By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal
For a common Baloch, it has all along been a tale of deception and treachery. He has always been treated as a commodity, bought and sold at the whims of exploiting tribal chiefs. While the Baloch Sardars have had a history of enthusiastically selling land and people of Baluchistan to the British government, there was hardly any support from them for the idea of Pakistan. On the other hand, the ordinary Baloch populace gave full approval for the creation of Pakistan. Same parallel streams representing clash of interests dominate the Baluchistan landscape even today– hapless common Baloch, and opportunist tribal chieftains. Former are overwhelmingly patriot Pakistanis and the latter are always on the lookout for new buyers of Baloch people and land in exchange for paltry personal gains.
In 1861, Jam of Bela allowed the British government to setup a telegraph line through his territory, thus helping the British government, substantially, in consolidating its control over large areas of Baluchistan. He also took the responsibility to safeguard the telegraph line. Compensation that Jam received was less than Rs. 900 per month.
In 1883, the Khan of Kalat sold the Quetta district and adjoining territories to the British government. Alongside the land, it was also an outright sale of the people, like a herd of cattle. Heirs of Khan of Kalat were also obliged to adhere to this hire purchase arrangement. He received an annual grant of Rs. 25000 for selling the most attractive part of Baluchistan to the British government.
Sardar Mehrulla Marri sold all mineral and petroleum rights of Khatan region to the British government in 1885 for a paltry sum of Rs. 200 per month. Again there was no time limit to this agreement, it was in perpetuity.
In the same year, the British government paid Rs. 5500 to the Bugti Sardar for his cooperation although it was not specified as to what kind of cooperation he extended to the British government.
Original Baluchistan comprised of 4 states of Brahvis and Baluch known as Turan till 1700 AD. In 1754, Ahmad Shah Durrani, king of Afghanistan, named Nasir Khan, who was a Brahvi, as ‘Khan of Kalat’ and allowed him to rule, Kalat area. Khan is not a Baluch world; rather it is a Pushtun title. Later other Brahvi/Baluch sardars were also brought under Khan’s control. In 1854, all these 4 states went under British suzerainty in exchange for Rs 50,000 a year.
In 1896, the British who had captured Afghanistan in 1876 carved out ‘British Baluchistan’ by drawing Durand Line and merging some territory of Afghanistan with Marri Bugti areas and a portion of Sindh. It was directly ruled, as a Commissionerate, through an Agent to Governor General. The Baluch/Brahvi states were allowed to be run as a loose federation by the Khan of Kalat, with a British Major as ‘Resident’ in Kalat.
In 1947, old Baluchistan was designated as Kalat Division. British Baluchistan, alongside a part of Sindh, was designated as Quetta Division. These two divisions were ruled as part of West Pakistan till 1970. Present day Baluchistan came into being once ‘One Unit’ was abolished in 1970. The Quetta and Kalat divisions were merged to name them, Baluchistan. Naming of this province as Baluchistan was contrary to ethic realities of the landscape, it was indeed a merger of two distinct territories each housing a distinct ethnic group.
Pushtun and Baluch are co-partners in the stakes of Baluchistan with almost equal numbers. Total population of Baluchistan is between 7 to 8 million. This counts for 5 percent of Pakistan’s population. Landscape of Baluchistan is almost half of Pakistan. This low man-to-land ratio coupled with poor rail-road infrastructure supports sustenance of exploitative socio-political structure, centred around tribal chieftains. Hence, it is not surprising that tribal chieftains oppose infrastructure and services related development projects. Marri and Mengal Sardars first stood up against the Pakistan government when the law was passed to abolish Sardari system in Baluchistan to free the ordinary Baluch from the clutches of their tribal leaders.
During the Russo-Afghan war, the Soviet Union was surprised by the ability and resourcefulness of Pakistan to generate a spontaneous resistance movement in Afghanistan. To punish Pakistan and to answer back in the same currency, Kremlin decided to create some organizations that would specialize in sabotage activities in Pakistan. One such organization was BLA (Baluchistan Liberation Army), it was built around the core of BSO (Baluch Students Organization). BSO was a conglomerate of left-wing students in Quetta and some other cities of Baluchistan. The BLA which the Soviets created remained active during the Russo-Afghan war and then it disappeared from the surface, because its main source of funding – the Soviet Union – vanished from the global scene. In the wake of 9/11, when the United States came to Afghanistan with little preparation and less insight, it felt the need to create sources of information and action that should be independent of the control by the government of Pakistan. Most of the elements of such structures were in place, though dormant; and it was not difficult for anyone with sufficient resources to reactivate them, hence the present-day BLA was reborn.
In January 2002, the first batch of ‘instructors’ crossed over from Afghanistan into Pakistan to set-up the first training camp. It was a modest effort comprising only two Indians, two Americans, and their Afghan driver-guide. They spent the next couple of weeks in intense consultations with some Baluch activists, and then the work started for setting up a camp. Late Balach Marri was one of good boys of Soviets; he was now available for sale to indo-US nexus. Kohlu was picked as the first base because of Balach. The mountains between Kohlu and Kahan belong to the Marris.
First shipment of arms and ammunition was received from Afghanistan but as the number of camps grew, new supply routes were opened from India. The small arms and light equipment are mostly of Russian origin because they are easily available, cheap, and difficult to trace back to any single source. American defence contractors, CIA operatives, instigators in double-disguise, fortune hunters, rehired ex-soldiers and free lancers etc are playing their role in shifting money, material and men mainly from Afghanistan and India to Baluchistan. By 2005, the pay structure of militants was elaborately defined. Ordinary recruits and basic insurgents got around US $200 per month, the section leaders got upward of US $300 and there were special bonuses for executing a task successfully. Presumably, now they are paid much higher sums. BLA is not the only fish in the pond. There are others as well: Baluch Ittehad, PONAM and a number of other smaller players are actively doing the bidding of their respective pay masters.
Pakistani people and the federal / provincial governments need to align themselves with the common Baluch and capitalize on their good will to salvage the situation. Starting points could be resolving the missing persons’ mystery and provision of jobs to the youth. Correcting the public perceptions on missing persons would radiate a message of good will and provision of jobs would free the common Baluch from the exploitative clutches of the opportunist chieftains. Let’s join hands to empower a common Baluch!