The intractability of the Baloch problem lies in a skewed understanding of its historical roots, which has prevented successive governments from fully grasping the issue.
When Pakistan was established in August 1947, it was constitutionally composed of only those areas of British India which had opted for it. The British allowed the Muslims to establish a separate homeland for themselves, but only on the basis of the will of the people and through democratic channels. Therefore, Punjab and Bengal legislatures voted for partition along communal lines. In Sind, the Muslim League ministry supported Pakistan, and the Shahi Jirga and the members of the Quetta municipality voted to join Pakistan on behalf of British Balochistan. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), at that time, was run by a congress government and the British allowed for a referendum on the issue of Pakistan. The resulting referendum in July 1947, showed overwhelming support for the new country and so KPK was included in Pakistan. Hence, Pakistan was democratically created (as understood at that time) with the aforementioned areas.
What did not constitute Pakistan on August 15 1947, were the erstwhile princely states of Kalat, Khairpur, Bahawalpur, Dir, Swat, Chitral, Amb, Hunza and Nagar. Under the Indian Independence Act 1947, all the princely states of India were free to join either Pakistan, India or remain independent. The problem was that since these states were not part of British India, (they were bound only by certain treaties) and were in fact sovereign fiefs of their rulers, the British could not force them to adhere to the will of their people. The story of Kashmir — where the Hindu maharaja set aside the aspirations of two-thirds of his population and threw in his lot with India — is too well known to us. Similarly, the Nizam of Hyderabad wanted to remain independent, but his state was attacked and annexed by India in September 1948.
It is within this context that we need to understand the Baloch problem. It is sufficiently clear that the people of Kalat state did not want to join Pakistan, but wanted to have close and friendly relations with its neighbour. It is also obvious that the Khan of Kalat’s accession to Pakistan was quickly challenged by his people and his own brother took up the banner of revolt in July 1948. Also, important here to note is that the Khan of Kalat presided over a very complex tribal confederacy, where he was not ‘sovereign’ like the other maharajas and the Nizam. The nature of Kalat, bound him to consult and respect the views of the tribal sardars. Hence, unlike other rulers, he could not sign away the state without the agreement of his sardars — a fact he himself noted in his autobiography published in the 1970s.
Therefore, the March 27 1948, Instrument of Accession signed by Ahmed Yar Khan, might have constitutionally made Kalat a part of Pakistan but it did not have the force of moral and political authority. To put it in a clearer perspective, a Baloch nationalist would compare him/herself to a Kashmiri whose state was signed off to a country by the ruler without the consent of the people. If we are so adamant in supporting the moral cause of the Kashmiri people, then how can we ignore and persecute those who want the same right of self-determination in Balochistan?
With an understanding of this history, we need to realise that this is not some mere insurgency. The longevity of their struggle is a sign that this is not a small, fanatical movement, but a struggle which has roots in a historic wrong (again, like Kashmir) — but which we still have a chance to correct. Therefore, we need to treat and talk to the Baloch with respect and equality and give them concrete incentives to remain in the federation of Pakistan — or else accept their right of self-determination. To keep Pakistan together as a country and in order to make it a strong and prosperous state we need to — in a way — go back to 1947 and begin with a clean slate, and reconstruct the country based on freedom, equality and democracy.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2011.