A leaf from history: Reclaiming Balochistan, peacefully

Published October 5, 2014
In May, 1978, Gen Zia took up the issue and began vetting information to paint a more accurate picture of Balochistan’s realities. — Courtesy photo
In May, 1978, Gen Zia took up the issue and began vetting information to paint a more accurate picture of Balochistan’s realities. — Courtesy photo

General Ziaul Haq knew about dynamics in Balochistan well — after all, his counsel as head of the army was sought by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto when he began a military operation in the province. But after assuming power, Gen Zia wanted to gain support and legitimacy from Balochistan. Bhutto, despite having been deposed, had advised Gen Zia in Murree not to withdraw the army from Balochistan. But now, in the midst of a power struggle, the situation posed a challenge to Zia; he wanted to bring an end to the Balochistan unrest.

Gen Zia had been speaking about Balochistan, and had expressed hope that with some objective measures, the issue could be justifiably addressed. The Hyderabad Tribunal, in which some Baloch leaders had also been implicated, had already been wound up. After meeting certain leaders in Abbottabad, on May 3, 1978, Gen Zia intended to take up the Balochistan issue. Without moving to Balochistan, Gen Zia summoned Baloch leaders to Rawalpindi.

On May 8, Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo met with the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA). In his meeting, Bizenjo narrated the political and social problems of the province. He complained of a long military operation that had inflicted a heavy cost of human life and property in Balochistan. Sardar Khair Bakhsh Marri could not meet Gen Zia owing to his sickness, while Sardar Attaullah Mengal was away. Bizenjo told the General that forming a national government at the Centre immediately was not the solution; instead, he argued, an elected government to be put in place after holding general elections. He also opposed accountability as it would only be cosmetic.

General Zia seeks to undo Bhutto’s Balochistan policy. But is it already too little too late?

The grim history of Balochistan is not simply spread over a decade or so. In its present context, it can be traced back to Aug 11, 1947, when the Khan of Kalat, Ahmad Yar Khan, declared Kalat’s independent status. Three days later, when Pakistan emerged as a sovereign state, the government asked Mir Ahmad Yar Khan to join Pakistan.

Khan did what was asked of him but not in a cordial atmosphere: Ahmad Yar Khan signed the instrument of accession only after some army contingents were sent to the Khan. His brother, Prince Abdul Karim Khan, did not agree with what had happened.

After announcing accession to Pakistan, the Khan of Kalat wound up his party, the Kalat State National Party, and joined the Muslim League. On his insistence, Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo and Mir Ajmal Khan joined the Muslim League, hoping that through this forum, they could raise the voice of the Baloch. However, soon after, they felt their move was unsuccessful and quit the Muslim League.

In May, 1978, Gen Zia took up the issue and began vetting information to paint a more accurate picture of Balochistan’s realities. Those he met all argued that Balochistan’s issues were not merely political, but also social, financial and developmental.

After failing to achieve positive results, Ahmad Yar Khan launched a resistance movement on May 16, 1948. When Ayub Khan took over as military ruler in 1958, Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo and Gul Khan Nasir were arrested along with a large number of nationalist activists.

Under the yoke of General Ayub’s One Unit too, the province suffered. It was denied its share in jobs, in revenue, and in income from natural resources with no development taking place at all. The Baloch leaders and activists were imprisoned at Quli jail, notorious for torture. Many leaders were maimed. Later, Sardar Attaullah Mengal, Khair Bakhsh Mari and Nawab Akbar Bugti joined the political struggle.

Ironically, every party that came to power branded the Baloch people as seditious, when in reality, the Baloch had genuine complainants of being denied their legitimate rights. Similarly, natural resources were exploited in the name of unity.

Then came the Bhutto government. It was expected that the PPP’s progressive manifesto and liberal outlook would lend itself to Bhutto finally resolving the longstanding issues of Balochistan and its people.

Instead, Bhutto’s tenure also proved to be nightmarish for Balochistan.

It began with the formation of a coalition provincial government formed by the National Awami Party (NAP), the PPP, and some nationalists on May, 1, 1972. With Attaullah Mengal installed as chief minister, the provincial government embarked upon a number of development projects, but since it was a non-PPP government, Bhutto did not feel easy.

The premier thus dismissed the NAP government, and arrested its leaders and 55 activists on trumped up charges of conspiracy. Those arrested included two chief ministers, two governors and 44 members of the national and provincial assemblies. They included Attaullah Mengal, Abdus Samad Achakzai, Nabi Bakhsh Zehri, Jam of Lasbela, Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, Khair Bakhsh Marri, Gul Khan Nasir and poet Habib Jalib.

Bhutto then sent in the army to Balochistan in an attempt to search for activists of the “Baloch Liberation Army”. The action was taken under the supervision of General Tikka Khan. To give legitimacy to his action, Bhutto obtained an order from the Supreme Court to ban the NAP. Three divisions of the army had been deployed to ‘crush the insurgency’ and restore normalcy; the Baloch resistance was in fact declared as part of the long-trumpeted London Plan aimed at dismembering Pakistan and finally leading to the creation of Greater Balochistan, by carving out a part from Irani Balochistan, Afghanistan and Pakistani Balochistan.

This did not work either. On the contrary, the presence of the army created a sense of subjugation. Bhutto’s policy vis-à-vis Balochistan was quite harmful to established political norms. To resist the atrocities, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri formed the Balochistan People’s Liberation Army, which led many Baloch men into guerrilla war.

In May, 1978, Gen Zia took up the issue and began vetting information to paint a more accurate picture of Balochistan’s realities. Those he met all argued that Balochistan’s issues were not merely political, but also social, financial and developmental. The Baloch had been raising their voice through a meek press, but the press had been gagged and no accurate information was coming out from the province. Gen Zia stopped the army operation and embarked on a plan of economic growth.

Nonetheless, the resentment had sunk so deep that people did not believe any word uttered by any ruler that rose to power. Gen Zia, after studying the situation, disbanded the Hyderabad Tribunal, stopped military operation and announced a general amnesty to all those who had taken up arms against the government. Punishments handed down to some activists were withdrawn, and a situation created in which both parties could resolve outstanding issues.

Conservative estimates suggest that while the armed forces suffered loss of life of upto 3,300 men, Baloch activists lost 5,300 fighters. The gravest cost was to the civilians, who were affected in a different manner and needed much healing. The unrest needed to end.

Next week: Greater Balochistan, myth & reality shaikhaziz38@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 5th, 2014


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