Balochistan: Self-inflicted misery?

Published: September 12, 2014

Quetta, I should say, was one of the most peaceful places in Pakistan, where the locals of all ethnicities had been living in harmony for time immemorial. PHOTO: ISRAA SHAH

My fondest childhood memories are of rolling down the landscaped gardens of the rest-house located beside the Quaid-e-Azam’s residency in Ziarat. The undulating open space spotted with the frosted looking juniper trees provided an ideal environment for the equally inviting wooden dens; and the fresh dew on the grass under the clear blue sky was then so tempting for us to feel.

Visiting these dream homes used to be the highlight of our summer vacations. The short picnics to Hanna Lake, Ziarat and Wali Tangi were enriching and peaceful to say the least. Quetta, I should say, was one of the most peaceful places in Pakistan, where the locals of all ethnicities had been living in harmony for time immemorial.

Western tourists pose with a group of locals outside a rest house in Ziarat in Balochistan (1974). Photo: Shahzeb Khan Khichi Facebook page

The political landscape, however, has changed within a decade. And the burning down of Quaid’s residency was a monumental loss and a symbolic action against the state.

Visiting this volatile city is now a risk very few take; a walk down its once sheltered streets is almost inconceivable. Contrary to popular belief, the people bearing the brunt of this unrest are mostly the “settlers”. These are people who settled in Balochistan but are not the locals, for example the Punjabis and Hazaras. This label has become a part of their identity after the conflict started.

The overt observation, though not necessarily the real cause, is that some of the Balochis and the Baloch Liberation Army’s sentiment about Pakistan, as a State, and its military are highly bitter. Separatist groups and conflicts rose rapidly after the assassination of Baloch tribe leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti. The conflict and associated chaos caused by sectarian violence and target killings has cost us an innumerable number of lives and misery. Not only is the killing of Bugti considered unjustified, they also feel they have not been treated equally, such as on grounds of socio-economic and political advancement. Which is, on many fronts, an undeniable fact.

National Party Vice-President Hasil Bizenjo remarked on this and said,

“There is a joke in the province that if you want authorities to stop pursuing a murder case, have it claimed by one of the many rebel groups operating in Balochistan”.

Picture in Quaid’s residency, before it was burned down. Photo: Israa Shah

This thought has arguably led to a separatist ideology; some Baloch feel they are better off without links to Pakistan. This aggression has maligned relations between the locals and the settlers, though most Baloch people do not share the same separatist view. The animosity reflects major failure on part of the government to maintain solidarity within the state. However, it is not just a struggle for equality, in the midst of it all, religious minorities have taken major hits which makes one wonder if the external government intervention, in the form of the Frontier Corps (FC), has effectively put an end to this problem. Is the Taliban the sole reason behind this violence or is it the BLA, as they like to call themselves, marking their territory?

Sectarian homicide continues to be the prime challenge in the province today. The province now has a decade-long mutiny as part of its history that is yet to be resolved. Generations and families have been destroyed because of acts of intolerance. It affects the freedom of people; the constant fear of being a target diminishes the quality of life of people engulfed in fear and, consequently, at enmity.

In my opinion, what is happening in Balochistan is an example of extremism that is covered as Baloch nationalism; it is an oft mentioned source of problems around the world today. Extremism has many faces and it greatly effects society today, and threatens lives and livelihood of those involved and those that are not. Moreover, they manipulate religion and nationalism for gains of a few, as the saying goes; one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.

Hanna Lake. Photo: Israa Shah

Another factor that comes to mind is that the Baloch aren’t the only ones demanding separation on grounds of inequality; this has also been the concern of the people in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) region. However, even though the government has done little for them, the people of G-B have sustained themselves far better than anywhere else in Pakistan. They have the highest literacy rate in the country, with no thanks to government, and are independent in all senses of the word, save for a demarcation line drawn out on a map. But the same cannot be said about Balochistan. Despite the government’s shortcoming, the feudal system in Balochistan has made life worse for the people, if anything. The poor have become poorer, and the settlers are facing a form of ‘ethnic cleansing’ while the feudal lords enjoy their own life of bubbled luxury. The province, on its own, has not helped itself or proven that it would, in any way, be able to sustain itself alone.

Quetta city. Photo: Israa Shah

The Hazara, Punjabi and Urdu-speaking people residing within the province have been particularly subjected to ruthless brutality. These ‘settlers’, as they are called, cannot roam freely within the city without fear of being killed, victimised or abducted. The violence is not limited to young men; even women, children and the elderly face the same threat. Countless settlers have lost their lives in the face of this ethnic cum religious cleansing, and it is only recently that the media has acknowledged the suffering and highlighted their plight. The numbers of missing people cases reported by the official commissions and those given by non-governmental organisations reflect the gap in media reporting. In 2013, Nasrullah Baloch, the chairperson of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons stated that,

“621? Not at all. 23,000 is the number of registered cases. From this, a whole 14,000 came during the current government’s tenure.”

Despite lack of support from the government or media, the settlers have bravely strived in the face of all this horror. The only refuge they seek from the conflict is to migrate out of the province to other locations, especially Punjab. However, this migration is not an easy option either. Aside from the fact that it is difficult to leave one’s birthplace, it is also a costly affair to resettle entire families to a new area, not to mention starting afresh professionally. Furthermore, it is risky for them to announce their plans of migrating and sell their assets, due to threats.

Hanna Lake. Photo: Israa Shah

From afar, it is hard to imagine the pain of those who consider this province their origin; it is hard to imagine the pain of people whose family members are shot outside their workplace or their young children who are abducted from their own houses.

Quaid’s residency, before it was burned down. Photo: Israa Shah

Why is it that people who have been living in the province since pre-partition are considered ‘settlers’ and in times of trouble are seen as the scapegoats? Why is it that they can no longer call their home, home? Suddenly, their neighbour is not a neighbour anymore. He is the enemy.

Israa Shah

Israa Shah

She enjoys travelling and eating.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Rashid Nadeem

    ppl of Gilgit baltistan have been demanding independence really? Now that is called irresponsible journalism i am from GB and i neer knew thatRecommend

  • Akmal Ahmed Khan

    The article contrary to its branding, is an advocacy of settlers. I am not saying that the settlers’ problems should not be highlighted; the “miseries of settlers” is a fact that cannot be denied but the “miseries of settlers” is not the fundamental and only problem of the province. If you talk only about Quetta which is the only place the settlers reside in a sizeable number, maybe then their problems are the major ones.

    The writer quotes Chairperson of Baloch missing Person who obviously is reporting figures generally about missing ‘Baloch’ persons, to bash media for misreporting about lives of settlers.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Pretty pictures , Prettier description of the landscape – Luring and inviting me to explore and discover . Hope to visit one day . At least the temples in that region – But then .. if wishes were horses …Recommend

  • Hussain V.

    Very well elucidated. A sad example that we have learnt nothing from the separation of West Pakistan. The Bengali’s (fishermen folk) took the pain of becoming an active part in the governance reacted democratically through Mujeeb. The Baloch have simply reacted like the tribesmen they are. Very saddening.Recommend

  • Xeric

    Thankyou for displaying the courage to tell the truth.Recommend

  • AK

    I would like to point out at that Quetta is actually part of the Pashtun belt of Baluchistan, if you want to see the real Balochistan then travel further south.

    There are still some if not many Pro-Pakistani Baloch, just look at Mohammad Waseem the Baloch boxer that won us a silver medal at the commonwealth games recently.Recommend

  • Settler

    There are a two sides to every story and for the first time a major publication in Pakistan is showing the other side(the settlers side) of the story, otherwise the mainstream media only shows the plight of the rebels and missing persons, but not that of settlers who live in constant terror too; the media and liberal pundits as well as nationalist parties would ignore the brutality that is meted out by the BLA/BRA towards the settlers and even towards their own people to cook up a storm.

    I hope ET posts my comment, we must also condemn these rebel militias and their self-exiled Sardars for doing the same if not worse.

    You paint anything in black and white;Recommend

  • Sami

    I have met many Punjabi and Urdu Speaker settler families who have left Balochistan especially Quetta and believe me according to their accounts many times Pushtoons used the rebel situations to take over the Businesses of so called Settlers and almost all the businesses left behind by Urdu+Punjabi speakers in Quetta are now taken over by Pushtoons.
    So if Balochs were forcing so called settlers to leave Balochistan then Personalities like Achakzai, Nationalist Pushtoons and parties like Pkmap Exploited this opportunity and they spread the venom of using the word Settler for anyone who is not a Baloch or a Pushtoon and living in Balochistan.
    The same situation is now fanned in Karachi where many Pushtoon gangsters are trying to take over the businesses of Urdu+Punjabi speakers and they work in collusion with Lyari gangs to oust many businessmen from many localities of Karachi. So there is not one party to the conflict only and Economic interests drive such issues as well. Also many silent spectators are ready to exploit such situations for their own gainsRecommend

  • Parvez

    Possibly a bit of investigation into the doings of Baloch Sardars ( just a handful ) who rule and are extremely powerful may give a better idea into why things are the way they are in the province.Recommend

  • Lua

    You literally have no idea about Balochistan’s history. This is the most ignorant piece of writing on this topic I’ve ever come across in my entire life. The sad bit is that you, as a staffer, were allowed to go ahead and get this published – what should have happened is a lecture in history from one of your superiors instead. Baloch dissent does not date back to the Bugti assassination. It goes much much further back, to a time when the Quaid was actually alive. I implore you: read a goddamn book and educate yourself.Recommend

  • Ameer Ayaz

    more than three years gone we have not heard any punjabi or urdu speaking killed in Quetta its only hazara people who cannot freely roam.Recommend

  • Ahsan

    Israa has painted the picture well. We are the source of our ills, upon which every internal and external opportunist capitalises. Net result = unrest of today.

    All issues will be solved when common sense prevails.Recommend

  • malik

    “In my opinion, what is happening in Balochistan is an example of extremism that is covered as Baloch nationalism”

    You have dismissed the entire Baloch struggle with that one line !!Recommend

  • indus

    There isn’t a so called ‘struggle’, nowhere in the world is a struggle led by nawabs and fuedal landlords, and that too from outside the country.Recommend

  • kk

    Nation building is a sort of a illusion for us .We are still divided in settlers hazaras and locals .clear mind is the solution for every problem .let’s see when we be able to get out of thisRecommend

  • Moiz Omar

    If we invest in Balochistan province then the insurgency will go away. May peace come soon.Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    Don’t generalize all pushtuns.Recommend

  • Akmal Ahmed Khan
  • Akmal Ahmed Khan
  • naeem khan

    a shameful narrative which is actually the continuation of what our establishment is harping for the past 65 years. such a piece cannot be produced by any reasonable thought the writing is actually rubbing the salt in the wounds of BalochsRecommend

  • abhi

    I think you may be a settler too.Recommend

  • Akmal Ahmed Khan

    No Baloch has accepted responsibilty for forcing out settlers, accepting that they are responsible for this is being blindfold about facts.

    Secondly, Pashtoons are the largest business community in Quetta so if someone leaves a gap, they are there to fill it and nothing is wrong with it.

    I think you are not living in Quetta cause if you did you would have seen many settlers happily displaying protraits of Mahmood Khan Achakzai and PKMAP posters in their shops. I live in Quetta and I have never seen a settler who has talked against Achakzai.
    Finally, if you are determined to post anti-Pashtoons comments on any topic then it can’t be helped.Recommend

  • Qahaar

    Freedom is prerequisite for being a human. If Baluch think that they are not free then they have to free themselves.Recommend

  • trekker

    There are almost no settlers in Gilgit-Baltistan, in fact the Northern Light Infantry of the Pakistan armed forces is made up of locals from Gilgit-Baltistan!Recommend

  • Settler

    Yes, Baloch fuedal landlords dissent against the state dates back to when the khan of kalat acceded his princely state into Pakistan but then backtracked though Awaran,Lasbela and Makran still voted to join, it then went to an armed conflict which proved easy to subdue.

    The Baloch were divided back then when Akbar Bugti endorsed the Quaid and the Khoso and Jamali tribes(who went on to produce 2 Prime Ministers) were always pro-state – it was the Marris who were consistently and fervently anti-state though Changez Marri is with the government and so is the Khan of Kalat’s son.

    The Mengal’s and Bizenjo are still in the country open to dialouge but the Marris have always been anti state.Recommend

  • Politically Incorrect

    Not all missing persons are ‘Baloch’, there are many missing non-Baloch too, including settlers and the people responsible aren’t just the FC but the rebels too; the Baloch nationalists quote the figure of missing persons implying that all of them are ‘Baloch’, when in fact there is a sizable number of non-Baloch missing including settlers.Recommend

  • Imran Rajjad

    I think the NFC award thing that happened should be starting to solve the problem, that is someone is seious about Balochis.Recommend

  • Imran Rajjad

    maybe she meant..they did not want to be part of kashmirRecommend

  • Nero

    “In my opinion, what is happening in Balochistan is an example of extremism that is covered as Baloch nationalism” – This is the most ignorant statement, and I won’t even mention the complete ignorance of Baloch history. Dear author, all the major Islamic extremist organizations in Balochistan have been created and fed by security establishment. It is the establishment’s way of distorting Baloch society – create Islamist agents and use them to fight the insurgents. You can see their manifestations in Panjgur, where some of them have been threatening little girls from going to school. Talibanizations is establishment’s answer to everything, Pakistan be damned in the process. That is the tragedy of it all!Recommend

  • Settler

    Being a “settler” in the province i urge Lua to live a day like we do in our and our fathers birth place. Being under constant threat of persecution often being fatal this is the reality today!! Lets not cry about what happened 60 years ago and kill in innocent people in their name!
    Frankly i dont care who started what, Stop this hatred!
    Baloch leaders roam around in their bullet proof land cruisers in spotless white cotton suits calling themselves royalty and preaching hatred on what happened half a century ago?Recommend

  • Ahmed

    This is perhaps one of the “very few” articles which sheds light on the miserable lives of the settlers in balochistan.

    We hear about the baloch grievances and many of them are justified due to the state’s negligence and brutality but how often do we read a piece of the unknown injustice done daily on the thousands who are too scared to even talk about it. The punjabi barbers the urdu speaking teachers the hazara workers the hindu traders, who is talking to them?? Who is concerned for their children, their security?

    I support all discussion against injustice irrespective of creed and i think its about time my nation does too and we stop dividing ourselves under nationalistic banners!Recommend

  • Shoaib Zaheer

    Ye blog is piece of joke.The are lot of settlers living in agencies kay saath wo log maaray not everyone is forced.being a bugti,i know many people still living there and in respectable positonsRecommend

  • Shoaib Zaheer

    Ye blog is piece of joke.The are lot of settlers living in agencies kay saath wo log maaray not everyone is forced.being a bugti,i know many people still living there and in respectable positonsRecommend

  • Shoaib Zaheer

    The article written clearly shows khiyali pulao nothing elseRecommend

  • Shoaib Zaheer

    The article written clearly shows khiyali pulao nothing elseRecommend

  • naseeb

    Dear Author.. u have just focused on your English and ignored information side.. you are totally talking opposite ground realities. it is better to rephrase all sentence after getting the right information regarding Balochistan. thank uRecommend

  • Saif

    “Enjoy travelling and eating” dear blogger. I don’t find any reason to criticism this article. For, it is such an ignorant piece that is erroneous in its assumptions, factually incorrect (what is most typical of today’s insurgency is that it is lead by middle class without any involvement of any Sardar; and they also dissent Sardars. The rebels are more close towards left in their ideological out look. Moreover, the rebels are no more demanding/fighting for ‘inequality’, instead, the discourse has entirely changed: they want to see the Balochs as separate nation, regardless inequalities inflicted upon them or not. Perhaps, because of their left leaning we see Baloch women actively contribuitng towards the discourse of separatism, which is very rare in Pakistan), and inadequate (she may have talked to some people in Quetta or Ziarat; had she been to Mastung, and further deep into Baloch population she might have realized that what % of the population needs separate state. Had it been a chunk of people the insurgency would have not continued until now since independence).Recommend