Getting to grips with Balochistan

ByMalik Nasir Mahmood Aslam

Seasoned social activist


July 30, 2022

Malik Nasir Mahmood Aslam comments on a worrying situation

Balochistan was badly hit by rains yet no one paid attention to the devastation caused. However, the recent flurry of violent attacks against security forces in Balochistan drew interest towards the largest province of Pakistan. The most worrying event in this context was the kidnapping and subsequent killing of a serving lieutenant colonel of the army who was serving in DHA Quetta. From Islamabad Balochistan looks a far-off place worth not paying any attention yet like any other area of Pakistan Balochistan also faces a host of issues that require solution. Its ethnic makeup comprising of Balochis, Pashtun, Hazaras and migrants of other provinces has created a lopsided balance that is at times cumbersome to maintain. Indian designs to destabilise Pakistan through Balochistan in a hybrid war are a continuous source of irritation. The renewed regional interest has cropped up in the province due to multi-billion dollar CPEC that may bring tremendous prosperity. The widely acknowledged mineral resources hidden in the province also make it a place of contention.

All problems associated with Balochistan are in the ambit of solution provided a serious attempt is made to understand the nature of Balochistan as a multifaceted territorial entity populated by various ethnicities. It would be a travesty to relegate it into the background owing to its sparse population without giving enough weight to its size that is almost 44% of the entire country. Balochi mindset is not only confined to few elite tribal configurations but people of Baloch stock are spread over all over Sindh and many areas of Punjab. Similarly the Pashtun community has wider links and so have the Hazaras. In a nutshell, people of Balochistan represent the entire national fabric including the vociferous old-generation tribal leadership.

To understand Balochistan it is essential to treat it as another part of Pakistan having similar problems and capacities. Pakistan army is doing the right thing by recruiting Balochis in defence forces that have performed as good as the other ethnicities. Belonging to an ethnicity is not a crime and it should be treated as a normal attribute of a nation that is multi-ethnic in composition. It is essential to understand Balochistan in the light of the understanding we develop about any other area of the country. The myth still lingers on that a handful of recalcitrant Sardars wants to keep subjugation of their tribes intact and whenever their interest is endangered they provoke their tribesmen to revolt. In a difficult mountainous terrain like Balochistan it gets difficult for security forces to restore writ of the law therefore it is considered expedient to deal with the same Sardars and their cohorts who are blamed for the unrest. The cycle is going on since 1947 with no end in sight to a permanent solution of the so-called Balochistan issue.

Often relegated to the backwaters of national milieu Balochistan suddenly was catapulted to national prominence when its renegade political group succeeded in getting its nominee elected to the high office of Chairman Senate. The development was the first of its kind carried out by the locals revealing their political maturity and must have encouraged Balochi mindset to act within the mainstream political contours of the country so that they attain their rightful role.

Balochistan was actually the backwater of the British colonial edifice and the writ of the government was quite infrequent here. At the inception of Pakistan, Kalat, the largest state in Balochistan saw a rebellious movement against accession to Pakistan giving birth to an unfortunate situation that labeled the area as a hub of a permanent insurgency against the state. No doubt skeptic and grudging acceptance of authority was rooted deep in Balochi psyche but it was an ordered society in its own ways and traditions. The centralisation drive of the new state impinged upon independent lifestyles of prominent tribal leaders such as Sardar Marri, Nawab Bugti and Sardar Mengal. The bureaucratic mindset equated these sardars with Balochistan neglecting a host of other tribes who participated in nationwide political activities and are greater in number than the Bugtis, Mengals and Marris.

Balochistan unfortunately figured negatively on Pakistan’s matrix and considerable grief came to all parties involved in the conflict there. The prominent sardars did win the electoral contest in the 1970s when Balochistan was declared a fully-fledged province but soon they developed differences with the federal government of ZA Bhutto and the end result was a spate of insurgency that condemned many tribal leaders to live their lives in exile. The sardars however realised that they had nowhere to go and ultimately returned to Pakistan.
Two events happening in 1979 viz Russian invasion of Afghanistan and fall of Iranian monarchy greatly aided in altering the perceptions of Balochistan towards relationship with Pakistani federation. The Islamic extremism generated by Afghan war was also instrumental in changing the physical and political scenario whereby federation was considered a much more viable option. The federal forces also became cognisant of the need to closely align political elements of the province that saw emergence of a Balochi Prime Minister. Such events have proven that such a development proved inadequate for bringing the province within the national mainstream and that what is required is a serious attempt to comprehend the issue in its totality. TW


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