Appeared in Daily Times on Monday February 27, 2012 as my weekly column BAAGHI
After US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s sudden attention to Balochistan, the Pakistani media went bonkers to protect the proverbial ‘sovereignty’ of our country — a cause championed by the security establishment and most of its mouthpieces in the media as well as political circles and civil society. Emerging from the fathoms of near oblivion to almost a dozen Op-Eds in the mainstream press daily, Balochistan is now the darling of the prime time TV cupola as well.
If the anchors and columnists want to sound more profound, and if they run out of words to express the imperiousness of the US Congress for interfering in Pakistan’s internal matters, they would endlessly repeat almost clichéd references to 1971 with emphasis on giving ‘due importance to the Baloch problem’. The umpteen ‘political analysts’ and ‘Balochistan experts’ religiously recount the current government’s failure to address the issue despite the latter’s trumpeted mantra of ‘democracy, the greatest revenge’. Such talk would be garnished with admonishing the ‘irresponsibility’ of the Baloch nationalists in attacking innocent citizens of ethnicities other than the Baloch.
What goes completely missing from this narrative is the origins of the conflict, the response of the state to the centrifugal nature of Baloch nationalism and the ever deteriorating civil-military relations in Balochistan, which now seem to have reached the point of no return. The way Balochistan was made to accede to Pakistan goes missing from the textbooks alongside any reference to the military operations carried out in 1948, 1958-59, 1962-68, 1973-77 and the current surge starting from 2002 to date. The result is a general apathy towards Balochistan in the rest of the country with almost no understanding of the surges in historically seeded ethno-nationalism in Balochistan, described as ‘Baloch insurgencies’ in the mainstream media. The same media gives prime space to opinion makers who describe Taliban insurgents as ‘freedom fighters’. No wonder one finds so many people in upper Punjab and Islamabad who take Baloch nationalists as ‘traitors’, while the Taliban militants as flag bearers of Muslim nationalism.
Muslim nationalism, lest we forget, was made the bane when the independent state of Kalat was coerced into accession in 1948. Probably that is why the New York Times in its issue of August 15, 1947, published the maps of the newly born states of India and Pakistan with the latter without the state of Kalat. And that was the time when in the Lower House of Balochistan’s elected parliament — Dar-ul-Awam — one of the most respected Baloch leaders, commonly known as Baba-e-Balochistan, Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo said on December 14, 1947: “We are Muslims but it is not necessary that by virtue of being Muslims we should lose our freedom and merge with others. If the mere fact that we are Muslims requires us to join Pakistan, then Afghanistan and Iran, both Muslim countries, should also amalgamate with Pakistan.” That says it all!
Leaving aside these uncomfortable details, as even the Baloch leaders let themselves be subsumed by the state of Pakistan later, there has been much more to the Baloch conflict than mere political alienation. When Baloch leaders rejected Rehman Malik’s recent ‘offer’ of withdrawing cases against some of the exiled leaders and his invitation to them to return to Pakistan, they have reasons to do so. In 1948, the Baloch had seen Prince Abdul Karim Khan, the brother of the Khan of Kalat, being lured to return to Pakistan from his exile in Afghanistan under an oath on the Holy Quran by the security establishment. Nevertheless, such oaths are not binding when it comes to ‘national interest’. In clear violation of the promise, Prince Karim was arrested and put in prison for the next 10 years.
The second betrayal of this nature was seen when General Tikka Khan took an oath, again, on the Quran promising amnesty and security of life to Nawab Nauroz Khan, a respected leader among the Baloch who was fighting Balochistan’s independence movement from the mountains. In 1959, when he came down from the mountains, he was arrested and put in jail in violation of all the promises and oath on the Quran. Not only that, his sons along with other Baloch leaders were hanged in Hyderabad in 1960. The octogenarian Baloch leader died of shock three years later. With such audacious display of ‘keeping promises’, who would take Rehman Malik seriously?
The duplicity of Pakistan’s establishment was manifest this time too. While the Minister of the Interior was making these offers to the Baloch exiled leaders, the security forces deemed it fit to arrest Abdul Qadir Baloch, the leading figure of the movement for the rescue of Baloch missing persons, amidst a peaceful sit-in in Karachi. Not even a week had passed after the Interior Minister’s ‘generous’ offers when the uninhabited house of another Baloch leader, Balaach Marri, whose killing is an enigma as yet, was demolished in Quetta. Freeing of eight ‘missing persons’ seems a small bait to entice the Baloch leadership in the wake of the recent American pinch.
At the time of the partition of the Indian subcontinent, a rubber stamp Shahi Jirga used to be there for signing off everything the colonial (and post-colonial) masters wanted. The British wanted to build their bases on strategically important coasts in Balochistan. A Balochistan acceded to India would never oblige. An independent Balochistan was not feasible either, keeping in view a strong sentiment prevalent at the time about Greater Balochistan consisting of the Baloch triumvirate in the state of Kalat and adjoining strip of British Balochistan, and the Baloch areas in Afghanistan and Iran. To contain ambitious Russia and prevent regional forces from building on this promising future trade route, the British had to support its accession to Pakistan, in whose establishment the British had too many friends.
Now, replace the Shahi Jirga with the current ‘democratic’ legislature in Balochistan, the British with the US and we have all the pieces of the Balochistan puzzle fixed. Dana Rohrabacher has probably forgotten a very important factor in the Baloch resentment where even the US has supported Pakistan’s security establishment. The establishment of so many cantonments and military bases in Balochistan, which are seen among the Baloch as consolidating the army’s involvement in their area, was not only supported but excessively used by the US for years, especially in the last 10 years. The way China has invested in mega projects, for example the Gwadar Port project, only explains its strategic ambitions in the region for imports through this easiest possible route.
Why the Baloch see these mega development projects as an eyewash and an attempt to invade their land is a sure shot future monopoly of the non-Baloch on jobs and other resources. If Gwadar is envisioned as a Karachi in Balochistan, the Baloch fear it would be inhabited by mainly Punjabis or other settlers and would outnumber the indigenous Baloch and Pashtun population. This monopoly is not very difficult to see in the rest of Pakistan. On a recent visit to Radio Pakistan’s Headquarters in Islamabad, one was shocked to see the photo gallery of former Director Generals (DGs) of PBC. Since its inception, Radio Pakistan has had only its second DG who is ethnically Sindhi, no Baloch and just two Pashtuns. Rest were all either Punjabis or Urdu-speaking.
And yet we say the Baloch are anti-state!