Our Broth In Balochistan Shahzad Chaudhry

Mir Ahmed Yar Khan of Kalat had indeed offered to accede the state of Kalat to India in June 1947 as the moment of independence neared.

This isn’t something new or freshly stirred; it has been on the cooker for quite long. We have had the East Pakistan experience when in 1971 because of similar sentiments of alienation. Why has Balochistan stayed below our radar and despite its volatility? Why hasn’t, God forbid, it too broken off in the same way as our erstwhile Eastern Wing did? Come to think of it, East Pakistan may have held its balance better than how the Baloch have tended to express themselves-always with raising the flag of rebellion against the state of Pakistan.

There is a growing acceptance of the lore that Mir Ahmed Yar Khan of Kalat had indeed offered to accede the state of Kalat to India in June 1947 as the moment of independence neared. Jawaharlal Nehru, soon to be India’s prime minister, disagreed, perhaps for the geographical non-viability of the proposal. The Khan had also tried to keep the British engaged in his state to provide him the necessary security as he sought independence, both from India and Pakistan. It is a reasonable conjecture that the three principals of British India, Jinnah, Mountbatten and Nehru, too had agreed in keeping Kalat within the proposed geographical boundaries of Pakistan. Soon after independence Jinnah began in earnest a series of meetings with the ruler of Kalat to convince him to formally announce merger with Pakistan, given the non-viability of keeping Kalat as a separate protectorate of Britain.

The Khan finally relented, and Kalat became a part of independent Pakistan in April 1948. The Khan of Kalat’s brother, Prince Abdul Karim Khan, who held Makran in his remit, soon revolted, fearing a loss of his sovereignty over Makran. This was in 1948, and Jinnah was still around. That is when the army was first moved into Balochistan. Prince Abdul Karim Khan was soon apprehended and subsequently executed for rebellion. The use of the military during any crisis in Balochistan had begun. Sadly, sixty-four years later, the story is still the same.

The next military expedition into Balochistan occurred soon after 1958 with the coup and the annulment of the 1956 federal Constitution. In 1955 the rulers of Pakistan, fearing a Bengali majority on the basis of proportional representation, had resorted to the One Unit formula where both wings of Pakistan shared equal representation, although East Pakistan had a larger population. The Baloch, wary of losing their identity, rebelled once again. The state of Pakistan found the solution is placing the military on a permanent basis in Balochistan in new cantonments and garrisons. This is when the army found permanent abode in Baluchistan and by virtue of being there influenced both the politics and the socio-cultural milieu, much to the chagrin of the Baloch.

Yahya Khan returned the federated structure in West Pakistan and that appeased the Baloch a bit. But soon after, Prime Minister Bhutto, wary of the increasing power of the sardars as they gleaned more in terms of power in return for their agreeing to sign the 1973 Constitution, soon after sacked the popular governments of Balochistan and the former NWFP. Thus began the most notable second insurgency in Balochistan that saw some Baloch leaders declare that a separate and independent Balochistan was their goal.

Mr Bhutto ordered a massive military action and left deep scars on the Baloch psyche. Thus began superficial appeasement of the Baloch, but no effort was made to address their increasing alienation, which in turn fuelled Baloch nationalism.

The root of the current spate of killings and Baloch uprising lies in the senseless vendetta of Gen Musharraf, who for some reason started a personal feud with Nawab Akbar Bugti. The rest, as they say, is history. Enter Dana Rohrabacher and the likes of him in the United States. That will include Col Ralph Peters of independent Balochistan fame and the proponent of dividing Afghanistan into two. When the leadership lacks vision and its foresight remains restricted to the length of its own nose, unintended consequences result. We are not yet there, but if major course correction does not occur the inevitable just might happen.

It might sound callous, given the cycle of unending killing and abductions in Balochistan, but it has something to do with population density or people-to-space ratio. Not only did East Pakistan have the larger segment of the population in united Pakistan it also had high population density in terms of number of people per square kilometre. That created its own momentum and intensity in 1971. When the politico-military establishment decided to confront such an uprising that swelled as tidal waves in that sea of people, the plot was lost. Major cities were impossible to control.

Fortunately, for the moment Balochistan defies all such enabling mechanisms. Its 44 percent land mass of entire Pakistan holds only 3.6 percent of Pakistan’s population. There is no reason why the killing must continue as it does. But, given that the demographic divide between the Baloch and non-Baloch in the province is almost half-and-half, and only some of the Baloch tribes and groups have taken on the state in the current spate of violence, the revolt is unlikely to turn into an insurgency. Similarly, it is almost impossible for any protagonist, including the state, to establish its control over the entire territory of Balochistan. Such is the vastness of the space involved. This in itself notionally and practically defeats Ralph Peters’ concept of an independent Balochistan. Those taking on the state may seem to be winning since the same space provides them safe havens but they too remain desperately short of controlling the landmass. Have the crude mathematics of it been at the source of state’s callousness, remains a troubling question.

Without a doubt our leaders, both political and military, have given short shrift to Balochistan. They have shelved the urgency to deal with the politics of integration, ceding space to alienation instead. Balochistan in its current form needs to establish the writ of state-sadly that remains the only aspect that has caught the fancy of our leaders-and while that is important, what should have accompanied are both dialogue and development. Inducting the military only addresses the writ part of the equation while both dialogue and development remain unattended.

The army may know how to shoot its guns in a vicious cycle of killings and counter-attacks, making it irrelevant to question where the rot began. But it remains patently incapable of doing anything about dialogue and development which are both within the political remit. What has the elected political leadership of Balochistan been doing all these years? There should be an effort to wrest the initiative from the army and restore political domination through an integrated and cooperative approach in accordance with an agreed vision for Balochistan.

It may never get to be an existential danger to Pakistan’s integrity but it will sure remain a nasty bleeding sore with the possibility of unintended consequences. Islamabad and Rawalpindi must find time to give to the 44 percent of Pakistan.

The writer is a retired air-vice marshal of the Pakistan Air Force and served as its deputy chief of staff. Email: [email protected]

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