Weakening Pakistani Hold In Balochistan


The Pakistani hold in Balochistan continues to weaken. Despite ruthless suppression by the Pakistan Army headed by Gen.Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), the Baloch freedom fighters are making headway. Their significant success has been not only in ground actions through their guerilla armies against the Pakistani security forces, but also in successfully spreading the ideology of an independent Balochistan amongst the Balochs. Those among the Balochs as well as the non-Balochs, who try to speak for the State of Pakistan, find themselves increasingly isolated. The Pakistani flag is disappearing from Government buildings in Quetta, the Baloch capital.

2.The Baloch freedom struggle has become as much an ideological struggle as a militant struggle, as much a struggle for achieving the Balochs’ unfinished agenda of the Partition through ideological emancipation as a struggle for economic emancipation from the post-Partition Punjabi domination of their economy and natural resources, as much a struggle for their ethnic pride as it is for their national, inter-tribal solidarity.

3.The State is being increasingly administered not from Quetta, but from Karachi or Dubai. The members of the Baloch State Government are being increasingly seen by the people as quislings of Islamabad and are afraid of staying in Quetta. They spend more time in Karachi or Dubai than in Quetta. Government files go to them for orders there. Even if they pass orders on the files in Karachi or Dubai, the bureaucrats, who have stayed behind in Quetta, are not able to have them implemented. The police and the Army are not able to protect the life and property of the non-Baloch ruling and business class, who are increasingly targeted by the freedom-fighters.

4.Balochistan’s economy is in a shambles. So is Pakistan’s economy which cannot improve without the flow of gas from Balochistan. The gas supply from the existing wells to the industries of Punjab is subject to frequent disruptions. The industrial production has been coming down. So is agricultural production due to the shortage of oil for running agricultural machinery. The Pakistan economy cannot improve without peace and stability in Balochistan. There cannot be peace and stability in Balochistan unless the aspirations of the people are met by the Government.

5.Pakistan has become a land of serious shortages—-shortage of water for agricultural and drinking purposes, shortage of electricity and gas for private and industrial consumers, shortage of money for development. However, there is no shortage of US dollars. The misuse of the enhanced economic assistance from the US under the Kerry-Lugar Act is resulting in a situation where much of the money is misutilised for non-development purposes or for feeding corruption.

6.Pakistan’s hopes of profiting from the war in Afghanistan and regaining its influence in that country will prove to be a chimera without peace and stability in Balochistan. That peace and stability is nowhere in sight. The dramatic situation in Balochistan, where the freedom struggle is forging ahead relentlessly, has been brought out in a statement made by Mr.Rehman Malick, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, in the Senate, the upper House of Parliament, on July 27,2010, and in a series of articles carried by the ” Dawn” and “News”. Relevant extracts are given below:


Settlers are being killed in Balochistan.So far over 100,000 people have migrated from the province. Militants are burning Pakistani flags. They do not allow the hoisting of the Pakistani flag nor the national anthem to be recited in educational institutions while pro-Pakistan elements are falling victim to targeted killing. From January to July 13 this year, 252 settlers including 13 officers of the Pakistan Army, 21 officers of the Frontier Corps, 27 Police officials, 26 Punjabis, 21 Pashtoons, 12 Sindhis and 112 from other parts of the country have died in targeted killings. “Balochistan is part of Pakistan, then why are settlers being killed there?” he asked. “Why those who are killing patriotic Pakistanis and burning national flag are not condemned?”


More than the proliferation of radical groups, however, what worries observers is the widening scope of targets. Attacks on security forces, state installations and government offices are all standard fare in Baloch insurgencies. In addition, killings of ‘settlers’ (groups considered non-Baloch because they trace their ancestry to outside the province, even though in many instances they have been residing in Balochistan for generations) have occurred in the past. This time, however, it is the breadth and intensity of such killings that is alarming. A senior journalist in Quetta claimed: “The target killings started in 2003, but they were sectarian in nature. The radical groups started their killings post-Bugti, initially in Quetta. Now, though, it has spread. Nushki, Khuzdar, Mastung, Gwadar, Turbat, Kech, the target killings are happening everywhere.” According to the Balochistan Government’s most recent figures, more than 125 people have been killed and nearly 200 injured in the last 18 months alone in settler-related violence. Another worrying trend this year: the killing of fellow Baloch by the insurgent groups. The victims have been accused of spying and working as agents of the Pakistani state. A senior journalist said, “Even Pathans have been killed, and businessmen too. The impact is enormous. There is an exodus of teachers, doctors, businessmen.”

A handful of groups dominate the insurgency, of which the Balochistan Liberation Army is perhaps the most well-known. The BLA appeared in its present incarnation soon after the arrest of Khair Bakhsh Marri in January 2000. The powerful Marri chief was accused of having a hand in the murder of a Balochistan High Court judge. Originally a rural phenomenon and limiting its operations to Dera Bugti and Kohlu, the BLA is believed to have expanded its attacks into the cities following the breakdown of a unilateral ceasefire declared in September 2008. An affiliate of the BLA is the Balochistan Liberation United Front, a smaller organisation thought to be ‘more sophisticated’ and considerably more hard-line. The other high-profile radical group is the Baloch Republican Army, the militant wing of the Balochistan Republican Party, a rechristened arm of Akbar Bugti’s Jamhoori Watan Party. The BRA came into existence after Bugti’s death in August 2006 and is believed to be controlled by his grandson, Brahmdagh. Its area of operations appears to be in relatively remote areas such as Dera Bugti, Jaffarabad and Naseerabad. A third major group is the Balochistan Liberation Front, another name resurrected from the last insurgency in the 1970s. The present-day version operates mostly in the Mekran area and is also linked to Khair Bakhsh Marri. Recently, a new organisation called the Baloch Armed Defence Organisation (Baloch Musallah Defai Tanzeem) has come up. It is a relatively new ‘anti-Baloch-nationalist’ group about which little is known, though the Balochs claim it is a front for the intelligence agencies. That is denied by the army. Asma Jahangir, former chairperson of the HRCP (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan), however, is not convinced: “The cleansing of the Baloch intelligentsia can only be the work of the agencies.”


Why is the cycle of violence still continuing in Balochistan? While the violence is down from the 2005-2008 peak period, the Pakistani state and parts of the Baloch population are undeniably still locked in conflict. In a series of conversations with Dawn, senior government and army officials and Baloch representatives attempted to explain why, in their view, a conflict that has claimed between 500 and 1,500 lives since 2001 continues today. Foremost is the issue of missing persons. Estimates vary wildly: the Baloch claim thousands of fellow citizens are missing; rights groups like the HRCP ( Human Rights Commission of Pakistan) suggest a figure in the low hundreds; the army acknowledges no more than a few dozen missing. Yet, it isn’t necessarily the detentions per se but the lack of information about the detainees that makes the missing-persons issue so incendiary. A senior federal minister involved in discussions concerning Balochistan concurred: “We weren’t even asking to set them free. But they (the army) weren’t willing to listen because they considered them (the missing persons) to be treasonous. We said, they may have done things they need to be punished for, but they are still Pakistanis and we have to treat them as such.” Part of the problem is that the army does not understand the impact of missing persons. “Balochistan is a backward society. If you pick up a boy from a village, you make an enemy of the entire village.” The depth of anger over the missing persons can be gauged from the fact that it has dislodged as the central issue the decades-old grievance of the Balochs that the province’s gas and mineral riches have been exploited by the Pakistani state. No one, not even army officers, denies that reality. Referring to the disparity in the gas price offered to Balochistan and the other provinces, Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister Naveed Qamar explained: “There was definitely an anomaly in pricing. ” However, Mr Qamar disputes the notion the centre is still exploiting Balochistan’s resources: “Over the last 18 months, significant change has come about. We’ve fixed the gas-price anomaly to a large extent. Rikodiq (where large reserves of gold and copper are reported to exist) has been handed over to the provincial government and Saindak will be soon.” Even so, perceptions about the intentions of the army and ‘centrist’ bureaucrats in Islamabad linger. “It’s about greed. They want Balochistan’s resources to create prosperity in the other provinces,” claimed Syeda Abida Hussain, co-founder with her husband, Fakhar Imam, of the Friends of Baloch and Balochistan. “It’s no longer about the resource-sharing at present. It’s about the potential,” Naveed Qamar suggested. “Balochistan contributes 17 or 18 per cent of gas today to Pakistan’s needs, but the vast resources that are still untapped because of the security situation, that is the real prize.” The Balochs look no further for modern-day proof of the Pakistani state’s intention to ‘colonise’ Balochistan than the port at Gwadar. “There are these beautiful, paved boulevards in the port area. And right outside the poverty of the Balochs is shocking,” said Sanaullah Baloch, a former BNP-M senator. “Gwadar has nothing to do with concern for the Balochs.” If the Balochs, army and government do agree on one thing, it is that a great deal of the blame for the violence continuing must be shouldered by the Balochistan government. The provincial government is widely perceived to be epically corrupt and monumentally inefficient. That has real consequences. For one, it allows the army to deflect attention from the heavy-handedness of the Frontier Corps, which is still tasked with law and order duties. Practically speaking, it becomes difficult to debate the withdrawal of the FC, a major demand of the Balochs, when the police are incapable of establishing even a modicum of law and order. The provincial government’s incompetence also impacts on the possibility of winning over disaffected Balochs. “They’ve got all this extra money,” Naveed Qamar said referring to the Rs12 billion of new resources-related payments to the province, “but will it make its way to the people? That’s a big question mark.” Another commonality among the Balochs, government officials and army officers spoken to: none were optimistic the violence will abate soon. In fact, many suggested the two extremes appear to be digging in their heels. On the Baloch side, the armed radicals are bent on intimidating, perhaps even eliminating, moderate voices, making the possibility of a compromise with the state that much more distant. On the army’s side, while it fiercely denies it has a ‘colonial’ approach towards Balochistan, there is a steely resolve to prevent any ‘mischief’ by outside powers in the province — an approach which severely diminishes the possibility of concessions towards the Baloch extremists. “If the federation is to survive, the moderates need to be heard,” according to Raza Rabbani. The trouble is, no one seems to believe that is an imminent possibility.


Anybody who has not been to Quetta for some time will be aghast to see the ghost town that it has become. Half of the once-bustling and lively town goes to sleep as soon as the sun sets. The other half trembles even to the sound of a cracker while locked inside their overly guarded houses. The British garrison city that was known for its cultural diversity and for its laidback evenings stands divided into quarters based on ethnicity and religion. And, more important, whether you are a “uniformed person” or not. A quarter of the city is a no-go-area worse than Karachi’s killing alleys in the 1990s. A non-Baloch would not venture into areas around Saryab Road and Arbab Karam Road even during daytime. The localities of Spiny Road and Smungli Road are no less dangerous as the marauding gangs of armed youth are found witch-hunting for anybody wearing trousers or matching the profile of a “non-local.” Local police enter the localities at considerable risk. Even the paramilitary Frontier Corps pickets get attacked occasionally. The picket leading to Bolan Medical College, meaningfully named as “Golimaar,” has been targeted more than once by grenade attacks. In suburbs, 16 kilometres off Quetta city on the western bypass, the Hazar Ganj bus stand was ambushed by rockets. The situation on the east side is equally scary. Life in the Quetta Cantonment is stable, thanks to the 24-hour armed-to-the-teeth vigilance. But the ordinary citizenry has been left to the butchery of a lethal mix of extremist nationalists, political separatists, religious fanatics, smugglers, drug dealers and the land mafia hand in glove with criminals, not to forget international terrorists and foreign intelligence agencies. The locals are shifting to the relatively safer Pashtun localities of, say, Nawankali and Sraghurdhi. The so-called Punjabi settlers, who may have lived in Quetta for generations, are being forced to leave for other provinces, sometime after selling their assets for pennies. “The country seems to have given up on Balochistan,” says social activist Dr Faiz Rehman. He believes doctors are being discouraged to attend clinics in trouble areas so that such incidents do not get reported.

Dr Yousaf Nasir, a top surgeon who was a cousin of former federal Minister Yaqoob Nasir, was ambushed in a target killing. Another senior surgeon Chiragh Hassan is also receiving threats to move out. “Everybody wants to get out of here,” he added. Security officials are on top of the hit lists. Around 1,600 government officials have applied for long leave and for transfer to other provinces. Under such trying times, one hardly finds a notable politician in Quetta or even in Balochistan. While half of the province is inundated because of floods, killing scores of people, Chief Minister Aslam Raisani is languishing in Dubai. His staff said he was in Dubai for many days and they could not confirm when he would return. In any case, he is known to be a part-time CM as he lives in Dubai or Islamabad nearly 15 days a month and is never available, intelligibly that is, after 8:00pm come crash floods or cyclone. In the meantime, on average two persons die every day in target killings. The official figure for target killings in the last 10 months is 370 but others say the actual number should be around 600.

B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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