On the question of Balochistan independence movement

By Babar Ayaz

American congressmen have added fuel to the Balochistan fire. The good thing is that unlike 1971 when the media and political parties were gagged by the government, this time media and leaders of different ethnic background are crying from the top of the roof that the problems needs urgent attention. Thankfully, even the Punjabi political leadership which was blamed for suppressing smaller nationalities rights in Pakistan is also vocal in support of appeasing the Baloch nationalists.

Encouraged by the American congressmen, Brahmdagh Bugti declared on Pakistan television channels that the Baloch would not settle for anything less than independence from Pakistan. The media got all the self-exiled leaders of Balochistan – Harbiar Marri, Suleman Khan and Akhtar Mengal — to communicate with the people of Pakistan. They spoke loud and clear that they would not accept Pakistan and consider the civilian government’s attempt to call an All Parties’ Conference on Balochistan useless.

Here a little deviation from the subject in defence of media coverage of Baloch independence movement leaders is necessary. The media was criticised by many short-sighted people who think that giving this coverage to the Balochistan issue the media has under-mined the ‘National Interest.’ It is the same theme which had kept the people of Pakistan unaware and misinformed about what was happening in East Pakistan.

The establishment continues to mismanage political and economic issues all in the name of ‘National Interest.’ Their intentions may be to keep the country together, but the outcome is that the oppressed people feel alienated because they do not get the support of the people from other nationalities living in Pakistan. By projecting the seriousness of the Balochistan issue the media is in fact bringing the people of the country together and letting the Baloch know that they are with them.

The Retired Brigadier says that no other country would allow media coverage to the people who want to break the country. He is sadly mistaken. In Canada the independence movement of French-speaking Quebec is not only widely reported but the country had allowed two referendums to vote on the issue of independence. In United Kingdom, Scotland’s nationalist party is openly campaigning for independence and Prime Minister Cameron has only suggested a referendum to decide the issue. The civilised central governments of Canada and U.K. have not unleashed their intelligence and rangers to teach a lesson to the separatists. Soviet Union broke up into many countries, the Soviet forces learning from their Hungarian and Poland misadventure did not invade these countries, as the Soviet constitution provided right of secession to the Union states. And isn’t the Pakistani government still demanding that the Kashmiris should be given the right of self-determination? So this approach of media is to push the civil and military leadership to find a civilised solution to the Balochistan issue URGENTLY has to be lauded. Nusrat Javed, Najam Sethi, Talat Husain and Hamid Mir have played an important role by projecting the missing people and sinister killings of Baloch political activists in the electronic media. The list of print media columnists who have raised this issue is long. All are as equally Pakistani as anybody from the establishment.

On the other hand there is an elected government in Balochistan, which is ineffective because the Baloch leaders say that the Director General of Rangers and intelligence agencies are the real government when it comes to dealing with the nationalists. The Chief Minister who speaks incoherently implicitly accepted this fact. But that is not the full story. Unfortunately Balochistan government which has received large sums of money in the last budget because of changed allocations under the 7th NFC Award has squandered it. Corruption of Ministers and MPAs, even some sensible Baloch leaders confirm, is unprecedented. The money allocated to be spent on development programmes is polished off by these elected representatives. Consequently, the people see no development and outflow of money to them.

The Baloch militant leaders exploit this feeling of deprivation against the center, although they should also exert pressure on their provincial government. Best thing would be that people like Attaullah Mengal and Khair Baksh Marri who are respected by the educated and young people crossing the tribal maze, should contest the elections and use the resources at the disposal of the Balochistan government for the people. They have to consolidate the gains made in the 18th Amendment and NFC award and then struggle for getting more autonomy.

Why the agencies rule Balochistan? This is the big question. The narrative of the establishment in Islamabad is that much of the trouble created by these four militant Baloch nationalist liberation groups and their supporting parties is all inspired by the CIA and Indian intelligence. Now if this narrative becomes over-riding then any political reconciliation is made irrelevant.

A retired Brigadier, who does not want to be identified for fear of his security as he lives in Balochistan, says that the trouble is being created only by Bugti, Marri and Mengal tribes. This view is heard in many drawing rooms of Islamabad where it is said that it’s a struggle of only 5% Balochs. The Brigadier’s thesis is that more Baloch live in Sindh and Punjab and they are not fighting for independence. His fact about the spread of Baloch Diaspora may be right but his political extrapolation is erroneous.

His view is that the US would eventually break Pakistan and establish control over Balochistan to choke the energy corridor for China whenever needed.  This view is also shared by many people at the top in Islamabad. They are of the view that while there was always apprehension that Americans would try to break Pakistan by 2020; the regional situation has pulled that date down. Another reason for US involvement they say is that it will help in surrounding the obstinate Iran.

Two major points are missing in this geo-political analysis. First and foremost is that why CIA and Raw got inroads in the Baloch nationalist’s camps? This question was also not asked in 1971 when West Pakistan denied the elected representatives of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) the right to form the government at the center. Foreign intelligence agencies do have their ulterior motives whether we read them correctly or not. But the issue is foreign agencies only get inroads through the local people who are unhappy or disgruntled with their government because of a history of injustice. It is not about flowing dollars as the intelligence people want us to believe. In all such movements even if the leadership has sold itself out, the rank and file is attracted because of the cause. People pick up arms when their grievances are not redressed on political, economic and social levels.

So to understand this issue it’s time to refresh our memory about the history of mismanaging Balochistan by Pakistan’s ruling elite.

Many years back I had called on Nawab Akbar Bugti at his Quetta residence, he was a bitter man, although his son Salim was a senior Minister in the Balochistan government. During the discussion on harnessing the Balochistan oil and gas resources, he said that no fresh exploration should be allowed in the province.

Knowing the reasons of his reaction, I suggested that the Balochistan government or the people living on each concession should establish their respective holding companies, which should partner with the prospective exploration companies. “For instance,” I explained “you can have say 15% to 20% equity in the company so that when oil and gas is discovered you can share the profit.” Nawab Bugti laughed at my suggestion cynically and said: “Babar you are naïve, the government (Federal) is not willing to give us control over our resources so how can we negotiate with others?” He was right then because the constitution of Pakistan did not give the native people any right over their oil & gas reserves.

He was not the only one in Balochistan who felt that the natural resources should not be developed till the province gets control over them. “Let them be under the ground as this is the asset of our people, we don’t want to lose them like the Sui gas reserves.” This has been the common stand of a majority of Balochs and that of other nationalists in Sindh and NWFP.

However, the 18th Amendment and the 7th NFC Award has now given equal control to the federation and the respective provinces over their oil & gas resources. Minerals and coal were already in the provincial control. But this only happened in 2010 when the federation and the provinces made a leap forward to granting provincial political and financial autonomy. Not every government in Islamabad in the past believed that natural resources were provincial assets and not that of federation.

It was this unresolved provincial autonomy issue which haunted Pakistan from its inception. Provinces were denied their right to control their economic resources even though half the country was lost because of this stupidity of the establishment.

Balochistan is going through its fourth limited-level insurgency for independence since the killing of Nawab Bugti by the army in 2006. Since then a medium-level insurgency led by mainly four Baloch militant groups is keeping the independence demand alive. Everyday reports about either the killing of some Baloch nationalist allegedly by the intelligence agencies or the killing of security forces and Punjabi settlers by one of the four major Baloch liberation militants are published or telecast as a matter of routine. It is one of the worst examples of center-province relationship in what remains as Pakistan.

Let’s scan through the Balochistan and Pakistani establishment relations briefly. “Baluch* political unity,” according to Selig Harrison, “came in the 18th century when several successive rulers of the Baluch principality of Kalat succeeded in expanding their domain to bring the Baluch areas under one political umbrella. Mir Nasir Khan, who ruled Kalat for 44 years beginning in 1749, set a loose bureaucratic structure embracing most of Balochistan for the first time and got principal Baluch tribes to adopt an agreed system of organisation and recruitment.” (Ethnicity and the political stalemate in Pakistan by Selig Harrison published in Regional Imbalances & The National Question Edited by S. Akbar Zaidi (P 231)

But Adeel Khan’s contention is that “Baloch Nationalism emerged in a tribal set-up well before partition of India, and was opposed to Balochistan’s accession to Pakistan. After partition, however, the Pakistani state’s treatment of the region turned Baloch nationalism in a potent force, which attracted international attention…”([1] Politics of Identity – Ethnic Nationalism and the State in Pakistan by Adeel Khan published by Sage Publications 2005 (P 109)

First the understanding was reached with the Khan of Kalat and the British Empire representatives on August 4, 1947 that Kalat would be independent on August 15, 1947, enjoying the same status as it originally held in 1863, having friendly relations with its neighbours. Another agreement was signed with Pakistan on the same date which said that: “The government of Pakistan agrees that Kalat is an independent state, being quite different in status from other states of India, and commits to its relations with the British Government as manifested in several agreements.”

It was agreed that in the meantime a standstill agreement will be made between Pakistan and Kalat by which Pakistan shall stand committed to all responsibilities and agreements signed by Kalat and the British government from 1839 to 1947 and by this Pakistan shall be legal constitutional and political successor of the British. (The British had only control over Quetta and some other areas). A few weeks later Kharan, Lasbela states and Marri, Bugti tribal areas were returned to the Kalat fold. The Kalat Government made formal independence declaration on August 15, 1947 and a delegation came down to Karachi to discuss the future relationship with Pakistan.

While Khan of Kalat seemed inclined to merge his state with Pakistan, the Baloch Sardars of his jirga were not interested to do anything in haste without settling the provincial autonomy issues. The Khan was under considerable influence of Quaid-e-Azam and had promised to work out the merger details in three months, but as Quaid was sick this issue was handed over to his cabinet. They mishandled the whole issue and used the British tactics to pitch the Baloch against each other by carving out three states of Kalat – Kharan, Lasbella and Makran.

This resulted in the first uprising against Pakistan in 1948. The unilateral decision to break the Kalat State by Pakistan was contrary to the earlier understanding that in case the relations of Kalat with any government got strained, Kalat will exercise its right of self-determination.

That was the beginning of the Baloch revolt against the center. They have been to the hills many times since then, the last (before the present armed revolt) being the one against the dissolution of their elected government by Mr. Bhutto in 1973. It was just after a few days of the signing of the constitution. Khair Baksh Marri and young Dr. Abdul Hayee Baloch refused to sign it as it did not recognize the rights of the provinces over their economic resources.

Although gas was found in Sui in 1952 the province was not given any share from its profits. The provinces right over 12.5% royalty on oil & gas was accepted as late as in 1995. And what Balochistan used to get on the gas produced by it, which meets almost 21% energy needs of the country, was pittance. This royalty goes into the provincial kitty but not much trickles down to the people of the area who actually own this precious natural resource. The provincial governments in Pakistan have also been denying the local governments and people their due economic rights.

As stated earlier if the local governments where the resources are located are given substantial share of the earning from their resources, the prosperity and high income level of the people living in resource-rich areas would encourage others to seek investment in their areas. They would also be benefited from a rise in consumption in rich districts and would find something to sell to their rich cousins. If Bugtis were given their due share from Sui earnings, Marris would not have stalled the exploration in their areas. They would have rather competed to get the investors to explore what lies in their land.

Allowing the local and provincial leaders to negotiate with the investors directly but transparently would open resource rich province. At the same time it is important for the Baloch leadership that xenophobic policies are anti-Baloch people. They have to broaden their horizon. It is also important for the Baloch people to keep pressure on their leaders so that the benefit of any business deal with local and foreign investors flow to them and is not pocketed by a few sardars and provincial leaders. The mismanagement of Reko Diq project by the Federal and Provincial governments have sent wrong messages to the foreign investors. They had all the right to renegotiate the terms with the Tethiyan and Chinese but they should not throw them out on the basis of half-baked theories sold to them by a Pakistani scientist.

Even though as stated above NFC award and 18th Amendment has met the Baloch nationalist demands half-way, the killing of Baloch youth has not stopped for which even the moderate leaders blame the intelligence agencies. “They,” (intelligence agencies) a leading Baloch senator told me in a background interview “have changed the tactics instead of facing the cases in the courts for the missing Baloch activists, they kill them and throw their bodies after interrogation.” A Baloch leader & poet Habib Jalib, who was assassinated, wrote in a lament before his death:

 “Mujhe Jang-e-azaadi ka maza maloom hay,

Balochon per zulm ki inteha maloom hay,

Mujhe Zindgi bhar Pakistan mein jeenay ki dua na do,

Mujhe Pakistan mein saath (60) saal  jeenay ki saza maloom hay”

(Roughly translated: I know the taste of independence / I know the heights of oppression on the Balochs/Don’t pray that I live in Pakistan for my whole life/I’ve suffered the sentence of living in Pakistan for 60 years)

The trouble with Balochistan is that the establishment has fragmented the society by fueling inter-tribal and intra-tribal feuds.  When it comes to armed struggle there are four major groups and many splinters, as it happens in all such movements. Only one group which is led by Marri fighters has allegiance of people from other tribes. The one led by Brahmdagh Bugti has most fighters from his own tribe. Though there are a number of small splinter groups that have formed their own political parties, only Baloch National Party (Mengal) and National Party are the two major contenders among the nationalist parties of Balochistan. According to some Baloch activists these groups are also at times killing each other’s militants, which go unreported.

Going back to Islamabad’s pet theory that only 5 percent Baloch are supporting the independence movement and that too fueled by the US dollars, an important point is missed by these people. Nationalist movements are led by some scions of Marri, Bugti and Mengal sardars, but it has the backing of Baloch middle-classes. National independence slogan has always inspired the business and middle classes of any ethnic group where feeling of deprivation is stronger. We don’t have to go far for the example: Pakistan movement was to get maximum autonomy for the Muslim ruling classes, but it inspired the Muslim middle classes of provinces where Muslims were not in majority. Economic interests’ brings these classes together. Even if we accept the allegation that the Baloch independence movement leaders are corrupt and are being paid by CIA and RAW as our establishment wants us to believe a finer point here is that nobody in such movements is an agent of another country or forces it is the convergence of interest which brings them together. So it is all the more important for Pakistan to win these leaders away from the conspirators who are using them with little interest in the end cause of independence. By changing the present establishment led policies, the politicians have the flexibility to win these people away from limited CIA or RAW interests in the region as alleged by our agencies.

A Karachi based Baloch leader Yousuf Mustikhan believes that the independence movement is getting stronger as moderate leaders like Habib Jalib Baloch are being eliminated and the management of the province is not transferred to the civilian government by the establishment. For over six decades Balochistan has been exploited which has now convinced many Baloch leaders that nothing short of independence would solve their problems. But political analysts hope that the 7th NFC Award should strengthen the hands of the Baloch leaders who want to do politics through democratic means within the structure of Pakistan.

Although all democrats support right of self-determination of nationalities, as Pakistan supports this for Indian Kashmiris. But my fear is if Balochistan’s militant groups’ independence dream is ever realised, it would slip into an internal war between various groups and tribes just as it did in Afghanistan and many other such tribal societies. Balochistan has yet to develop into a society where middle class and bourgeoisie would be in a position to over-ride the tribal politics.

At the same time the reality is that the center cannot brow-beat the people who stand for their rights and win. Remember what Habib Jalib said when General Yahya launched a military operation in the then East Pakistan – “Mohabat golion sey bo rahey ho/ Gumaan tumko kay rasta kut raha hey/ Yaqeen mujhko kay manzil kho rahay ho.” (Sowing love with bullets/You are presuming it’s a way forward/ I am sure you are losing the destination).

*Baluch and Baluchistan were previous spelled with ‘U’ but then officially this was substituted with ‘O.’ I have retained the writer’s original spellings



  1. #1 by N Ahmed on April 18, 2012 - 10:54 am

    East Pakistan was the primarily Punjabi establishment’s dominion, and so remains Baluchistan. Mr Bhutto called Bengalis “sons of pigs” in a nationally televised speech, and one hears similar comments from the Army brass about Baluchi’s, in private. Considering the tiny population and enormous natural wealth of the province, it would be entirely logical for it to separate; the gross per capita income would rise twenty fold (even if maldistributed, which will be no change from now anyway) Why should it not separate anyway? Oppressed colonies inevitably do.

  2. #2 by baloch on June 4, 2012 - 7:55 pm

    there s much hatereds among pakistani army against baloch as much as the baloch hate these people, so where pakistan is heading ?

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