Balochistan: strong-arm handling of political issues

Demand represented a large gap between tribal values of justice and state perceptions

Sahibzada Riaz Noor May 19, 2023
The writer has served as Chief Secretary, K-P. He has an MA Hons from Oxford University and is the author of two books of English poetry 'The Dragonfly & Other Poems' and 'Bibi Mubarika and Babur’


Within quotes below is the translation of an extract from ‘Jou Mein Ne Daikha’ by Rao Rasheed, ex-IG West Pakistan & Special Secretary to PM (his 1st district appointment was as SP Kalat state in 1956): “After creation of Pakistan the history of Balochistan can be divided into two parts. The first is the period from 1947 up to the appointment of Nawab Amir Mohammad Khan of Kalabagh as Governor West Pak. The 2nd is the period from Kalabagh up till today, 2004. Up until Nawab Kalabagh, the problems of Balochistan were mainly tackled and resolved as political issues because the civilian officers who were posted in Balochistan belonged to the Political Service of erstwhile British India.”

British Political Service officers administered the tribal areas adjoining erstwhile NWFP and Balochistan in a discreet manner allowing use of rewaj and customs in dispute resolution by tribesmen, respecting local values and leadership and taking recourse to use of force only as a last resort rather than as a preferred first line of action. They were able to maintain relative peace and order in an otherwise turbulent environment, located in an area of great geo-strategic significance for British India. Being largely successful in trying to maintain law and order, they brought the fruits of peace to a fiercely independent people for over 70 years.

“These officers had training and experience of political service and handled relations and tried to resolve problems through peaceful means by deft interaction with the tribes, the sardars and Khan of Kalat through exercise of thoughtful wisdom, leavened with respect for local customs, leadership and tribal sense of pride. There were seasoned political officers like Col. Yousaf, Agha Abdul Hameed, Kharral. Raja Ahmed Khan spent a lifetime in that area. The need for army action never arose. Disputes and issues would arise but would soon get resolved peacefully. At times the government would adopt a moderate and at others a more assertive policy. But when in 1958 martial law was imposed and Nawab Kalabagh became Governor West Pakistan, a succession of army and military actions started which have not come to an end as yet.”

While putting all the blame on one person may not be totally justified, yet the overall tenor of state policy towards Baloch problems of treating problems with political and economic roots as security issues continues.

The Balochistan disputes arose as a matter of course rather than being abnormal as do arise in a situation of resource scarcity. These resources and issues encompassed physical assets like gas, oil and other minerals; issues of where the line was to be drawn between state writ and regional and local autonomy.

The death of Nawab Akbar Bugti is telling of the manner in which things could have been handled better, resulting in an insurrectionary situation that continues to this day.

The way his death is perceived and described in Baloch historiography and official narratives are a fair comment on the wide divergences in local and state mental frames. For the one, Akbar Bugti epitomises Baloch courage to stand up for local customs and rights and defiance of arbitrary authority. For the other, Nawab Bugti is portrayed as having “committed suicide” or at best depictive of seditious revolt. That he remained the Governor of Balochistan, and Federal Minister Interior, being hard to explain, is papered over.

Baloch grievances regarding denial of economic rights like non-provision of Sui gas to areas of Balochistan (Quetta received gas more than 23 years after its extension and supply to Karachi and Punjab while Balochistan produces 56% of all gas, it consumes only 6%), resentment over insufficient share in jobs in government and state enterprise, perceived large footprint of non-Baloch workers and the tendency to manipulate, manage and install pliable provincial governments, had persisted ever since Balochistan was made part of Pakistan.

In addition the state has been unable to assuage dissatisfactions over the gas and oil royalty rates and revenues disbursed, as well as the share of Balochistan in the development outlays of the federation, leading to the province lagging behind, in most socio-economic indices, far behind the rest of the country.

The immediate cause of the trouble was the act in 2004 of forced physical abuse committed by a serving major of Pakistan Army against a lady doctor, Dr Shazia Khalid, serving in a Sui PPL hospital.

As per Baloch rewaj the local tribe demanded that for justice to be meted out to the lady doctor and amends be made for the “crime against tribal values and customs”, the officer should be handed over for trial by a tribal jirga. Rewaj of “protection of honour of lady guests” was invoked.

The demand represented a large gap between tribal values of justice and state perceptions. Being handled with astuteness there should not have been any difficulty in finding an amicable political solution that an experienced Tehsildar or an Assistant Commissioner could not have found!

It was not only that the female’s honour had been ravaged but the dignity and shame of the tribe stood despoiled.

Tribal custom demanded a mandatory requirement of providing protection and amends to the lady doctor for the breach of her honour. The demand for the army officer be handed over to the tribe for trial, as per local rewaj, by a tribal jirga, was thus only in keeping with the moral values of a Baloch tribe, a covenant that was unimpeachable by both the tribe as well as the state.

The demand was rejected and the army officer was tried under military law and acquitted. To add insult to injury an impression was given out that the lady doctor had solicited the treatment meted out to her.

Violence erupted. Armed tribesmen took to the hills. Pipelines and installations were attacked; army/FC camps were fired upon. Rockets were fired on the helicopter carrying Gen Pervez Musharraf on a visit to Kohlu. Musharraf made his famous statement: “We will strike you so hard that you will not know what has hit you.” The fifth Baloch insurrection had started.

What can be done? One factor is of undisputed significance: that economic deprivation causing political grievances are best resolved through political means rather than through the sight of a gun.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2023.

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