Pakistan’s accusation about Kulbhushan Jadhav being a RAW spy has once again brought the simmering pot in Balochistan into the limelight. While India and Pakistan slug it out over the veracity of the claims made, Pakistan would be well advised to first introspect over the Baloch insurgency.
Balochistan comprises over 44% of the country’s territory with most of the country’s oil, gas and mineral wealth but only about 5% of the total population. This has led to the Punjabi dominated society from exploiting the gas fields and other resources like gold and copper but returning very little to the local folk, 80% of whom live below the poverty line.
Pakistan’s claim over Balochistan itself is highly questionable. The Baloch region which falls mostly in Pakistan - with some territories in Iran and Afghanistan – always had a distinct identity. Centuries ago, most of Balochistan was under a Hindu king who hired local tribesmen to keep marauders from Multan and Frontier at bay. These tribesmen then toppled the king to establish a Kalat which was presided over by a Khan. But slowly, the British influence began to grow in the western regions of undivided India and by 1839, they had established British primacy in Balochistan as well. Then came the turn of the century and most of India got engaged in the freedom struggle under the aegis of the Indian Congress or the Muslim League, and Baloch tribe leaders too began to habour dreams of ridding themselves of the British, but as an independent country – separate from India and Pakistan.
The Khan of the Kalat at that time, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, hired none other than Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was a leading advocate of that time, to fight the case for Baloch Independence. It was under Jinnah’s legal guidance that a final agreement was successfully reached on Balochistan’s separate territorial integrity. Balochistan was to be declared independent on 5th August 1947 with the same territorial and administrative freedom that the Kalat enjoyed in 1838. In fact, by the time Pakistan and India gained independence, Baloch leaders had placed a formal ambassador in their commission in Karachi (the first capital of Pakistan) and hoisted the Baloch flag there, just like different countries do.
But as irony would have it, the Baloch people were betrayed by the founders of Pakistan, who scripted a simultaneous agreement with British which gave Pakistan the same rights that the colonial rulers had acquired in 1839. Virtually, Balochistan was handed to Pakistan by the British despite a protracted legal battle that had established its independent status.
Soon enough and despite stiff resistance from the Baloch leaders, all regions and factions of Balochistan were coerced by Jinnah into signing accession treaties with the Islamic Republic. This was an ultimate betrayal.
But the betrayal did not end there. It has continued for decades with the province being excessively exploited by Pakistan without getting much in return. The region has the highest poverty level along with lowest life expectancy, education, health, water, power and sanitation facilities.
Since 1947, the Baloch tribal people have launched 5 insurgencies making it the one of the longest armed struggles in history for seeking either independence or autonomy. However, despite decades of bloodbath very little has come out of their rebellion – the reasons for this are several.
Firstly, the territory does not fall on the border of two nuclear states at odds with each other and so the world has no reason to turn the lens on an area which poses no threat of becoming a potential nuclear hotspot.
Secondly, there is no media to highlight what is happening in the hinterland. Again, unlike other insurgencies, where emotions flare up due to adverse media coverage and fanning of hate through whatsapp groups, Balochistan hardly has access to such dark information through television or social tools about Pakistan’s atrocities and repressive techniques.
Thirdly, Balochistan is one issue that Iran and Pakistan agree upon. Both do not want the territories falling within their borders to break away from them.
Moreover, China is very keen on utilizing the regions’ geographical advantage and is the one that has built the Gwadar port. They will do everything to help Pakistan hold on to the state, especially in the light of the economic corridor that they are planning to build. Pakistan has also established settlements of non-Baloch people in areas close to the port and other regions where development is taking place. This is a major grouse for the local populace who are not getting a fair share of jobs arising from economic progress, as mostly, engineers and technicians are hired from other states.
Fourthly, Baloch people have a limited supply of money and weapons and despite that they have managed to prolong the insurgency so far.
Fifth and lastly, the Baloch tribes are a divided lot, betraying and killing each other and harming their own cause. Brawls over succession after death of prominent leaders and comfortable lives of those living in exile make the common Baloch feel shortchanged.
While Pakistan may be feeling a sense of quiet victory that the Baloch insurgency is no longer at its strongest and that it has tightened its iron fist over the people, land and natural wealth, the rulers of the country may be missing a new development.
Balochistan - a predominantly Sunni state – is slowly losing its heterogenous character and the people are no longer happy to live with others of different faith – the case here being Shia community.
From the early years of Baloch Liberation Army’s guerrilla warfare to the more recent attacks on urban infrastructure projects to the killing of the leader Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006, the Baloch struggle has changed course. The peril of Balochistan insurgents now turning from seekers of autonomy to becoming jihadis and foot soldiers of organisations like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi may not be a far shot.
Unless the angst cultivated in the hearts of the people is addressed and youth given employment opportunities, there are chances of that anger being misdirected to becoming something even more hideous.
Pakistan can take solace for the moment that they have crushed a movement that has been running since Independence, but it by no measure means that the Baloch quandary has been resolved.