The problem with Balochistan

Published: July 22, 2010

Tyres set on fire during a protest by Balochistan National Party (BNP) activists against the killing of political leader Habib Jalib.

If I endeavor to draw a parallel between East Pakistan and Balochistan I’m sure it would be a well-founded one. The way the central government has continued to deny Balochis their rights it’s not too difficult to see how similar the situation is to that of East Pakistan. While all disturbances and revolts are attributed to ‘foreign’ hands’, the centre never ventures to ponder on what makes Balochistan a hotbed for such anarchy.

A very fleeting look instantly reveals that it has been an acute state of injustice, provincial inequality and continuous military repression that has pushed Pakistan’s largest province to the brink of rebellion. Extenstive military establishments throughout the region only affirm the notion that Federation has been using force and coercion rather than incentive and reform to contain local agitation.

The Balochistan issue dates back exactly to the days of Pakistan’s indepedence. For long, the ‘Iron Curtain’ extended by Islamabad over the region prevented the availability of first-hand narratives of the Balochis and their side of the story. All that the masses were ever told by the state machinery was that there was some turmoil in the province and that army had to intervene, times and again, to ‘save’ the people there. However, with an increasing surge of independent media channels, there is now at least an understanding of the fact that something unusual is up with Balochistan. Although such media outlets are still non-existent in Balochistan itself, where an attempt to establish a channel or newspaper often leads to arrest or alleged abduction by intelligence agencies, the Balochis’ plight is slowly being brought forth in limited media circles. And that is indeed a welcome sign.

A brief history of the issue

On August 12, 1947, New York Times published the following piece of news: “An announcement from New Delhi said that Kalat, Moslem State in Baluchistan, had reached an agreement with Pakistan for free flow of communications and commerce, and would negotiate for decisions on defense, external affairs and communications. Under the agreement, Pakistan recognizes Kalat as an independent sovereign state with a status different from that of Indian States.”

So was the state of affairs at the time of Pakistan’s independence. However, not too later, Khan of Kalat was asked to formally accede to Pakistan. Khan retaliated, stating that his state had been granted autonomy under the agreement. A Parliament of the local tribal heads and chieftains unanimously resounded the same sentiment. However, Mr. Jinnah, formerly Khan’s legal aide, was not to hear a ‘no’ and after having pressurized the Khan to sign the Instrument of Accession(as Khan noted later in his autobiography), army took control of the province, jailing him and dismembering his cabinet. Khan’s brother took to mountains, refusing to accept the decision and choosing to retaliate the army’s invastion. That marked the first armed retaliation against the central government.

Since the accession, four more popular armed uprisings have occured in the province, most of them dealt with by army and crushed cruelly. Despite the fact that Balochistan opted for autonomy at the time of independence, the Balochis today ask for their rights more so than the separation from Pakistan. And they would certainly have agreed to adopt the constitutional way had it yielded any results in the past. However, all parliamentary efforts from their end have proved futile and they remain highly disenchanted by the constitutional methods.

Provincial Inequality

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province comprising approximately 43 per cent of the total land area and supporting a population of about 7 million people. It is rich in a number of valuable minerals including vast copper and natural gas deposits. However, the sad fact is that while the entire country benefits from these resources, Balochis themselves are handed a meagre royalty for them and nothing else. A case study shall expound my point. Natural gas deposits were discovered in Balochistan in 1953. Household and commercial gas was supplied to Punjab from this source since as far back as 1964. But royalties were offered to Quetta only in 1980(the amount of this paid royalty is constant ever since) and it was connected with a gas supply in 1986. And today, as even Sindh’s remote areas enjoy the facility, out of Balochistan’s 26 districts, only 4 are supplied with gas.

It is this provincial inequality that has fiercely triggered the sense of deprivation among Balochi masses. Even the provincial governments have been severely inhibited in their efforts to improve conditions because of the fact that Islamabad takes direct decisions over policies governing the province.

In the past, a number of nationalist leaders have been elected to the parliament. Nawab Akbar Bugti had served both as the Governor and the Chief Minister of the province. Ataullah Mengal and Akhtar Mengal also lead the provincial government in the capacity of being Chief Ministers. Nonetheless, all these unromantic partenerships with the center ended abruptly with the center wielding it’s power by disregarding these nationalist office-holders and their reservations. To cite an instance, Nawab Akbar Bugto resigned after his disagreements with the Federal Government at the latter’s decision to launch a military operation in Balochistan. Similarly, the nuclear experiments at Chaghai were carried out without any consultation with the Chief Minister or the provincial cabinet. The people in the region continue to suffer severe health problems because of the after-effects of those experiments with no compensation from the Government of Pakistan.

These experiments have hugely disenchanted the local masses of the significance of constitutional furthering of their plights. An increasing number of them, especially the youth, view military response as the only viable solution. However, the mainstream nationalist leaders are still ready to engage in dialogue only if they’re assured that the terms agreed upon at the occasion of accession shall be honored. These include much more provincial autonomy and provincial say in regional affairs.

Terrorism and Counter-terrorism – who’s who and what’s what

The Army has become an integral part of the Balochistan equation since the very start. It has gradually moved from a partial, distant control of the region to a more organized control, replacing the levies forces and bringing a very large part under it’s reign. In local culture, it has become synonymous with extra-judicial abductions, killings and missing persons.

According to UN reports, about 8000 Balochis have gone missing since 2005. And that’s a very small part of the larger picture. Army has been increasingly deployed by the center to extend a firm grip and bring the local dissidents into the fold of central command. Naturally, this has resulted in a very hostile reaction from Balochis who view army garrisons as a sign of enroachment on their nationalism. To them, all army activities in the region are a version of state terrorism.

Federation, on the other hand, is extremely sensitive towards Baloch national sentiments and it’s definition of terrorism terms everyone with a separatist agenda as a terrorist. Such sweeping generalizations have lead to the arrests and abductions of thousands, the whereabouts of many of which stay unknown after years. Center is of the opinion that if it fails to address these anti-national and separatist outbursts, it’s grip on the province will weaken.

When talking of terrorism in Balochistan, Balochistan Liberation Army is not a name to be missed. BLA has been increasingly active in recent years. And increasingly violent too, allegedly killing scores of Punjabis or anyone having the slightest to do with Punjab.

According to the political activists in the region, BLA enjoys mass support and the sole reason this support is extended is because they fight. BLA is said to comprise educated, young Balochis, many of them engineers, doctors, lawyers, barristers and other highly qualified personnel. Evidently, the democratic franchise has so weakened in the province that people consider an armed struggle as the only viable solution. Needless to state this has put the lives of thousands of immigrants in Balochistan in jeopardy.

Plight of the Baloch

Balochis have a set of traditions and norms that strike one as unique at the very first look. Like Pashtuns, they are not a creed easily diminished or invaded. Likewise, they have never given up their struggle for an honorable existence. Ever since their forced accession, they have been denied basic rights. The region lacks health, educational and land reforms and the basic infrastructure is very underdeveloped. To top it, they have been in an unnamed subjugation to the army.

An average Balochi today asks for just one thing: basic rights. They want federal government to expend the money that’s earned through their resources in the same region. They want schools, hospitals and infrastructure development. Above everything else, they want the Center to grant provincial autonomy and stop meddling with local politics. Unlike most of Pakistan’s other region, Balochistan is still safe from the plague of extremism. And contrary to the popular media-made perceptions, Balochis are an enlightened lot. The nationalist leaders, including Khan of Kalat and Ataullah Mengal, agree upon the establishment of a modern, secular democracy should Balochistan be awarded provincial autonomy. This is also the view of an average Balochi today who has put aside his tribal prejudice to purse this common cause.

At the start of this article, I strove to establish a parallel between 1971’s East Pakistan and today’s Balochistan. And I still hold that the two have striking resemblances. Back in 1971, the federal Government kept playing blind to the horrendous discrimination committed towards East Pakistan. And when the eventual backlash started, no self-chastenings would work. If India or other ‘foreign’ hands were able to exploit the situation, it was because the situation was volatile enough already. Bengalis had been neglected for decades and when the army started its saga of atrocities against them, their choice became obvious – separation. Balochistan today seems to move towards a similar destiny. However, with the fragmented resistance put up by Baluchis, it’s a long way before they can claim power enough for a successful armed struggle.

Meanwhile, the centre and the Army has had time enough to ponder over their utterly flawed policies, policies which have only worsened the situation over the last 63 years and solved nothing. President Zardari’s government did declare a Balochistan package but like all it’s past counterparts, it’s been mere words and no actions thus far. These policies and the proposed reforms must be implemented without any delay and before the breaking point is reached, we must find a common ground where both Federation and Balochistan can guard it’s interests without fringing upon each other’s rights. If this is not done, and the chances seem thin with the Federation’s total lack of interest in addressing the Balochis’ plight, I fear that we may have to face another 1971.


Salman Latif

A blogger who blogs at and tweets @salmanlateef

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

  • fajim khan

    This article is another example of the prevailing narrative of the baloch as the victimized,downtrodden ppl at the hands of the pakistani state.

    Why no anchor,blogger has ever done an article on the settler civilians mercilessly murdered in balochistan over the last few years.Doctor,engineers,professors have been deliberately targetted & killed,only because they were punjabi or urdu speaking.

    No one in our media gives airtime or newspaper space to condemn the deliberate murders of these innocent civilians.

    Everyone is trying to outdo each other in bringing one sidedly to light the plight of one ethnic group in balochistan,but a most shameful silence prevails on the targetted murders of other ethnic groups.Recommend

  • owais ahmed

    @ fajim, i agree completely.

    Our media decides what the public’s opinion about certain matters should be & then does all to make sure that viewpoint is established as the only correct one.

    ppl living in balochistan for 40,50 years have been brutally killed,their businesses attacked,their families threatened & all our great anchors have maintained a deafening silence on this issue.

    Why has the media decided that the murder of a punjabi or urdu speaker is not murder???

    Are punjabis children of a lesser god???Recommend

  • Meher Zaidi

    You have put all the points which are known popularly about Baluchistan very clearly in your article. Akhtar Ali has addressed many of these issues in his book “Pakistan’s developmnt challenges”. Some of his articles on blog also address these issues lucidly.Recommend

  • Saleem Kirla

    Yes, the Pakistan Army and the establishment have been at fault for much of what’s gone wrong in Balochistan.

    But when you talk about the Baloch people’s plight, and that development and basic rights have not reached the province, are these two the only entities responsible? Why is it that despite the billions the Bugtis (when they were aligned with the center) and other tribal leaders got from the government over decades never resulted in development for the Baloch?

    The leadership of the BLA, which still pegs itself on the leadership of sardars, is going to bring about all that? Democracy, social services and economic development? Hardly. You cannot draw parallels between a highly educated leadership (East Pakistan/Bangladesh) with the BLA and secessionist Baloch who will continue with the sardari system. The Pakistan Army and the government have put the Baloch people through enormous hardship and pain, but the BLA and/or secessionist sardars will bring even more of that.Recommend

  • Nina

    It is the system of feudalism that must be dismantled in Balochistan. It is these feudal landlords that are choking the common man of Balochistan, not the central govt. They do not give anything to the poor but keep it for themselves to expand their wealth base.

    Killings of other groups by the Baloch, eg. Punjabi and Urdu speaking should also be accurately researched and presented. Why in Lahore, no one is going around killing such and such because he is a Baloch? Recommend

  • Patriot

    How many billions have been given to baluch sardars as royalty for gas and how much have they invested in people? The lush green gardens of Bugti’s palace in the barren dera bugti gives the answer…. Pakistan Zindabad!Recommend

  • Awais

    It has been a state of irony that we haven’t been able to own our largest province in terms of land and having such a great strategic importance, and now because of our system and leadership we are facing a proxy war in this province. India , Russia, U.S.A & China have shifted this menace to our door step in order to create havoc and precede each other as a Part of great game.

    We were engaged in Afghanistan but now we are busy destroying the sovereignty of the country for the sake of dollars and drones.Recommend

  • Salman Latif

    First of all the Punjabis’-killing argument:
    Well…what else do we expect from a people that’s been oppressed since 1947? To weigh us in flowers or what? Of course the killings are condemnable and of course they are not justified but is that the only lame argument that could be produced to answer the plight of baluchis? What of the 8000 missing Balochis since 2005? What of the frequent killings of BNP personnel, two dead in the last week? What a shame it is that we still tend to deploy the same tactic we deployed towards East Pakistan: whenever they talk of their rights, tell them of a wrong or two they committed and that’s the end of the argument. Excellent!

    As for the tribal leaders conundrum, strange as it may seem to us sitting here in a well-developed province, the fact is that most Baluchis support these tribal leaders and vouch for them, primarily because it’s a part of their culture. Agreed that these tribal leaders have hindered, to some extent, the development in the region but when our valiant Mr. Musharraf could kill these leaders even when they are hiding in mountains, can’t the central government also procure development projects in the region, with the same determination? I have presented you with facts: the central government has been extremely reluctant in starting any development initiatives in the region. The ‘billions’ given to tribal heads in subsidy are the same amount which was decided in 1985 and hasn’t changed ever since. Tribal leaders were elected to the parliament and wanted to raise the plight of Balochistan in the Center but they were never heeded and consequently, most of them resigned mid-term.

    Let’s stop making excuses over the issue and realize that it’s of an imminent nature and needs to be resolved immediately. Else wise, let’s be ready for another 1971 with our shameful excuses!Recommend

  • Awais

    Its a war among warlords of Baluchistan just like Afghanistan, Neither of them is interested in the development and peace process. They are being supplied dollars,training and high tech weapons so that they can black mail the government and private enterprises.
    If the Federal Government is being tyrant to them , it is also the fault of these warlords. In all this a common man is being used.Recommend

  • Hamood

    There are millions of Baloch living peacefully in Punjab, I saw thousands of them in Lahore alone being treated as locals. However, how many Punjabis have been killed in Balochistan in the last ten years? Last time I checked they were not there to loot and plunder but were only teaching or treating the Baloch in schools and hospitals.Recommend

  • Hamood

    By the way your parallels between East Pakistan and Balochistan are flawed. You are conveniently forgetting the MOST IMPORTANT point. There are no thousands of km’s of India between Balochistan and the rest of the country where Indians can foment unrest from. They are trying that via Afghanistan but it will not succeed because of the geography and proximity of Balochistan to the rest of the country.Recommend

  • H Baloch

    Every word of this article is on the basis of truth but still some ignorant people blaming Baloch Sardars in their comments, Pakistan army is created by British still bowing on the wishes of British and American to further Balkanize their own country.Here is my experience:
    When i graduated back in Zia era as civil engineer i went to see my local senator from Balochistan for fedral government job, where some jobs suppose to be reserve under Balochistan quota for Engineers from Balochistan, i was accompanied by two senator to meet Fedral Minister of communication(in Islamabad), who was from Balochistan and he confirmed that there are vacant position available but when he send us including the two senator from Balochistan to the Director of that department who was a local somewhere from Punjab,he clearly refused and said there was no candidate from Balochistan so those position were filled by local Engineers. From this experience i lost all my hopes for Pakistan where two senators and a fedral minster from Balochistan are nothing in front of Director from Punjab. Thanks
    God I am out of that country and i will pray for all those people still struggling to make a differnce aganist a huge greedy dollar loving army.Recommend

  • YLH

    This article has gotten its facts wrong. The document of accession delegated three subjects to Pakistan. The question of accession was resolved once Lasbela and smaller principalities aceded to Pakistan.

    I think people ought to read Ejaz Haider’s writing on Balochistan which clarifies a lot of these abstracts. Recommend

  • imran qadir

    The truth of instrument of accession of kalat is written by the ppl of Pakistan it self not by the baloch…
    But now the situation is out of Pakistan’s hand if Baluchistan is not given its independence it is going to become another Kashmir or Palestine…
    Any where when force is applied on common ppl it is feudalism and our army is killing thousands of innocent baloch to get the guerrilla’s of BLA but has never got one and by the way who is the leader of BLA??? ANS. no one.. one of the best organizations of the time… Just think and i talk of them because i have seen just because of BLA i am able to establish my business in Baluchistan of government contractor at an age of 24, before this the department i work for used to be giving these contracts to ppl from Punjab and Islamabad on the orders of the executive.
    So please first we should look inside ourselves then point on others…. One mistake done by Musharraf of killing Nawab sahab and Nawabzada balach marri has brought balochistan to this stage..Those sardars are there national hero’s so please do not criticize them…
    Compare the number of ppl killed in 2010 in target killing in Karachi and those of the settlers of Baluchistan u will get ur ans…
    God bless our country and what we have is enough for us and we should get it better rather than as it is now.
    For the settlers of Baluchistan.

  • momina

    y u all r fighting on such an issue…v r pakistani………neither balochi nor punjabi……..remember guys…..b calm n cool……n sort out a plan to come out of such war condition…to become a true independent state……plz…..its hurts the dignity n ideology of pakistan…..both center and provinces are responsible for such sinario…as “TALI KABI K HATH SEY NI BAJTI”
    love pakistan…love pakistani……… true pakistani… :)Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    @Salman Latif:
    Your a lot of bull talking, your too obsessed with the so-called second class treatment of ethnic Balochi’s and yet you fail to ignore the realities on the ground, some of the above commentators are not making excuses. Some of the realities are ugly, Bugti and his type, the Elite of the province are just hungry for power, land and control, which is why instead of getting the educated Baloch youth towards a process of provincial development, their instead making them take up arms, attack their own government, and mercilessly kill their own civilians. And this whole second class treatment bit your talking about, it is not right, but it happens everywhere, especially amongst developing countries, their always communities and ethnic groups that receive some sort of second class treatment, whether we are India or Pakistan or even the European Union. Even in Israel, amongst its Jewish population, there is discrimination by Ashkenazi (northern European Jews) towards Serphardic (Southern European Jews) and Mizrahi Jews (Non White, Arab and Oriental Jews). In India, the South Eastern State of Kerela feels deprived and discriminated against by the government in New Delhi, but despite feeling a sense of hostility towards New Delhi, they did not take up arms, they developed their state, the private sector, the Kerelans with the help of expat remittences developed the State, even the Cochin airport was built by private money, and not the mention the hundreds of hospitals, schools and infrastructural projects.Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    and Yes I also agree with the above commentator, far more people are killed in Karachi every year and mostly due to their political associations rather than their ethnicity then the entire province of Balochistan. This is my message to my Baloch brothers, Come live in Karachi, and experience life here as a citizen of the city, and you will get an idea of the reality of life in Pakistan, problems your province faces is not limited to Balochistan, there are problems the entire country is facing. Recommend

  • rana asad

    i think w r al pakistanis.we shoud not show our enemity towards each other because we al are facing with same problems and issues.our young generation shud do some extra work for the solution of these doubt punjab is enjoing more opportunities and facilites than other provinces but there are many resposibilites and burdns on punjab along with this progress.our government must look these issues and do something for the solution of these issues as soon as possible because we have already lost east pakistan due to the bulendres of our it is the duty of al pakistanis to come forward on a single track and we shud raise salongs for the safety and peace of pakistan.our ideology is same we have one moto than what is punjabi,sindhi,balochi and pathan?we shud come forward for our country not for our provinces.m proud to b a pkistani.i love pakistan and pakistan zindabad.may live long pakistan.Recommend

  • aprolink

    Balochistan issue is our own issue ,we all have to be united to resolve this major issue of Pakistan