The Balochistan issue is as old as the birth of Pakistan. The root cause lay in the blunt refusal of Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, the Khan of Kalat, to treat his princely state as part of British Balochistan.
After the PPP’s dramatic emergence on the Pakistan’s political horizon in 1971, Balochistan emerged as the prickliest thorn in the side of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto
The Balochistan issue is as old as the birth of Pakistan. The root cause lay in the blunt refusal of Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, the Khan of Kalat, to treat his princely state as part of British Balochistan. Thus on August 11, 1947, three days before the emergence of Pakistan, the ruler declared independence. It must be recalled that the partition plan of June 3, 1947 had given the rulers of the princely states three options after the end of British imperial rule. These were depending on geographical contiguity and ‘other factors’ to either accede to India or to Pakistan or stay independent. Kalat and Bahawalpur, the only two formidable princely states, indicated their first choice to stay independent.
However, while Bahawalpur with Mr Mushtaq Ahmed Gurmani as Chief Minister of the State opted for Pakistan after some initial reservations, Kalat and its Chief Minister Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo declined. The tense standoff persisted until April 1948 when Governor-General Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah invoked the military option and the recalcitrant Khan surrendered.
Thus, the accession of the state was brought about only after a show, if not exactly a use of force.
Thenceforward, in the mid-1950s and until the imposition of General Ayub’s countrywide martial law, Kalat-Karachi relations stayed in a state of high tension generally and of confrontation periodically.
After Ayub’s ‘golden decade’ (1958-1968), and the PPP’s dramatic emergence on Pakistan’s political horizon in 1971, Balochistan emerged as the prickliest thorn in the side of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Since no political placebo would work, resorting to military operations was viewed as the only option. A high-level meeting was held in October 1972 at State Guest House (Sardar Mohan Singh’s Building) to discuss the pros and cons of the military operation. Foreign Minister Mr Aziz Ahmed, Army Chief General Tikka Khan, Information Advisor to Prime Minister Bhutto Mr Yousuf Buch, and Defence Secretary Mr Nazir Ahmed attended it.
I happened to be in attendance as the ISPR chief. It was revealed at the meeting that the Marris and Bugtis were in a state of revolt in Balochistan. While the Marris had raided the Pat Feeder area, Salim Bugti, son of Sardar Akbar Bugti was advancing on Quetta at the head of an armed tribal lashkar with offensive intent.
At the end of the conference, General Tikka Khan directed me to get in touch with Director Military Operations (DMO) Brigadier Abbasi for a detailed briefing and issue a press release.
I drove back to my (ISPR) office and called Abbasi on the Margalla (internal GHQ) phone. Abbasi was on the line. I told him all about the conference and the chief’s order to issue a press release based on the DMO’s briefing.
“Hold on, Siddiqi,” Abbasi responded in his usual peremptory tone, “Let me first get in touch with the chief secretary Balochistan and see exactly what the situation was like up there.
I would get back to you after that.” He hung up to leave me waiting for his return call. It came through promptly. “Siddiqi, I have just spoken to Awan (the chief secretary) and he says everything is normal…” “Then what about the press release?” I asked. “Just leave that to me. I would speak to the chief myself. No further action until then.” End of the call.
For the next three or four days, I was left in the lurch. Neither Abbasi nor Brigadier Akram (personal secretary to the chief) contacted me about the press release. Presently however, the news appeared in the press about Salim Bugti advancing on Quetta with aggressive intent and the Marris up in arms around the Pat Feeder area.
A Punjabi settler in Village Goth Mohammad Hussain was reported killed in a random shootout by the Marri hostiles. The truth of the matter was that the unarmed Marris together with their families, compelled by a severe drought, came to the Pat Feeder area in search of water. Their sudden appearance led to a shootout, killing a Punjabi settler.
That was how the crisis sparked off in Balochistan coming to a head in February 1973. Prime Minister Bhutto would not wait to dismiss the elected government of the Chief Minister Sardar Ataullah Mengal and the Governor Sardar Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo for revolting against the Centre.
When Bhutto suddenly dismissed the Baloch provincial government on February 15, 1973, he did not confine himself to the charge that Bizenjo and Mengal had repeatedly exceeded their constitutional authority but also gave his action a broader international dimension. He accused them of collusion with Iraq and the Soviet Union as part of a sinister, long-term plot to dismember both Pakistan and Iran.
In a wide-ranging 1977 interview to the American Scholar Selig Harrison, Bhutto disclosed that the Shah told him “to oust the Baloch government and use air power as well as ground forces in crushing the Baloch insurgency.” The Shah treated Balochistan virtually as an Iranian protectorate, writes Harrison.
Bhutto said to me in a 1977 interview that the Shah “had been very insistent, even threatening, and he promised us all sorts of economic and military help, much more than we actually got. He (the Shah) felt strongly that letting the Baloch have provincial self-government was not only dangerous in itself, for Pakistan, but would give his Baloch dangerous ideas” (In Afghanistan’s Shadow: Baluch Nationalism and Soviet Temptations by Selig S Harrison Page 35).
Earlier, Governor Punjab Mustafa Khar issued orders for the immediate withdrawal of some 40,000 Punjabis to leave a serious administrative vacuum. Much as the provincial government tried to persuade the Governor to let them stay, Mr. Khar remained adamant. To make things worse, he went public to accuse the provincial government of being unfair to their Punjabi staff and wanting to get rid of them urgently. In an informal talk with me, Mr. Bizenjo flatly denied Mr Khar’s accusation. “To the contrary,” he said, “we needed our Punjabi staff to stay for actual shortage of the trained Baloch staff.”
On April 2, 1973, Prime Minister Bhutto ordered what turned out to be the longest anti-insurgency military operation in Pakistan’s history. It took General Mohammad Ziaul Haq to call off the military operation, 1973-1977, soon after taking over as the CMLA. About the only good act to win him reprieve in the hereafter!
The writer is a retired brigadier and can be reached at [email protected]