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The quantum entanglement of Balochistan and Islamabad

Published May 18, 2012 06:06pm


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To rephrase a song from the classic movie “The Sound of Music”: How do you solve a problem like Balochistan? The lingering nature of this dilemma suggests that the solution is more elusive than it actually appears. For years this problem child of Pakistan has been shouted at and whined about, with blame for its wild and unruly nature laid at every available doorstep. A positive step might be focusing on the solutions and understanding the concerns, rather than wallowing in the negatives.

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.

The current provincial government has to carry some of the responsibility. They have been given the autonomy to talk to and negotiate terms of peace with the dissident Baloch. Despite this, no real effort is being made in that direction. Could it be that the government in power feels that the only reason they were able to secure seats in the Parliament was that the BNP had boycotted the elections as protest? In that case, any negotiation and the subsequent reconciliation might lead to a reduction in seats in the assembly for the present members.

So, lay blame where blame is due and then, lay it on thick. Resolution of a problem so convoluted and so deep-rooted does not lie on the shoulders of one agency. Everyone needs to come to the table with cool heads and egos checked at the door. Brute force is never the answer and the Chief Justice realises this: Currently, he is trying to bring the IG of the Frontier Corp to court in an effort to find out who is responsible for the extra-judicial vigilantism. Maybe this is a small but important step towards winning the hearts and minds of the Baloch people. If viable efforts are made by the Chief Justice and the federal government, then the Baloch separatists should also take a step back and reevaluate the situation. Carving out a new country will not come without bloodshed. There will be opposition to the new order from within and without. That, in itself, should be a motivation to strive for a bloodless solution.

The people of Balochistan deserve sanctity of life and liberties. With honesty, transparency and flexibility on both sides, there might be a future scenario where they can come to a place of trust in the federal and provincial governments.

Balochistan’s resources are the lifeblood of Pakistan, whether used internally or as an export. Balochistan has a claim to a percentage of that — not as a pittance, but as a right. This, in turn, can then be used to bring educational and economic development in the region. No one wins when the population of an entire province is sidelined, especially not when that province holds unimaginable resources not only in minerals but also in future poets, scientists and leaders, who can help build a Pakistan that its citizens have always deserved.

The author lives on Long Island. She graduated from Bolan Medical College, Quetta and is currently working on helping out the Pakistani community in New York. She can be reached 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.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (32) Closed

NASAH (USA) May 18, 2012 11:26pm
I am glad the writer lives in Long Island.
Syed May 19, 2012 12:24am
Poverty , Illiteracy and Sardari / Jagirdari /Feudal Nizam with mix and match of absence of leadership and stepmother attitude of Islamabad towards Baluchistan for decades - Distribution of revenue among provinces - Absence of trust towards State and killing the people (By 2%) struggling for their legitimate rights - These historical acts and facts has resulted in the situation in Baluchistan specially and in other provinces generally.
Usman Shaikh May 18, 2012 09:57pm
The Auther has not only put her fingurs on the puls of a decades old sick mentality of Pakistan and its ruling class but also has shown the mirror to those who appose the creation of small units on administration basis......That One can not impose their brutal mentality to govern any Nation and not providing them the sense of ownership.So far only one political party who had been warning the establishment and ruling elite about the situation occured in Balochistan That is MQM ......And what I believe is that Bangalis,Balochies,and now Urdu speaking have been suffering from the same Foe since Decades... Slavery has been abolished from the world but un fortunately "NOT" from Pakistan.
Indusonian May 19, 2012 12:46am
Whole Pakistan is engulfed with issue due to current policies of government; however, Balochistan was neglected before that and due to that reason there should be an emergency package from the democratic government and all the demands of people of Balochistan needed to be fulfilled by the Government of Pakistan as soon as possible.
Zar Khan May 18, 2012 07:03pm
I'm sorry but did I miss a part where you mentioned the attacks on gas pipelines, tracks, FC and Police. Or the fact that one of Bugti's grandsons was arrested smuggling huge quantities of arms and ammo. Maybe in that part you must have also mentioned the fact that the other grandson travelled to Switzerland with the help of Indian government. I'm sure it must be somewhere in the article since you know ground realities by sitting in LOND ISLAND. If you can't state the facts don't state half cooked ones either. You left Pakistan, now leave it alone.
Aniket May 18, 2012 10:10am
I respect the journalists, columnists and analysts from Pakistan, especially Dawn, at a very deep level. They talk about Political and cultural alienation, lack of education, military actions etc. as the reasons for Balochistan's plight, with just a passing reference to the economic and financial reasons. Many of the esteemed columnists, I feel, are seldom able to strike at the root of the problem which, if resolved, will undermine, and ultimately solve, most of the above issues. This root, in my humble opinion, is nothing but economic. Follow the money, to see how big and how deep rooted this problem is. Balochistan people had been living a subsistence life in 1947. Post that, the resources of Balochistan have been utilized by other provinces, and Balochis have been systematically denied a share in those resources. You have gas in Balochistan, but the majority of refineries which refine that gas are in Punjab and Sindh. Now, entire communities are thriving in Punjab on the back of those refineries. How does one give Balochis their 'right', in this scenario? Can you dismantle those refineries and communities in Punjab and start afresh in Balochistan? Had even some of those refineries been in Balochistan, they would have been employing engineers and accountants from Baloch colleges, and labour from Baloch countryside. Engineering and MBA colleges would have sprouted up. Today, none out of the seven of Pakistan's Petroleum and Gas Engineering colleges are in Balochistan, (which comes as a shock). All this would have brought in money and education, and Sardars' influence would immediately have lessened. Baloch society would have progressed. The resources of the state are such that new industries can still come up. But who is going to invest in Balochistan? By brutalizing the society, and making terrorists (or freedom fighters, or whatever) out of their own people, the establishment has made sure that no investor in his right mind thinks of investing in this state, which would otherwise have been a haven for industries. So much in terms of economic resources has gone, and nothing seems to be coming in for Balochistan. The problem is systemic, and seems intractable. On top of that, even the intellectuals and analysts in Pakistan are not able to recognise it for what it is.
BRR May 19, 2012 02:02am
The Balooch are the victims. It os predatory behavior.
Dawar Naqvi May 18, 2012 04:44pm
I agree with wirter that The people of Balochistan deserve sanctity of life and liberties. Balochistan’s resources are the lifeblood of Pakistan, whether used internally or as an export. Balochistan has a claim to a percentage of that — Well written article.
B R Chawla May 18, 2012 06:00pm
Pakistanis and the Bloch have always lived together for centuries even before The partition. The Bloch were always known as brave,friendy and innocent ethnic people. It would have been easy to issimilate them with the mainland had their aspirations been properly addressed than establishing Punjabi or Sindhi hegemony over the illiterate population of Blochistan. A heavy doze of education and development was and is the only way to win theem over than asserting the army might to teach them a lesson. Repression of Bloch nation at best shall meet with rebellion againt the exploiters of their natural resources. I advise the rulers of Pakistan not to reenact Bangladesh in one of the most precious province both for political and economical stability of Pakistan. India needs a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan Chawla
Gagat May 18, 2012 05:50pm
Who said Pakistan has democracy? Pakistan has martial law. Had Pakistan has democracy and all people would have right to speak, Balochistan problem won't be there.
@FarriRizvi May 18, 2012 05:19pm
Agree with the writer and the issue of Balochistan which was never resolved by the Junta has spread all over the country. All the provinces need is complete autonomy with the proper eduation to the general people, not only for the children of elite or sardars or rulers.
khurram Sher May 19, 2012 02:19am
The biggest hurdle to developement in Pakistan is the feudal mindset. Despite reasons to the contrary, we have never tried to bring land reforms to the country. India introduced land reforms in 1951. We seem to have forgotten that something like land reforms also exists.. When you limit the maximum land holding, its only then that the concept of the Sardar, or Chaudhry, or Khan will diminish, taking away their influence and with it, the feudal system. Only then, you can begin to deal with the people. Unfortunately, this is neither discussed not considered in Pakistan anymore, thanks to the feudals who govern us, and have made sure that every one remains concerned with his own survival..
Jalbani Baloch May 19, 2012 05:34am
Balochis and Sindhis are like two bodies with one soul. I don't believe if any Baloch, can mix Sindhis with Punjabis in exploitation. A large population of Balochis is living in Sindh, but being son of soil, they feel proud to be Sindhi and Baloch alike.
Atif Rana May 19, 2012 05:20am
Baluchistan alone is 44% of Pakistan in size and is inhabited by merely 5% of Pakistan's population. To transmit electricity from one district of Baluchistan to another means expenditures equivalent to lighting one complete Provence. Meaning thereby that its utterly difficult to develop Balochistan with its present size. Historically, Gwadar has not been part of Balochistan and was annexed with Balochistan after its purchase from Oman. I recommend that it should be split into manageable size of Provinces i.e. Pathan dominated areas adjacent to Afghanistan dwelled by Lunies, Areas of Baloches murrees,bughties etc, areas dominated by Brohies, Sindhi Balochi areas and Gawadar etc. More provinces can also be thought out. However, this article has attracted more people from India then any other, reasons are well known and understandable. Argument can be augmented with the fact that there are about 45 Indian Consulates along Pakistan-Afghanistan border inside Afghanistan where there is hardly any population. What are they busy doing, I leave it to your sweet judgement. I would end my comment with the saying of Mr Attal Behari Vajpaee " Terrorism breeds a monster which goes beyond the control of its creator".
Ram May 18, 2012 03:25pm
Dear Reviewers of comments, I find it a waste of time to comment when you guys do not publish my comments under the guise that it is being reviewed before publication. If you are so sensitive to criticisms and want to publish only comments that you like, how can Pakistan call itself a Democarcy. Ram
Lodhi May 18, 2012 04:16pm
The author's statistics are outdated. Since 2006 the development budget allocated for Balochistan exceeds that of Punjab. This budget is directly given to the provincial government for execution of development projects. The provincial government exercises this task through the members of provincial assembly. Sadly, the highest level of corruption is seen at this level where all the funds allocated are embezzled by the locally elected Baloch leaders. When they are questioned about these funds they raise hue and cry about rights and what not. The problem is two dimensional (in its basic form). While Islamabad is to blame for large fraction of problems, the local Baloch leaders are equally responsible. Akbar Bugti forced 70,000 Kalpars from their houses, yet no one raises any voice over these attrocities. Most Baloch leaders live in posh areas of Karachi where their children get quality education and life while at the same time they do nothing for education of the ordinary Baloch. The Baloch activists have also been involved in killing professors, teachers and educationists including female professors. Why? Simply because they were non-Baloch or they were trying to educate the Baloch children. These poor teachers were not extortionists, lived on meager salaries and served Balochistan. What about the hundreds of land mines laid by Brahamdagh Bugti's men around Dera Bugti claiming the lives of innocents on a regular basis. The attitude of some activists clearly indicates that their actions are irrational, driven by racism and a fascist desire to keep the locals deprived of enlightenment. When the Levies, private tribal militias of Sardars were abolished to be replaced by formal legal state system the biggest opposition came from these Sardars. Why are such authors selective in presentation of facts? Why don't they give the example of Chamalang coal mines where the locals themselves requested the Army to intervene and solve the problem. After the settlement of issues, these mines are a source of employment for thousands while being protected by the Army. At the same time, Chamalang is regularly attacked by separatists. What possible reason could they have to do so except that they don't want the locals to empowered. Balochistan should be have equal constitutional rights as other constituents of Pakistan. They should be respected as any other Pakistani should be and they should have control over their resources as other provinces have. However, this is two-way road and will not be traversed in one direction. If Islamabad needs to mend its ways then separatists also need to do the same. It takes two to clap.
Aniket May 18, 2012 03:28pm
I don't know whether this part of my comment was moderated by Dawn, or I by mistake didn't add it. But here is another example of the economic exploitation of Balochistan, about which nothing can be done now. Look at the Builders and Developers who have built the Gwadar Port and the surrounding city. .It's hard to find a firm which is from Balochistan. True, Balochistan firms might not have the technical skills to handle such projects, but given the condition of the state, could not a special status be accorded to it, and partnership with a Balochi firm mandated to operate in this area, and reservations given to the local people in construction labour? For a state of just 65 Lakh people, this would have solved a major problem of employment. But now that Punjabis and Sindhis have settled in the area, and their firms doing rip-roaring business, it has become impossible to pass on many benefits out of the port and city to the Balochis.
B R Chawla May 19, 2012 03:23am
Dear Dawn moderators It seems you shy away from posting my comments whosoever pertinent and relevant Never have they appeared. Shall I call it a day and stop bothering the undemocratic and selective attitude Of one of the most fearless paper whom I have always admired. Good luck Chawla
sharma May 19, 2012 03:46am
Dear Aniket before you pay so much detailed attention about what is helping in Pakistan I would recommend that you also pay attention to what is happening in India. Currently besides the insuergency in Kashmir and north east which we conveniently ascribe to our neighbours ( which may be partly true) there is a massive insuergency happeining in the Maoist dominated regions. it is estimated that there are 50,000 fighters in the Maoist cadre including women!!! Is it not the ingnorance of likes of us to the gross exploitation of India's tribal regions for iron ore/ coal/ gold etc that is leading to this drastic condition???? before it is too late we should reform ourselves and then preach to our neighbour. I know this would sound very bitter to you but this is true. I an an indian and I care for my country and its people. We need to open our eyes.
sri1ram May 19, 2012 03:05am
Ditto Ram. I call the Dawn censors the filter-Taliban, nowadays all my comments are just blocked - looks like they can't take any open discussion, only selectively.
Salah.Baloch May 19, 2012 08:28am
May I Know why my comment was not approved of ? Though i was the first person who replied ??? Or you guys only take one sided opinion ?
Salah Baloch May 19, 2012 08:30am
I don't understand how can you say " since the partition that led to an independent Pakistan with a forcibly annexed Balochistan." then call the movement of freedom as " separatist mentality" . Baloch are fighting to have their land back , how can you call this separation when you yourself admit that Balochistan was annexed forcibly ? Then you go on and make a claim that " Baloch should stay with Pakistan to avoid bloodshed " ? Are you serious when you make claims like that ? Isn't it kind of saying that Pakistan should have not been carved out from India , or Kashmir should be handed out to India and Palestinians should live under Israeil"s occupation to avoid " bloodshed" , so are you OK with all that ? Why would Baloch leave their struggle for freedom just because the CJP is trying to recover the missing persons ? Who is abducting those people in the first place and where was this CJP when the mutilated dead bodies started appearing ? The case of enforcely disappeared Baloch or the missing persons appeared when Baloch demanded freedom . the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies and paramilitary forces wanted to teach the Baloch that if you demand freedom I will kill your family , abduct your sons , brothers, fathers , sisters ...etc , so it's better for you to give up and take whatever we decide to give you . Wouldn't it be kind of surrendering to this fact that "yes" we are afraid and we will stop. Countries around the world have been formed when the blood of their sons and daughters were shed ? So why the case should be different for Baloch . Bengalis also shed blood , look at them today and look at your country ? You people's interest in Balochistan is clear as the sky in your last paragraph
Salah Baloch May 19, 2012 08:31am
They are not publishing my comments also !
JAVED SARFRAZ May 19, 2012 08:50am
jamshed kharian-pak May 19, 2012 10:49pm
my sisters/brothers in Soubha Balochistan Ir Pakistan donot worry its impossible to forget you and the vast territory of this western part of pakistan you know what? we pakistanis are now 200-millions in less then 50years we are going to be plus 350-millions pakistanis where shall goes all that folks? in soubha Balochistan my dear friends!!!
Asif May 19, 2012 11:57pm
Lets not get too dramatc. Balochistan is defintiely the worst developed state in Pakistan, but if you take a look at Sindh and NWFP(I cant seem to remember the new name either Pakhtunwala or Pakhtunkhua, sorry), they too need urgent development. So should the people start to fight the govt. That is not the solution. Bring in honest leaders and not the same tried and tested Sardars and Waderahs that are looting the country.
A. Khan May 21, 2012 02:23am
I agree that Balochistan has not been economically developed. But I disagree with as to the causes of that. My feeling is that you have to look much closer to home for the causes. Its the way Baloch society is structured into tribes each having an all powerful chieftain. The sardar is all powerful in his area or over his tribe. I don't think they want to change their society by focusing on education. Rather it is in their interest to keep blaming some external force and make the people believe it as well. So, here is the prime example. You say benefits of natural gas never reached Baloch people. What do you say when I tell you that Akbar Bugti got annual payments of crores of rupees from the company extracting the gas, I forget the name. On top of that, Bugti had over a 150 fully maintained pickup trucks at his disposal, mainly used to carry his gunmen (militia in my opinion) around. Don't you think that if this sardar had the best interest of his people at heart, he would have asked for schools or hospitals instead of money and vehicles for personal use ? The other sardars are sore becau`tse gas was discovered in Bugti's area and hence they do not get any share. Hence their petty warfare against each other from time to time. I was disappointed with Bugti because he was educated at Oxford and should have been more enlightened than anyone else. I guess, once a sardar always a sardar. Bugti could have made a difference to his people (Bugti tribe) but sadly he didn`t. He even was Chief Minister or whatever but never did anything. So please stop blaming others and work towards changing the Baloch mentality in general. I certainly hope that the current problems of Balochistan end soon as there won`t be any winners, only losers if it gets worse. People that Balochis think are their friends are in fact their enemies who are using them for bigger goals.
Malik May 20, 2012 01:25am
All the sitting members of Balochistan Assembly are the elected members from the province; no one has tied up their hands to develop the province or improve law and order situation or get into negociations to solve the problems, the fact is that these members are also not doing anything. Don't they have a role to play?
ashok May 21, 2012 03:51am
Baloch should ask a law in the constitution that prohibits settlement of non-baloch in the state similar to what India has for Kashmir under Article 370. No non-Kashmiri Indian can permanently settle or buy land in Kashmir. This is more to preserve the identity and sensitive demography of the state. I recall from a recent study that population of Balochistan has increased 139% in last 12 years which is highest in Pakistan and has completely changed the demography of Balochistan. Soon Baloch will become minority in their own state.
Cyrus Howell May 23, 2012 07:23am
During the hearing, the chief justice again termed the province’s security situation as alarming. He said the provincial capital of Quetta had no-go areas and that police officers were not willing to work in Balochistan. + National Guard = No guts. No Good. Not Going.
bhuk May 23, 2012 05:24pm
Nehru was a great visionary who stressed to open schools and universities in the country.He positioned his campaign as Chacha Nehru.Thus focused more on the children and youth.Today due to his vision India is having heavy industry and strong education system to produce professionals to run the industry.Though today the leaders of opposition are busy condemning the great visionary of our times. Hope Indians also realize the greatness of their leader.
Tojo Nasmann May 27, 2012 11:25pm
This is an absurd argument. If there are no firms large enough or with project & technical management skills in Balochistan why should the contract not to be given to an outside party to build the port? The laboreres no doubt are all from Balochistan. So what's the problem? United States gave a Dubai Firm contract to build and manage one of its Atlantic Ports? Were there no US Firm capable of doing it? Just because a port has to be built in Gwadar, Balochistan why is it necessary to give contract to an "unproven & untested" small firm in Balochistan to build such a big port? There is no economic exploitation here; so stop this utter nonsensical argument of exploitation.