With the tripartite division of the ethnic community in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, an independent Balochistan is an anathema to all three states.
With a Baloch nationalist party leading a coalition government in Balochistan, it is a historic opportunity to address the Baloch grievances
For the last eleven years, parts of Balochistan are in throes of Baloch separatism. Baloch militancy is the result of growing frustration with democratic avenues as means to the ethnic community multifarious woes. Although the Baloch riddle also has a strong economic component, resolving the political question first serves as a good starter for eventual solution of Baloch grievances.
How real is the danger of Baloch secession?
The Baloch are as divided as they are dispersed. With the tripartite division of the ethnic community in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, an independent Balochistan is an anathema to all three states.
Here in Pakistan, Baloch are scattered. Sindh and Punjab account for 23.9 per cent of total Baloch in the country. Within Balochistan, Baloch binary division takes place along linguistic lines between Balochi and Brauhi speakers. Additionally, Balochistan is ethnically diverse.
If one is to believe the Pashtun-nationalist contested census of 1998, 54.7 per cent of the population is Baloch, 29 per cent Pashtun and the rest are Hazara and Punjabis, Hindko speakers and others. Baloch nationalists are divided along political and militant lines. In the former case, there are four main nationalist parties. These are BNP-Mengal, National Party, Jamhoori Watan Party and Baloch Haq Talwar. Besides, there are pro-government Baloch sardars such as Sanaullah Zehri and Nawabzada Jangayz Marri who are currently provincial ministers and members of the provincial assembly on tickets of the PML-N.
The rebellious Baloch come from militant outfits including Baloch Liberation Army, Baloch Republican Army, Baloch National Movement, Baloch Liberation United Front and Baloch Liberation Force. Whereas for militant Baloch, the goal is independence, for his political counterpart it is autonomy.
In addition, within the Baloch society, there are anti-separatist lashkars and Sunni militants. Moreover, geographical discontinuity, Indian territory in between the erstwhile two wings of Pakistan and Delhi’s direct involvement on the side of Bengali insurgents are all absent in the case of Baloch insurrection. Thus, while the prospect of an independent Balochistan is non-existent, “protracted conflict,” as to quote Steven Metz, “not insurgent victory, is the threat.” It is here that the government is at the receiving end!
Are the coercive means paying off?
What makes all Baloch nationalists from political to militant united are heavy-handedness and the use of force by the government. The four major Baloch nationalist parties formed Baloch Ittehad (alliance) on September 14, 2003 at Dera Bugti for what they called Baloch rights within the framework of Pakistani federation. Prior to January 2, 2005-when a female doctor’s rape sparked the opening shot of confrontation between Nawab Bugti and the government, Baloch rebellion was confined to parts of Kohlu and Dera Bugti districts accounting for a seven per cent of Balochistan.
Today militant sporadic violence engulfs no less than 11 districts. In February 2006, three different factions of Baloch Student Organisation closed their ranks in the face of a common challenge. More, the assassination of Bugti brought together 380 Baloch leaders in a grand jirga-called after 137 years-held on September 21, 2006.
Belying Musharraf’s claim that only three sardars were troublesome, 85 Baloch sardars participated in the jirga and resolved to move International Court of Justice over the violation of accord signed between the state of Kalat and government of Pakistan back in 1948. Ironically, 70 of these sardars were allegedly the beneficiaries of state patronage.
The Baloch uprising?
The federal government policies have an overarching influence. In all five Baloch secessionist episodes, the primary responsibility for triggering the conflict lay with the policies of an overbearing centre towards Balochistan. Unfortunately, twice (1948, 1973-77) Baloch insurgency took place when a civilian government was in power. In rest of three instances (1958-59, 1962-63, 2003-present) Baloch militancy resurfaced under an army’s dictator watch. In all these five episodes, the Baloch armed struggle has mainly been a reaction to Islamabad’s undemocratic policies.
A negotiated solution is the only way forward. Where four previous insurgencies failed to achieve independence, the current one is rather doomed to failure. With the goal a forlorn hope, thousands of people either killed or disappeared and more than that internally displaced, militancy is exacting a heavy toll on Baloch people. Back to the past, for the government, the recurrence of Baloch armed resistance aptly demonstrates the drastic failure of solving a political question through military means.
How to negotiate?
The central government needs to take concrete measures. Successful settlements require meaningful confidence-building measures to generate goodwill. The Sharif government’s endorsement to the nascent peace initiative is commendable. Similarly, counter insurgency operations should be immediately halted.
Historically, Baloch insurgents have favourably responded to the softening of federal policies towards them. In 1970, General Yahya’s announcement to abolish One Unit, establish the province of Balochistan, and hold elections proved instrumental in pacifying the Baloch. Similarly, General Zia’s dismissal and subsequent arrest of Bhutto, the release of about 6,000 prisoners of the insurgency and the declaration of amnesty for insurgents, including those in Afghanistan quelled the fourth phase of Baloch rebellion.
Politics is the art of possibility. The separatist demand for a settlement under the UN auspices is impracticable. The traditional power broker-army-is itself a party to the conflict. The bringing in of judiciary to negotiate a political issue may not only dent its legal reputation but may also have far reaching consequences on the political setup of the country.
Perhaps, a viable option is a high powered-solely-civilian team of only-Baloch nationalists accompanying some human right activists of integrity to serve as negotiators. Despite attempts by Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch, the failure to initiate peace process owes to the militants’ loss of faith in solution to Baloch miseries through government representatives. Only when the security establishment-army and the intelligence agencies- genuinely backs the process there will be the likelihood of dialogue to succeed.
With a Baloch nationalist party leading a coalition government in Balochistan, it is a historic opportunity to address the Baloch grievances. Only a reconciled Balochistan guarantees prosperous Pakistan.