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Resolving Balochistan’s grievances

January 11, 2012

This is the third in a 3-part series on Balochistan. The first and second parts appeared on December 28, 2011 and January 04, 2012 respectively.

Two dominant theories attempt to contextualise the decades-long crisis in Balochistan. The Islamabad theory suggests that the state and its agencies are responsible for the lack of development, separatist movements and the resulting militancy in Balochistan. The Baloch theory holds the Baloch Sardars and foreign elements responsible for Balochistan’s woes.

Major Gregory Pipes of the United States Army has explored these theories in great detail.(1) He argues that denying democracy to Balochs, the economic exploitation of Balochistan’s natural resources, and military incursions are examples of state actions that have turned Baloch’s against the establishment. He presents empirical evidence to illustrate that state actions indeed have a direct impact on insurgency in Balochistan; any reconciliatory move by the state results in a decline in insurgent attacks, whereas any state-backed hostility against Balochs correlates with a spike in insurgency.

He uses data from 1,277 insurgent attacks reported in Balochistan during 2003 and 2009 to demonstrate that time and again Balochs have reacted rationally to the carrot and stick policies of the state. For instance, a 216 per cent increase in insurgent attacks was observed in response to the army establishing a military base near Sui. Similarly, attacks by insurgents increased by 855 per cent in reaction to the military operation in December 2005. At the same time, a significant decline in insurgent attacks was observed in response to the economic packages announced for Balochistan in October 2008 and March 2009.

The evidence presented in the table below explicitly illustrates Baloch willingness to resolve the conflict. If the propaganda against the Baloch insurgents is to be believed, which argues that the insurgents, while being supported by the foreign elements and Baloch sardars, are determined to secede from Pakistan, then one should not see any decline in violence in response to reconciliatory moves.

Source: Pipes, Gregory (2010)

The Baloch theory, which accuses Baloch Sardars for Balochistan’s troubles, does not only enjoy the state’s blessings but is also favoured by many in print and news media in Pakistan. For instance, Shumaila Jaffery recently argued on Dawn’s website: “[b]eing a journalist I have worked at places like Sui, Dera Bugti, Turbat and Youb. [The Baloch] Sardars have exploited the local population to the extent that we people with urban backgrounds cannot even imagine.”

Is it really true that the separatist Baloch Sardars have been instrumental in stunting the economic and social development of their people? For this to be true, one would expect to see lesser human development in areas under the influence of separatist Sardars and higher human development in areas under the influence of state-friendly sardars. For example, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, a former Prime Minister in General Musharraf’s regime, is one such Baloch Sardar who has been friendly with the state for decades. Let us compare Jamali’s district of Nasirabad with Dera Bugti, which is the ancestral home of slain Baloch statesman, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, who died in a military action in August 2006. If the Baloch theory holds, Nasirabad should enjoy significantly higher levels of development than Dera Bugti.

Statistically speaking, Nasirabad is marginally better than Dera Bugti in access to piped water and literacy rate (see the table below). At the same time, Dera Bugti reports significantly higher number of medical facilities, i.e. hospitals, basic health units, etc., and higher contraceptive use than Nasirabad.  These comparative statistics illustrate that all areas of Balochistan are significantly underdeveloped regardless of the political persuasions of the dominant Sardars in the region.

Development indicators Dera Bugti Nasirabad
% of households with  electricity 15.7 60.6
% of households with  piped water 13.9 15.2
% of literate population (10 years & older) 11.7 12.7
Contraceptive prevalence rate (%) 13.7 11.8
Medical facilities 64 34
Source: Population Census, 1998 (latest data available)

The marked difference, however, is observed in access to electricity where 61 per cent households in Nasirabad compared to only 16 per cent households in Dera Bugti are electrified. The difference in electrification is a result of state patronage that benefitted Nasirabad, and not Dera Bugti. How would then one hold separatist Baloch Sardars responsible for under development when the state’s investments have favoured some and disadvantaged others?

The urbanised middle class and real estate magnates in Pakistan may continue to hold the Baloch Sardars responsible for Balochistan’s misgivings. However, given an opportunity, Pakistani urbanites may not hesitate in harming Baloch interests. Consider, for instance, the great land grab in progress in Gwadar where the indigenous of Gwadar have been left at the mercy of the big land developers from Lahore and Karachi.

The Gwadar Development Authority (GDA) lists the names and addresses of land developers who have been awarded development rights to date for developing 59 sq km of land in Gwadar. The list confirms suspicions of Baloch nationalists who had always feared that development in Gwadar will be hijacked by the powerful developers (and land mafias) domiciled elsewhere. According to GDA, Balochistan-based developers are in minority while developers whose addresses are listed in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad are holding the stakes for 90 per cent of land development in Gwadar (see the graph below).

GDA has granted development rights for 12,533 acres of housing schemes alone. Once built and populated, the housing schemes will likely shift the demographic makeup of Gwadar, whose current population is a little shy of 200,000. Even at a low density of 50 persons per acre, once built the 12,533 acres of new housing development will attract roughly 600,000 new inhabitants to Gwadar, thus fundamentally changing its ethnic complexion.

The bigger question to address is why GDA has granted development rights to house a population that is likely to be 3-times the size of the current population of Gwadar. Has GDA or other agencies of the Balochistan government studied the socio-political implications of such a massive influx of people in a province whose population base is smaller than that of Lahore?

Given the potential for ethnic and social discord in Gwadar and the rest of Balochistan, there is a greater need for the establishment to ensure that any land development in Gwadar and its surroundings contributes primarily to the welfare of the people of Balochistan and not to the land developers from Lahore and Karachi or to the Baloch Sardars who may not be readily willing to share the spoils with the have-nots in their tribes.

Land is not the only source of grievance for Baloch nationalists in Gwadar. Analysing the greed, creed and governance in Balochistan, Professor Rabia Aslam revealed that despite being heralded as a game-changer in regional trade, the Gwadar port is unlikely to make a significant contribution to the provincial economy.

Professor Aslam revealed that the federal government will receive 50 per cent of the profits from Gwadar port and the Chinese firm responsible for operating Gawadar port will retain 48 per cent of the profits. A mere 2 per cent of the profits from Gwadar port are to accrue to the people of Balochistan. At the same time, most construction contracts at Gwadar port were awarded to non-Baloch firms who hired technical and other staff from outside of Balochistan.(2) Prof Aslam also noted that “in Balochistan the major source of revenue is natural gas. The province contributes roughly $1.4 billion per year through gas revenues, but receives only $116 million from the federal government in royalty.”

If the establishment in Pakistan allows the status quo to prevail in Balochistan, others would seek to profit from the ever-growing mistrust, and the resulting indiscriminate violence. The calls to secede Balochistan from the rest of Pakistan will come from all those who could benefit, even in the short term, from the chaos that prevails. Consider for example M. Chris Mason who called for an independent Balochistan in an op-ed piece in Canada’s The Globe and Mail in December 2011. Mr. Mason, who is a former US Naval officer and has served in the American foreign service, tries to exploit the Baloch grievances by pushing for an independent Balochistan as a solution (sic) to Pakistan’s problems. Calling Pakistan a rogue state, a term favoured by the American neo-cons, Mr. Mason sees an independent Balochistan merely a supply line to feed and support Nato’s troops in Afghanistan via Gwadar.

While Mr. Mason’s optimism for an overnight solution for the “region’s most intractable problems” is wishful thinking at best, however, those who favour an outright separation of Balochistan from Pakistan fail to recognise that ethnic Balochs (Balochi and Brahui speakers) in Balochistan represent a bare majority of 55 per cent. The rest comprise Pushtuns (30 per cent), Sindhis (6 per cent), Punjabis (3 per cent) and others. Haris Gazdar, a renowned economist, believes that such ethnic diversity “adds a dimension, prima facie, to political fragmentation.”(3)

The majority of Pushtuns and others in Balochistan do not share the same enthusiasm for an independent Balochistan.  Furthermore, non-Baloch ethnicities are concentrated in the northern districts of the province (see the map below), which further complicates the viability of an independent Balochistan within its current boundaries. In the worst case scenario, an all-out war for an independent Balochistan may lead to a civil war rather than a war between Balochs and Pakistan’s armed forces. It is therefore imperative that a negotiated settlement for the Baloch grievances be found at the earliest to avoid any further hardship for Balochs and other ethnicities in Balochistan.

The way forward

Major Pipes, who wants “to see the Baloch integrated into the mainstream of Pakistani social, political, and economic life,” offers several recommendations towards resolving the Balochistan’s grievances.  He wants Pakistan’s establishment to ensure that “democracy is a fixed element of Baloch society” to achieve Baloch integration.This may even require a plebiscite for the Balochs to determine their own future. He advises Pakistan’s establishment to work with Baloch Sardars rather than fighting with them by encouraging a “dialogue between the center and the periphery.” He further recommends ending all military incursions because this approach has consistently failed in stemming Baloch separatist movements in the past. Lastly, he asks for a fair share for Balochs in royalties for the natural resources extracted from Balochistan so that the economic base of the province could be fortified.

Major Pipes advises the United States government to recognise that attempts to enfranchise Balochs through true democracy have resulted in a decline in violence. Thus he advises the US government to avoid backing military incursions in Balochistan, which have harmed the democratic forces in the province. He asks the US government to focus on eradicating the narcotics trade in the region that has helped fund the insurgency. Major Pipes also asks India and Afghanistan to cease any operations in Balochistan that may promote instability in Pakistan.

It is not for the lack of solutions that the Baloch insurgency has lasted over six decades. It is the lack of willingness to work towards an honourable and just resolution of Baloch grievances that has turned successive generations of Balochs against the idea of Pakistan. Balochs have responded positively to reconciliation in the past. They will do so again if an honest and earnest effort is made.

(1) Pipes, Gregory D. 2010. The Baloch-Islamabad tensions: Problems of national integration. Master’s thesis. Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California.

(2) Aslam, Rabia (2011). Greed, creed, and governance in civil conflicts: a case study of Balochistan. Contemporary South Asia. Vol. 19, Iss. 2.

(3) Gazdar, Haris (2007). Balochistan Economic Report, Background Paper on Social Structures and Migration.


Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.  He can be reached by email at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.