Friday, September 15, 2006


The Balochistan Crisis – Part One

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Situated in the southwest of the country, and spread over 347,190 sq km, the province of Balochistan comprises 43% of Pakistan’s territory. In the west it has common borders with Iran and in the northwest with Afghanistan. In the south, Balochistan has a long coastline on the Arabian Sea. Greater part of Balochistan is mountainous, although there are some plains and desert areas also. The terrain is generally barren and rugged. The land of Balochistan is rich in mineral resources. Apart from gas, it holds deposits of coal, copper, silver, gold, platinum, aluminum and uranium. It is also said to possess oil in substantial quantities.

Balochistan has an estimated population of 7,000,000, (according to the census of 1998 it was nearly 6,511,000) which comes to about 4½ % of the total population of the country. A little over half of this population is ethnically Baloch. The second largest ethnic group in Balochistan is that of the Pashtuns, which has concentration in the northern part of the province and along its border with Afghanistan. Nearly 70% of the total Balochi population lives in Balochistan and other provinces of Pakistan, whereas about 20% inhabits the southeastern Iran or what is Irani Balochistan. There is a considerable population of the Balochis in Afghanistan also.

The Balochis have preserved their ancient tribal structure. Each tribe or tuman has its chief and consists of several clans. Generally, the attachment to the tumandar i.e., the tribal chief is very strong and the Balochis blindly follow him.

The prominent Balochi tribes in Pakistan are Mengal, Marri, Bugti, Mohammad Hasni, Zehri, Bizenjo and Raisani. Differences between tribes and clans are not uncommon.

Describing the lifestyle of the Balochi people, Encyclopedia Britannica observes:
“The Balochis are traditionally nomads, but settled agricultural existence is becoming more common; every chief has a fixed residence. The villages are collection of mud or stone huts; on the hills, enclosures of rough stone walls are covered with matting to serve as temporary habitations. The Balochis raise camels, cattle, sheep and goats, and engage in carpet making and embroidery. Their agricultural methods are primitive.”

The Balochis are not the indigenous people of Balochistan. These tribal people, it is said, originally lived on the Iranian plateau. As a result of the Seljuq invasion of Kerman in the 11th century, they started their migration eastward. It was not until the 14th century that the Baluchis started to enter the region that is presently Pakistani Balochistan. In the 17th century, the Mughals occupied greater part of Balochistan and, in the 19th century, the Persians conquered its western part. In 1839 the British, who had established themselves in India, made their presence in Balochistan to protect their lines of communication during the First Afghan War. They initially withdrew in 1841, but soon returned to assume a permanent role by concluding treaties with local rulers and tribal chieftains.

Amongst the tribal chiefs, the Khan of Kalat enjoyed the central position. The British regarded him “as a de jure head of the tribes rather than as a de facto ruler of a state” and “as the Head of a Confederacy with the Confederates exercising full or partial independence and the Khan customary over lordship.”[1] In 1877, the British carved out what came to be known as the British Balochistan, a region that was brought under their direct control and included the city of Quetta.

To strengthen their hold, the British restored the prestige and dignity of the tumandars that was lately in a state of decay. They administered nearly 90% of the territory in Balochistan through the tumandars who were paid allowances.

Under what is known as the Sandeman system, the British employed “the tribes as custodians of the highways and guardians of the peace in their own districts”. In a memorandum dated 1890, Sir Robert Sandman, the British official who was the architect of this system, observed:

“All military experts, however, without exception, declare it to be necessary to secure Afghanistan from Russian aggression in British interests and for the defense of India. . . . . The policy which I advocate has given us Baluchistan, the position at Quetta and on the Khojak, in Zhob and on the line of the Gumal. . . . If we knit the frontier tribes into our Imperial system in time of peace and make their interests ours, they will certainly not oppose us in time of war, and as long as we are able and ready to hold our own, we can certainly depend upon their being on our side.” [2]

Although occasionally there were some troubles, this policy served the British imperial interests well in the Balochistan States and the British Balochistan. Despite persistent demands on the part of Indian political parties for introduction of constitutional reforms, even British Balochistan was not granted the status of a full-fledged province by London in any of the Government of India Acts.

When the time for British departure from India came, the 3rd June Plan provided that the future of British Balochistan was to be determined by a voting college comprising the Shahi Jirga ____ excluding the representatives of the Balochistan States ___ and the elected members of the Quetta Municipality. The Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, who dreamed of an independent Balochistan under his overlordship, Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, an emerging Baloch nationalist, and Abdus Samad Khan Achakzai, avowed Gandhian and the leader of Indian National Congress, made their best efforts to prevent the voting college from opting for Pakistan. Their efforts failed and the vote taken on 29 June 1947 went in favour of Pakistan amidst unproven charges that the British had exercised their influence to obtain the verdict.

The case of Balochistan States was quite different, as they had specific treaties with the British Crown. Oil had already been discovered in the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf, and it seems that the Khan of Kalat cherished the dream of a Baloch Kingdom on the lines of the House of Saud in Arabia or the Pehlevi Dynasty in Persia. [3] Although the British declared in the Government of India Act, 1935, that Kalat was an Indian state, the Khan had serious reservations about the British view, which he duly communicated to the British on more than one occasion.

Arguing Kalat’s case before the Cabinet Mission in 1946, the Khan contended that after the withdrawal of the British and termination of the treaties, Kalat would become independent, and other Baloch regions, including the States of Kharan and Las Bela, and the Marri and Bugti areas would revert back to it.

On the day the British transferred power to the dominions of Pakistan and India i.e., 15 August 1947, the Khan issued a firman (decree) declaring the independence of Kalat and announced establishment of a bicameral legislature for the State. Initially, the Khan was able to gather considerable support for his designs for independence but, before the firm resolution of the Quaid-i-Azam, he did not succeed.

The Khan’s maneuvering to secure an independent state failed and, on 17 March 1948, the States of Kharan, Mekran and Las Bela applied for accession to Pakistan. On 26 March, the Pakistan government informed the Khan that it had decided to move troops to protect installations in Jiwani, Turbat and Pasni.

The message was loud and clear for any sensible person to understand. The next day, the Khan of Kalat wrote to the Quaid:

“Confirm to you clearly that I agree to accession to Pakistan. But at the same time I hope you will consider all claims and rights of Kalat which I have frequently presented to you. I am trusting in your good intentions and sense of fairness to preserve the ancient state of Kalat in the same way as you has brought Pakistan into existence.” [4]

To cut the story short, even after the British Balochistan and the Balochistan States became a part of Pakistan, some reservations did persist in a section of the Balochi population, and the Khan of Kalat found it difficult to reconcile himself to the reality that his state was an integral part of Pakistan.

In 1952, the States of Balochistan __ Kalat, Mekran, Kharan and Las Bela __were permitted to form ‘The Balochistan States’ Union’.

In 1955, these States were made a part of the ‘One Unit’ or the single province of West Pakistan to facilitate the framing of a constitution on the basis of the principle of ‘parity’ between the two wings of the country. But by mid 1957 it became apparent that the political system established under the Constitution of 1956 was not likely to survive.

Anticipating the break-up of the ‘One Unit’, it is alleged, the Khan of Kalat organized a rebellion to secede from Pakistan. On 6 October 1958, under the order of President Iskandar Mirza, Pakistan Army took control of the Kalat Palace and arrested the Khan on the charges of sedition. Another version is that it was the result of a plot hatched by Iskandar Mirza who wanted one more justification for imposing martial law.

He had encouraged the Khan to demand restoration of his state, and the Khan fell into the trap. On 7 October, Iskandar Mirza imposed martial law on the country, and on 27 October 1958, the Chief Martial Law Administrator, General Mohammad Ayub Khan, removed Mirza as the president to assume full authority.

The arrest of the Khan led to disturbances in some parts of Balochistan that continued for about a year. It was during these disturbances that the sad episode related to Nauroz Khan, one of the Khan’s Sardars, occurred leaving lasting scars on the Balochi psyche. After fighting for several months, Nauroz Khan agreed to surrender to the government of Pakistan.

It is claimed that his surrender was secured through ‘etabar’ or oath on the Holy Quran. But instead of given amnesty by the government, he and his companions were tried in a military court and convicted. The government rejected their mercy petitions and seven of them were hanged. This episode made Nauroz Khan a hero in the Baloch folk-lore and the government of Pakistan untrustworthy in their eyes. The Khan of Kalat was subsequently forgiven and freed.

Although the Marris were radicalized during the 1960s, which resulted in some serious problems in 1962, the next major “insurgency” in Balochistan surfaced in 1973. Under Yahya Khan’s martial law, ‘One Unit’ was abolished and an integrated province of Balochistan, comprising former Balochistan States and directly governed Balochistan territory, was created on 1 July 1970. In the General Elections of December 1970, the National Awami Party (NAP) and Jamiat-ul Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) secured majority of seats in the Balochistan Provincial Assembly. After the traumatic events of 1971, which delayed the transfer of power, they formed their coalition government in Balochistan under the Interim Constitution of 1972.

This government, in which Sardar Attaullah Khan Mengal was the Chief Minister and Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo the Governor, was dismissed by the federal government in less than a year on the charges that it was receiving arms from foreign countries and preparing for rebellion or secession. Before the dismissal of the Balochistan government, arms and ammunition, allegedly meant for supply to Baloch separatists, were discovered in a raid on the Iraqi Embassy.

The actual reasons for dismissal of the NAP-JUI government were many: President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (he was not then Prime Minister) was not prepared to let the provincial government headed by the opposition parties function and pursue a separate agenda, the military establishment had suspicions about the NAP due to the past affiliation of many of its leaders with the Congress, their alleged links with India and the Soviet Union and their association with the ‘Pakhtunistan’ movement. The Shah of Iran did not like the democratic institutions to flourish in Pakistani Balochistan for that had the potentials to destabilize Iranian Balochistan; and he also pressed Bhutto to act.

As a result of the dismissal of popularly elected government, an unprecedented uprising took place in Balochistan in which the Marris were in the forefront and Sher Mohammad Marri became a legendary figure. The casualties on the sides of the rebels and the government troops were in thousands. Reportedly air power was also used and the insurgents had to withdraw to the mountains from where they conducted guerrilla warfare.

Ironically, Sardar Akbar Bugti, the tumandar of the Bugti tribe, and Ahmad Yar Khan, the Khan of Kalat, were on the side of the federal government under Bhutto and were duly rewarded for their roles.

The insurgency continued from 1973 to 1977 when General Zia-ul Haq staged a coup to oust Bhutto and arrived at an understanding with the incarcerated NAP leaders and the rebels.

Continued . . .

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