Poverty, ideology and resistance — in Balochistan

Published: December 4, 2012

The writer is a social scientist and author of Military Inc.

A fairly popular notion in Pakistan is that poverty drives people towards violence and militancy. There are at least a couple of research papers that seem to have given wind to such an argument. A study by the Sustainable Policy Development Institute (SDPI) in collaboration with the World Food Programme found linkages between food insecurity and militancy. Another one by the Pakistan Institute for Development Economics (PIDE) found linkages between food insecurity, landlessness and violence. In both cases, Balochistan was seen as a place where this link was seen as being obvious.

Although the Balochistan chief minister might not have seen either of the two studies, he seems to have responded to the popular notion that poverty drives war and so offered jobs to the Baloch insurgents in the mountains. He has asked them to come down from their hideouts, lay down arms and that they will get jobs and a state pardon. What a chance for people like Dr Allah Nazar to make peace, get a cushy job as a senior executive in a pharmaceutical company and live life happily ever after. However, there are flaws in Aslam Raisani’s offer and the underlying argument that links poverty with militancy.

First, assuming that poverty was the main driver to have sent the Baloch up the mountains to resist the state, what is the mechanism for them to return given the fact that there is a huge trust deficit between the insurgents and the state? The fact of the matter is that the federal government has failed to honour its own initiatives in the form of the Mushahid Hussain and the Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain missions. In fact, the state went ahead and killed Nawab Akbar Bugti even after pretending to talk. Today, there is no single neutral arbiter that both sides would trust.

Second, how can trust begin to develop as long as Balochistan is being flooded by other kinds of violent agents of the state like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD). The LeJ, in particular, is going around killing the Hazaras and sowing seeds of discontent in a land where different communities did coexist much more peacefully in the past. The formula that one kind of militant may be allowed and not the other is not going to impress anyone.

Third, the poverty-violence nexus is very linear. I was reminded of a study carried out in the 1990s by a British-American strategic thinker, Colin S Gray, in which he argued that weapons did not make war. The idea was to question a popular notion that once weapons are created they tend to generate propensity for war. But the more important issue was not to look at war simplistically as a product of a single element. Fortunately, the PIDE study by Sadia Mariam Malik admits that the formula used in the study is linear.

If poverty and landlessness were the two main drivers then it surely doesn’t explain why militants are constantly being recruited from Punjab, which is the granary of Pakistan. It doesn’t explain why the mid-tier leadership of the militant outfits based in Punjab is from the middle class. There is a need to differentiate between the causes of conflict and violence. For instance, the LeJ in Balochistan does not kill because people are poor but due to their inherent ideology to target Shias and create dissent in the area.

This is not to argue that poverty does not have any impact. In Punjab, for instance, the proliferation of madrassas is connected with poverty. Surely, in other provinces, too, people would be sending children to religious seminaries to solve the problem of free boarding and lodging for their children. However, there are other factors used to motivate people to fight. The exhibition of photos and videos of dead bodies of Muslim men and women in Palestine, Kashmir, Myanmar and other places along with the message that it is God’s duty towards its people to protect these people becomes a driver.

Many police investigators argue that the jihadis from Punjab are the most rabid and brutal. These young warriors are incensed by the brutality towards sister and brother Muslims whom they have never seen or met. Interestingly, we have greater sympathy with this formulation than the idea that a lot of those fighting the state in Balochistan are angered by the brutality towards their kith and kin. Using simplistic methodologies like a poverty-violence linear linkage, we comfortably ignore the fact that the insurgent base at the moment comprises a middle class that was brutalised to a point that they were forced to take up weapons against the state.

The application of the above theory in Balochistan is problematic also because it does not take into consideration the fact that Balochistan is not this single-monolithic whole. The province can be divided into three: (a) a Pashtun area, (b) a Baloch area that includes places such as Dera Bugti, Kohlu and others that I call the ‘heartland’, and (c) a Baloch area along the Makran coastal belt. The Pashtun area is generally more peaceful and more developed than the other areas. The problem with the Baloch heartland, which is tribal, is not just its tribal legacy but also the fact that the state has continuously supplied weapons and strengthened the traditional patronage-based system that it proposed to replace. This means that conditions continue to be the same. The heartland is also the area where the LeJ and others are making way. This means that violence as a means of negotiating violence will persist.

The coastal belt is totally another place. This is an area where the idea of Pakistan was not dominant even in 1947 as it was in Lahore, Karachi or other places. Sadly, the state never ventured to showcase Pakistan as a positive formulation. Moreover, the battle that was waged around 2006 has not endeared the state to ordinary people. When the FC jawans enter houses and brutalise people in hot pursuit, poverty alone does not matter.

It is also a fact that years of violence have stripped most Baloch area of any socioeconomic development potential. The Baloch middle class, which does not want to be part of this battle, has moved away to other places. Here is a case of war creating poverty and not the other way around.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2012.

The Most Popular News of the day in your Inbox daily.

Reader Comments (16)

  • Sarah
    Dec 4, 2012 - 11:18PM

    This seems like a very accurate analysis. Would have been better with a more detailed picture of the role of agencies in the troubled province.


  • Salma
    Dec 5, 2012 - 12:05AM

    Pashtun areas are generally more “developed” ??? how come? which ones? in which indicators? in education?, in health, maternal and child mortality?, water?, environment?, gender parity? child labour, housing, infrastructure ? Balochistan as a whole has been neglected – this is a fact.


  • Lalai
    Dec 5, 2012 - 9:45AM

    The formula that one kind of militant may be allowed and not the other is not going to impress anyone” I think this is the crux of the problem. This is against the philosophy of the justice that you patronize one group of killers and try to terminate the other group.


  • alibaloch
    Dec 5, 2012 - 1:07PM

    salma i agree with your notion,yes balochistan as whole being neglacted by the fedration from its very begining,but u cant compare the baloch dominated areas as i belong from a very humble area of panjgur district,leave development,education,hospitals and other all modern world facilities,,,our worry s how to get drinking water,,,even people dont have time to think about any other matter…..anyone just travel from quetta to panjgur road ,,then he will not be able to move for three days,,we have such horriable roads.people are really compelled to move on mountains and struggle for a seprate nation.


  • sattar rind
    Dec 5, 2012 - 1:50PM

    as usual a great article on the issue and very true. as mainly the middle class is in war…and they are not in war for any job but ideology. what they think is right. they are in war for independent of Baluchistan not for poverty…..


  • Baha Ul Haq
    Dec 5, 2012 - 5:45PM

    the analysis is almost on the basis of theory. the Balochistan as whole are neglected from the beginning. all the rulers brought the destruction to Balochistan. some were one basis to give an end to the Sardari System and some were on the basis of development. all balochistanites are living in the the black hole. the education system is destroyed completely. the living example is the cadet college of Jaffar Abad. they only constructed it but not leaving it to operate. the administration is from punjab. they are not keenly interesting in the operating the college. there is no any force from sardars on them. if Punjabis are willingly want baloch developed then why CCJ is not going well.


  • Salma
    Dec 5, 2012 - 5:51PM

    @alibaloch same in Pashtun areas no roads – no schools – no health care – nothing – there has never been a Pashtun provincial govt how can the areas have developed more??


  • Baha Ul Haq
    Dec 5, 2012 - 6:01PM

    we are all want to be part of balochistan. there is democracy in Pakistan. they elected via votes. the delima in Balochistan is not that there is not government of Pukhtoon. the Pukhtoon mula are always in government in Balochistan. and Pukhtoon Nationalist party is suppressed by these theologians in balochistan. we want development but we do not need any nominal Pukhtoon or Baloch rulers who only filling their pockets. there are amost 12 more less ministers are pukhtoon in MPA are pukhtoon. but what did they do??????:)


  • Musthaq Ahmed
    Dec 5, 2012 - 6:17PM

    Methodological problems, paradigms, formulations,linkages ! This jargon is more american than the drones. It kills the case at hand and gives spur to sophistry. And apparently the “strategic” thinker boy Colin Gray makes a good living spinning theories that keep US foreign interventions out. Like Indian social scientists Madame Ayesha has a habit of revealing to the public what was front page news for decades. But then don’t we have the satisfaction of correct paradigms and right linkages?


  • arif mehdi
    Dec 5, 2012 - 7:57PM

    suprb article which summarize the causes behind!Recommend

  • Salma
    Dec 5, 2012 - 8:46PM

    @Baha Ul Haq: well the entire prov assembly is the cabinet – so how do u call it representation of pashtuns or Baloch? – it’s a big joke – I don’t want to get in the corruption debate of last five years and cloud the decades of negligence – the point I made was certainly different. If anyone has doubts they can check official stats of districts here:- http://www.pbs.gov.pk/content/pakistan-social-and-living-standards-measurement-survey-pslm-2010-11-provincial-district-0


  • alibaloch
    Dec 5, 2012 - 9:14PM

    salma we all are victim of this injustice,,,unity among us is essential otherwise we are going towards destruction…..we should stand one against all conspiracies,,


  • alibaloch
    Dec 5, 2012 - 9:31PM

    salma we all are victim of this injustice,,,unity among us is essential otherwise we are going towards destruction…..we should stand one against all conspiracies,,Recommend

  • Abdul Malik
    Dec 5, 2012 - 11:04PM

    ……… We need to counter that theme on which is leading to militancy …. The most ever corrupt Govt is in power in Balochistan …. 100 of billions have been taken away … Then we talk about roads and health… How much of monsy has been invested on all of this… Enough of Mourn done … KHUDA NA AJJ TUK US QOUM KI HALAT NAHI BADLI NA HO JIS KO KHYAL AP APNI HALAT K BADALNY KA…. people need to stand against This corrupt and disloyal politicians .. Those have taken 100 Of billions to their home … Their own kids are studying in worlds best institution, where as they keep on motivating poor to fight against Own Country … They dnt have an iota of Shame…………….


  • Salma
    Dec 5, 2012 - 11:29PM

    @alibaloch: that’s not the point of disagreement here – anyways yes u are right!


  • Baha Ul Haq
    Dec 7, 2012 - 8:28PM

    @salma: the dilemma is that we very time come under their passionate speeches during the election. the result of nationalist parties is also in front of us. i am going to give one example of the District Ziarat. i saw the situation of District during the regime Musharraf when minister from mentioned district was nationalist party. now it is time of election. we are to uproot the nationalist and nation wide tested parties. we are to bring the ministers who willingly know the feelings and needs of the nation. may God bless us with the real servantsand real the well wishers of the nation. and we are not bring the pure people other wise we will be like Sumalia..


More in Pakistan