Uncanny resemblance: Is Balochistan the next Bangladesh?
It has been 41 years today. 41 years ago, Pakistan was broken up into two parts, the former West Pakistan and Bangladesh. Apart from a distance of around 1000 miles separating the two parts of Pakistan, there was enough resentment on part of East Pakistani populace that manifested in a demand for provincial autonomy.
East Pakistan supplied so much of revenue to the federation but got little development in response. Moving the capital from Karachi to Islamabad and limited participation of East Pakistanis in the bureaucracy were some other contentious issues. In the national elections held in 1970, Bengali Nationalist Party, Awami Party, won majority of seats in the National Assembly. Following palace intrigues and a military operation, there was no transfer of power and after the military’s defeat in December, 1971, Bangladesh came into being.
I am reiterating all this today because I am extremely worried about another part of Pakistan following a similar fate. There is little to no understanding or national dialogue on the issue of Balochistan, what our state has done there and what lies in the future.
Let’s talk a little about Balochistan today. I’d like to start with brief history of the province and then the problems it has faced.
The term ‘Balochistan’ is a Persian origin word made of ‘Baloch’ and ‘Aastan’, which means ‘The place of the Baloch (people)’.
Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan and by area constitutes 47% of the country. Before the independence of Pakistan in 1947, Balochistan primarily comprised of four ‘princely states’ and a ‘British Baluchistan’ province during the British Raj that were later amalgamated to form the Pakistani province of Balochistan later. These states were, Kalat, Lasbela, Makran and Kharan.
The periods of 1948, 1958, 1962-69, and 1974-77, and the current post-2000s eras are pertinent where political tensions have led to varying degrees of violence in Balochistan. Nationalist elements allege of a forced accession of the old Baloch princely states of Kalat and its vassals in March 1948, as well as crackdown on nationalist activity throughout the last 64 years as cause of deepening animosity towards Pakistan among the Baloch.
Khan Abdul Karim Khan’s rebellion, with nearly a hundred followers over Kalat’s controversial accession to Pakistan, was the first phase of conflict in Balochistan until he was apprehended and jailed by the authorities. The second phase was over the dissolution of the Balochistan States Union and its incorporation into the ‘One Unit’ system of West Pakistan in 1958. This phase began by the arrest of the Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, by the regime of General Ayub Khan, and reached its peak with the Jhalawan disturbances led by a Khan of Kalat loyalist, the elderly Nawab Nauroz Khan Zarakzai and his Zehri tribal militia.
He and his followers were later arrested and incarcerated for life.
The third phase was led by the Baloch Peoples Liberation Front (BPLF) of Sher Muhammad Marri against the Ayub regime. The fourth phase was in wake of the dismissal of the National Awami Party (NAP) government in Balochistan by Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and the arrest of NAP leaders. This caused a large scale rebellion by various Baloch tribes against Pakistan and the military was called in to quell the rebellion with added help from Iran. It only ended when Bhutto was deposed in a military coup by General Zia-ul-Haq in 1977 and general amnesty was announced to Baloch rebels to end the hostilities.
After a lull period for nearly 25 years, different militant groups like the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) had started to utilise the power vacuum in Afghanistan to launch sporadic attacks inside Pakistani Balochistan.
However, the recent phase of conflict escalated due to the killing of former Balochistan Chief Minister and prominent tribal chief Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti during a military operation against his armed militia in 2006.
What initially began with disputes over royalty and rental payments for extraction of natural gas from Dera Bugti district of Balochistan, spiralled out of control and became an armed insurgency.
The comparisons with Bangladesh are apparent.
Balochistan is providing the rest of Pakistan with natural gas and coal and has abundant mineral reserves at Saindak and Reko Diq. According to the Pakistan National Human Development Report 2003, Balochistan and its districts were assessed to be the worst off in Pakistan. Amongst the top 31 districts with the highest HDI, Punjab had by far the largest share at 59 per cent, while Balochistan lagged far behind at nine per cent.
“An overview of the development scene in Balochistan is appalling and the extent of relative deprivation in the province is unspeakable”.
92 per cent of Balochistan’s districts are classified as ‘high deprivation’ compared to 50 per cent in Sindh and 29 per cent in Punjab.
The story at the population level is equally grim. The Pakistan Integrated Household Survey 2001-02 revealed that Balochistan had the most poor (48 per cent of the province’s population) and the worst level of rural poverty (51 per cent).
Balochistan has the highest infant and maternal mortality ratio in South Asia; 25 per cent of the population has access to electricity (national average, 75 per cent) and the male literary rate is 18.3 per cent and the female literacy rate, a mere seven percent.
For a lot of apolitical/recently political youth of Pakistan, there is a lot to be known about Balochistan and even now, it’s not too late. Balochis are as equally Pakistanis as the rest of us. They need to be given equal share of attention as is given to insane political feuds in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. In the progressive circles, sympathy with Baloch nationalists is a fashion statement. The only news we get from Balochistan is bad news.
Target killings, missing persons, sectarian trouble and dumped corpses are the only few issues that are deemed important by national media to be discussed in Balochistan’s perspective. Superficial steps including the Balochistan Rights Package have improved nothing. I believe that until youth in other provinces start taking interest in the affairs of Balochistan and what is happening there, very little is going to change.
We can’t afford another Bangladesh and for that not to happen, we need to learn about Balochistan. For starters, we need to talk about it.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.