By Shiraz Paracha
During three days of meetings and discussions with politicians and journalists from across Baluchistan and after speaking to dozens of ordinary people on Quetta streets, my understanding and experience is still very limited about a very complicated and untold story of Baluchistan.
Here is what I felt and saw in Quetta:
1: Baluchistan’s people of all ethnic origins feel they are being ignored and marginalized by the rest of Pakistan. Local journalists say that their stories and reports are ignored by Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi based editors, directors and commentators/writers. Opinion makers in big cities have little time and understanding of Baluchistan. The national media believe in stereotypes about the province, while describing Baluchistan, the media often act as mouthpiece of certain forces or political actors. At times journalists are simply lazy and don’t want to find facts or provide an objective account of the situation in the province. To a large section of the so-called national media, Baluchistan is big arid place with lots of troubles. The Baluch are presented as wild tribal people who work for foreign countries and fight the Pakistani military.
2: I found many happy and satisfied Punjabi and Urdu speaking Baluchistanis. One Punjabi doctor left Islamabad for Quetta because he likes living in Quetta. Several Urdu speaking professors and lecturers said they feel safe and happy in Baluchistan. Urdu and Punjabi speaking young female journalists work for media outlets in Quetta. A young Urdu speaking lady is the head of Journalism Department, University of Baluchistan. Another young girl from Lahore teaches at a different university in Quetta and there are many more who identify themselves as Baluchistani, not Punjabi or Urdu speaking.
3: The President of Baluchistan Press Club is a Baluch, who speaks beautiful Urdu and several other languages. Not all the Baluchi people disrespect or hate their Pukhtun, Panjabi and Urdu speaking friends and colleagues. There is a beautiful communal harmony in Quetta.
4: Most Pakhtuns in Quetta are successful traders. They can’t afford conflict or trouble because it affects their businesses. Peace suits Pakhtuns. Urdu and Punjabi speaking Balochistanis also run businesses along with their Baluch counterparts.
5: The current Chief Minister, Dr Abdul Malik, and his cabinet members are down to earth people. Mutual respect is conspicuous and a typical characteristic of Balochistani politicians and people. Even in their criticism of each other they do not use inappropriate language or expressions.
6: The most powerful and decisive force in Baluchistan is the Pakistani military. In fact, Baluchistani politics revolve around the military’s right or wrong policies and strategies. All political parties and groups in Baluchistan look at the military for direction and guidance and they also point fingers at the military for their problems.
7: Baluchistan faces acute water shortage. It is a big problem. Quetta and other towns and cities across Baluchistan lack drinking and clean water sources. Water reserves are shrinking fast but the government has failed to respond to this very serious challenge.
8: The Baluchistan government has also failed to deliver or at least this is the impression among many people inside Baluchistan. The Pukhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) of Mehmood Khan Achakzai is criticized the most. Mehmood Khan is accused of doing the opposite of what he preaches. He is also accused of corruption, nepotism and merit violations. The PkMAP has 14 seats in the 65-member Baluchistan Assembly. Local journalists believe it would be difficult for Mr. Achakzai to retain the same number of seats in the next election.
The Baluch people are spread over Pakistan, Iran, Oman, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. The majority of the Baluchs, however, live in the Pakistani provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan. They have Iranian and Central Asian origins but they live in South-West Baluchistan for centuries. The State of Kalat was functional in the 16th century.
The current province of Baluchistan came into being in 1970 after the end of One Unit. In fact, Baluchistan is not a homogeneous region of the Baluch people. North-west Baluchistan is predominately Pakhtun or Pushtun. If provinces represent ethnicity then present day Baluchistan should be divided into two separate units. The north-west part of the province should be part of Khyber Pakhtunkwa Province or it can exist as separate South Pakhtunkhwa province while central, south and south western areas should constitute Baluchistan.
Pakhtuns have their own problems. They are divided over petty issues. Big egos of political leadership appear to be a cause of the division. Pakhtun leadership in Baluchistan’s Pakhtun belt see themselves different than their northern cousins. A PkMAP minister told me that there was 180 degree difference between the PkMAP and the Awami National Party’s policies and approach. “Both the parties stand for the Pakhtun cause but we are like different ends of a pole”, he said. Some in the Baluch part of Pakhtunkhwa believe that they have a unique and distinctive entity and identity.
South-West Baluchistan under the British Raj consisted of princely states of Kalat, Las Bela, Kharan and Makran. By 1955 Pakistan had annexed all princely states and had brought them under its administrative control by creating Kalat and Las Bela divisions. In 1970, the both divisions became part of Baluchistan province.
The conflict in Baluchistan is older than Pakistan but it became bitter when the Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, had acceded to Pakistan in 1948 against the will of his people. Baluch nationalists say that out of the 560 princely states in the British India, Kalat had a special status because Kalat had signed a treaty with the British Government in London in 1876, not with the British administration in India. Under that treaty, they say, the British were bound to restore the independent status of Kalat after the end of the British rule.
According to Baluch nationalists, Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was legal adviser to the Khan of Kalat before the creation of Pakistan. As the legal adviser Mr. Jinnah had prepared the case for the independence of Kalat. Some Baluch nationalists refer to a meeting that was held on August 04, 1947 and was attended by Mr. Jinnah, the Khan of Kalat and Lord Mountbatten. At that meeting it was agreed that Kalat would get independence on August 05, 1947. Later when that decision was not implemented the Khan of Kalat unilaterally announced the independence of his state. After months of confusion and talks, in April 1948, with Mr. Jinnah’s approval the Pakistan Army moved in and had captured Kalat. The Khan surrendered and had signed the treaty to accede Kalat to Pakistan.
Tribal elders, including a brother of Mir Ahmad Yar Khan and other members of the Kalat Assembly, refused to accept that decision. They accused that Mr. Jinnah, the Governor General of Pakistan, acted differently from Mr. Jinnah, the legal adviser to the Khan of Kalat. They also argued that when the ruler of Kashmir acceded to India against the will of his people, Pakistan didn’t accept that decision and had launched a campaign to liberate Kashmir. But the same Pakistan annexed the state of Kalat against the will of Kalat people. Based on this rational, the Baluch started militant resistance that continues till date.
There were two major boiling points in the Baluch resistance. One was reached in 1958-59 when Pakistan’s military dictator General Ayub Khan had broken his promise by hanging those Baluch resistance leaders, who had surrendered after negotiations. That episode created bitterness among the Baluch people and they lost trust in Pakistan. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had successfully persuaded Baluch nationalists to sit in the Parliament. Baluch leadership had their input in the preparations and approval of the 1973 constitution. It was a big leap towards reconciliation but in 1973 Pakistan launched another military operation in Baluchistan.
The second major incident occurred when another military dictator General Mushraff put fuel on fire by killing a prominent Baluch leader Nawab Akbar Bugtti in yet another military operation.
As a result of the 67 years of resistance and bitterness, the Baluch nationalist groups have lost trust. They are using guns to achieve their goal. Pakistan’s ruling elite, on the hand, wants to impose identities and a political discourse upon a people who are very proud of their history, culture and identity. A complex political, economic and cultural issue will not be resolved through military means or at gunpoint.
In my humble opinion the use of 1876 treaty as a justification for independent Baluchistan by Baluch nationalists is a bit out of date and out of touch argument. The British had occupied and ruled India by signing treaties when and where it suited them. The British would break their own treaties and promises to protect imperial interests. Those were not treaties between equals but between rulers and subjects. Therefore the 1876 treaty is not a good argument for independence.
The Baluch are much better-off being part of Pakistan because geography dictates so. Economic interdependence, trade and transit routes and shared history and culture make a strong and logical case for Baluchistan to be part of a truly federal and democratic Pakistan that treats all its federating units equally, a Pakistan that respects all its people regardless of their race or faith, a Pakistan where all citizens enjoy their rights and fulfill their obligations.
Baluch complaints about the central government’s control over natural resources of Baluchistan and real and perceived exploitation of Baluchistani mineral resources are justified. Gas, for example, is supplied to the whole Pakistan from Sui gas fields in Baluchistan but out of 27 districts of Baluchistan less than 10 get the gas that is produced in the province. It is outrageous. The state and successive governments of Pakistan are responsible for this unfairness. Baluch grievances are absolutely right. The government has to implement the 18th amendment in letter and spirit under which provinces have control on the use natural resources in their respective areas. The 18th amendment is a start further changes for more autonomy or to clear ambiguities can be introduced by mutual agreement .
In Pakistan, a small elite defines and decides Pakistan’s national interest and security policies. It is done in secrecy and behind closed doors. This exclusivity and monopoly of determining national interest and national security policy is the major cause of mistrust between the State and its people.
A decade after the establishment of Pakistan, the military took control of the country and tried to introduce a certain definition of the Pakistani identity. Islam, Urdu language and shared Muslim history are components of that identity. The military see itself as a national institution with a central command & control system. Some in the military also want the same for the Pakistani society—a disciplined nation with strong center. The problem with this approach is that it ignores political, ethnic and cultural diversity of Pakistan.
Pakistan is a federation. In a federal parliamentary democratic system, non-representative and bureaucratic minds alone can’t decide ‘what is the national interest’. Pakistan will not become strong and it can’t progress without openness and transparency. More participation and consultation is needed in defining the ‘national interest’.
The major problem in Baluchistan is the trust deficit between the Sate and the Baluch people. Dr. Malik’s and his team are engaged in bridge building efforts but it is not an easy task after years of misunderstandings and resulting conflicts.
Immigration is another issue that Baluch resistance groups and nationalists exploit. They oppose developmental, industrial and educational projects fearing such projects would attract immigrants from other parts of Pakistan to Baluchistan. They say waves of immigrants will turn the Baluchs into a minority in their own homeland. From this standpoint, Baluch nationalist groups are opposed to the development of Gwadar Seaport, the construction of China Pakistan Economic Corridor and other plans & policies. While many of the Baluch grievances are justified and must be addressed, their opposition to economic development and communication infrastructure projects is wrong. This attitude can be termed xenophobic.
The world has changed. Multiculturalism and immigration are necessary components of economic and social development. The United States is a glaring example of that. Britain is a small island country but it is home to hundreds of communities and cultures which are contributing in the development of the United Kingdom.
Similarly, languages and cultures are assimilating and a new global culture of political, economic and social interdependence is developing. Openness to new languages and cultures is a sign of maturity, confidence and modernity. The more languages one knows the more successful she or he is. In the next 30 to 40 years, English will be the world’s main official and business language. Our children will communicate in this language. But globalization should not mean elimination of local cultures and identities. Nevertheless isolation and fortification on the grounds of very narrow nationalist narratives is not a wise strategy in this age of modern communication and economic and political integration and interdependence.
There is much talk of foreign interference in Baluchistan. The strategic location of Baluchistan and its natural resources attract foreign interest in this region. For example, Oman had sold Gwadar to Pakistan, now, it must be watching the development of Gwadar Seaport closely and so would be the UAE, Iran and other states. If India supports the Baluch resistance such support has a selfish motive of hurting Pakistan. Baluch nationalists are aware how India had opposed Kalat’s independence. For Baluch people, Pakistan will remain a much better option than Iran or India especially in the wake of new economic and political changes taking place in the region.