March 1, 2012
Turmoil in Balochistan and the debacle of East Pakistan
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
It is said that history repeats itself. Perhaps it is true in the ongoing strife in Pakistan’s largest province, Balochistan.
The current wave of socio-economic and political turmoil in Balochistan resembles with the social and political unrest that had led to the separation of East Pakistan and establishment of Bangladesh in December 1971.
The then East Pakistan Awami League leader Sheikh Mujib announced the following 6-points demands on February 5, 1966 that led to the dismemberment of Pakistan:
1. A Federation of Pakistan based on the Lahore Resolution, with a parliamentary form of government based on the supremacy of a directly elected legislature and representation on the basis of population. [The 1940 resolution said that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.]
2. The federal government to be responsible only for defense and foreign affairs.
3. A federal reserve system designed to prevent the flight of capital from one region to the other.
4. Taxation to be the responsibility of each federating unit, with necessary provisions for funding the federal government.
5. Each unit to retain its own foreign exchange earnings as well as the power to negotiate foreign trade and aid.
6. Each unit to maintain its own paramilitary forces.
The six-point program was the manifesto of Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League Party in the December 1970 election and his party won 160 out of 162 seats allocated for East Pakistan. The ruling elite in West Pakistan refused to hand over power to the majority party and the consequences led to the dismemberment of Pakistan and establishment of Bangladesh.
Note, the six point program did not call for the separation of East Pakistan.
However, the tides of political instability, national disintegration and socio-economic grievances that had resulted in the separation of East Pakistan are again assuming horrific proportions in view of the prevailing Balochistan crises.
On February 23, 2012, the grandson of Nawab Akbar Bugti (who was assassinated by General Parvez Musharraf’s regime in August 2006) and President of the Jamhoori Watan Party , Shahzian Bugti, announced eight point demands for negotiations with the Pakistan government:
1. Retired General Pervez Musharraf should be arrested in the Akbar Bugti murder case.
2. Military operation should be stopped and all forces should be withdrawn from Balochistan.
3. Controversial security posts should be abolished from Balochistan.
4. The killing of innocent people should end.
5. 13,000 missing persons of Balochistan should be traced.
6. The role of intelligence agencies in Balochistan should come to a close.
7. Any Baloch being prevented from returning to their homes by intelligence agencies should be allowed to go back, and
8. The responsible officials of intelligence agencies who carried out the attack on Chief of Baloch Republican Party Barahmdagh Bugti’s sister and niece on January 31 in Karachi should be arrested.
I believe that all the Baloch leaders support these demands although many leaders such as Barahmdagh Bugti, another grandson who is now living in exile in Switzerland, are demanding full independence for Balochistan where a brutal military operation is underway against the nationalists.
Home to seven million people, the province of Balochistan represents 43% of Pakistan's land area. Mostly desert and mountain, it is rich in untapped resources: natural gas, uranium and possibly oil. Since 1948 ethnic Balochs have demanded greater autonomy and more control over
revenues from their gas fields, and the Pakistani government has put down four insurgencies; the fifth and current rebellion started in 2003, led by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and other militant groups.
Human Rights Violations
Grave human rights violations is a big issue in Balochistan that let to this month’s hearing in the US Congress and introduction of a resolution that called for the independence of Balochistan. A fact finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan visited Balochistan in May 2011 and confirmed the human rights violations and give credence to Shahzian Bugti’s demand.
The HRCP fact-finding mission found the situation in Balochistan to be extremely precarious because, among other things:
1. Agents of the state (read army), as well as the insurgents and extremists operating in the province share a common disregard for rights of the citizens. The insurgents have murdered settlers in targeted killings with impunity.
2. There is strong evidence of involvement of the security forces in enforced disappearances and killings. FIRs registered against personnel of security agencies remain uninvestigated without exception. The police have not even managed to get an audience with the personnel of security forces accused of abducting the citizens, much less investigate them, and the courts have failed to ensure compliance with their orders.
3. Enforced disappearances continue to be reported from all parts of the province. Little headway has been made in ensuring the release of a large number of missing persons from unacknowledged custody of security agencies.
4. In a new and worrying trend mutilated bodies of victims of enforced disappearance have started turning up by the roadside and in desolate places. These include several cases where witnesses had held agents of the state responsible for the disappearance. Not a single case has been investigated.
5. All authority in the province seems to vest with the security forces (read army) which enjoy complete impunity.
6. Human rights defenders and political activists have been targeted for no reason other than for raising their voice for people’s rights and exposing violations of human rights.
Grievances of the Baloch people
The people of Balochistan believe their resources have been used to benefit other provinces –notably Punjab – rather than the people of Balochistan. Denial of Baloch rights and the five military operations since independence have taken its toll on the population of Balochistan, but it seems no lessons have been learnt as force is still being used to resolve a conflict that is essentially political in nature and primarily concerns the socio-economic rights of the people of the province. [Islamabad Policy Research Institute report on Balochistan 2010]
Demographic graphic balance of Balochistan has been changed due to influx of people from other provinces (mostly from Punjab) known as settlers. Unfortunately, these settlers became a soft target of the Baloch militants. Nearly 1,200 settlers are estimated to have been killed across Balochistan, mostly in what are referred to as hit-and-run incidents and grenade attacks on their businesses and homes. According to Balochistan Punjabi Ittehad, some 200,000 people have fled Balochistan since early 2008 when the violence against various ethnic groups excluding Pashtuns peaked. According to Balochistan Punjabi Ittehad the militants began to target the Punjabi settlers after Nawab Bugti was assassinated by the military in August, 2006. Before that there were occasional incidents in which Punjabis were targeted.
Though an overwhelming majority of elected representatives in Balochistan are pro-Islamabad and the pro-federation political forces outnumber the ones demanding independence, it would be wrong to dismiss the Baloch nationalists and separatists as insignificant, according to Islamabad Policy Research Institute report on Balochistan. They have the capability to keep Balochistan unstable through political means and armed struggle. Acts of sabotage and targeted killings aim at keeping up the pressure on Islamabad to accede to the separatists' demands.
The Indian connection
Pakistan government has accused India of fomenting rebellion in Balochistan which has a long porous border with Afghanistan. According to Islamabad Policy Research Institute, the Indian consulate in Kandahar, a border town, provides a firm base to train, arm and dispatch militants across the border to undertake sabotage activities in Balochistan. Indian companies have been awarded contracts on various projects to link Kabul with Balochistan near Iranian border; and in the bargain it makes the job of RAW easier.
The paramilitary force, the Frontier Corps, fighting militants has seized weapons and equipment that bear Indian marking from the possession of militants killed or captured during action. Adviser to Afghan government, Ehsanullah Aryanzai, in a statement disclosed that India was using Afghan soil to conduct across the border anti-Pakistan activities. [Islamabad Policy Research Institute report on Balochistan 2010]
It is a well-known fact that India played a decisive role in the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 by covertly and overtly supporting the separatists in East Pakistan.
In the closing phase of the civil war in East Pakistan, the US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, is believed to have informed India of Pakistan's willingness to discuss a timetable for the grant of complete provincial autonomy to the eastern wing and in mid-November 1971, a secret five-point peace plan is said to have been given by President General Yahya Khan to the Indian Ambassador in Islamabad. The plan included a provision for a referendum on the issue of East Pakistan's independence. Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi nevertheless declined it and her army, along with Mukti Bahni (the separatists supporting East Pakistan's bid for independence) pressed on until the Pakistani forces were forced to surrender in Dhaka on December 16. [The search for political stability by M. H. Askari, Dawn Aug. 14, 1993]
Many in Pakistan believe that the ruling elite of West Pakistan lost East Pakistan because it was located at a distance of about 1,000 miles from West Pakistan and India supported the separatists openly. However, irrespective of the reports that India or any other power is involved in fomenting the rebellion, it will be wrong to think that the Pakistan army will be able to keep Balochistan under its control through brutal repressive measures.
Time is ripe that the grievances of Balochistan people should be addressed and Balochistan should be given provincial autonomy to ensure peace, harmony and co-operative co-existence in the country. If history has any lesson, the ruling elite in Pakistan should revisit the debacle of East Pakistan. History repeats itself because nobody listens or History repeats itself because the world doesn't learn. The poet and philosopher George Santayana says: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is Chief Editor of the Journal of America.