This is the second in a three part series on Balochistan. The first part appeared on December 28, 2011. The third part will appear next week.
The insurgencies in Balochistan, in Pakistan and in Jammu and Kashmir (J & K) in India have much in common. An armed struggle by the youth has taken root in both places. The 2000-plus bullet-riddled bodies recovered from the unmarked graves in four districts in Indian occupied Kashmir as well as the mutilated bodies of hundreds of Balochi youth left to rot in the desert in Balochistan are examples of how violence is destroying the social order and the moral fabric of Balochs and Kashmiris alike.
While the establishment in India and in Pakistan may argue that Balochistan and Kashmir have nothing in common and thus no lessons could be learnt from each other’s experience. I would argue just the opposite. The unfortunate circumstances in Balochistan and the Kashmir valley share several common traits, which make it necessary to learn from the past and present mistakes.
Since the partition in 1947 Muslims in J & K and the Balochs in present-day Balochistan have campaigned for greater local autonomy. A large part of Balochistan was under Kalat Khanate, a princely state similar to the greater Kashmir, whose fate was left undecided at partition. Sixty-four years hence, Balochs in Pakistan and Muslims in the Kashmir valley are still vying for a resolution.
In both Balochistan and the Kashmir valley, the Indian and Pakistani establishments have responded with brute force to counter the legitimate grievances of their people. Thus violence has erupted in the streets. Thousands have died in the insurgency in Balochistan in separate spats of violence that peaked at various points in time in the past six decades. The Baloch insurgency during the 70s reportedly caused the death of 5,000 Baloch insurgents and 3,300 troops when 55,000 armed Baloch insurgents faced off against 80,000 Pakistani troops. Even the Iranian air force joined in to bomb Baloch insurgents. The Shah of Iran was wary of the Baloch nationalist movement spilling into the Iran’s Baluchistan and thus dispatched his air force to pound Baloch targets.(1)
Hundreds of Balochs have died in the current wave of violence, while hundreds of thousands of Baloch tribesmen have been forced out of their lands to take refuge in Sindh and Punjab. Analyst Alok Bansal estimates that as much as six brigades of Pak Army are currently deployed in Balochistan. Similarly in India, the violence in J & K peaked during the 90s when reportedly 60,000 to 80,000 Kashmiris were killed. The resulting violence has forced thousands of Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs to flee Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir valley.
The establishments’ propaganda machines have also worked the same way in both places where the insurgents have been labelled as anti-state militants and terrorists. Those in the media or academia who dare question the State’s version are also dubbed as traitors and terrorist sympathisers. In Pakistan, the State also affixes the anti-Islamic label to the insurgents. Meeran Gichki while researching the conflict in Balochistan at the University of Arkansas argued that news media were used “to channel popular nationalism by the military-bureaucratic elite, which tends to exclude political minorities like Baloch nationalists as foreign conspirators, while using Islamic symbolism to create a sense of national unity within different nationalities in Pakistan.”(2) He further writes that “the segmentation of the media market in Balochistan, portrays the Pakistani government and its military as an occupying force.”
Despite being diametrically opposed to each other on almost all matters related to foreign and domestic policies, Islamabad and New Delhi have surprisingly adopted identical high-handed approaches in dealing with insurgencies in Balochistan and Kashmir valley. Not so surprisingly, both establishments have met failures of equal proportions. Notice also the similarity in how Islamabad and New Delhi accuse each other of fanning the separatists’ flames in each other’s territories. The official versions from both establishments hold foreign elements responsible for insurgencies rather than seeing those as indigenous struggles.
Democracy, in its narrowest manifestation as electoral politics, exists in both Balochistan and J & K such that a provincial assembly in Balochistan and a state legislature in Jammu and Kashmir is in place. However, electoral politics have not helped resolve the disputes because the marginalised groups have shunned electoral politics after witnessing no progress toward addressing their key demands over the years.
The sham democracy in Balochistan deserves a closer scrutiny. The Baloch nationalist parties boycotted the elections in 2008 in protest against the murder of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. The void left by the nationalists was filled by those who enjoyed the support of the establishment. However, the resulting provincial assembly has been mostly ineffective in asserting its writ in the province. Balochistan’s chief minister and the advocate general are on record accusing the Frontier Corps of running a parallel government in Balochistan.
The coalition government in Balochistan has no one else but to blame itself for its ineffectiveness. The poorly cobbled together coalition has put PPP in control of an assembly of 51 members that had to lure 45 members with ministries to win their support for the coalition. Not being a minister must be quite a distinguishing trait in Balochistan Assembly. How can one explain PPP occupying the chief minister’s office with only 7 seats and a fewer than 52,000 votes cast for the seven PPP parliamentarians. Even with 15 seats in Balochistan Assembly, the Musharraf backed Pakistan Muslim League exerts no influence in the province because it no longer enjoys establishment’s unconditional support.
|Party standing in 2008
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