Balochistan continues to be shaped by the state’s dominant narrative – by Mahvish Ahmad

by admin

News on Balochistan continues to be shaped by the state’s dominant narrative: Of a province that is, and always has been, rightfully Pakistani. But a cursory look at a Baloch version of events – rarely if ever (re)presented in the Pakistani media – paints another picture. A picture not of agreements and friendship. But of betrayal.

Abdul Wahab Baloch is afraid to talk on the phone. In 2008, he was picked up by security agencies after leading a rally through Karachi protesting the 10th anniversary of Chagai-I – the notorious underground nuclear tests that polluted a Baloch district to serve Pakistan’s national security interest. After a post-rally search for a friend[i] ended in a brutal three-day torture fest involving baggings, beatings and injections, Wahab is convinced that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is tapping his phone to keep an eye on his movements. Carefully surveilling where he is, who he is with, and what he is saying. Another manifestation, says Wahab, of the oppressive state of Pakistan.

Wahab is among several hundreds of Baloch who have been kidnapped, tortured and (at times) brutally killed by Pakistan’s military and intelligence institutions. Their crime: Political sympathies or activities furthering the cause for a more autonomous, or outright independent, Balochistan. Their fates have been met with a silent (or silenced) Pakistani media, where news of the atrocities only started trickling in during the summer of 2011.

According to Wahab, this spate of state-led pick-ups has not taken place in a vacuum. Rather, it is part of a “historical pattern of betrayal”, where the Pakistani state has repeatedly broken specific agreements around the accession of Balochistan to Pakistan, the governing of the province and the sharing of Balochistan’s natural resources.

It is easy to excuse Wahab’s indictment of history as a separatist fantasy, one unsupported by facts or experience. He is, after all, the Chairman of the Baloch Rights Council and a member of the Baloch National Front, a coalition of separatist political parties fighting for an independent Balochistan. Separatist to the core, a sarmachar[ii] even, according to one bystander who observed our interview from afar. But Wahab and his companions are not alone with their memories of Pakistani betrayal. Baloch parties across the political divide share their sentiments. From the more pro-federation and pro-Pakistan Baloch National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) and National Party (NP), to the separatists of the Baloch National Movement (BNM) and the Baloch Republican Party (BRP). Diverging in their solutions, they unite in their memories. These memories have largely been silenced and, though difficult to reconstruct into an air-tight and unified narrative, they paint a picture of forced agreements, promises made and broken, of power brokered and un-shared, and of deep poverty amidst great wealth.

The First Betrayal: Annexation, not Accession

“We are Muslims, but it is not necessary that by virtue of our being Muslims, we should loose 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.”

Ghaus Bux Bizenjo, Speech at Dar-ul-Awam, Dhadar, Balochistan, December 14, 1947

Wahab Baloch has agreed to meet with me after a flurry of texts has been exchanged between my phone, and his numerous mobiles. Tightly holding on to the microphone I’ve handed him, he speaks in a low voice, narrating a (hi)story that remains hidden to most Pakistanis outside Balochistan. Already in the first few words, he begins to part ways with the conventional narrative.

“In March 1948 the Pakistani military forcibly annexed Balochistan. It is impossible to understand our demands, if you do not understand this fact. You see, we never wanted to be a part of Pakistan. That is why we declared our independence on August 11, 1947 — three days before Pakistan. Our wishes were betrayed. By the British, and then, by Pakistan in March 1948 when their troops marched into Balochistan and forced us to sign an accession treaty.”

The conventional narrative does not tend to the particularities of Balochistan’s entry into Pakistan. Usually, it limits itself to the occurrence of accession in March, 1948, followed by a swift move to the narration of parallel events around the country. But sometimes, Pakistani historians refer to a conference held in July, 1947, two months before Pakistan’s independence in August, where selected Baloch leaders called for Balochistan’s accession to Pakistan.

Political activists like Wahab contest the idea that Balochistan voluntarily acceded to Pakistan. They point out that the June 1947 conference is misrepresented by Pakistani historians, who claim that it reflected the wishes of the Baloch. A closer look at the conference reveals that its participants were limited to British-appointed Sardars (tribal leaders), and municipal authorities from what was known as “British Balochistan”, a northern strip of land ruled directly by the British and dominated by the ethnic Pashtuns. British Balochistan was separate from the much larger, southern Kalat State, dominated by the Baloch and governed by the British through a policy of indirect rule. Under this policy, the Khan of Kalat, and a loose network of Sardars were paid a regular fee in exchange for leasing their territory to the British Empire, and for promising their services and loyalty during the so-called “Great Game” with Tsarist Russia.[iii]

Neither the Khan of Kalat nor the Sardars of Kalat State participated in the July 1947 conference. When the Khan signed the accession treaty in March 1948, people like Wahab argue, it was under duress.

The idea that the Khan signed the treaty under compulsion is contested by some scholars and by the Khan in his own autobiography. However, the Khan admits that he signed the document because he feared for the very existence of Pakistan, and that he did not have the mandate to take the province into Pakistan in the first place.

The very existence of Pakistan was at stake. I realized that I must act now, and I must act quick. Therefore, without obtaining the formal sanction from the tribal Sardars, I signed the merger documents in my capacity as Khan-e-Azam on 30th March 1948. I confess I knew I was exceeding the scope of my mandate.[iv]

The Khan-e-Kalat’s autobiography served a political purpose, to disarm the new state’s animosity toward the Khan. The Khan ignored the very instrument that he had created prior to the accession, the two-chamber Kalat Assembly, consisting of a lower Dar-ul-Awam (House of Commons) house and an upper Dar-ul-Umara (House of Lords) house.[v] The houses are still criticized as being unrepresentative – many of its members appointed by the Khan of Kalat himself – but since no other institution or referendum took place in Balochistan to represent the interests of the Baloch, it is typically considered the only reflection of Baloch interests at the time. Both houses declared that they did not want to join Pakistan, and it was as a member of the former that Ghaus Bux Bizenjo, at the age of only 29, spoke words that still reverberate among Baloch today. He argues that being Muslim does not equal being a nation, and that though he was prepared for an “honorable relationship,” he did not want Balochistan to join Pakistan,

I do not propose to create hurdles for the newly created state in matters of defense, external affairs and communications. But we want an honorable relationship and not a humiliating one. We don’t want to amalgamate with Pakistan.

Later, Ghaus Bux Bizenjo became a pro-federation man, serving in government and contesting elections within Pakistan. Today, he is the symbolic father of the pro-federation National Party, and the father of Senator Hasil Khan Bizenjo. But despite his pro-Pakistan actions, he never disowned his speech, and even the most ardent pro-federation politicians today are hard-pressed to suppress the declarations of the only people’s institution at the time: that Balochistan wanted independence.

The Second Betrayal: Pakistan’s Broken Promises.

One week later, I meet with five students from Quetta, all members of the Baloch Student’s Organization-Azaad (Freedom). Just like Wahab, they have been difficult to get a hold of. But after various phone calls from different borrowed cell phones, I manage to set up a meeting.

I meet them in their large and roomy homes. The boys sitting around me are no more than 22 years old, ardent supporters of an independent Balochistan. Knowing that there are a fair number of political parties and groups within Balochistan who prefer engaging with the Pakistani state, I ask whether working with rather than against the government makes sense. “Only a fool or a traitor would do that,” they answer. “What’s the point of negotiations with a state that never keeps its word? It’s time to pick sides.”

These young people are obviously in favour of an independent Balochistan. But they are not alone with their views. These are broadly shared, even by the likes of Jahanzaib Jamaldini, the Acting President of the pro-cooperation Baloch National Party (Mengal). From him one hears the tales of Prince Abdul Karim Khan and Nawab Nouroze Khan Zarakzai, two Baloch heroes remembered as leaders of the First and Second Baloch Uprisings (1948 and 1958) and both betrayed by Pakistan.

Prince Abdul Karim Khan fled to Afghanistan after 1947 with seven hundred armed followers, arms, ammunition and treasury funds. He had fled to gain Afghan support for a revolt in Balochistan, a move that was perhaps encouraged by his brother, the Khan-e-Kalat.[vi] There is a dispute about what happened in Kabul: the dominant Pakistani narrative suggests that Karim’s forces were substantially expanded by Afghan support, but most Baloch nationalist historians point out that Kabul refused to support Karim (Kabul wanted Balochistan to be part of a Pashtunistan state). Karim decided to return to Pakistan after the new government threatened reprisals against his brother, the Khan. Karim was offered “safe conduct and amnesty” by the Pakistan government, but when he crossed the border the state’s forces attacked and arrested Karim and his followers. His arrest became the first broken promise of the Pakistan state in Baloch memory.[vii]

The second broken promise followed ten years later, and is now celebrated as Martyr’s Day every July 15. On October 6, 1958, one day before Ayub Khan established Pakistan’s first military regime, the military arrested the Khan-e-Kalat, seized his treasury funds, beat his supporters and “detained fifty of his retainers as well as an estimated 300 Baloch political leaders in other towns.”[viii] According to the dominant Pakistani narrative, the reason for these actions was that Abdul Karim and an uncle of the Khan were negotiating with Afghanistan for support. Scholars, such as Selig S. Harrison, dispute this. The only visit to Kabul around that time took place when the Khan’s wife visited the Afghan city on holiday. Nevertheless, the Pakistani military’s actions sparked a revolt, and it was the 750-1000 man strong guerrilla force of the then ninety-year old Nawab Nouroze Khan Zarakzai, the chief of the Zehri tribe, that proved to be one of the most successful. For over a year the elderly Nouroze Khan fought for the return of the Khan and the abolition of the newly formed One Unit Plan. Observing that the fighting would have no end, the army and Nouroze Khan’s guerrillas met in early 1960 to negotiate a peace deal. According to the dominant Pakistani narrative nothing came of the discussions. But Baloch historians say that the army promised an abolition of the One Unit Plan, a return of the Khan and amnesty to the guerrillas. The safe return of the guerrillas was, according to popular stories in Balochistan, promised with one hand on the Qur’an. When the time came for Nouroze Khan to return with his guerrillas, however, they were arrested and “his son and five others were hanged on treason charges July 15th, 1960.”[ix]

In his book on Balochistan, Harrison describes the hanging and its place in Baloch memory.

Popular accounts relate that the condemned cried, ‘Long Live Balochistan!’ as they went to the gallows. One of them reputedly tied a copy of the Koran around his neck, shouting that if he were hanged, the Koran must also be hanged, since the government had broken its holy oath. Nauroz Khan’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and he died in Kohlu prison in 1964, a martyr to the Baluch cause. Stories of his alleged torture by the army are still a staple commodity of Baluch magazines. On a visit to Quetta headquarters of the Baloch Students Organizations in 1978, I saw a montage, covering an entire wall, which showed Nauroz next to scenes of his son’s hanging and other atrocities.[x]

The feeling of distrust towards the Pakistani state continued into the Third Baloch Uprising of 1962, among others, led by the Lion of Balochistan, Sher Muhammad Murree. To symbolize their distrust towards the Pakistani state, the (now more organized and strategic) guerrilla force under Murree called themselves pararis, someone whose concerns cannot be solved by talk.

The Third Betrayal: Trumping Self-Rule

Hasil Khan Bizenjo looks a lot like his father, the larger-than-life historical symbol of Balochistan, Ghaus Bux Bizenjo. Now the Vice-President of the National Party, Hasil Khan serves as a Senator in the National Assembly.

Puffing on a cigarette in one of the parliamentary lodges in Islamabad, he makes his views crystal-clear. He is a pro-federation man, through and through, just like his father, but one who still believes that provincial autonomy and self-rule has eluded his province for too long.

Whether separatist or pro-Pakistan, Baloch political activists agree that Balochistan has gotten a raw deal from the beginning. Like their neighbouring Pashtun province, NWFP now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, they were livid at the One Unit Scheme, and both the Second and Third Baloch Uprisings were a response to this. They were also enraged with the aggressive military presence of the scheme, led by none other than General Tikka Khan. His leadership tactics earned him the title, the Buther of Balochistan, foreshadowing his future sobriquet, the Butcher of Bengal.

By the end of the 1960s and early 1970s, the Baloch resistance seemed to pay dividends. In 1969, General Yahya Khan ordered the withdrawal of the much-criticized One Unit Scheme. The next year, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto allowed the Baloch to have their first provincial government, with local stalwarts like Ghaus Bux Bizenjo and Ataullah Mengal in charge under the auspices of the National Awami Party, a coalition of nationalist and left forces.

The hopeful mo(ve)ment was short-lived. When Bizenjo and Mengal wanted to replace Punjabi bureaucrats with local Baloch, the central government resisted arguing that such demands went against constitutional provisions. The continued involvement of the military further aggravated local rulers. Baloch remember a local government with limited authority to decide on its internal affairs.

The arrangement fell apart on February 12, 1973. Nawab Akbar Bugti told Bhutto about the London Plan, which was a alleged conspiracy hatched by the Baloch and the Pashtuns with Iraq and the Soviet Union to overthrow the Pakistan (and Iran) government. It is unclear if these accusations have any merit. Harrison argues that a split between Sher Muhammad Murree – who wanted a far more aggressive and armed approach to the Pakistani state – and Ghaus Bux Bizenjo – who was pro-negotiations – might have opened up the possibility of a conspiracy. The conspirators were arrested. The Hyderabad Trials were highly one-sided, giving credence to the Baloch view that the state sets up bogus institutions to give a veneer of legality to its illegal actions.

The Baloch feel a certain kinship with Pakistan’s former, eastern wing, Bengal. Bhutto’s dismissal of the Baloch government came only two years after he rejected the outcome of national elections that gave the Bengali leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the Prime Ministership and Rehman’s National Awami Party a majority in the national assembly. For the Baloch, Bhutto’s dismissal of their provincial government was a repetition of his historical mistake in Bengal.

Bhutto’s subsequent legal charade did not prevent the Fourth Baloch Uprising of 1973-78. The government responded with 80,000 Pakistani troops and Irani pilots flying F-14 Fighter Jets and AH-1 Gunships (courtesy of the Shah of Iran). Bugti handed in his resignation on January 1, 1974, to protest the Pakistani assault.

Assaults against the Baloch mirrored the bloody civil war that Pakistan had just exited in Bengal. But a media blackout on the Bengal issue was followed by a similar blackout on the attacks in Balochistan. Pakistanis around the country knew little of the events that transpired.

A few years later, Zia’s takeover temporarily relieved Baloch leaders. Zia released the leadership and declared a ceasefire. Self-rule was out of the question, as it was across the country, now in the grips of a military regime. Zia installed Lieutenant General Rahimuddin Khan, a pashtun who did not support the idea of an independent Balochistan, and who successfully crushed all rebellions. Political parties were banned, and an iron fist was used against the revolt. Here Balochistan was a mirror to the rest of Pakistan. Zia told Harrison that he had no sympathy for the “Baloch problem”.

“We want to build a strong country, a unified country. Why should we talk in these small-          minded terms? We should talk in terms of one Pakistan, one united, Islamic Pakistan.”

According to Harrison, Zia attempted to implement the “ontology of Islamic nationhood,” supporting the establishment and flourishing of right-wing Islamist parties in the province in an indirect attempt to quench Baloch opposition.

Today, these parties are becoming increasingly powerful, especially in the pashtun-dominated areas of northern Balochistan, including Quetta. A drive through Quetta reveals an overflow of Islamist slogans written by the likes of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an outfit known for its targeting of the city’s Shiite Hazara minority, the same ethnic group that was a target of genocidal killings in neighbouring Afghanistan during the Taliban regime. Quetta is also home to the pro-Baloch Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and the Hazara Democratic Party, but both operate without the state sanction. Baloch parties, on the other hand, are targets of the Frontier Corps, the notorious paramilitary unit of the Pakistani armed forces.

In the 1990s, Balochistan’s sardars began to hold genuine power. Both Bugti and Mengal served as Chief Ministers and Governors during this period, intermittently replaced by various central government loyalists. The inclusion of Baloch leaders and political sentiments of all stripes to head provincial governments reduced support for secession. But it did not give the Baloch a sense of achievement. The federal government continued to resist attempts by Baloch leaders to replace Punjabi and Mohajir[xi] bureaucrats with local Baloch. As Pakistan Today’s Shahzada Zulfiqar put it,

Look at the Saindak Gold and Copper Project that started in 1993. Bugti wanted to have a local Baloch head the project, but the federal government refused, insisting that someone from outside the province should take over its reigns. Baloch looking back at that period see a very deliberate policy to maintain central government hegemony by ensuring that Mohajirs and Punjabis remain in administrative power – whether it was in the bureaucracy, the police or the military.

Attempts at provincial autonomy were resisted by Islamabad. That had to wait untill the passage of the 18th Amendment and the Aghaaz-e-Huqooq Package more than a decade later.

The Fourth Betrayal: ‘In the National Interest’

On a visit to Gwadar Port, water rights activist, Sharif Shambazi, met a machera – a fisherman. Living on the banks of the multi-million dollar warm-water, deep-sea port project, the machera spoke words that Shambazi found hard to forget,

They enter our homes and turn us out, settling others from far away. If someone breaks into your home and throws you out, and you scream your powerless scream, can you be blamed? These people think we oppose mega-projects. We don’t. But we’re never consulted. None of this is built for us.

Built in 2007, Gwadar Port was one of the Musharraf era’s notorious adventures into multi-million dollar investments for the Pakistani economy. Strategically located at the apex of the Arabian Sea and at the entrance of the Persian Gulf, the port has come to represent much of what the Baloch feel has gone wrong with Pakistan’s adventures into mega-projects and other initiatives “in the national interest”. The Gwadar Port itself has been accused of not employing local labor (preferring to import labor from other provinces) and selling the surrounding land at rock-bottom prices to influential politicians and brokering unfavorable deals with the Port Authority of Singapore (PSA), the contractor that now manages the port.[xii] One NGO, the South Asian Partnership Pakistan, has said that the Port creates “a new power structure which places the local people at the lowest wrung or (…) simply (… throws) them out.”

Islamabad argues that Balochistan should share of its resources. They argue that the province is sparsely populated but covers over 40% of the land constituting Pakistan. From a national planning perspective, Balochistan should share.

But Baloch of different political stripes disagree. According to them, Balochistan gets little benefit from Gwadar and other major investments. Pro-federation politician Jahanzaib Jamaldini points to the unfairness of Islamabad’s development strategy.

“Would it be fair for me to ask Punjab to give me one of their rivers? No. In the same           way, it is unfair of Punjab to constantly ask Balochistan to share of itself, especially when we get next to nothing in return.”

The Port is not the first instance of the imbalance. The story begins in the 1950s with the Sui Gas Fields, and is repeated in the 1990s with the Saindak Gold and Copper project. “If you go to the Sui Gas Fields in Dera Bugti,” Jamaldini points out, “you’ll see a cantonment protecting personnel, ensuring that they are supplied gas and electricity all day, everyday. But if you walk around outside the cantonment, you’ll find Baloch living without access to gas. That too in an area that supplies gas to the entire country.”

The mega-projects fall into two categories: developmental and extractive. The former include Gwadar Port, Mirani Dam, the kacchi irrigation canal and a Coastal Highway linking Gwadar to Karachi, built primarily for transporting goods from the port to the country’s closest commercial hub. Shambezi, who was visiting Lahore with his four-man team when I met him, has been actively campaigning against the Mirani Dam. Like the port, Mirani Dam has been accused of putting the interests of locals last. Built in 2001, local activists were concerned that the Mirani Dam construction team led by Descon Engineering Ltd. failed to take local knowledge of the Dasht River on which it was built into consideration, instead erecting man-made constructs ill-suited to the river’s natural flow and cycle.

“We were proved right,” says Shambezi. In late June 2006, Cyclone Yemyin struck the area around Mirani Dam. The dam worsened the effect of the cyclone. Subsequent floods demolished 6,500 homes, displacing thousands of people. Five years later Shambezi, his team and the thousands around Mirani Dam are still waiting for compensation.[xiii]

The other set of projects facing similar criticisms fall into the extractive category. Based on the lucrative Tethyan Belt that stretches into Waziristan and Afghanistan, Balochistan has extensive tapped and untapped resources (copper, gold, oil, gas, lead and zinc). A cursory glance at a map reveals the Reko Diq and Saindak Copper and Gold mines in the eastern Chagai district, the oil and gas fields in the districts of Kohlu/Lorelai and Dera Bugti, home to the Bugti and Murree tribes, and the lead and zinc mines down south in district Lasbela. The projects tend to be criticized for furthering a state and elite-centered rather than people-centered paradigm.

According to Shamezi, Jamaldini and others like them, mega-projects are problematic because of their structure and output. On the one hand, unfair ownership arrangements, exorbitant costs, inefficient processes and unfavorable profit-sharing agreements between either the contractor or the federal government and the Balochistan government or the locals frustrates the Baloch. On the other hand, Musharraf and the formally democratic central government’s promise of socio-economic development, employment and poverty reduction has not been fulfilled. In the eyes of the Baloch, the lucrative outputs from the mega-projects in their province is pocketed by contractors from China to Chile, and a federal government that does little to address their people’s rampant poverty.

Project Structure: ‘Unfair’

Jamaldini in not alone in thinking that there “needs to be a proper investigation into these project.” Those down south face problems with Gwadar Port, and those a little further north – like Shambezi – are still dealing with Mirani Dam. Move a little west and witness the extraction projects in the Saindak and Reko Diq Copper and Gold Mining Projects. Operations for copper and gold mining in Saindak is currently leased out to the Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) by the federal government who, according to a source within the mining department, leased the site from the provincial government in 1982 under the reign of Zia ul Haq (begging the question of whether the lease was voluntary). The same source argues that the Chinese are known for “over- and under-invoicing”, and the Asia Times Online journalist Syed Fazl-e-Haider argues that the Chinese have been over-producing at Saindak, “Such a high rate of production may end the life of the mine, previously estimated at 19 years, before the 10-year lease of the Chinese firm expires if excessive mining goes unchecked,” Syed notes.[xiv] The federal government has increased the lease to the Chinese for another 5 years seemingly leaving out the Balochistan government – and local residents – from their decisions.

The Reko Diq Gold and Copper Mining Project faces an even larger – and far more public – criticism. Twenty-six senators and other plaintiffs filed a petition to the Supreme Court demanding a cancellation of the Reko Diq contract with the Tethyan Copper Company (TCC – co-owned by Canadian Barrick Gold Corporation and Chilean Antofogasta). They protested what they perceived as project delays, demanding a larger share (at the moment the Balochistan government owns 25% of the project) and disagreeing with the US$ 3.3 billion cost estimate presented by the company (arguing that two-thirds of it was budgeted to build a pipeline from the mine to Gwadar Port, to ease exports of minerals for refining in Chile – something the Baloch have read as siphoning off minerals rather than building a refinery in Pakistan). Some observers say the province is to blame since its government agreed to the deal in the first place. But whether you believe one or the other, one thing remains true according to Maqbool Ahmed and Nasir Rahim in a Herald investigative report on Reko Diq (“Treasure Denied” in Herald March 2010) – everyone has forgotten the people.

The Chamalang Coal mines in Lorelai and Kohlu further east in Balochistan have moved from words and court paper protests to gunfights and army intervention. A few years ago, the Pashtun Looni tribe fought the Baloch Murree tribe over ownership rights of the mines. In an attempt to intervene and control the situation, the state has stationed the Frontier Corps in the area. This is at a time when the Pakistani armed forces face enormous criticism in the province for abductions and extra-judicial killings of Baloch activists – of which the Murree tribes with their history of rebellion are prime targets. Though the army portray themselves as peacemakers, their current reputation across the province in general, and in that area particularly, betrays another story.

Project Output: ‘Putting the Baloch Last’

“We have the most impoverished population in Pakistan… But we’re also naturally endowed with minerals, resources and the longest coastline in this country. We could be self-sufficient, but we’re not,” Jamaldini says. “That in itself tells you a lot.”

Officially the government, military and various corporations are attempting to co-invest in social sector projects. At the moment, the TCC has invested in clean water and women’s health in the Reko Diq area, and the Saindak project has some local labor requirements (some even claim 80% local labor currently operating there though the number cannot be verified). The army is currently building schools and making other social investments around the Chamalang coal mines. According to Jamaldini and Shambezi, the rampant poverty around many of the mega-projects tell another story, and attempts by the military to invest in socio-economic development is a white-wash – especially at a time when they are accused of a host of other atrocities. According to them, the Baloch are at the bottom of the rung, less important than company profiteering and national interests.

From Sui to Saindak, gas and gold leave the province. Instead, the Pakistani state is seen as having replaced it with trash at the end of the last century. At Chagai, in 1998, the state deposited atomic material into the province, devastating the health of nomads and cattle living in the region.

“And the betrayal continues…”

“Nothing has really changed over the last 60 years,” Wahab says. “If anything it has gotten worse. Since July last year the Pakistanis have been kidnapping and killing our people.”

People around us have started to look over their shoulders, whispering to each other and recognizing Wahab, “the sarmachar”. About an hour ago, the waiter brought two cups of tea, but with the heat of the city and the conversation we haven’t touched our chai. The thin film of malai on the tea and sweat on our brows seems to betray our less-than-innocent conversation to all those around us. A conversation that is finally reaching its end-point, unfolding the betrayals of today.

In July 2011, Human Rights Watch unveiled a much-awaited report slamming the security agencies for extrajudicial kidnappings and killings in the province.[xv] Earlier, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan had produced a confirmed list of one hundred and forty tortured bodies that have been discovered on empty roads and desolate mountaintops across the province.[xvi] And according to a local organization, Baloch Voice for Missing Persons (BVMP), several more hundreds have died, and several thousands are still missing. Whether there is talk of a few hundred, or many thousands, there is little doubt that the security agencies are carrying out crimes against what the Pakistani state claims are its own people. In a continued attempt to push the state, media and security institutions to do something about the atrocities committed against the Baloch, BVMP sets up a daily camp outside the Quetta Press Club. Of the four families and friends of missing persons that this writer met in Karachi and Quetta, at least half of the missing persons have been found dead.

To assuage Baloch frustrations, the state has attempted to recommend and implement various reforms. In 2004 the then Prime Minister Chaudhury Shujaat Hussein formed two parliamentary committees comprised of sixteen Senators and twelve members of the National Assembly drawn from a wide range of Baloch political parties (not including, of course, the separatist ones). And on November 23, 2009 the Pakistani government introduced the Aghaaz-e-Huqooq package, meant to initiate a wide variety of political and socio-economic reforms and initiatives to address some of the grievances in the province.

A cursory look at this latest agreement between the Pakistani state and Balochistan confirms that the central government has done little or nothing to implement most of the proposals in the package. The monitoring committee responsible for overseeing its implementation was originally headed by Senator Raza Rabbani, but after little to no progress was made on the package, Rabbani resigned in protest. In his capacity as Interior Minister, Rehman Malik replaced Rabbani. Anyone who has visited Quetta or met Karachi’s Baloch political activists knows that Rehman Malik is anything but popular. A thirty eight-page progress report presented to parliament in March 2011 confirmed the ways in which the package has been stalled. Only a quarter of the proposals have been implemented in the last two years.[xvii] And some of these include proposals like the replacement of the army by the Frontier Corps. According to Malik Siraj Akbar, the editor of the Pakistan Telecom Authority-censored Baloch Hal, an online news magazine, the Baloch see no difference between the army and the Frontier Corps.[xviii] For them, both are arms of a central state that kidnaps and kills their people, and both are not to be trusted.

Rabbani took over the monitoring committee at the request of the prime minister, but Islamabad’s package has not moved to implementation. Rabbani, as well as the provincial government, are questionable representatives of Baloch interests. Visit Balochistan and many will point out that a large range of political parties boycotted the provincial elections in 2008, resulting in more pro-central government parties in power. Furthermore, those political parties that represent separatists in the province have no place in the formal seats of power in the provincial government. The very idea of contesting elections would negate their agenda.

The interview is over and Wahab is ready to go home. The entire interview has been a murmur of a conversation, barely audible from where I have sat across from him on the rickety plastic chair. He excuses himself but as soon as those around us can see he is finished, he is approached. Can he come speak about torture at a human rights seminar? Is he available for an interview? Wahab has more to say, recounting Balochistan’s betrayals to all those who listen. The lament, however, is joined by a hope of changing the fate of his land and its people.


[i]   The friend was Ghulam Muhammad Baloch, the President of the Baloch National Movement (BNM), a coalition of separatist parties. Ghulam was later killed in what is known as the 2009 Turbat Killings alongside Lala Munir Baloch, Vice President of the BNM and Sher Mohammed Bugti, Vice President of another separatist party, the Baloch Republican Party.

[ii]        A sarmachar is Balochi for fighter, or freedom fighter, depending on one’s perspective.

[iii]   The Great Game refers to the almost century-long ‘secret war’ between Imperial Britain and Tsarist Russia. The British feared a Russian invasion into their Indian Empire, and used Afghanistan and the border regions of current-day Pakistan as buffer zones to protect their treasure. Read Hopkirk, Peter 1990/2006: The Great Game – On Secret Service in High Asia, London: John Murray Publishers for more information on the Great Game.

[iv]        Mir Ahmed Yar Khan Baluch – Ex-Ruler of Kalat State, Political Autobiography of Khan-e-Azam, Royal Book Company, 1975, p. 162.

[v]         Axmann, Martin 2009, Back to the Future – The Khanate of Kalat and the Genesis of Baloch Nationalism, Karachi: Oxford University Press, pp. 226-232.

[vi]        In his book, Selig S. Harrison explains, ”K.B. Nizamani, one of the participants in this mini-revolt, recalled in a 1980 interview that Abdul Karim had the tacit approval of the Khan, who saw the move as a last-ditch means of pressuring Pakistan and regaining some of his princely prerogatives.” In Afghanistan’s Shadow: Baluch Nationalism and Soviet Temptations, Washington: Carnegie Endowment, 1981, p. 26.

[vii]         Harrison, Selig S. 1981, In Afghanistan’s Shadow: Baluch Nationalism and Soviet Temptations, Washington: Carnegie Endowment, pp. 26-28.

[viii]       Harrison, Selig S. 1981, In Afghanistan’s Shadow: Baluch Nationalism and Soviet Temptations, Washington: Carnegie Endowment, p. 27.

[ix]        Harrison, Selig S. 1981, In Afghanistan’s Shadow: Baluch Nationalism and Soviet Temptations, Washington: Carnegie Endowment, p. 28.

[x]         Harrison, Selig S. 1981, In Afghanistan’s Shadow: Baluch Nationalism and Soviet Temptations, Washington: Carnegie Endowment, p. 28-29.

[xi]        Punjabis constitute Pakistan’s dominant ethnic group. Mohajirs refer to Muslims who migrated to current-day Pakistan from what today constitutes India. Many came from affluent backgrounds and have since sat in powerful positions within the state.

[xii]       Herald investigative journalist Maqbool Ahmed has uncovered Gwadar Port’s unfavorable deals with the Port Authority of Singapore (PSA) and how land has been sold at rock-bottom prices to influential politicians (See Ahmed’s “Sold in Haste,” Herald, February 2009 and “The Great Land Robbery,” Herald, June 2008).

[xiii]       On this particular visit to Lahore, Shambezi and his team met with the WAPDA chairman to address their concerns. This time WAPDA promised they would deliver, but time will tell whether they will come through.

[xiv]       Fazl-e-Haider, Syed 2006, China digs Pakistan into hole, website: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/HJ05Df01.html.

[xv]        Human Rights Watch Report 2011, Pakistan Security Forces ‘Disappear’ Opponents in Balochistan, website: http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/07/28/pakistan-security-forces-disappear-opponents-balochistan.

[xvi]       Human Rights Commission of Pakistan 2011: Blinkered slide into chaos, website: http://www.hrcp-web.org/pdf/balochistan_report_2011.pdf.

[xvii]      Gishkori, Zahid 7 Mar 2011, Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan – Reform package stopped in its tracks, Express Tribune, website: tribune.com.pk/story/128835/aghaz-e-haqooq-e-balochistan-reform-package-stopped-in-its-tracks/.

[xviii]      Akbar, Malik Siraj 25 April 2011, A lasting solution for Balochistan, Dawn News, website: http://www.dawn.com/category/in-depth-balochistan-infocus-editors-choice.

Source

One Comment to “Balochistan continues to be shaped by the state’s dominant narrative – by Mahvish Ahmad”

  1. The separatist narrative of history is missing a lot of details that makes the whole “Pakistan invaded and annexed an ‘independent’ Balochistan in March 1948” appear to be full of holes for those who closely follow actual history.

    No mention that Nawab Nausherwani of Kharan, Nawab Gichki of Makuran, and the Jam of Bela state formally acceding to Pakistan, alongside a unanimous vote of the Quetta Municipal Board (the main authority governing British Baluchistan province) to join Pakistan one by one in later half of 1947 as per the requirements of the Indian Independence Act of 1947.

    These formal accessions – not ‘annexation’ – completely left the State of Kalat (~20% of Balochistan by size!) surrounded on all 4 sides of Pakistani territory. India had already invaded and annexed the states of Junagadh, Manavadar, Hyderabad (Deccan), and in later years Goa by then!

    Oh and lets not forget that the Khan of Kalat was pressured by his family to not sign but after having visions in his sleep he invited Jinnah to Kalat, weighed him in gold, and formally signed the accession document in March 1948; describing it as “an article of faith” in his own book ‘Inside Baluchistan’.

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