By Col Rajinder Singh (Retd)
Balochistan, as a geographical region, boasts as a rich pre-Indus valley civilisation. At Mehrgarh, in this province of Pakistan, archaeologists have found ruins of a 7000 years old Civilisation. In generic and ethical terms, Balochistan would mean the land of Baloch people. They are spread out in a geographical land mass, spanning over four adjoining countries, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Oman. This is why Baloch insurgent groups, such as BLA (Baloch Liberation Army), seek an independent and a “Greater Balochistan ”.
In Iran, Baloch people are concentrated in two provinces of Sisten and Balochistan, spread out over 2.5 Lakh Square Kms but sparsely populated, with a head count of around 3 million. In Afghanistan, they are centred around Kandahar and Nimroz districts with a population count of around one million. It provides a safe sanctuary for BLA operating from there. Oman lies across the Strait of Hormuz and it has Baloch ethnicity of around 6-7 lakhs. It must be noted that as late as 1958 , Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea was part of the Sultanate of Oman and today it is the epicentre of much hyped CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) .
The Pakistani part of Balochistan covers a geographical land mass of around 3.48 lakh square Kms with a population somewhere around 13 -14 million. The Pakistani province of Balochistan has 52 percent Baloch ethnicity and 36 percent are Pashtuns. Test 12 percent are Barhui , Sindhi, Punjabis and Hazaras. Baloch people comprise a number of Tribes. “ Marri” and “Bugti” are the two largest tribes.
Though rich in natural resources such as oil, natural Gas , gold , copper and Zinc , 62 percent of its population lives below the poverty line . Hardly any development activity has taken place over the last 75 years of the creation of Pakistan . Much talked about CPEC is considered by people of Balochistan , as an instrument of exploitation of its natural resources without any material change in the conditions of the people. Some people even call CPEC a replication of the East India Company , which would affect Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Geography and History
There are different theories on the origin of Baloch people. A Sanskrit compilation of “Jataka Tales” by Kashamendra, a Kashmiri scholar of 11th Century, refers to the land as BALOKSH (बलोक्ष),thus, people were called as Baloch . Over passage of time, the land got the Persian derivation as Balochistan from Balokah .
It is also said that Baloch people had migrated to the East from Western Iran and this region was called “Maka”, which later became known as “Makran”. Some scholars assert that the word “Makran” was a derivation of a Persian word, “ Mahi- Khoran” , meaning a community of “fish-eaters” . Makran region includes the famous port of “Gwadar”, which is under development by China as part of CPEC .
The Pakistani province of Balochistan is surrounded by the Arabian Sea to the south, Iran to the West and Afghanistan to the north and northwest. Oman lay further south west across the strait of Hormuz. Its area makes up 44 percent of Pakistan’s land mass . The province is a gateway to central Asia , Middle East and of course all important sea lanes for oil trade from the Middle east . It is therefore strategically more important due to hitherto known “ Crescent of Crisis “ arching from the Middle East .
Karakoram Highway of over 3000 KMs, which originates from Xinjiang province of China and ends at Gwadar, is the lynchpin of CPEC . Most of the road is in Balochistan province. The Gwadar port, being developed by China, is to make use of this land route from here to ferry its oil supply needs by road in a secured manner , then the sea route of 12000 kms , passing through a number of bottle – necks .
Leasing Gwadar to China is the major concern of the people of Balochistan . They consider CPEC , as not only exploitation of its natural resources but also bartering away sovereignty of the region. A Chinese city is being built here over 2 Lakh square feet, which would exclusively house Chinese workers. Pakistanis and Baloch will be disallowed.
Discontent and Disaffection!
In 1947 , the present state of Balochistan comprised the British Chief commissioner’s province of surrounding areas of Quetta , Nasirabad Tehsil, Noshkie and Bolan Agency, as well as four princely states of Khanate of Kalat , Las bela, Makran and Kharan . In a 1876 treaty with Britain, these four princely states were recognised as independent but as protectorates of Britain under the Paramountcy pact. However, the Khanate of Kalat was the largest and it dominated the others.
To understand the present situation in Balochistan, we ought to know that in 1947, there were two types of India. One was British India, directly under the British government of Great Britain; the other was India of 562 Princely States, governed by Indian Princes, under British Paramountcy Pacts, which enjoyed some autonomy. J&K and Kalat Khanate were two such princely states governed by British Paramountcy pacts with the rulers.
Indian Independence Act passed by British Parliament in June 1947, while dividing British India into two dominions, I.e India and Pakistan; it allowed 562 princely states two options: one, either to join India or Pakistan; two, stay independent. Accordingly, if by 15 August, any of the princely states did not join either of the two dominions, it would stay as an independent country
Accordingly, Kalat State and J&K did not join either of the two dominions and became independent. Thus, Kalat state, which had its own parliament of two houses, passed a resolution and declared independence on 11 August 1947. Only the Chief Commissioner’s province had voted for Pakistan. Shahi jirga of Kalat had voted for independent Balochistan. But Pakistan forced the Khan of Kalat to sign an instrument of accession. Thus, on 08 April 1948, it was merged with Pakistan. However, accession by King Ahmed Yar Khan , led his brother, prince Abdul Karim to revolt against his brother’s decision. In July 1948 , Abdul Karim Baloch and Muhammad Rahim refused to lay down arms. And thus became the insurgency movement which carries on for the last 74 years .
Insurgency And Current State !
Insurgency and a separatist movement in Balochistan is as old as the forcible merger of the princely state of Kalat with Pakistan in April 1948. The brother of Khan of Kalat , Prince Abdul Karim, had revolted, which led to attacks on army units till 1950 . However ,Abdul Karim had no outside support . Balochistan has gone through various phases of insurgency thereafter, so to say in 1950-58 , 1973 -78 and 2005 -2008 and since 2015. Basic reason was non – acceptance of merger .
Later, the exploitation of its natural resources further added to the frustration of the people. Most people in Balochistan live in poor housing conditions , with no clean drinking water , no electricity, poor education as well as shortage of hospitals and health care . Lack of these amenities further boosted separatist movement. What more, the counter insurgency operations carried out by the Pakistan military, led to a lot of youth going missing . This had further added to resentment and dissatisfaction of the people . Apprehensions of loss of cultural sovereignty by the Baloch people began to rise after the CPEC agreement in 2015. Since then the insurgency has gained momentum.
There are two prominent freedom fighters/ insurgent groups active in Balochistan. They are namely , BNA (Baloch National Army ) and BLA (Baloch Liberation Army ). In fact, BNA was formed a few months back with the merger of UBA (United Baloch Army) and BRA ( Baloch Republican Army ). The forming of BNA has brought together two largest tribes of Baloch i.e. Marris and Bugtis . The strength of the BNA group is expected to be around 5-6000 trained active cadres, with a “Majeed Brigade” of “Suicide Bombers”.
The UBA earlier had operated under the leadership of Mehran Marri, the son of late Baloch leader and an ideologue, Khair Bakhsh Marri, who had led the Marris for years. The BRA, on the other hand, was led by Brahumdagh Bugti, the son of Akbar Bugti, the Baloch Sardar and leader of the Bugti tribe who was killed in 2006 in a military operation. General Pervez Mushareff is accused of Akbar Bugti’s elimination because it was suspected that Akbar Bugti was responsible for terrorist attacks General Pervez Mushareff .
The other important group is BLA . Both Marri and Bugti tribes provide militant cadres for the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), now led by Khair Bakhsh’s other son, Hyrbyair Marri. This group has a rough strength of 6-7000 cadres. These groups are known to have carried out attacks in Karachi (Stock Exchange), Lahore, Islamabad and Gwadar . The killing of nine Chinese Engineers working at Dasu dam had really upset the CPEC project . China since then had pulled itself back and slowed down the funding .
BNA and BLA groups have now started attacking the Army camps where it had killed a large number of soldiers . The recent additions to this score are military camps in Noshkie and Panjgur —- These were suicide attacks and Militant groups claimed killing of hundreds of Pakistan soldiers , though military claimed the loss of only 9-10 soldiers . This has further dampened Chinese enthusiasm in CPEC .
It is alleged that the recent visit of Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan to China during the Winter Olympics in Beijing, failed to revive Chinese interest. Sushant Sareen , a security analyst, observes,“ ——-The recent attacks in Noshki, Panjgur and Kech in Balochistan would have certainly set off alarm bells in China. The massive protests in Gwadar . would also have spooked the Chinese—-“
The Insurgency and Freedom movement in Balochistan has reached a point of NO RETURN for Pakistan. Some observers feel that it was a deliberate ploy by the Pakistan Army to hand it over to China as it did in the case of 5180 Sq KMs of AKSAI CHIN of POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) in 1963. What it can not control, it disposed off, while keeping the general public emotionally charged about Kashmir.
The Pakistan Government and its military establishment blame India for supporting the insurgency in Balochistan . They base their allegations on a reference to Balochistan by Indian Prime Minister, Natender Modi , from the ramparts of Red Fort on 15 August 2015. They also cite the example of an ex Naval officer, turned businessman of India. Kulbhushan Jadhav , who was allegedly clandestinely arrested by ISI of Pakistan, from Iran in 2016 and was awarded death. sentence.
India denies such accusations outrightly. Pakistan had claimed that in the past between 2003 and 2021 India had used Afghanistan soil to support Baloch insurgents . However, after the Afghan Taliban took over Afghanistan on 15 August 2021, , India has had no base there . But Baloch insurgents have carried out deadly terror attacks relentlessly in recent months, since September 2021 .
Panjgur and Noshkie army camp attacks refute Pakistani blame . India is nowhere near Balochistan to provide any material support to BLA and BNA . Basically, it is Pakistan’s guilty consciousness and fears for what it does in Indian Kashmir. Logically speaking, if Pakistan reserves the right to do what it does in Kashmir valley , then , India too , is at liberty to do the same to Pakistan, if opportunity offers itself . Why should Pakistan cry foul? However, morally stung , India is too shy of such a pragmatic approach of “tit for tat” .
The creation of Pakistan was based on the flawed argument of Two Nation Theory . It must be noted that religion alone does not make a nation . If so, 57 Muslim Countries would have made one nation. Again, there would not have been two world wars putting Christian nations one against the another . .Besides religion , more importantly , other factors that go to make a nation are History , geography, ethnicity, Culture , language, traditions and social system.
Unfortunately , Pakistan did not learn this lesson from the Bangladesh war. It may be noted that at the time of its creation , other than religion , constituents of Pakistan were historically , culturally , lingually , geographically and socially, five different identities of Bengalis , Punjabis , Sindhis, Baloch and Pashtuns. It was not a nation but a mixture of different cultures , who had no affinity .
Therefore the urgent need for Pakistani leadership was to amalgamate different identities into a single Pakistani identity . Instead of doing this , Pakistani leadership laid emphasis on religious prominence and it remained obsessed with Kashmir . In the bargain, mixture remained mixture, with its own identities and never became a compound .
Separatist movement of Balochistan is the primary result of the overdose of craving for Muslim Kashmir and Islamic identity . Well ! If one’s house is not in order , others would definitely fish in troubled waters. Even if Pakistan thinks that India was supporting the Baloch insurgency , it should ponder as to why should India behave in a saintly manner ?
Well ! There is an old saying : Love begets love and hatred begets hatred . Pakistan should forget the Kashmir symphony and pay attention to Balochistan , lest it goes the Bangladesh way . Cracks have begun to appear, repair them fast, not by military actions but by attending to the demands and apprehensions of Baloch people . Shift focus from Kashmir to getting Balochistan/ Sindh into the mainstream. A paradigm shift is needed in Pakistan’s domestic policy to keep Balochistan integral to Pakistan .
(The author is an Indian Army Veteran and is a renowned author and a defence analyst. His bestselling books are on Kashmir- A Different Perspective and The ULFA Insurgency besides being a contribution on two other books. He can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).