By Air Commodore Khalid Iqbal
Landscape of Baluchistan has absorbing peculiarities. Province is spread over more than 45 percent of Pakistan’s total area, and is inhabited y by less than 5 percent of Pakistan’s population. Roughly half of the population is ethnic Baluch; remaining half comprises Pukhtuns and settlers from other provinces. Means to travel are meagre, deficient infrastructure distorts the time and space conception. Water is a scarce commodity. Population is concentrated in urban centres and secluded rural clusters, leaving large stretches of land uninhabited. Media access is limited; hence information vacuum is promptly filled by rumour mongers. People of Baluchistan are one of the poorest communities of Pakistan with lowest Human Resource Development indicators like literacy, employment rates, life expectancy etc.
Political process follows an interesting profile. Tribal Chieftains (Sardars) share the economic and political spoils in a musical chair pattern; those left out of power grabbing spree make it a point to shout foul. Political appeasement is order of the day. Generally all members of the provincial assembly are ministers. Out of 92 Sardars in Baluchistan, only three have been persistently anti-establishment. To reinforce their position of authority in respective fiefdoms, majority of Chieftains block literacy, health and infrastructure related development projects; generally they make it a precondition for their cooperation with the establishment; more often then not they are obliged.
Baluchistan has a long history of political unrest bordering armed resistance; overwhelming majority of ethnic Baluch groups advocate greater autonomy and a handful of dissidents wish cession. A series of incidents and broken pledges have eroded Baluchistan’s trust in the federal government.
In November 2009, federal government attempted to address Baluch grievances about economic and political deprivation by coming forth with a package of laws: “Aghaz-e-Huqooq-i-Baluchistan” (Beginning of Restoration of Rights of Baluchistan). However, implementation has been rather slow. Likewise, measures like 7th National Finance Commission Award and 18th Constitutional Amendment are pertinent corrective steps, but are lacking requisite speed for follow-up actions.
Amnesty international has recently called upon the government of Pakistan to immediately account for the alarming number of killings and abductions in Baluchistan attributed to government forces in recent months. Relatives of victims and dissident groups blame the "kill and dump" incidents on Pakistani security forces, particularly the Frontier Corps and intelligence agencies. Security forces deny the charges, claiming that these deaths are a result of intra-tribe and inter-tribe rivalries as well as competitive struggle amongst various militant groups and feuds arising out of sectarian prejudices. Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Director said, "Baluch armed groups must also avoid endangering civilians…The apparent targeting of civilians, teachers and government officials by Baluch groups, has forced many of them to flee the province, which only worsens conditions for the already poorly-served Baluch people." Baluch armed groups have claimed responsibility for a series of bombings on gas infrastructure, causing an acute shortage of fuel for cooking and heating throughout the province during the previous winters.
Baluchistan holds the largest single source of domestic energy reserves in Pakistan, but Baluch groups argue these resources disproportionately benefit other provinces and ethnic communities. Primacy of right of the Baluch people over native natural resources should be accepted and respected.
Ineffective governance and corruption in various development projects is a major cause of trust deficit. The real issue is how to ensure efficient and transparent implementation of development and political initiatives. Baluch people are development friendly, they yearn for peace. Even small scale projects like installations of water hand pumps, digging of tube wells, addressing problem of sanitation and health etc can help calm the tempers.
State of affairs of education facilities in Baluch-majority areas is worrisome; Pushtuns and settlers are far ahead in education. Recent conversion of a military cantonment in Sui into a college, Chamalang Education Programme, and Gwadar Institutes of Technical Education, are initiatives in the right course, provided these do not get bogged down.
Representatives of Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Lushker-e-Baluchistan (LeB) have stepped up their overseas liaison activities in London, including meetings with British officials as well as American and Indian diplomats. Recently a group of anti-Pakistan Baluch and Sindhi elements gathered in front of the US embassy in London and demanded foreign intervention in Baluchistan.
‘Human Rights Watch’ has recently stated that covert hands support insurgency in Baluchistan through safe havens provided to the militants in different countries to destabilize Pakistan. Government of Baluchistan in exile has it’s headquarter in Jerusalem; Baluchistan Legal fund (BLF) is Washington based.
America considers Baluchistan as a vital ingredient of her covert strategy of getting control of Asia for obtaining access in Central Asian region, encircling Iran, containing China and restraining Pakistan from developing Gwadar port. While the US is broadly committed to the general 'stabilization' of Pakistan, it does have a vested interest in delaying projects that would establish a Chinese strategic presence in the region. Thus the US seeks to keep Baluchistan perpetually destabilized through low grade, violence.
Besides America, there are other countries which provide platforms to anti-Pakistan Baluch elements. Baluch activists and rebellious leaders are being liberally granted asylums in the UK; facilities of Indian visa are always forthcoming to the dissident leaders. Khan of Kalat and Harbayar Marri operate from Britain and America, Brahamdagh is pegged in Switzerland. Indian consulates on Afghan territory, bordering Baluchistan, are operating in a high gear in the context of training, arming and financing the separatist elements. A networking of CIA-RAW can be discerned in most of the clandestine operations in Baluchistan.
Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), and Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in New Delhi organise seminars and conferences in which select dissident Baluch leaders are invited to malign Pakistan. Some of these gatherings are a closed door activity, headed by former high ranking officials from RAW and Indian military.
Covert Indian subversive activities against Pakistan and Iran have been going-on since long, through Afghan territory. Map of Greater Baluchistan includes Iran’s Baluchstan-Sistan province as well. Similarly Afghan areas adjoining Pakistani border are also envisaged as part of Greater Baluchistan. Islamabad, Tehran and Kabul need to put their act together to thwart such developments.
Situation in Baluchistan is being grossly over-projected by the dissidents from the platforms provided to them by foreign countries. Though wide spread, Baluch insurgency does not present an existential threat to Pakistan’s integrity. Low population density and poor communication infrastructure make Baluchistan an unsuitable territory for waging a victorious insurgency; however, by same token, effective counterinsurgency campaign is also a nightmare. Pinprick stalemate is the likely outcome.
Nevertheless, ensuing suffering of a common man in Baluchistan is a serious dimension warranting immediate attention. Solution to the Baluchistan problem has to be a political one, comprehensive enough to cover all the aspects of the issue. Piecemeal appeasement will not lead to sustainable calm; rather it may embolden the separatists. Prompt defogging of the mystery surrounding the issue of missing persons would trigger enormous Baluch good will towards military and political leadership.