of Baloch nationalism were sown in Balochistan in the colonial era, but its full flowering occurred as a result of centralising policies of modern post-colonial state, which contradicted and restrained the historical high degree of cultural and political autonomy of the Baloch. The paper explains that to a large extent the Baloch uprisings in Pakistan helped in forging a political consciousness amongst the Baloch people; based on common ethnic, cultural and historical ties transcending tribal loyal-ties.


By Professor Dr. Taj Mohammad Breseeg

The 20th century has been witness to the rise and development, of the politics of Baloch identity and nationalism. Nationalism may be defined in one of two ways – by ethnic or civic criteria. While ethnic nationalism is based on the consciousness of a shared identity, culture, belief in common ancestors and history, civic nationalism is encompassed within a geographically defined territory. In practice, ethnic nationalism has had an advantage over territorial or civic nationalism because the former appears as a natural continuation of a pre-existing ethnicity. The nationalists believe that their corporate interests are best protected by possession of their own state in the international system.

A community has an identity when its members are able not only to distinguish it from other communities, but also to convey its distinctive character in words, gestures, and practices, so as to reassure them that it should exist and that they have reason to belong to it. Thus the emergence of a national identity involves a growing sense among people that they belong naturally together, that they share common interests, a common history and a common destiny. To this extent the Baloch have undoubtedly an obvious claim to national identity, as demonstrated by perceptible political, economic and social events peculiar to the Baloch.

Historically, the period between the 13th century and the end of the 15th was the most significant in the development of the Baloch ethno-linguistic community. With respect to this, the process was just as complex and fundamental. Internally, the Baloch society moved from the smaller unit of clan to the larger one of tribe and territorial differentiation. Externally, it began to assimilate vast segments of other ethnic groups: Iranians, Indo-Aryans of Punjab and Sindh, Arabs, Pashtuns, etc.

A nation may be divided amongst several states. Such a nation is a multi-state nation – or, more appropriately, a trans-state nation. The Baloch today are a trans-state nation. Since the 1920s, their ‘coherence and unity’ have been growing steadily, and it is directed to the establishment of an independent “Greater Balochistan”, which comprises mainly the Pakistani province of Balochistan, the Iranian province of Sistan-wa-Balochistan (Sistan and Balochistan), and the contiguous areas of southern Afghanistan. Thus, as ties of history, territory and ethnicity maintain a unified Baloch national identity that spans state frontiers, so does Baloch nationalism tran­scend the international boundaries, which cut across its linguo-ethnic homeland. There­fore, it is important to place the Baloch national struggle in Eastern Balochistan (within the state of Pakistan) in the context of the broader nationalist movement engulfing the Baloch in Iran and Afghani­stan.

Numbering over 10 million (1981), the Baloch are one of the largest trans-state nations in southwest Asia. At present, their country is politically divided into two major parts: eastern Balochistan with Quetta as its capital has been administered by Pakistan since 1948; western Balochistan, officially known as “Sistan-wa-Balochistan” with Zahedan as its capital, has been under the control of Iran since 1928. The greatest number of Baloch today still live in Balochistan, though a large Baloch diaspora has developed in this century, especially in Karachi and other cities of Sindh, Punjab, Oman, and in recent decades in the Gulf States as well.

The Baloch people are distinct from the Punjabi and the Persian elite that dominate Pakistani and Iranian politics – they are Muslims but more secular in their outlook (in a similar fashion to the Kurds) with their own distinct language and culture. However, it is Balochistan’s strategic location, with a long coastline on the Gulf and its function as one of the gate-ways from and to Central Asia and Afghanistan, and as the most important check point of the Gulf’s oil, that has placed it in a pivotal position in the Subcontinent’s, and since the post colonial years in Pakistan’s and Iran’s, history.

Having its origin in the Balochs’ distinct geography, ecology, culture and history, Baloch nationalism emerged as an ideology in the early 1920s. Representing a popular movement against alien domination, its principal goal is the Baloch national self-rule in their homeland, an aim sought to preserve their national and cultural identity, thus advocated and pursued universally by the Baloch of all classes and social strata.

The ethnic element (ethnicity) constitutes the salient feature of Baloch nationalism. The weakness of ethnicity, however, is its inability to maintain the terminal loyalty of the masses at the national level. Sub-national rivalry, based on tribal loyalties, divides the Baloch national movement. These rivalries are then used by the central governments to weaken the Baloch, in both Iran and Pakistan. Thus the Baloch movement, in contrast to many other national liberation movements, has experienced a persistent contradiction between its traditional leadership and the relatively developed society it seeks to liberate.

A strong sense of ethnicity has existed among the Baloch for a very long time. From the 17th century to the mid-19th century, much of Balochistan was under the rule of the independent Khanate of Kalat, and the autonomous Baloch principalities (Western Balochistan) that produced a flourishing rural and urban life in the 18th century. Although a people of mixed origin, the Baloch constitute an ethnicity which has proved its vigour throughout the ages. They have withstood the inroads of more numerous and developed peoples such as the Mughals, Turks and Persians, and despite certain affinities with the latter, they have succeeded in maintaining their separate identity. Their vitality has been demonstrated by expansion into non-Baloch regions as well as by the Balochization of neighbouring people.

The Baloch may be divided into two major groups. The largest and the most extensive of these are the Baloch who speak Balochi or any of its related dialects. This group represents the Baloch “par excellence”. The second group consists of the various non-Balochi speaking groups, among them are the Baloch of Sindh and Punjab and the Brahuis of eastern Balochistan who speak Sindhi, Seraiki and Brahui respectively. Despite the fact that the latter group differs linguistically, they believe themselves to be Baloch, and this belief is not contested by their Balochi-speaking neighbours. Moreover, many prominent Baloch leaders have come from this second group. Thus, language plays a less important role in the Baloch nationalist movement in Eastern Balochistan, because, as indicated above, language ties do not unite the whole Baloch community.

Despite the heterogeneous composition of the Baloch, in some cases attested in traditions preserved by the tribes, they believe themselves to have a common ancestry. Some scholars have claimed a Semitic ancestry for the Baloch, a claim which is also supported by the Baloch genealogy and traditions, and has found wide acceptance among the Baloch writers. Even though this belief may not necessarily agree with the facts (which, it should be pointed out, are very difficult to prove, either way), it is the concept universally held among members of the group that matters. In this connection Kurdish nationalism offers a good parallel. The fact is that there are many common ethnic factors which have contributed to the formation of the Kurdish nation; there are also factors which have led to divisions within the Kurds themselves. While the languages identified as Kurdish are not the same as the Persian, Arabic, or Turkish, they are mutually unintelligible. Geographically, the division between the Kurmanji-speaking areas and the Sorani-speaking areas correspond with the division between the Sunni and Shiite schools of Islam. Despite all these factors, the Kurds form one of the oldest nations in the Middle East. It is interesting to note that like the Kurdish ruling tribes, various Baloch ruling tribes have also pretended to an Arab descent and proudly displayed Arab genealogy – a fact no doubt due to the religious prestige which attaches to Arab descent among Islamic peoples. However, even those who have claimed such descent have never considered themselves anything but Baloch.

The Balochs’ ethnic background, social organisation, culture, history, and sense of territoriality are proof of an age-old Baloch qaum (nation). In many ways, this is a projection of modern concepts into the past. Nevertheless, the Baloch have undeniably had a pool of characteristics which encouraged the development of separate identity well before the 20th century and gave rise to an assertive ideology of Baloch nationalism during the national movements of 1920s and onward. Thus they are united by their belief in common ancestors, culture, history and Sunni Islam. While there is no one dialect or language common to all Baloches, the speakers of the various dialects and languages regard themselves as Baloch and are so regarded by one another. A unity of tradition and culture complements this unity of languages. While it is true that Baloch are divided today between tribesmen (migratory or sedentary) and urban dwellers, their social mores were formed in the tribal cauldron.

Of the various elements that go into the making of the Baloch national identity, probably the most important is a common social and economic organisation. For while many racial strains have contributed to the making of the Baloch people, and while there are varying degrees of differences in language and dialect among the various groups, a particular type of social and economic organisation, comprising what has been described as a “tribal culture”, is common to them all. This particular tribal culture is the product of environment, geographical, and historical forces, which have combined to shape the general configuration of Baloch life and institutions.

The above-mentioned characteristics of the Baloch not only unite them but also separate them from the dominant neighbouring cultures. This recognition of their ethnic separateness is reinforced by the separation of the Baloch from the Pakistani and Iranian national economies. Whether this non-participation is based on the difference between centre and periphery, urban vs. rural, industry vs. agriculture, or intentional discrimination, Balochistan lacks modern factories and modern industries. It has shared in neither the development of these countries’ infrastructure nor in the rewards of their economic development.

The Baloch history, tradition, culture, language, sense of territoriality and their common ethnic background form the cohesive bases of Baloch nationalism, while geography has had both positive and negative effects on it. Geographical isolation, of course, did not give rise to nationalism, but there are few factors that strengthen the nationalism of a people more that the belief that they are culturally and historically unique in the world. To the extent that geography was responsible for the uniqueness of the Baloch character, culture, and history, it helped create a national particularism, which in turn served as a catalytic force for the growth of national sentiment in Balochistan.

The same climatic and geographical conditions that aided the growth of Baloch nationalism, from another point of view hindered this growth. As the difficult mountain and desert terrain historically protected their independence, and made it difficult for invaders to annex the Baloch territory, on the other hand, the harsh climate and scarcity of water did not give the Baloch a chance to emerge as a feudal nation. The harsh climate and the scarcity of water forced the Baloch to live a nomadic or semi-nomadic life or to migrate to the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, East Africa, or the Arab Middle East.

Balochistan can boast vast gas deposits as well as minerals like chromium, copper, iron and coal. Gas is found in commercially viable quantities in Sui and Pirkoh (Pakistan). This is an important factor in the attitudes of the various Central governments regarding the question of Baloch self-determination, and has strengthened the Balochs’ own feeling of being treated unfairly.

The historical experiences have played an important role to the formation of the Baloch national identity. In this connection the Swiss experience shows a remarkable similarity. In the Swiss case strength of common historical experience and a common consensus of aspirations have been sufficient to weld into nationhood groups without a common linguistic or cultural background. It should be remembered that the history of the Baloch people over the past hundred years has been a history of evolution, from traditional society to a more modern one. (“More modern” is a comparative term, and does not imply a “modern” society, i.e. a culminating end-point to the evolution.) As such, the reliance on tribal criteria is stronger in the earlier movements, and the reliance on nationalism stronger in the later ones. Similarly, the organizing elements in the early movements are the tribes; the political parties gradually replace the tribes as mass mobilisation is channelled into political institutions.

The Baloch constitute a nation distinct from that of the Persians and Punjabis by every fundamental test of nationhood, firstly that of a separate historical past in the region at least as ancient as that of their neighbours, secondly by the fact of their being a cultural and linguistic entity entirely different from that of the Persians and Punjabis, with an unsurpassed classical heritage and a developed language which makes Baloch fully adequate for all present-day needs and finally by reason of their territorial habitation of definite areas.

The growing presence and power of the British East India Company along the coastal and eastern provinces of India and the simultaneous disintegration of the Mughal Uzbek and Safavid empires in India, Central Asia, and Persia respectively, ripened the conditions for the whole of Balochistan to unite within the framework of a single feudal state (Kalat State). The rulers of the mightiest of the khanate accomplished this unification. They came from the Kambarani or Ahmadzai dynasty (from the founder of the dynasty-Mir Ahmad who reigned in 1666-1695). However, it was the sixth Khan of this dynasty, Nasir Khan I, known as the Great, who drove the frontiers of the Khanate of Kalat northward into Afghanistan, southward into the Makkoran, westward deep into Persian territory, and eastward into Punjab and Sindh as far as Karachi.

The Baloch destinies, however, changed radically around the time, when the British and the Persians divided Balochistan into spheres of influence, agreeing on a border in the mid-19th century. It should be remembered, up to the British advent, the Baloch had developed into a major power in the region. They were ruling not only Balochistan, but also the two richest provinces of the region, Sindh and Sistan. The British, whose occupation of the eastern part of Balochistan began in the 1840s, were interested in Balochistan for military and geopolitical reasons. In order to protect their colony (India) from the rival expansionist powers such as Russia, France, and Germany, the British used Balochistan as a base to protect their interests in their sphere of influence (Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf region).

To prevent Baloch unity and to suppress their nationalist tendencies the British exploited the Baloch tribal system. Sir Robert Sandeman advocated a new socio-political system, called the “Sandeman System” or Sardari Nizam for developing the authority of the tribal chiefs. In 1854, the Khan of Kalat became a British protectorate. The treaty of 1876 gave birth to new political forces in Baloch society, the decline of the powerful feudal overlord (the Khan) and the rise of a new feudal elite (Sardars). The Sandeman system granted complete autonomy to the tribal areas. The status of the Sardar (chief among equals) was changed into that of a feudal lord and the tribesmen were declared subjects.

The spread of the modern doctrines of nationalism among the Baloch, and the resulting active participation of the Baloch intellectuals in nationalist activities was in large measure a reaction against British and Persian supremacy. The First World War and its aftermath mark an important stage in the growth of Baloch nationalism. The extent and intensity of nationalist feeling among the Baloch was profoundly influenced by the impact of the Russian Revolution, the defeat and break-up of the Ottoman and the abolition of the Caliphate, the anti-imperialist movements of the Afghans and the Indians, and the revolutionary ideas set in motion by these events, as well as by the propagation of the Wilsonian principles of national self-determination.

Frequent internal divisions of tribe and social class have marked the development of Baloch nationalism since its emergence in the 1920s. National boundaries have also fragmented Baloch nationalist groups and made it difficult to present a united front to governments. Governments too have become adept at exploiting Baloch divisions. Their policies towards Baloch minorities have often shaped the goals of Baloch nationalist parties – which at various times have called for cultural and social rights, autonomy or independence.

The first apostle of the Baloch national movement was Yusuf Ali Magasi. In the early 1920s, Magasi and his friends established the “Anjuman-e Ittehad Balochan” (Organization for the Unity of Baloch), an underground political organization, for the liberation of Balochistan. From 1931, the Anjuman with Magasi as its president started to work openly. Having lived in his youth in cosmopolitan Lahore (British India), Magasi was familiar with the anti-imperialist struggle and the material advancement of modern nations. Magasi’s definition of Baloch nationalism, and his understanding of who was a Baloch, was based on history, tradition, bloodline and religion.

Thus the material with which the early Baloch nationalist leaders began to build Baloch nationalism was the ethnic characteristics of the people of Balochistan and the surrounding area. As discussed in chapter three, the Baloch have a long history, going back to at least 3000 years. They have creation myths, a written record, and a body of literary works (primarily oral). While the Persian and the Punjabi peoples share many of these earliest cultural markers, there are sufficient differences to mark the Baloch as a unique people. Being a colonial movement, the Baloch national movement picked up the language of European nationalism as early as the 1920s. Thus, concepts such as the modern nation, identified homeland, and the right of self-determination, were taken from European ethnic movements.

The Baloch have consistently resisted all attempts at encroachment upon their independent status, whether by the British or the Iranian governments. Their various rebellions in the Eastern and Western Balochistan, besides being violent manifestations of Baloch nationalist sentiments, were also waged in defence of the Baloch way of life. The extension of the external authority of the British into the Baloch country, accompanied by the new and unfamiliar economic and technological process of modern civilization, roused the tribal resistance in the same manner that it had roused the resistance of the Pashtun tribes in the mid-19th century, and increased the vehemence of Baloch nationalism.

It appears that the British reversed their policy in respect to Balochistan after the advent of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. Thereafter, concerned with con­taining the spread of the October Revolution, they assisted Iran to incorporate western Balochistan in 1928 in order to strengthen the latter country as a barrier to Soviet ex­pansion southward. The same concern also led later to the annexation of Eastern Balochistan to Pakistan in 1948. Henceforth, the Baloch and their homeland were divided against their will between three states, in order to enable one great power to enhance its strategic position against an­other big power.

Thus, as indicated above, the superimposed division, in turn, has provoked the rise of Baloch nationalism and their sense of irredentism, bringing them into conflict with their respective states, which are intent on preserving the inherited status quo from the big powers. It is the superimposition of this divi­sion that has served as the main cause of conflict between the Baloch and the states in which they were incorporated. Since then, the Baloch nation, with its distinctive society and culture has had to confront in both of the “host” states centralizing, ethnically-based nationalist regimes – the Persians and the Punjabis – with little or no tolerance for expressions of national autonomy within their borders.

Following the fall of Mir Dost Mohammad Khan in western Balochistan in 1928, the aggressiveness of nascent Persian nationalism gave rise to new grievances and apprehensions, for besides wounding Baloch national pride; it threatened the Baloch national identity with extinction. The Pahlavi regime was intent on building a Western-type secular nation – based on the Persian national, linguistic and cultural identity. The Baloch response was a series of revolts throughout the 1930s, led by the tribal chiefs. However, by the end of 1937, the last of these was brutally repressed. Thousands of Baloch migrated to eastern Balochistan and Sindh. It should be noted that, while some of these revolts were well organised and had well-defined political aims, others were no more than violent protest against some real or imagined injustice. Whatever their cause, every fresh outbreak seemed to fill the cup of Baloch bitterness.

Obviously one of the main reasons for the failure of the early Baloch revolts was the local, feudal, tribal and patriarchal characteristics of revolts, which often centred around a local influential leader, followed by the members of his tribe. Even the Baranzais in Iranian Balochistan, although well organised at the higher levels, never penetrated to the broad masses of the Baloch people. Similarly the major cause of the failure of the 1930s and the 1940s national movements was the lack of a modern social basis for nation building. The Sardars opposed modern institutions and reforms. From 1929-1948 there were no colleges, universities or industries. There existed only the tribal elite and the oppressed class of nomads and peasants. The nationalists, mostly of lower middle-class background, were not in a position to mobilise the Baloch people in the tribal areas because of the strong control of the chiefs as well as the opposition of the British. To weaken the tribal chiefs they looked for help outside the border of Balochistan. They entered into an alliance with the All India Congress (while the Muslim League refused support because of its alliance with the Khan and the Sardars).

In the twentieth century the formation of new nation-states following World War I and the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947, had a profound impact on Baloch society. Since then, Baloch history has been dominated by struggles between communities, which became minorities in new nation-states and national governments which have sought to divide, to dominate and to suppress their aspirations. These conflicts have created large population movements. Many thousands have been forced to leave their homes and land and many more migrated to escape poverty and oppression. As discussed in chapter two, the Baloch regions of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan have remained among the least developed in those countries. Tribal ties remain strong in many areas, and tribal leaders are still influential at local level, especially in Eastern Balochistan (Pakistan). However, population movements to the cities and the process of urbanization in recent decades have created new forms of political and social organization.

In 1947, the nationalists faced a new situation in the politics of Balochistan due to the lapse of paramountcy. It is important to note that the disintegration of the British Empire gave the Baloch an opportunity to regain their freedom from the British. Following the end of the War, intense political activities developed among the Baloch nationalists in Balochistan. They obtained a parliamentary majority in the elections of 1947. In 1948, while the nationalists were struggling for independence, the Sardars, made an alliance with the Muslim League. In return, Jinnah promised to look after their interests. The reactionary tribal elite could not join the Khan who wanted to introduce modern institutions instead of protecting the tribal and feudal system. Thus, the annexation of Balochistan into Pakistan was a result of the old and dying tribal and feudal system, represented by the Baloch tribal chiefs. The Anjuman (1920-1933), and the Kalat State National Party (1937-1948) represented the Baloch masses opposed the Sardary System.

In March 1948, contrary to the agreement of August 1947, Pakistan forcefully annexed the Khanate of Kalat. Thus, the Baloch state, which emerged with the first Baloch confederacy under Mir Jalal Han in 12th century, came to a tragic end in 1948, one year after the partition of the Indian subcontinent to India and Pakistan in 1947. For a brief period (1952-55), however, the Khanate was given semi-autonomous status as the Balochistan States Union. But this arrangement collapsed when West Pakistan was declared a single province in October 1955. In July 1970, Balochistan was restored to separate provincial status, its boundaries incorporating the former British Balochistan and the Balochistan States Union.

During the fifty years of the existence of Pakistan, three wars have been waged in Balochistan. Agha Abdul Karim’s rebellion was the first in a series of insurrections against the government of Pakistan. Under the pressure of the Pakistan government, the Khan of Kalat declared Agha Abdul Karim and the National Party to be rebels, on May 24, 1948. Because of its resistance to annexation and its co-operation with the rebel prince, Agha Abdul Karim, the Government of Pakistan banned the Kalat National Party in June 1948. On May 26, 1948, Agha Abdul Karim with his rebel group had entered Afghanistan and set up his headquarters at Mazar Mohammad Karez in the Shorawak area, in the hope of acquiring support for a sustained war against Pakistan. But the Afghan Government did not approve of the presence of the prince and the National Party in its territory.

Agha Abdul Karim’s resources were limited and so was his area of operations. Karim started his movement in the Jhalawan area, backed by some nationalist leaders and with the secret approval of the Khan. His rebel followers were not more than 500 to 700. Due to poor planning and the lack of the expected support from Afghanistan, the prince and his partisans were forced to re-enter in Pakistan and surrender. Agha Abdul Karim’s rebellion was clearly of little immediate importance because it lacked both unified Baloch political support and Afghan military support. But what did make it significant in the long run was the widespread Baloch belief that Pakistan had betrayed the safe conduct agreement. The Baloch regard this as the first of a series of “broken treaties” which have created an atmosphere of distrust over relations with Islamabad. Agha Abdul Karim and his followers were all sentenced to long prison terms and became rallying symbols for the Baloch nationalist movement.

The 1950s and 1960s were decades of political upheaval in Pakistan. In Balochistan tribal structures suffered major setbacks, largely due to detribalisation and the rise of urban population, and later to land reforms initiated by the central governments. Similarly, a visible change occurred in the cultural field. In the early 1950s, the Baloch press was established. In the subsequent years of the 1960s and the 1970s many books, periodicals, and newspapers proudly reported the evidence of the past. Thus to heighten national consciousness, new avenues were opened to learn about the past, about present culture, and about other national phenomena by means of written words. Since then, by the popularisation of Baloch history, Balochi classical poetry and the positive characterisation of Baloch personality and society, the Baloch press has played an important role for the imagination of the Baloch nation.

Following the fall of the Khanate, the Baloch leadership accepted the political reality of Pakistan. As for ideology the “Ustaman Gal” (People’s Party) marked the first time in Baloch history that the Baloch stopped asking for outright independence. They couched their demands in terms of autonomy. The Party, however, maintained that only elected democratic governments at the provincial and national levels would guarantee autonomy to the minority nationalities within the framework of constitutional provisions.

The continued existence of military rule in Pakistan from 1958 to the early 1970s obstructed a democratic solution to the Balochistan problem and exacerbated inter-regional tension. The prospect of a democratic political system was lost when the Pakistan army refused to accept the results of Pakistan’s first general election in 1970, which led to the dismemberment of the eastern half of the country, now known as Bangladesh. Moreover, the sense of betrayal by Bhutto’s civilian regime, which had signed constitutional guarantees of Balochistan’s autonomous status, added to the growing nationalist sentiment, which fuelled the four-year rebellion in the 1970s.

Throughout the period since the partition, Baloch have had an uncomfortable relationship with the central government of Pakistan: relations were poorest in 1973 when they engaged three divisions of the Pakistan armed forces in a bitter and intense armed struggle. In 1973, the Pakistani security agencies discovered Soviet arms in the Iraqi Embassy at Islamabad. The government alleged that these arms were for the liberation movement of Balochistan. The Baloch nationalists not only denied this allegation, but also regarded it as a conspiracy by Bhutto and his allies to provide a cause for military intervention aiming at a take-over in the province.

However, despite a new constitution, which guaranteed a degree of provincial autonomy, in less than a year the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Bhutto, dismissed the Baloch government on 12th February 1973. In justifying the dismissal, the centre charged the provincial government with responsibility for several cases of lawlessness in Balochistan and alleged its support, in collusion with foreign governments, for Baloch and Pashtun separatists. In practice, however, Bhutto acted against the NAP because, having provincial governments led by a party other than his own, limited his personal authority, and because of the pressure from the Shah of Iran.

Thus, in the 1970s, open warfare between the Pakistan military and Baloch nationalist guerrillas, whose demands ranged from self-rule to outright independence, racked Balochistan. Guerrilla war went on for more than four years and came to a stand still in 1977, when General Zia ul-Haq ousted Bhutto. However, the Baloch movement, which had come into being in the aftermath of Sardar Ataullah Mengal’s government, might have lost its ardour, but it did not die, as claimed by the Pakistani authorities. In fact, a case can be made that national feelings have grown in potential in the Baloch society and, given the right circumstances, could mount an even greater challenge to the Pakistani state. Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo’s demand for the specific inclusion of the right of secession for the federating units in the event of military take over in violation of the constitution indicated a deep mistrust of the country’s political set-up by the Baloch in the 1980s.

Though it is true that Baloch uprisings in 1948-50, 1958-69, and of 1973-1977 were mostly fought on the inter-tribal basis, but it would be highly misleading to term these uprisings just confrontation of some sardars (tribal chiefs) with central government to safeguard their narrow feudal interests and privileges as some Pakistani scholars allege.[1] On the contrary, these uprisings were very reflection of growing contradiction between the newly built modern centralised state of Pakistan and a distinctive national group, the Baloch.

The 1973-77 insurgency intensified the ever-widening gap of distrust and mistrust between the Baloch and the central government. This mistrust ultimately gave way to greater demands for a confederation of the four peoples of Pakistan. The leaders of the sub-nationalities, in self-imposed exile, formed an organisation, the Sindhi, Baloch, Pakhtun Front (the SBPF), in April 1985 in London to demand a confederation in Pakistan. Similarly, the so-called democracy of the 1990s in Pakistan like that of its military rule led to further alienation of the Baloch. Speaking on May 2001, in a PTV (Pakistan TV) programme on provincial autonomy, the former Chief Minister of Balochistan, Akhtar Mengal blamed the rulers of Pakistan for suppressing the will of the Baloch people and violating flagrantly all the previous accord, including the one made with the Khan of Kalat on August 4, 1947.[2]

By contrast, in Iranian Balochistan, Reza Shah and subsequently his son Mohammad Reza adopted an iron-fist policy towards the Baloch. For the past several decades the Persians have never hesitated to use their military might against the Baloch to silence their voice. The official Iranian policy reflects their determination to suppress any nationalist movement in their country. It was due to this background that the Baloch national movement in Iran was less vocal than its counterpart in Pakistan in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Iranians used harsh methods to crush Baloch identity. It was forbidden to wear the traditional Baloch dress in public or to speak Balochi in schools, and it was a criminal offence to publish, distribute, or even possess Balochi language books, magazines, or newspapers. Balochistan was isolated from the outside world and closed to foreigners. The Iranian policy of destruction of the Baloch identity, or Persianization of the Baloch under the Pahlavis may truly be comparable to that of the Turkish government’s policy against the Kurds under Kemal Ataturk (1923-38). The Turkish government followed a policy of systematic extermination and Turcification of the Kurdish people in the Turkish controlled Kurdistan. Thousands of Kurds were deported to Western Anatolia, the Kurdish language was officially banned and Kurdish books were confiscated and burned. Even the words “Kurd” and “Kurdistan” were to be omitted from all textbooks. The Kurds were to be called Turks – “mountain Turks”. Consequently, this policy of Turcification fanned the Kurdish nationalism furthermore and deepened their separatist aspirations. As the Turcification of the Kurds in Turkey provoked the Kurdish nationalism, so did the Persianization policy of the Iranian authority to the Baloch nationalism in Iran.

During the whole Pahlavi era the Persians continued their assimilation and Persianization policies in western Balochistan. In 1957-9 and again in 1969-73, the Pahlavi administration used military force to crush Baloch resistance to its attempts to enforce assimilation. Subsequently, more subtle ‘pacification’ methods were used. Baloch tribal leaders were appointed as intermediaries and representatives of government interests with the aim of bridling the economic and social development of Sistan-wa-Balochistan. In spite of the application of diverse means of subjugation, the Iranian Baloch maintained a perception of themselves as a culturally independent qaum (nation). This was demonstrated by insurgencies against the Khomeini regime, which initially raised the hopes of the Baloch for greater provincial autonomy.

The Shah of Iran gave much importance to the area, which he always considered very important for the security of his country. Since Iran had a Baloch minority problem, any uprising in eastern Balochistan was thought to directly influence Iran. The Iranian government under the Shah kept a close watch on developments in the Pakistani part of Balochistan. Iran and Pakistan collaborated, due to their joint fear of Baloch national aspirations. It was argued that one of the reasons Pakistan’s Prime Minister Z. A. Bhutto dismissed the nationalist government in the province was because the Iranian government thought the Baloch nationalists in eastern Balochistan, might encourage dissidents in western (Iranian) Balochistan.

With the collapse of the monarchical regime in 1979, the Baloch began their political activities openly. The “Sazeman Demokratik”, the “Ittehad ul-Muslimeen”, the “Zrombesh”, and many other political and cultural organisations were formed in Balochistan. This period, however, lasted months, not years. The pattern was repeated of Baloch nationalist aspirations reappearing whenever the central government showed weakness. The new regime pursued a policy of Persian ethnic supremacy toward Balochistan, a continuation of the policies of the monarchy.

By comparison, however, like the Baloch political parties in Eastern Balochistan (Pakistan), the major nationalist organisations, which came into existence during or after the Iranian revolution, concentrated their demand on self-autonomy for Balochistan within Iran. However, the Baloch political life was short-lived in Iran. In the early 1980s, the clerical regime ordered the Baloch parties disbanded, to be replaced with Islamic komitehs (committees) and Revolutionary Guards controlled by the central government. Ayatollah Khomeini distrusted the Baloch not least because theirs was a purely secular agenda. Moreover, he was a Shiite Muslim and the Baloch were predominantly Sunni. While the Baloch could be acknowledged as Sunnis, no ethnic or “national” minorities were recognised in the new constitution of the Islamic Republic.

Since the end of the Second World War great changes have occurred for the Baloch throughout Balochistan – gradually at first but accelerating since 1970 because of the changed political economy of the Persian Gulf. In Afghanistan major factors affecting the Baloch have been the Helmand river development schemes, the government’s Pakhtunistan policy, and the Afghan Revolution in 1978. In Iran the successive Pahlavi governments attempted to neutralise the Sardars and at the same time suppress any activity among the Baloch that could lead to ethnic consciousness or solidarity.

Comparatively, the conditions of the Baloch in Pakistan are definitely better than those of Iran and Afghanistan. But they are still far from satisfactory, the Baloch of Pakistan have consistently fought to improve them economically, culturally and politically. In Pakistan too the Baloch have suffered much injustice. Consider, for example, what happened to the Baloch in the 1973-1977 insurgency. Like their brethren in Pakistan, the Baloch in Iran also consistently resisted the reactionary Persian domination and have shown a fervent desire to live under an independent or autonomous Baloch State as their natural right.

Since the early 1970s, the growing modern intelligentsia has been displacing the traditional intelligentsia, mainly the sardars and the mollas, in the urban centres. In the 1993 elections, the BNM (Balochistan National Movement) a mainly middle class party, succeeded in winning two national assembly and six provincial assembly seats. In the provincial elections of 1993, the BNM secured over 60 percent from Makkoran.[3] Another feature of changing social relations is the increasing access of urban women to education, and their participation in social, economic, political and cultural life outside their homes. These transformations left their impact on the nationalistic movement, expanding its social bases and increasing political, ideological and organizational tension.

Moreover, the circulation of money during the Bhutto period, and the fruits of the Gulf syndrome gave strength to the Baloch middle class whose interest collided with its more powerful and well-established Pashtun counterpart. As a result, business sectors such as transport, which were previously monopolised by the Pashtuns, are now witnessing the entrance of a rising Baloch middle class. The change of ownership of some transport businesses like Chiltan Transport from Pashtun to Baloch hands in 1992 was another testimony of this fact.[4]

Baloch nationalism is the antithesis to the politically and economically dominant and exploitative Iranian (Persian) and Pakistani (Punjabi) states’ nationalism, a pattern similar to the rise of the Kurdish nationalism in the Middle East (Iran, Iraq, and Turkey). In spite of more than 70 years of its existence, Baloch nationalism has not succeeded in achieving its goal, the right of self-determination for the Baloch nation. It is difficult to reach a single plausible explanation, but judging from the finding of this study, one could cautiously conclude that by that time due to a dominant tribal social base, a sense of Balochness had not evolved which was sufficiently strong to force a different course of events.

Nevertheless, the Baloch nationalism has steadily developed. Every time, after being crushed, the national movement arose more forcefully than before. Comparatively, in 1948, Agha Abdul Karim and his rebel followers were about 500 to 700. In 1958, Nauruz Khan fought in a wider area against the Pakistani army and around 1000 to 5000 guerrillas were with him. By July 1963, the guerrilla activities under the command of Sher Mohammad Marri increased in the Jhalawan and Marri areas. The fighters had established a score of camps, where the people were given training in guerrilla warfare. It was estimated that there were nearly 400 hard-core hostiles in each area, apart from hundreds of loosely organised part-time reservists. Meanwhile, the last war (1973-77) involved more that 55,000 Baloch guerrillas at various stages of the fighting, and almost every section of the Baloch population was affected in central and eastern Balochistan by this war. A similar evolutionary process seems to have happened in Iranian Balochistan, after the erosion of central authority in Iran following the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, made the prospects for Baloch nationalism appear more promising in Iran than in Pakistan.

Though the seeds of Baloch nationalism were sown in Balochistan in the colonial era, but its full flowering occurred as a result of centralising policies of the modern post-colonial states of Pakistan and Iran, which contradicted and restrained the historical high degree of cultural and political autonomy of Baloch populace. To a large extent the sporadic Baloch uprisings in Pakistan helped in forging a political consciousness amongst general Baloch populace; based on common ethnic, cultural and historical ties transcending tribal loyalties.

The Cold War, however, led indirectly to the weakening of the Baloch national movements both in Iran and Pakistan. Because both the countries were to be America’s allies against Soviet expansion in the Gulf region, the United States was prepared to support them in furthering her own foreign policy initiatives. Since the West supported Tehran and Islamabad, so the Baloch turned to Baghdad and Kabul. Thus the U.S. policies indirectly helped to strengthen the two countries in their attempts to suppress the Baloch movement for self-rule during the whole Cold War period. In this regard, the Iranians’ use of the U.S. supplied arms against the Baloch movement in 1973-77 is the most striking example.

The political situation of Baloch today reflects two contradictory tendencies. As the old warrior Sher Mohammad Marri in the early 1990s stated, “Baloch nationalism has penetrated the masses and is not confined to the Nawabs and Sardars alone”.[5] The urbanization, detribalisation and the migration of the Baloch people to the cities of the region, have contributed to the development of mass national consciousness. Yet their political leaderships have often fallen prey to internal divisions on both ideological and tribal lines. Divisions between the Balochs’ political parties started with Zia’s party-less elections in 1985, and later it sharpened during the so-called 1990s democracy. The regional aspect of the Baloch issue, as well as the growing complexities of Baloch society have greatly complicated the task of the Baloch national movement in achieving unity and a coherent strategy to achieve their goals.

The material analysed above warrants the conclusion that the Baloch form a distinct nation and that their national consciousness is strong enough to consider their national movement as having deep roots in the convictions and aspirations of that nation. The divisive factor of tribal loyalties will tend to play a constantly diminishing role because of the impact of modern civilization, which is changing the cultural patterns in the whole southwest Asia. The paper also attempted to connect the Baloch problem with the past policies not only of the Baloch inhabited states but also of the Great Powers in an effort to demonstrate that no Great Power interested in the region can afford to ignore the Baloch problem or avoid the formulation of a Baloch policy as part of an over-all Southwest Asian policy.


[1] See Ahmed, Aijaz. 1992. ‘The national question in Baluchistan’, in S. Akbar Zaidi (ed.) Regional Imbalances, p. 214 ;Ahmed, Feroz. 1974. Ethnicity and Politics in Pakistan. Karachi: Oxford University Press., p.175; see also White Paper on Baluchistan. 1974. p. 39.

[2] Daily Balochistan Express, Sunday, 6 May 2001.

[3] Nek Buzdar, “Social Organization, Resource use, and Economic Development in Balochistan” in: Monthly Balochi Labzank, Hub (Balochistan), March-April 2000, p. 76.

[4] Abbas Jalbani, “Can Balochistan Survive?” in: The Herald, March 1992.

[5] The News International, 3-9 July 1992.

Published: 4th July 2012

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button