Drawing parallels between Balochistan and Kashmir
This is the second in a three part series on Balochistan. The first part appeared on December 28, 2011. The third part will appear next week.
The insurgencies in Balochistan, in Pakistan and in Jammu and Kashmir (J & K) in India have much in common. An armed struggle by the youth has taken root in both places. The 2000-plus bullet-riddled bodies recovered from the unmarked graves in four districts in Indian occupied Kashmir as well as the mutilated bodies of hundreds of Balochi youth left to rot in the desert in Balochistan are examples of how violence is destroying the social order and the moral fabric of Balochs and Kashmiris alike.
While the establishment in India and in Pakistan may argue that Balochistan and Kashmir have nothing in common and thus no lessons could be learnt from each other’s experience. I would argue just the opposite. The unfortunate circumstances in Balochistan and the Kashmir valley share several common traits, which make it necessary to learn from the past and present mistakes.
Since the partition in 1947 Muslims in J & K and the Balochs in present-day Balochistan have campaigned for greater local autonomy. A large part of Balochistan was under Kalat Khanate, a princely state similar to the greater Kashmir, whose fate was left undecided at partition. Sixty-four years hence, Balochs in Pakistan and Muslims in the Kashmir valley are still vying for a resolution.
In both Balochistan and the Kashmir valley, the Indian and Pakistani establishments have responded with brute force to counter the legitimate grievances of their people. Thus violence has erupted in the streets. Thousands have died in the insurgency in Balochistan in separate spats of violence that peaked at various points in time in the past six decades. The Baloch insurgency during the 70s reportedly caused the death of 5,000 Baloch insurgents and 3,300 troops when 55,000 armed Baloch insurgents faced off against 80,000 Pakistani troops. Even the Iranian air force joined in to bomb Baloch insurgents. The Shah of Iran was wary of the Baloch nationalist movement spilling into the Iran’s Baluchistan and thus dispatched his air force to pound Baloch targets.(1)
Hundreds of Balochs have died in the current wave of violence, while hundreds of thousands of Baloch tribesmen have been forced out of their lands to take refuge in Sindh and Punjab. Analyst Alok Bansal estimates that as much as six brigades of Pak Army are currently deployed in Balochistan. Similarly in India, the violence in J & K peaked during the 90s when reportedly 60,000 to 80,000 Kashmiris were killed. The resulting violence has forced thousands of Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs to flee Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir valley.
The establishments’ propaganda machines have also worked the same way in both places where the insurgents have been labelled as anti-state militants and terrorists. Those in the media or academia who dare question the State’s version are also dubbed as traitors and terrorist sympathisers. In Pakistan, the State also affixes the anti-Islamic label to the insurgents. Meeran Gichki while researching the conflict in Balochistan at the University of Arkansas argued that news media were used “to channel popular nationalism by the military-bureaucratic elite, which tends to exclude political minorities like Baloch nationalists as foreign conspirators, while using Islamic symbolism to create a sense of national unity within different nationalities in Pakistan.”(2) He further writes that “the segmentation of the media market in Balochistan, portrays the Pakistani government and its military as an occupying force.”
Despite being diametrically opposed to each other on almost all matters related to foreign and domestic policies, Islamabad and New Delhi have surprisingly adopted identical high-handed approaches in dealing with insurgencies in Balochistan and Kashmir valley. Not so surprisingly, both establishments have met failures of equal proportions. Notice also the similarity in how Islamabad and New Delhi accuse each other of fanning the separatists’ flames in each other’s territories. The official versions from both establishments hold foreign elements responsible for insurgencies rather than seeing those as indigenous struggles.
Democracy, in its narrowest manifestation as electoral politics, exists in both Balochistan and J & K such that a provincial assembly in Balochistan and a state legislature in Jammu and Kashmir is in place. However, electoral politics have not helped resolve the disputes because the marginalised groups have shunned electoral politics after witnessing no progress toward addressing their key demands over the years.
The sham democracy in Balochistan deserves a closer scrutiny. The Baloch nationalist parties boycotted the elections in 2008 in protest against the murder of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. The void left by the nationalists was filled by those who enjoyed the support of the establishment. However, the resulting provincial assembly has been mostly ineffective in asserting its writ in the province. Balochistan’s chief minister and the advocate general are on record accusing the Frontier Corps of running a parallel government in Balochistan.
The coalition government in Balochistan has no one else but to blame itself for its ineffectiveness. The poorly cobbled together coalition has put PPP in control of an assembly of 51 members that had to lure 45 members with ministries to win their support for the coalition. Not being a minister must be quite a distinguishing trait in Balochistan Assembly. How can one explain PPP occupying the chief minister’s office with only 7 seats and a fewer than 52,000 votes cast for the seven PPP parliamentarians. Even with 15 seats in Balochistan Assembly, the Musharraf backed Pakistan Muslim League exerts no influence in the province because it no longer enjoys establishment’s unconditional support.
|Party standing in 2008
|Average votes||Total votes
|Pakistan Muslim League||18,797||281,949||15|
|Pakistan Peoples Party||7,373||51,612||7|
|Balochistan National Party Awami)||11,465||57,327||5|
|Awami National Party||18,229||36,458||2|
Source: Election Commission of Pakistan
Even a bigger scandal, which puts in questions the very legitimacy of the Balochistan Assembly, is that of the bogus votes that were instrumental in electing the sitting parliamentarians from Balochistan to the provincial and national assemblies. A review of the electoral rolls by Pakistan Election Commission and NADRA has revealed that 65 per cent of the registered 4,520,766 voters in Balochistan were fake.
Balochistan’s total population in 2008 was estimated at 8 million. The 18-years and older cohort, as per 1998 census, accounted for 46.2 per cent of the population. This puts the population of eligible voters in Balochistan around 3.7 million voters. How then did the voters’ list include 4.52 million voters in Balochistan? Furthermore with 65 per cent fake votes, the verified voter list in Balochistan shrinks to 1.58 million voters. The Election Commission in 2008 recorded 1.493 million votes casting the provincial elections. With 1.58 million real voters, the voter turnout in Balochistan was miraculously high at 94.3 per cent! That’s quite a turnout considering that the nationalist parties had boycotted the elections.
Apart from similarities between the insurgencies in Balochistan and Kashmir valley, significant differences do exist as well. For instance, education is free up to College and University levels in J & K. This has contributed to higher literacy rates in J & K as well as in Kerala, which is the most literate state in the Indian Union.
Another marked difference is that the Indian constitution, under Article 370, grants special autonomous status to J & K. One implication of Article 370 is that it prevents non-Kashmiris from buying land in Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, the existing law and traditional practices discriminate against even those Kashmiri women who marry non-Kashmiris. While these women could inherit land, however their children would not inherit immovable property from their mothers.. These constitutional stipulations have helped maintain the ethnic mix in J & K to a large extent. However, Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs, who were forced to flee the Kashmir valley, have obviously been disadvantaged by the same law.
Perhaps Balochistan is also in need of an Article 370 to protect the territorial rights of the indigenous peoples (Balochs, Pashtuns and others) of Balochistan. Without such protection, the territorial rights of Balochs may not be respected or safeguarded. An example of property right violations could be observed in Gwadar. Adeel Khan, while writing in Asian Survey references a scathing report published in Herald about the “great land robbery” in Gwadar.(3) He quoted Herald as follows:
“Some observers share the view that the Gwadar project is one of the biggest land boondoggles in Pakistan’s history…[T]he local people owned the land through generations but lacked documents of ownership. The elite have bribed revenue clerks to register Gwadar land in their names; the land was then resold at rock-bottom prices to developers from Karachi, Lahore, and other major cities…illegally allotted to civilian and military bureaucrats living elsewhere. …[T]he poor and uneducated Baluch [i.e., Baloch] population had been shut out…Gwadar became a lightning rod for Baluch hatred of Punjabi-ruled Pakistan.”
Between the construction of new cantonments in Balochistan and land being acquired through other means, Pakistan Army is expanding its foothold in Balochistan. Balochs, Pushtuns and others are weary of the expansion of garrisons and housing schemes, which the locals believe will turn them into a minority on their own soil. Herald in June 2008, as quoted by Adeel Khan, further stated:
“The Pakistani army is the biggest land grabber…It is giving away the coast of Baluchistan [Balochistan] for peanuts, to the Punjabis…In Gwadar, the army is operating as a mafia, falsifying land records. They say we don’t have papers to prove our ownership of the land, though we’ve been there for centuries.”
The real crisis in Balochistan is that of trust. Since the partition in 1947, Balochistan has been a reluctant constituting member in Pakistan’s federation. The establishment, and the rest of Pakistan, has done precious little to win their trust. Instead, several military incursions in the province have turned successive generations of Balochs against the federation. At the same time, Balochs have benefited little from the resources that have flown out of their lands. Balochistan produces much more natural gas than it consumes. Even when it is constitutionally guaranteed a greater share of natural gas for domestic consumption, Balochistan is still denied a fair share in the very riches it produces. With the land grab in Gwadar and elsewhere, it is no surprise that Balochs see no incentives in staying within the federation.
An immediate and complete withdrawal of the Frontier Corps from Balochistan is a necessary prerequisite for trust building. Also needed are constitutional reforms, similar to Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which recognise and guarantee indigenous control over resources in Balochistan.
Furthermore, judicial intervention is urgently required to reverse all land transactions in Gwadar and elsewhere to ensure that developers only acquire the right to develop (by paying royalty or user fees) while the ownership of the land remains with the indigenous peoples of Balochistan.
Pakistan’s establishment has to demonstrate genuine interest in the welfare of ordinary Balochs by embarking on an honourable and just partnership with Balochs. The past six decades of military incursions have shown that brute force has failed to subdue Balochs. It is time to give justice and respect a chance.
(1) AlokBansal (2008): Factors leading to insurgency in Balochistan, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 19:2, pp. 182-200.
(2) Gichki, Meeran (2010). Baluchistan: Democratization and national conflict in Pakistan.Masters thesis in Journalism. University of Arkansas.
(3) Khan, Adeel (2009). Renewed Ethnonationalist Insurgency in Balochistan, Pakistan: The Militarized State and Continuing Economic Deprivation. Asian Survey, Vol. 49, No. 6, pp. 1071-1091.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.