We examine the ‘events’ happening in Balochistan analyzing the recent developments with a round-up on the media coverage. The Balochwhat you might ask. To give a super-quick summary, Balochistan is the largest, poorest and sparsely populated province in Pakisan, forming a border with Iran - but it has large quantities of natural gas, and minerals vital for Pakistan’s needs. It is also the home to the warm-water port of Gwader which the Pakistani Navy is co-developing with the Chinese. The geo-strategic importance of this region cannot be more understated than this. See map here. Readers intersted in the history of Baloch rebellion can read this excellent summary from Praveen Swami. So what’s happening there?
The Acorn first noted “At least thirty thousand army personnel, twelve helicopter gunships, four fighter jets, several spy planes of different sizes, heavy artillery and missiles are now waging a bloody war in Balochistan.”We then observed the shocking use of American-made (donated for fighting the Taliban and the Al-Queda) anti-bunker missiles, helicopter gunships being used in aerial bombardement against one’s own population by General Musharraf under the guise of enforcing the ‘writ of the state’ against ‘miscreants’. wrote that one of the major causes of Balochi trouble is that the Pakistani Army is stingy with the royalty payments for gas exploration. Further, job opportunities for the local Balochis are minimal given most of the workers are Pashtuns and Punjabis who come from elsewhere.
OK, what exactly is the Army developing there and why the local populace are opposed?“The Chinese are increasing their presence in development projects like the Gwadar port and the Saindak copper mines. The Baluch are none too happy about these mega-projects. The Gwadar deep-sea port, the coastal highway and a naval base can bring in half a million non-Baluchis in the immediate future, reducing the local population to a minority, local leaders fear. Thus, a car bomb which killed three Chinese engineers at Gwadar in May 2004.” wrote Aditya Sinha in the Hindustan Times.
In an interview to Voice of America, Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugt Bugti told: “Anyone has to be insane to oppose development. We are not against development. They are imposing things on us that we don’t need. The people of Balochistan are backward. We need irrigation canals, hospitals and schools. They want to give us airfields, cantonments and helipads. The Balochis don’t need them. Is this what you call development?”.Ms. Asma Jehangir of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan alarmed by the esclating violence between the Army and the Baloch rebels in Dera Bugti promise to go over there on a fact finding mission .
Coincidentally, her vehicle was attacked by ‘unknown gunmen’ (ed. damn, we hate that word) during her visit there.Readers who can understand Urdu can listen to the Voice of America interview here (Real Media).
Ms. Jehangir has since issued a scathing report on the blatant human rights violation against Balochis by the Pakistani Army/FC and has called for ceasefire and demanded both parties to begin talks.Alok Bansal writing for Rediff observes that though the Pakistani Army justified the brutal campaign due to indiscriminate sabotage of the part of miscreants, the Army operations seemed well-planned which was supposed to take place much earlier but delayed due to the October earthquake.
More internaional media coverage came when the rebels blew up an Anglo-American owned gas plant. “Samina Ahmed, director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, noted that conflicts in the region have continued to simmer long after cease-fires have been announced. "No army action has ever succeeded in Balochistan” wrote the Wall Street Journal.Another Baloch leader Sardar Sherbaz Khan Mazari noted the similarity of the situation in 1971 by the manner in which the Pakistani Army dealt with the Bangla ‘miscreants’ in the then East Pakistan which became Bangladesh.
Amidst all these is the issue of Kalabagh-dam construction which is another reason for the Baloch unrest. But in this case, the Balochis were not alone. There were nation-wide strikes in Pakistan against the construction of this dam across Indus. While this will immensely benefit the agriculture-rich, upper riparian Punjab thus leaving the lower riparian provinces of Sindh and Balochistan high and dry. The situation calmed down when the General had to back down on this plan after assuring MQM’s exiled leader Altaf Hussain. We invite the reader to read excellent summary and on this situation from the The Economist.Pakistan initially accused India of supporting the ‘miscreants’. But Praveen Swami of the Frontline interviewed Balochi separatist leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and he clearly denies links to any foreign powers saying arms are easy to find in that region thanks to the United States’s ex-jihad against the Soviet Union. The General’s rhetoric has toned down since a report from Frederic Grare wrote for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace clearly ruled out any foreign-support. That report titled “Pakistan: the Resurgence of Baluch nationalism” (PDF) says, “Following the policies adopted by Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s, Pakistan’s government continues through its Ministry of Religious Affairs to encourage the setting up of madrassas in the province inorder to penetrate deeper into the ethnic Baluch areas stubbornly opposed to the mullahs.”
Further, Frederic Grare and Georges Perkovich in an article for the Wall Street Journal wrote that the Baloch leaders essentially see the Army as part of the Punjabi-dominated elite out to exploit them. They warned that postponing democratization will further agrravate the situation in creating civil war-like situation thus ultimately creating an independent Balochistan affecting regional stability (ed. read Iran).
Despite these warnings of instability and human rights violation, the situation is still highly tense with neither sides giving up. The Baloch rebels have captured videos of Army’s persistent aerial bombardment using figher jets and attack helicopters (Windows ASF). The rebels for their part keep attacking gas installations as recent as January 29. Some Balochi leaders have now called for international attention from the EU, G-8 and the UN calling for an end to the army operation. We'll be there to see how this will play out.
Cross-posted in Desicritics.org.