States do let go of territories

Published: February 22, 2012
The writer teaches political science at the University of British Columbia in Canada

The writer teaches political science at the University of British Columbia in Canada

In an op-ed titled “Be strong, not hard”, published in these pages on February 21, Ejaz Haider problematises conflict in Balochistan and offers suggestions to Islamabad on how to tackle the crisis in the troubled province. The premise of his argument is on the assumption that all states are alike when it comes to dealing with people wanting to secede from them. He puts it unequivocally in following words: “Balochistan is indeed Pakistan’s internal issue. Those who want Balochistan to secede from Pakistan will get the state’s full reply. That too, given how states behave, is a foregone conclusion. Hell, states don’t even let go of disputed territories and care even less about whether or not people in those territories want to live with them.”

Historical and empirical evidence of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, fortunately, does not validate Ejaz Haider’s claim. States do care if people living in their jurisdictions want to stay under existing arrangements or not. Contrary to Ejaz Haider’s claim, states do let go of people and territories through peaceful means.

I will cite three cases where the states in question have behaved peacefully while dealing with political actors who have championed the cause of independence from them. My argument, therefore, is that not all states are alike and the outcomes of independence movements vary significantly.

Let us look at the former Czechoslovakia, a state where leaders peacefully decided in 1992 to split into two countries — Czech Republic and Slovakia. In 1989, Vaclav Havel’s Civic Forum led the peaceful movement against the communist regime. This movement because of its ability to affect political change through nonviolent means got the title of the Velvet Revolution. Viladimir Meciar’s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia emerged as a leading party in Slovakia demanding greater autonomy for the region. Unable to get along in a federation, the Czech and Slovak leaders passed the law on December 27, 1992 to go their separate ways. Three years into the Velvet Revolution, Czech and Slovakia opted for the velvet divorce.

The Quebec sovereignty movement in Canada is another case where the central government has chosen to deal with the demand for sovereignty through peaceful means. The Parti Quebecois (PQ), pro-sovereignty party in Canada’s second most populous province, was in power in the 1990s. The PQ held a referendum in the province in 1995 asking people if they would like to form an independent country. The PQ lost the referendum by a razor-thin margin of less than one per cent. The Canadian government, at no point, had indicated or implied the use of force to suppress the Quebec separatists.

Lastly, let us look at Scotland where the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) under the leadership of Alex Salmond has decided to hold referendum in the autumn of 2014 on the independence of Scotland from the United Kingdom. London has not mobilised forces, conventional or nuclear, to prevent tiny Scotland to get out of mighty United Kingdom.

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore says that any referendum held without Westminster — seat of the British power — backing would not be legally binding and can be legal challenged. Mr Moore, however, does recognise the SNP’s right to hold a referendum. David Cameron, the British prime minister has said that ‘Scotland will vote to remain part of the UK.’ Cameron is selling the idea of a unified UK to Scotland on the ground that together they can meet challenges, mainly economic, more effectively than on their own. Mr Cameron recognises that ‘the choice over independence should be for the Scottish people to make.’ The prime minister made it clear that he is ‘not going to stand here and suggest Scotland couldn’t make a go of being on its own, if that’s what people decide.’

Examples of Canada, former Czechoslovakia, and the United Kingdom illustrate that not all states are alike when it comes to keeping or letting go of disenchanted populations and regions within their territories. Thus, the argument that in essence all states are the same is a fallacy that is neither theoretically useful nor empirically sustainable.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (46)

  • adeel
    Feb 22, 2012 - 11:22PM

    england never gave up ireland even when the IRA terrorism was at its balochistan,it’s just 3 sardars out of more than 70 who want to break up pakistan.half of balochistan’s population is pashtun and there are lakhs more hazara people as well as punjabi and urdu speakers.the media is trying to present a picture that all of balochistan wants to secede which is not true.the balochs form less than 50% of the population in the province and out of those also only three sardars want to secede.


  • Feb 22, 2012 - 11:38PM

    Thank you, Mr. Nizamani, for making these very valid arguments. There’s a 4th example outside of Europe and the Americas. Most recently, in Africa, South Sudan seceded from Sudan via a referendum – this followed a long and violent civil war. Nevertheless, the eventual referendum was a major victory for human rights and democracy.


  • Shoaib
    Feb 22, 2012 - 11:46PM

    First of all
    whats ur point ??? criticism for the sake of criticism ???
    still u choose wrong examples, east Timor and south Sudan ring any bells ???


  • Falcon
    Feb 22, 2012 - 11:55PM

    What you have cited are good examples, but more detail is needed to determine how this happened so peacefully. In case of Pakistan, this might have taken it easy had we not only gone through the experience in East Pakistan. Even though we are making the same mistakes again, it is important to note that secession of East Pakistan has certainly scarred Pakistan’s psyche making it quite sensitive about territorial integrity.


  • Maryam
    Feb 23, 2012 - 12:12AM

    Great Article and well presented case. Let me also mention East Timor, Bosnia, Southern Sudan and then the states which separated from the Russian Federation and become Independent. Pakistan it self was created in a such a way.


  • leader
    Feb 23, 2012 - 12:15AM

    well there is a difference without Scotland there will still be England… without Balochistan there will be a mess in the region, either the whole region aka subcontinent get its map redrawn or keep the stalemate…. rights movement should only be views as rights movement rather than making it from of a freedom movement…


  • Malik Rashid
    Feb 23, 2012 - 12:17AM

    Secession Pakistan style:
    “The PAKISTAN Eastern Command agree to surrender all PAKISTAN Armed Forces in BANGLA DESH to Lieutenant-General JAGJIT SINGH AURORA, General Officer Commanding in Chief of the Indian and BANGLA DESH forces in the Eastern Theatre. This surrender includes all PAKISTAN land, air and naval forces as also all para-military forces and civil armed forces. These forces will lay down their arms and surrender at the places where they are currently located to the nearest regular troops under the command of Lieutenant-General JAGJIT SINGH AURORA.

    The PAKISTAN Eastern Command shall come under the orders of Lieutenant-General JAGJIT SINGH AURORA as soon as the instrument has been signed. Disobedience of orders will be regarded as a breach of the surrender terms and will be dealt with in accordance with the accepted laws and usages of war. The decision of Lieutenant-General JAGJIT SINGH AURORA will be final, should any doubt arise as to the meaning or interpretation of the surrender terms.

    Lieutenant-General JAGJIT SINGH AURORA gives a solemn assurance that personnel who surrender shall be treated with dignity and respect that soldiers are entitled to in accordance with provisions of the GENEVA Convention and guarantees the safety and well-being of all PAKISTAN military and para-military forces who surrender. Protection will be provided to foreign nationals, ethnic minorities and personnel of WEST PAKISTAN origin by the forces under the command of Lieutenant- General JAGJIT SINGH AURORA.”

    Signed by J.S. Aurora and A.A.K. Niazi on 16 December 1971.


  • Babloo
    Feb 23, 2012 - 12:51AM

    Mr Haider Nizamani, thanks for the brilliant, factful response to Mr Ejaz Haiders opinion. You tore his logic to pieces.


  • SaudiRules
    Feb 23, 2012 - 12:57AM

    The best way for us to move forward is to follow Quaid-e-Azam’s dream, he wanted pakistan to be a de-centralized state with autonomous provinces. It was Iskander Ali Mirza who conspired against and chnaged Quaid’s dream into a punjabi/army dominated nightmare that we have today. Lets give autonomy to sindh, baluchistan, KP and lets get rid of colonial hold of punjab on other states. I am sure this will make us peaceful and prosperous country that we can all have stakes in.


  • A Baloch
    Feb 23, 2012 - 1:44AM

    Did You know…….”Did you know M. Ali Jinnah was a Legal Advisor to the Khan of Kalat. By the way Not only that but he was also on Kalat state’s payroll”


  • Kashif Shams
    Feb 23, 2012 - 2:29AM

    I m quite surprised by the recent hype in media regarding Baluchistan issue following US congressional resolution. Everyone is trying to portray the notion that each and every person of Baluchistan is favoring a separate state, which is not an accurate perspective. I, however, favor the writer’s opinion that it is much better to separate peacefully rather than after a bloodshed. But can it be expected in a tribal society where a common person has no weight-age except what his Sardar decides. The so-called liberation will end up in further misery for common baluch under absolute authority of tribal chiefs.

    It is also important to mention here that Punjab and Sindh house more Baluchis than Baluchistan does and they are much strong here due to no control by Sardars. I request all to be rational and pragmatic and do not follow what is orchestrated, blindly.


  • Feb 23, 2012 - 2:37AM

    All government is a form of shared myth. States can’t let go of territory if they can’t let go of the idea that oppresses a subject populace. That’s what led to the bloodshed in E. Pakistan. Has the idea of Pakistan as a state of disparate Muslim provinces held together by force really different today than from 1971?


  • Mustafa Moiz
    Feb 23, 2012 - 2:59AM

    That’s not possible while Balochistan suffers under the rule of the Sardars.


  • Zulaikha
    Feb 23, 2012 - 3:25AM

    Very well written, I agree chances of keeping Balochistan as part of Pakistan are diminishing. Pakistan has to think an alternative option…greater autonomy an asymmetric federation or let the people of Balochistan to go their way. Military and para-military forces in Baluchistan are having a very depressed life. An wholesale revolt in Balochistan will repeat the 1971 scenario – massive surrender of non-native forces and another miserable defeat for Pakistan.Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Feb 23, 2012 - 3:53AM

    Poor judgment by Mr Nizamanis and he forgote to mention what happend in former Yogoslavia
    when Bosnia and croatia decided to secede away who killed them serbian with russia backs
    and what about ireland sepration goes by IRA and how British Raj replys if u living in British colombia then may be u dont wanna say that and kashmir and palestine, chechnya ok may be
    they are not humans but east temouris are god chosen may be thats the the way world is may be


  • Cynical
    Feb 23, 2012 - 4:47AM

    @Malik Rashid

    What’s your point?
    You may have the satisfaction of rubbing salt on an wound, but sadly it’s out of context.
    The issue is not the ‘Author vs. Ejaz Haider’ it’s about Pakistan.


  • ayesha
    Feb 23, 2012 - 5:31AM

    @Shoaib: “First of all whats ur point ??? criticism for the sake of criticism ???”

    It is clear that you missed the author’s point. He disagrees with Ejaz that ALL countries wll prevent self-determination movements. He has given several examples where this was not the case to prove his point. And the purpose of writing this article is to state that holding tight when people want self determination is not the only policy option there are other alternatives that could be considered. By no means does it sound like criticism for the sake of criticism.

    Shoaib, you also say ” still u choose wrong examples, east Timor and south Sudan ring any bells ???”
    The examples you are providing : South Sudan, East Timor are not relevant because in those 2 cases there was a lot of bloodshed before the countries earned their independence. He probably did not quote Bangladeshor Yugoslavia for that very reason for the exact same reason i.e. a country was not given independence but fought and earned independence.


    Feb 23, 2012 - 6:47AM


    Nizamani did try to explain his point.

    What is your point?… Criticism for the sake of criticism?

    He should have chosen the case of Hindu majority INDIA which let go Pakistan, East and West both in 1947.

    I would say Indian leaders were visionary.


  • frank
    Feb 23, 2012 - 6:48AM

    One or two exceptions do not change the fact that States, in general, do not let go of land even if that land is illegally or immorally acquired, as in the case of Indian control of Kashmir. These are emprical facts. Besides the separation of Czechoslovakia into the Czech republic and Slovakia is an example of a divorce rather than that of a state allowing some territory to secede.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Feb 23, 2012 - 7:20AM

    There were two reasons of breaking the india in 1947 first was making muslims a minority in india other wise India Hindus never able to rules the india after allmost thousand years of diffrent out side rullers and second thing was will of god i was reading one time in the last days of may 1947 Allama Ashref Ali Thanvi sahab of Deoband Islam school called Allama
    shabir ahmed usmani sahab and told him that we lost the war and its a will of god that new
    country will gonna emerged from india by the secular muslims of india and advice him go meet Mr Jinnah and tell him for the islamic laws …


  • Mr Khalid Pathan
    Feb 23, 2012 - 8:22AM

    Present day Pakistan is different from the Pakistan of 1947. The situation now is that the population of three smaller provinces is less than the population of the Punjab Province. Not only our armed forces but the Civilian administration as well is overwhelmingly dominated by the most populas province. As the population in every province is ethnically mixed up, I do not see any peaceful solution to Balochistan issu. The establishment always dealt with the Sardars leaving the masses in abject poverty. Now the masses as well as the influential Sardars do not want to remain a part of Pakistan. In the context of geopolitical realities there will be blood shed and nothing else.Recommend

  • Mythical reality
    Feb 23, 2012 - 9:42AM

    The intellectual drought that has hit Pakistan doesn’t seem to have caused much worry for the countrymen given it doesn’t lead to physical extinction. However, for the international community, it is a disaster that can affect the major chunk of the world’s population (see the geographical importance of the region). While the world at large is more than willing to find a cure, we seem to be quite gruding and disinclined to take this favour. Ejaz’s article, if read carefully, subtly calls for full use of force to settle the Baloch issue instead of exploring and implementing the peaceful solutions to it. Recommend

  • Ayesha
    Feb 23, 2012 - 10:27AM

    I hope Indians understand this article vis-a-vis Kashmir.Recommend

  • Mr T
    Feb 23, 2012 - 11:33AM

    Yet Indian leaders are not visionary enough to let Kashmir go on the same grounds…. hahaha… The Indians would hardly comment on this opinion piece as they do on other pieces where they can support Pakistan’s breakup… Funny…


  • Pakistan
    Feb 23, 2012 - 12:34PM

    President of Pakistan is ethnic Balochi. Governor of Punjab is ethnic Balochi. Senior Minister (No. 2 man) of Punjab is ethnic Balochi, and many more. More Baloch live in Sindh and Punjab than in Balochistan and are well-integrated into the populace, and enjoy all the perks and power.

    Yet still, due to majority Pashtun living in Quetta, Baloch are starting to feel like they will become a powerless minority like Sindhis did after influx of Hindustanis in Karachi. More than deprivation, it is the changing makeup of population that is worrisome to the young Baloch. In any case, Baloch do have genuine grievances and they must be addressed by giving them preferential opportunities.

    Baloch are sons of the soil and have as much right as Sindhis, Pashtun, Punjabis, Kashmiris, Bengalis, or Hindustanis.Recommend

  • Noman
    Feb 23, 2012 - 12:46PM

    I agree with Mr. Haider Nizamani’s arguments and examples, the argument given by Mr. Ejaz Haider are half truths and his examples are selective. I will also add another example to the three given by Mr. Nizamani i.e. of Singapurs succession from Malaysia, it was voluntary, peaceful and initiated by Malaysia.
    I will request Mr. Aijaz to try to recover his lost impartiality and objectivity.


  • Tahir Ali
    Feb 23, 2012 - 12:49PM

    While genuine grievances of the Balochis must be addressed at priority, the tabling of a bill by a US Congressman is a move to prepare grounds for an Independent Balochistan which would serve as a corridor, a gateway, to Central Asia and to support US bases in Afghanistan. Same is imperative to pursue their ‘containment of China’ strategy. It is unfortunate, but we have abundance of sell-off, including so called intellectuals who use their talent to secure personal gains. It is also unfortunate that this newspaper is being effectively used by such people, and foreign agencies, to pursue a well orchestrated propaganda campaign. While the author has taken pains to dig out three examples against hundreds to the contrary, may I ask him to let us know how many times he has used this argument for the Kashmiris right to self-determination or independence of Palestine or is sacrifice by over 90,000 Kashmiris and thousands of Palestinians not enough to arouse his intellectual abilities. I am sure he would agree with me that this cost is worth much more than a few dollars?


  • Arijit Sharma
    Feb 23, 2012 - 12:55PM

    @Ayesha: ” … I hope Indians understand this article vis-a-vis Kashmir. … “

    Our understanding is that part of the Indian state Jammu and Kashmir is under illegal occupation of Pakistan.


  • ahmed
    Feb 23, 2012 - 2:27PM

    @Author : Pakistan’s creation itself is a perfect example.

    @Ayesha :- I hope pakistan will understand vis-a-vis PoK and Kashmir gifted to china.


  • Mr T
    Feb 23, 2012 - 3:16PM

    @Arijit Sharma:
    Even after your prime minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, promised to hold referendum in Kashmir. What a liar he turned out to be. Shame…
    I would suggest you read Aakar Patel’s, an Indian, articles on Kashmir in this very newspaper. He has the guts to say the truth and admit India’s fault. You, just like your prime minister, wouldn’t have those guts.


  • Feb 23, 2012 - 3:31PM



  • P N Eswaran
    Feb 23, 2012 - 4:58PM

    Pakistan gifting of POK to China falls into a different category. It is ceding territories not belonging to a nation. It is one of the many dubious credits earned by Pakistan.


  • kakaran
    Feb 23, 2012 - 7:19PM

    Will punjab be prepared to accept parity sans one unit with other provinces? After all it was the brainchild of punjabi politicians during the pre Bangladesh era. Punjabi elites have skimmed Pakistan for the last six decades and even allowed the country to dismember to keep its domination and continue to rule. Now it is the turn of these elites to make some sacrifices for the sake of this country which they proclaim to love.Recommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    Feb 23, 2012 - 8:49PM

    @Mr T: ” … Even after your prime minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, promised to hold referendum in Kashmir. … You, just like your prime minister, wouldn’t have those guts. … “

    Does Pakistan have the guts to conduct a referendum in POK ?


  • Feb 23, 2012 - 8:49PM

    @Mr T:

    Correction: He said Plebiscite will be held as per UN Committee’s recommendation. As per the same recommendation Pakistan needs to pull out of Kashmir it has control over, and since it has given a part of it to China, it needs to get that back too. Only then a Plebiscite will be held, as per the UN. I can provide you the link if you like but why should I do all the hard work?


  • Rashed Khan
    Feb 23, 2012 - 8:52PM

    Ejaz must also accept Indian suppression of Kashmiris or Palestine occupation by Israel.

    All those talking about Jinnah, his democratic principles and decentralization, should read something more than Pak Studies.

    At the end whether we agree or not, Project Pakistan was a White Man’s burden to serve their regional interest, viz a viz the then approaching Communism and Oil Rich Middle East. Once that is over it will create something else to serves it’s new purpose. Nothing is permanent in FP, only interest is supreme.

    United India would have been free enough to find a patron as we have.

    To all those gloating Indian. We have seen your small mindedness too. Hum wafadar nahin too bhi tau dildar nahin.


  • Feb 23, 2012 - 8:54PM

    Its very funny seeing ordinary Pakistanis defying their own logic!

    Their logic with respect to India and Kashmir is, people’s will should be respected, plebiscite should be held to determine their will. Now, if we replace the actors in the form of Pakistan and Balochistan, the same logic goes for a toss!

  • Mir Agha
    Feb 23, 2012 - 10:19PM

    The examples cited by nizamani are cases where foreign intervention and terrorism was not used by the separatists. Better examples would’ve been East Timor or South Sudan. Ejaz’s point still stands, Balochistan cannot and will not be independent even with a referendum. Any linkage to ’71 is a fallacy since the circumstances and environment aren’t remotely close. Fact is that Pakistan can “oppress” (separatists’ harping) in Balochistan however much it likes and it won’t change a darned thing. There is no enemy territory surrounding it, bordering states too have portions of Balochistan which they won’t give up, there are vast numbers of Baloch living in Punjab and Sindh, Baloch themselves do not make-up a needed majority in Balochistan, and the separatists make up only a small portion of the population of Balochistan (though they may make up a substantial portion of the Baloch population). That said, self-determination is a right for every entity and one Pakistan shouldn’t be afraid of. It can only be a good thing to have the confidence of the people and call the separatists’ bluff. The blustering indians would like to claim a parallel with Kashmir. A proper parallel would be with the Naxal movement, Nagaland, Assam, Manipur or a whole host of insurgencies in india. A referendum in Baltistan, Azad Jammu & Kashmir would go 100% for Pakistan, while a referendum in IHK will be a devastating blow for the lies that indians have told themselves since ’47.


  • SI
    Feb 23, 2012 - 10:27PM

    These are few miscreants in Balochistan who when not in power demand separation and when given money like General Zia gave it to them in the late 70s want to stay with Pakistan. For a common Baloch it does not matter to him who is in power as money allocated for Balochistan ends up in corruption anyways. What the government needs to do is bypass these Sardars and engage the common Baloch.

    God-willing nothing will happen to Pakistan or Balochistan. There will never be a repeat of 71.
    Pakistan is here to stay.Recommend

  • anonymus
    Feb 23, 2012 - 10:42PM

    Qubec party won the elections and wanted to separate form Canada. I don’t remember whether debated in Union or court that party did not include seapration agenda during election so referrendum was recommended. They lost it. what a country!!


  • Malik Rashid
    Feb 23, 2012 - 11:27PM

    The desire to overpower dissent has been civilized through Magna carta, Social contract, the right of self determination, human rights etc. From legislation to practice, the world has come a long way. On all these counts, Pakistanis appear challenged for supporting coercion instead of consent. Mr. Nizamani educates about peaceful options through his article. I am frustrated by the same ole patriotic concern that justifies subjugation. Thanks.


  • Balma
    Feb 24, 2012 - 9:48PM

    Where did you read Maualna Thanvi’s note to Maulan a Usmani?


  • Shikapuri
    Feb 25, 2012 - 11:58AM

    UK gave up Ireland over a century a ago. Northern Ireland was a small portion where the majority did not want to join Ireland.


  • mombatti
    Feb 26, 2012 - 3:16PM

    This is a great article, and worthy of publication in Indian newspapers as well – with regards to Kashmir, Nagaland, Manipur.
    Balochistan should be dealt with in a civilzed way,pak giving them a referendum. In J&K and Nagaland and Manipur,where there has been unrest in India, there should also be referendums.Hindi & Biharis cannot be allowed to make a colony of J&K and nagaland/manipur.
    Sure,pak needs to comply & pull out of AJK/GB so that UN resolutions can be implemented. But let it happen.
    Pakistan has not handled the kashmir issue well,it should try to facilitate a vote after withdrawal so that Indians have no leg to stand on.There would be considerable support in europe/u.s.


  • Deb
    Feb 26, 2012 - 7:24PM


    Hindi & Biharis cannot be allowed to make a colony of J&K and nagaland/manipur.

    Why are you against the poor ‘Hindi & Biharis’.
    Arabs,Turks,Persians,Afghans,Uzbeks,Taziks,Mongols all made their colony in India and have not left yet (like the British did).
    After all nagaland/manipur is much nearer to Bihar than India is from Arab,Turkey…..etc.


  • sattar rind
    Mar 1, 2012 - 11:28PM

    state must speak with their people on same frequency . guns never resolves the issues.its known fact. i think.


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