Balochistan has been in turmoil since the partition that led to an independent Pakistan with a forcibly annexed Balochistan. Since then, relations between Islamabad and Balochistan have not been cordial. The Baloch have fought against the Government of Pakistan many times since then to secure the rights that have been promised to them. The first insurgency in 1950 was followed by revolts in 1958, 1973 and finally the ongoing revolt which started in 2005. These strained conditions have been exacerbated by a lack in efforts by the federal government to bring development and literacy to the region, which are necessary for Balochistan to become part of the economic and political mainstream.
A lot of blame is being dumped on the tribal system and the Sardars for holding Balochistan back. The rhetoric is that education will bring enlightenment and the Sardars will consequently lose their grip on the people. That theory rings a little hollow when we see that in the past 60 years, there have been no honest efforts to abolish the tribal system when it is claimed to be such a hurdle in the steady march towards prosperity. Not only that, but at times there has been a definite coddling of this system. Islamabad has, at times, even bypassed elected provincial governments and negotiated directly with tribal leaders when it has served its purpose.
The fact is that the tribal system with a Sardar at the helm is only true for the Baloch population. Other ethnicities, for example the large Pashtun population of the province, are not bound by tribes and tribal leaders. Salma Jafar is the founder and executive director of Social Innovations, a human rights advocacy group and a dedicated voice for human rights. She is a native of Quetta and a Pashtun. According to her, the Pashtun areas of the province are among the most impoverished. The absence of education and opportunities for growth can only be explained by the absence of responsibility in the allocation of funds and a lack of incentives for the people in those regions. Urban and coastal areas like Quetta, Makran and Gwadar, which have never been under the influence of tribal systems, have not seen any significant developments either.
The people of Balochistan have always suffered with the insufficiency of funds from the federal government. In the past, the parameters for the allocation of funds, being population based, ensured that Balochistan, with its sparse population, got the least amount. Now, with new amendments to the Constitution, those parameters have changed. Levels of deprivation and poverty have been added as markers to ensure the funds reach areas where they are needed the most. Even though the allocations have increased, and disbursed through the predominantly Baloch provincial government, no discernible improvements have been seen.
The situation becomes even more tragic when we take into account the fact that even though Balochistan is the most resource-rich area of Pakistan, the people are uneducated, impoverished and oppressed. Their dissatisfaction with the government has taken the form of a dangerous separatist mentality which is spreading like fire.
The Baloch make a strong case, citing years of trying to assimilate into Pakistan but consistently being plundered and laid by the wayside. They feel that their rights have been trampled upon by every government that has trudged by since 1947. Recently, their peaceful protests gave way to violence and sabotage. Instead of trying to control the situation through dialogue, the government responded with brute force. The army was deployed to crush the insurgency and responded to concerned citizens, who reacted to a military operation inside Pakistan, by arguing semantics. According to them, a military operation was in effect when tanks, helicopters and weapons were deployed to achieve a goal. When the Baloch presented the cases of forced abductions and body dumps, the government blamed it on activists.
In a benevolent gesture, General Kayani replaced the army with the paramilitary forces of the Frontier Corp as enforcers of order in Balochistan. Since then, the Baloch activists or terrorists — depending on who you talk to — are being picked up on a regular basis. They are tried, convicted and sentenced extra-judicially and their tortured, broken bodies are dumped unceremoniously as a lesson to others.
According to a report by the South Asian Terrorism Portal: “It is a matter of grave alarm that 107 new cases of enforced disappearance [sic] have been reported in Balochistan in 2011, and the ‘missing persons’ are increasingly turning up dead”. Men, mostly between the ages of 20 and 40 years, are picked up in broad daylight and taken away. No reasons are given, no warrants are read and no explanations are offered as uniformed men drag activists, students, shopkeepers and teachers away. Their mutilated bodies are found days later or not at all. Sites like Bygwaah, claiming to be the voice of the missing persons, have detailed testimonials of these abductions. Backed into a corner, the Baloch feel like they only have one of two options: watan ya kafan (independence or death), a sentiment found scrawled on walls all over Balochistan.