A troubled land

Published: February 19, 2012

Predictably, the US Congressional hearing on Balochistan has triggered off much comment in Pakistan, some to give vent to a sense of outrage at the American interference and some to express vague sanctimonious sentiments about the suffering of the Baloch people. There has also been a welcome evidence of Pakistani analysts addressing the roots of Baloch alienation, especially the rage of the Balochi youth. I cannot think of a better way of joining the discussion than by making the basic point that has generally lacked emphasis in our commentaries, namely that without Balochistan, there would be no Pakistan. In the case of Bangladesh, we allowed a lobby of narrow vested interests to rationalise its traumatic severance from Jinnah’s Pakistan by arguing that, in the final analysis, it was beneficial to have jettisoned its troublesome eastern wing. In Balochistan’s case, no such misconceived and self-serving pragmatism would be conceivable.

Consider the land. A sprawling region of Pakistan spread over 347,190 sq kms abuts Afghanistan and Iran and provides Pakistan with a long coastline that links the country with the Persian Gulf and pioneers its maritime stretch into South Asia. Home to oil, gas and minerals such as copper, coal, marble, chromite, barite, limestone, shale, it is the principal guarantee of Pakistan’s future prosperity. But more importantly, consider its people in their historical context. Viewed through the prism of the writings of Herder and Fichte, as was done by a contributor to this newspaper only the other day [“The Balochistan conundrum”], Amber Darr, Feb 15], the inhabitants of all provinces of Pakistan qualify to be ‘nations’ or, if one is squeamish, ‘nationalities’ with hallowed traditions of distinctive culture and well-developed languages. Pakistan does not have pure ethnic or linguistic provinces, each one of them being a mosaic of great richness. All its peoples came together in a federation in 1947 confident that their political, economic and cultural rights would face no threat in a state created as a mighty hedge against the hegemony of one religious group that would dominate India under majoritarian principles.

Unfortunately, in Balochistan’s case, this confidence was undermined by some issues that accompanied the accession of its ‘princely’ states to Pakistan in 1947-48 and, far more seriously, by the persistent neo-colonial approach to administering a huge province with sparse population (estimated at 7,597,000 now) with a strong tribal structure. Balochistan had its tribal chiefs but not a middle class that could participate effectively in the tortuous quest for equilibrium in a federation with an inherent imbalance with one populous province that enjoyed a dominant representation in the national army and security forces. Regrettably, during both periods — of military rule and of democratic restoration — Balochistan was the victim of impatience on the part of the federal dispensations leading to a hasty recourse to the use of force to suppress dissent.

This was, indeed, the shortest route to converting this dissent into an armed insurgency that has locked the relations of the federation with its utterly indispensible constituent into a spiral of mindless violence. The present situation in the province represents the worst manifestation of an enduring contradiction of Pakistan’s polity: it is, at the declaratory level, committed to parliamentary democracy as the linchpin of national unity, political integration and economic development and the rule of law that underwrites the social contract while, at the practical level, it tolerates a stubborn denial of the rights of the people, particularly of smaller  ‘nationalities’, disadvantaged population groups and minorities. The Balochistan initiatives of the present government run a heavy risk of being consigned to the category of  ‘too little, too late’ in the histories of militant sub-national movements. Clearly, Islamabad will have to stay one step ahead of those in the Balochi movement who have lost faith in negotiations and of predatory foreign powers that see a target of opportunity in the current crisis.

Instead of rejecting out of hand the pre-conditions attached to a dialogue by the so-called ‘separatists’, Islamabad should engage them to help create conditions in which all demands could be negotiated. The Constitution has space for genuine autonomy without undermining the foundations of a federal state. Above all, the taboo on a public debate on Balochistan must now end as it is no longer a sub-regional law and order issue; it has existential implications for the state. It is also high time that 64 years down the line, the Baloch should be able to count on the support of millions of other Pakistanis who are anxious to find the right answers to the divisive issues of their troubled land. It is also about time that parliament rises to the challenge and helps translate that national sentiment into effective policies. It is a race against time but it can be won.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • Ronnie B
    Feb 19, 2012 - 11:02PM

    Most of us are hoping for the opposite, that indeed, the time has finally come for a free and independent Balochistan responsible for and able to provide for its own development.


  • Saif
    Feb 19, 2012 - 11:12PM

    Balochistan is a sideshow. The elephant in the room nobody talk about is Sindh. Many Sindhi youth are today just as alienated as those in Baclochistan but they do not get the media coverage and congressional hearing. Unless something is done to break up Punjab this country has no future. How Punjab can exist if both Balochistan and Sindh break away? It will be landlocked and its economy will be tiny. Punjabi arrogance is the root cause of all Pakistan’s problems.


  • mahreen
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:22AM

    beautifully expressed, on part of the youth of Balochistan, who are keen and eager to be the catalyst of change in the province, a resource rich land attracting vultures needs immediate solution to crisis before it turns into a tragedy and the most important point expressed in the article is definitely the presense of Sardars and tribal chiefs and absence of a middle class that brings about a social democratic revolution. Thankyou Mr Khan for voicing the feelings of millions of Pakistanis out there.


  • Mirza
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:23AM

    There is a fantasy of establishment and its touts that Baluchistan is not East Pakistan. They believe that they could not change the genes of Bengalis but they can go ahead with the tiny Baloch population in Baluchistan. It is a shame that we have not learned anything from East Pakistan’s surrender. We put a gag order on the East Pakistan news and surrender. However, this is 21st century and we cannot hide the facts on the ground from the world.
    The only solution of Baluchistan is that all agencies must be pulled out of the province. The local population must be given full and complete autonomy in all their affairs. That is the only right step in solving the problem of disappearing Baloch men and the appearance of their mutilated bodies. If we do not do this then the world would take the lead. It is our perhaps last choice.


  • yousaf
    Feb 20, 2012 - 5:29AM

    @ author — Sir,with due apology/respect this article is very pungent and illogical.A person having experience like yours should give concrete solutions to the problems rather than just point at them


  • Zalim singh
    Feb 20, 2012 - 8:49AM

    troubled indeed.


  • Feroz
    Feb 20, 2012 - 10:41AM

    Pakistan is ruled by groups with vested interests whose World view is detrimental not only to its own citizens but a threat to the civilized World. These groups jockey with each other to grab a greater share of Power often compromising the sovereignty and countries interests. If Political Parties and their leaders do not develop the backbone to confront the violent theological, sectarian and ethnic ideology that is destroying the nation, situation will become hopeless. Power must rest with the people not non democratic usurpers.


  • Feb 20, 2012 - 11:45AM

    The elite ruling this country cares least for Pakistan but most for their vested interests. If past experience is any judge than this elite will not relinquish their hold on power, but will not mind seeing a repeat of 1971.Recommend

  • wonderer
    Feb 20, 2012 - 12:01PM

    The US Congressional hearing on Balochistan has created some worry about American intentions concerning Baluchistan. But there are those who feel the US is already defeated in Afghanistan and planning to cut and run as soon as possible. The following link will provide some more interesting hints to the possible US thinking.

    Afghanistan: 450 Bases And It’s Not Over Yet



  • ahmed
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:55PM

    It’s very easy to say that “we will win the hearts and minds of people of balochistan”.. But the question is how would you do it ??

    Right now pakistan has no choice but to listen to baloch people. people from panjab thinks that they know better about baloch people and … they want education,health,jobs etc… I would call it “arrogance” on the part of panjabi population..
    These are not the things they want..this is what you want to give them.. and there is a difference between supply and demand here.. You just can’t sell an refrigerator to an eskimo. or will you ??

    So you should start listening to them and accept their demand. There is no choice. This is 21st century and here even a small group of people can change the world if they have the right ideas and just cause . An era of military operation is over… this is their first demand.. Pull out military.


  • Mustafa Moiz
    Feb 20, 2012 - 2:39PM

    There was no illegal act by Pakistan with regards to the accession of Balochistan and Kalat in 1948. The Khan of Kalat willingly, if not enthusiastically, acceded to Pakistan in 1948, and it wasn’t the entrance of soldiers into the land that forced him.
    Pakistan’s approach was laudable under Pervez Musharraf, and it should be noted that the reason there is not much of a middle class, the reason there is little development, is because of the sardars, who find it suits them to keep their people impoverished and the land underdeveloped.


  • Mustafa Moiz
    Feb 20, 2012 - 2:40PM

    @Ronnie B:
    Most of who? The Americans? The Indians? The Afghans?


  • wonderer
    Feb 20, 2012 - 3:25PM


    I am an Indian, and in full agreement with you. The army and the paramilitary forces are the main culprits; responsible for all cases of people disappearing, and their tortured and murdered bodies dumped on roadsides. They seem to have learnt nothing from the 1971 debacle (I was there when the army surrendered).

    The army and all armed forces should be pulled out immediately. And, then there should be serious talks to restore the rights of the Baluch Qom.


  • Kafka
    Feb 20, 2012 - 3:55PM

    Sir, pull out Mr. Zardari’s photo, look at it and then ask yourself, Is this man capable of solving ANY problem?, leave alone Balochistan issue.


  • Menon
    Feb 20, 2012 - 7:08PM

    Balochistan never wanted to part of Pakistan in 1947. The then colonial rulers, the British gifted it to Pakistan, Balochistan did not ascede but ceded to Pakistan by the British.

    There is an element of irony in all this. The British used divide and rule in India and middle-east in the hopes that none of these nations will become more powerful than the west. Now this has become the biggest problem for the west.

    Imagine if India was not divided, Afghinatan would have been peaceful, no Taliban, no Al Queda, no Osama and the rest. The region would be peacful, prosperous and powerful.


  • Feb 20, 2012 - 7:34PM

    Good column. Sir, it not Balochi movement or Balochi person rather it is Baloch Movement and Baloch person. Saif your last sentence must be repeated time and again


  • Prabhjyot Singh Madan
    Feb 20, 2012 - 7:44PM

    I think, the author is more concerned about the land mass by percentage of baluchistan vis a vis Pakistan, the wealth of minerals and its relation to Pakistan’s prosperity is paramount to him. He mentioned in the end about the baloch people and I feel better late than never in the article mentioning Balochistan’s wealth. It does not matter if they number just 7.5 million and their territorial periphery is nearly half of Pakistan, they are innocent people living there. According to your defination Balochistan is your territory so look after them more than the kashmiris who are a disputed lot. Very sad to see that since baloch people are less , does it make them less human to Pakistanis. Sat Sri akal, salam, cheerio. Take care all of you


  • Feb 20, 2012 - 8:55PM

    It is already late. Let us recognise Balochistan.


  • let there be peace
    Feb 20, 2012 - 9:47PM

    The Constitution has space for genuine autonomy without undermining the foundations of a federal state.

    In fact, the beauty of Pakistan’s constitution is that you can scrap it and make a new one every few years!


  • History Maniac
    Feb 21, 2012 - 1:16AM

    Very sound and effective reasoning; but with a few historical ‘inaccuracies’. Balochistan, or Qalat was not a ‘princely’ state. The last Khan of Qalat (Balochistan) Mir Ahmad Yar Khan after taking over as Khan in 1930s, continuously claimed with British to hand over certain subjects earlier ceded by Qalat to British as a rsult of Qalat’s agreement with the British Crown, as a sovereign state. Khan claimed vigorously that Qalat was not a ‘princely’ state, like other pricedoms in the subcontinent. So Qalat (Balochistan) did not fall in the Indian federation, then under British. So its sovereignty be handed over back to Qalat before the British depart from the subcontinent. But, the Brits, in somewhat haste to relinquish the subcontinent, did not or could not resolve this issue, like some other important issues, e.g the issue of division of waters between Pakistan & India, issue of division of assets & etc.
    Apart from above de-jure status, the defacto situation at the time of Independence was that both the ‘House of Commons’ and ‘Upper House’ of the ‘Qalat Parliament’ had voted against the accession with Pakistan. As such it can be safely assumed that Baloch of Balochistan did not join Pakistan voluntarily.


  • Cynical
    Feb 21, 2012 - 6:13PM

    @History Maniac

    Very interesting input of historical importance.Can you suggest some books/links for further study on this issue.


  • History Maniac
    Feb 21, 2012 - 8:46PM

    A few books & links are:
    1. Martin Axmann, “BACK TO THE FUTURE; The Khanate of Kalat and the Genesis of Baloch Nationalism 1915-1955″ Karachi, 2008, Publishers Oxford Unvst Press
    2. A. B. Awan (Ayub Bux Awan; Ex-Director IB & Home Secy)”BALUCHISTAN; Historical and Political Processes” 1985, London, Published by New Century Publishers
    3. Slelig Harrison, ” In the Shadow of Afghanistan; Baloch Nationalism…” (if my memory helps me:) it was also published in 1980s.
    4. Mir Ahmad Yar Khan “Inside Balochistan: A Political Autobiography of His Highness Baiglar Baigi Khan-e-Azam XIII” 1975, Publishers Royal Book Company. (It is autobiography of the last Khan Of Kalat Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, the Khan-e-Baloch).
    5. Selig Harrison, “Can Pakistan Survive?” (Presentation /Lecture 2009); can be searched & accessed at http://www.carneigieendowment.org (first go to home page then go to Pakistan in South Asia and then search by the subject please)
    The above have been given, mostly, by memory. Hope my memory is not that defective. For some other links, kindly wait for a few hours more.


  • History Maniac
    Feb 22, 2012 - 6:58PM

    Sorry fordealy, bcause of Net problem. Some links are:
    http://foreighnaffairs.house.gov/112/HHRG-112-FA-WState-APeters-20120208.pdf (Testimony of Mr Ralph Peter, ex-Officer US Army & now think tank, before US House sub-Committee on Balochistan. Writer of so-called ‘Blood Borders’ in which he advocated re-shaping of borders in Asia, particularly in Pakistan & ME).
    http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/112/HHRG-112-FA-WState-TKumar-20120208.pdf (Testimony by Mr T. Kumar of Amnesty International before US House sub-Committee on Balochistan).
    http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/112/HHRG-112-FA-Wstate-CFair-20120208.pdf (Testimony by Prof (Ms) Christine Fair before US House sub-Committee on Balochistan. Ms Fair is Asstt Prof in Georgetown Unvsty & an expert on South Asia).
    http://foreignsffairs.house.gov/112/HHRG-112-FA-WState-DHasan-20120208.pdf (Testimony before the above Committee by Mr Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan Director of Human Rights Watch).

    (Message Incomplete, as it is time for elecy outage here).


  • Cynical
    Feb 23, 2012 - 8:58PM

    @History Maniac

    Heartfelt thanks for your time and trouble.
    Please complete the message when you find time.


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