Balochistan: The Decade Ahead

Pakistan’s eminent historian elucidates on how Balochistan’s problems are rooted in history and have scarcely changed in the past seventy years. As Pakistan looks towards the next decade in this twenty-first century, change in Balochistan is essential if the country is to progress. Disregarding Balochistan’s issues will not just keep the province where it is, but also stymie progress and growth in the rest of Pakistan.

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Balochistan is a very special province of Pakistan. It is geographically the largest (44% of the landmass), demographically the smallest  (12.34  million estimated in  2017),  and its  Human  Development  Index (HDI) score is the lowest among all the provinces in Pakistan. With Pakistan already around the bottom of the HDI index in South Asia, the lack of development in Balochistan is even starker compared to other provinces.

A troublesome history

The ‘problems’ of Balochistan are all rooted in history. In fact, it seems that the issues of the province have scarcely changed in the last seventy years. As Pakistan looks towards the next decade in the twenty-first century, efforts to bring change in Balochistan are essential if Pakistan is to progress.

Several of Balochistan’s issues are of a wider remit, and continued disregard will not just keep the province where it is, but also stymie progress and growth in the rest of Pakistan.

Writing in 1951, the Agent to the Governor-General in Balochistan,  Mian  Aminuddin,  noted  that  several  parts  of the province seem to be in the Middle Ages’ with ‘progress’ passing by areas ‘almost entirely.’ Harsh, but largely true, the ground realities of Balochistan were dire when it became a part of Pakistan.

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Unlike West Punjab, Sindh, the then NWFP, and East Bengal, which were British ruled and had, by 1937, fully responsible and elected governments, what we now recognize as the province of Balochistan, was nothing like them. In 1947, Balochistan was composed of three different legal regimes.

The pre-independence province

The first was called ‘British Balochistan’ and had a few British territory districts; second, was the ‘leased areas’ that meant Quetta, Nasirabad, and Nushki, which the British-Indian government had leased from the Khan of Kalat.

Then finally there was the tribal confederacy of Kalat, presided over by the Khan of Kalat, who while being the recognized sovereign, did not hold or exercise direct control over large parts of his state, which were run almost semi-independently by numerous tribes.

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While conditions in British Balochistan and the leased areas administered by an Agent to the Governor-General were better, Kalat State and its feudatories were in a dire state of development. As an example, Kalat only officially outlawed slavery in 1932, decades after it had been abolished in British-ruled territories and that too under immense British pressure. Similarly, while all British ruled territories had schools for girls, no such provision was made in Kalat State.

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Even after accession to Pakistan, when other princely states made considerable strides in education, such progress evaded Kalat. Thus, the base from which the province of Balochistan became part of Pakistan was considerably different from the other provinces of Pakistan. The province demanded special attention from the outset.

Balochistan vision

However, the legitimate demand for greater attention by Balochistan was almost immediately undermined by an insurgency in the area in the summer of 1948. Unhappy with his brother’s accession to Pakistan and the loss of revenue due to being removed as governor of Makran, Prince Abdul Karim led a band of his supporters across the border into Afghanistan, leading the first insurgency in the region.

Long complicated by the myths surrounding the insurgency, this step by the disgruntled Prince changed the Pakistani government’s focus from development to security. With the legitimacy of the accession of Kalat being challenged, the nascent government of Pakistan, which by that time was also fighting a war with India over Kashmir, could ill afford its western border to be destabilized.

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Therefore, the government came down hard on the insurgency, creating martyrs for the cause along the way, muddying the waters even further. The first insurgency in 1948 was followed by another in 1958, a third in 1963, a fourth in 1973, and then a fifth in 2005. The Baloch insurgency’s repeated re-emergence clearly shows that despite alleged foreign support and embellished claims, the grievances of the Baloch people are real and need to be addressed.

If these issues are not resolved, insurgencies will be created again, and military operations against them will only exasperate the situation and not alleviate any problems. Looking ahead, several critical interventions need to be made in order to solve the problems in Balochistan. First, there needs to be an understanding that the demographics in Balochistan are changing and to a large extent, have already changed.

Balochistan vision

While details of the last census are still not available, it is clear that by now the Pashtuns are an ethnic majority in the province. While this has not become a big issue yet, it is poised to become a bone of contention in the future. With Pashtuns forming the majority, the Baloch and Brahui’s space will shrink even further, limiting opportunities for them.

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As it is, the Pashtun districts of Balochistan are the most developed while the Brahui and Baloch majority districts are at the bottom of the HDI index. Thus, this demographic change needs to be factored into any development plans. There are several options to make this work: one option is to separate the Pashto speaking districts from the province and merge them with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

This will create a consolidated Pakhtun province in Pakistan and enable the Baloch and Brahui to have further control and stakes in their province where they would now form an overwhelming majority. Another option can be to enforce region-specific quotas to ensure a fair distribution of jobs and resources.

This would be harder to implement as disputes will soon occur, especially regarding the actual money spent on development in different areas. Whatever option the province and the federation decide, it must be democratic and be made keeping in mind the aspirations and development goals of the people.

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Secondly, a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ needs to be established in Balochistan to finally tackle the issues that foment the insurgency. Pakistan, let alone Balochistan, will never move forward if nearly every decade or so an insurgency flares up in the province. The repeated pattern of the insurgency clearly shows that it has local support with legitimate grievances.

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Those grievances need to be adequately addressed, and the wounds of older insurgencies healed. Each successive insurgency feeds on the past ones in terms of missing persons, indiscriminate killings, etc., and the myth-making around them valorizes them even more. ‘Honor’ is an integral part of the Baloch culture as anthropologists Paul Titus and Nina Swidler have shown, and it needs to be taken into account when creating a commission to heal the wounds of the past.

The Baloch ‘honor’ must be restored through an empowered and transparent ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ where all the excesses of the past, on both sides, must be acknowledged, recorded, and apologized for, with remedial action taken. Unless the slate is cleared with such a commission, the history of 70 years will keep repeating itself and will keep enticing young men, and even women, to take up arms.

Thirdly, it must not only be seen but realized, felt, and made obviously, that the elected representatives of the people are running Balochistan. There cannot be any deviation from this basic principle. If the military keeps the final control over most things in the province, the feeling of being besieged and under dictatorial control will always remain.

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Civilian governments cannot be fig leaves; otherwise, like the several civilian governments in Indian Occupied Kashmir,   they lose their legitimacy and have no effect. Security operations must come under the civilian government’s control, and all those apprehended must be brought before civilian courts for prosecution. Unrest and insurgencies are not rare globally, but the key to defeating them is not to create a draconian state but a functioning, efficient state that deals with matters of law and order in a legal and transparent manner.

If people see the state functioning and delivering in Balochistan, the insurgency will itself fizzle out. It is the failure of the state machinery that creates grievances that are then vented through an insurgency. Fourthly, efforts must be made to end the medieval form of feudalism present in most of Balochistan. This is a long-term strategy, but it must be initiated to begin to show results in a decade.

Unless the people break the shackles of feudalism, they cannot truly be free. Even now, the Balochistan Assembly is full of ‘sardars’. This must end in order to bring the voice of the common person to the forefront. The majority of the population in Balochistan is young, and they need to be engaged and empowered so that they can become drivers of change and end feudalism in their society.

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Massive efforts in terms of education, land redistribution, and development would be needed to realize this, but once Baloch society is free from feudalism, things will dramatically improve. Fifthly, transparency must become key in a new Balochistan. Balochistan gets more development money than any other province per capita, but it scarily trickles down to the bottom.

Transparent mechanisms need to be put in, so that money is spent efficiently and transparently. Real accountability must also be done, and not seen as simple witch hunts. A working system, which delivers and is accountable, will not only develop Balochistan but as argued above, nip the insurgency in the bud too.

Sixthly, all efforts need to be made to ensure ethnic and religious harmony in the province. The massacre of Hazaras is too often a headline in Pakistan, and concerted efforts need to be made to protect the group. Also, the local government should ensure integration of the Hazaras within the larger Baloch society, so that they can no longer be easy targets for terrorists.

The Hazaras’ ghettoization makes them easy targets, so the wider Baloch society needs to own and integrate them as their own. Furthermore, integrating the so-called ‘settlers’ is also essential, and recognizing their contribution towards the development of Balochistan – critical. Often the Baloch insurgents target the so-called ‘settlers’ who had left their home provinces for over a century and came to Balochistan to work for its development. Rather than being castigated, they need to be cherished as important members of society and not treated as foreigners.

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Seventhly, Balochistan needs to be seen by the federal government in its wider geostrategic context where its peace and development is the progress of all of Pakistan and the region. The Gwadar port, the transit routes to Afghanistan and central Asia, linkages with Iran and beyond, entirely depend on a peaceful and progressive Balochistan. Of course, enemy powers will try to destabilize the province to thwart development.

Still, the government needs to devise means to deal with these threats as ‘external’ and not ‘internal’ where poor people are targeted. This would involve much better intelligence,  technology,  and good planning, something which can be achieved in a couple of years.

Finally,  the development of  Balochistan needs to be seen as a golden opportunity for Pakistan. Vast swathes of Baloch territory remain underdeveloped.  With agriculture saturating in Punjab and Sindh, newer technology-led interventions could be made in Balochistan to increase its agricultural land use and productivity. Balochistan also has vast wind resources; they can be easily harnessed for energy.

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The vast coastline of Balochistan can not only be developed for trade (like  Gwadar),  but also for tourism,  where its pristine beaches can easily become international tourist hotspots. Balochistan can certainly be the next land of opportunity in Pakistan and the region.

Balochistan has always been at a crossroad, and usually gets the short end of the stick. However, the time has come to imagine a new Balochistan; democratic, transparent, equality-based, and development-oriented. Only then will the province change for the better and Pakistan can develop.

The writer is Director, Centre for Governance and Policy and Chairperson, Department of Governance and Global Studies, IT University, Lahore. He is the author of ‘A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.’ He tweets at @BangashYK

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