By Harshmeet Singh
In most cases, talks about Pakistan remain confined to the Kashmir conflict and home-grown terrorism. While Pakistan has somehow managed to restrict International media’s coverage of its human rights violations in Balochistan, it has never missed a chance of blaming India for the ongoing insurgency in one of its most impoverished provinces. Pakistan’s handling of Balochistan is reminiscent of its step brotherly treatment to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Balochistan’s long held demands for increased autonomy have fallen to deaf ears over the past half century. If Pakistan’s handling of the matter is any indication, the decades-long conflict doesn’t seem to have any concrete solution in sight.
Tracing the roots
The Balochistan conflict dates back to 1948 when the Pakistan Army launched an operation to neutralize the rebels in Kalat, after they refused to accept the King of Kalat’s decision to join Pakistan. According to them, the King was made to sign the instrument of accession by the Pakistan army at a gunpoint. Kalat lies at the centre of present day Balochistan.
With a new constitution coming into force in 1960s, the province was given limited provincial autonomy which further escalated the separatist movement in the province. In 1973, the unrest led to a joint military operation by the Pakistani and Iranian forces in the province which diluted the insurgency considerably. But with the emergence of Taliban in the early 2000s in the neighbouring Afghanistan, conflict resurfaced in the area and law and order took a backseat.
Despite having one of the biggest reserves of natural resources in the country, Balochistan remains one of the poorest areas in Pakistan. The province doesn’t get any royalty for the resource extracted from its land. While the central government blames the separatists for creating an unfavourable environment for development, the separatists accuse the central leadership for neglecting the province due to political interests. In the past decade or so, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) has launched many violent operations against the Pakistan army, resulting in many deaths. Headed by Hyrbyair Marri, the BLA has been named as a terrorist organization by the Pakistan government, the USA and the EU.
The Baloch population was divided among Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran due to the illogical Durand Line drawn by the British that divided Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Balochis now want to unify the area lying in all these countries, an idea which isn’t acceptable to any of these nations.
The ISI has been constantly accusing India of providing financial aid to the BLA, with an aim to divide Pakistan. Parvez Musharraf was once quoted saying that Pakistan possessed concrete proof that Afghanistan and India have been “involved in efforts to provide weapons, training and funding for Baloch extremists through Brahumdagh Bugti and Balach Marri, two Baloch nationalists, who were living in Kabul”. Pakistan has also accused India of offering its consulate offices in Afghanistan and Iran as the meeting place for Baloch separatists.
Balochistan has never shied away from seeing India as a friend. In 2008, the founder of Balochistan Republican Party, Brahumdagh Bugti, said that he is ready to accept help from India. Pakistan isn’t alone in thinking that India has an indirect involvement in Balochistan. Military officials in the US and the UK have hinted multiple times that they are certain about India’s active role in the conflict-ridden province. India, on the other hand, dismisses all such claims and calls them baseless and frivolous.
Many experts compare the Balochistan conflict with Kashmir issue and hint towards India using the Baloch province to gain some ground in Kashmir. Though these comparisons are personal imaginations of a few experts, the two regions stand poles apart. Unlike India’s dismissal of all allegations about its role in Balochistan, Pakistan has been open in its support to the Kashmiri militants and separatists. India has never given shelter to any Baloch leader seeking exile, as opposed to Pakistan’s royal treatment to India’s wanted criminals. Despite India’s neutral stance, Baloch people are known to be highly respectful towards India.
President at the Baloch Society of North America, Dr. Wahid Baloch, tried to reach out to India in 2009, saying, “We love our Indian friends and we want them to help us and rescue us from tyranny and oppression. In fact, India is the only country which has shown concern over the Baloch plights, but showing concern is not enough. We want India to take Balochistan’s issue to every international forum, the same way Pakistan has done to raise the so-called Kashmiri issue. We want India to openly support our just cause and provide us with all moral, financial, military and diplomatic support (sic).”
Soon after Pakistan gave its Gwadar port to China for ‘development purposes’ in 2003, a terrorist attack was carried out in the area, which killed 3 Chinese engineers. Without giving much thought, Pakistan blamed India for this attack. Lying in the Baloch area, the port was a major hope of development for the local Balochis. But neglecting their demands for royalty on production of natural gas, Musharraf ordered the Pakistan army to carry out a military operation in the province, to suppress any rebellion.
The first export ship left Gwadar Port earlier this month, thus marking the successful completion of the project. India is keeping a close eye on the developments at the Gwadar port due to many reasons. An increasing Sino-Pak bonhomie isn’t a great sign for India.
The Baloch nationalists, who have taken the path of armed violence, seem convinced of this method’s effectiveness in getting them closer to their demands. They would do well to re-think their approach since their ‘war of independence’ is just adding to their misery and bloodshed. India, on the other hand, must make a choice between getting engaged in Balochistan or forming a partnership with Pakistan on Gwadar Port to get easier access to the planned gas pipelines through the port.