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Balochistan versus Pakistan

The conflict between Balochistan and the federal government of Pakistan has been amongst the most persistent of the many centre-province contradictions that have persisted in the country. The four-year insurgency of the 1970s was suppressed by army action. With the federal government attempting to reassert its authority by building new military cantonments and mega development projects across the province, militancy in Balochistan has resurfaced. This paper argues that the present stand-off, while still broadly informed by the traditional concerns of Baloch nationalism, must be considered a response to the state's commitment to intensive neoliberal accumulation. The purely reactionary nature of the insurgency explains its fragmentation.


Balochistan versus Pakistan

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

The conflict between Balochistan and the federal government of Pakistan has been amongst the most persistent of the many centre-province contradictions that have persisted in the country. The four-year insurgency of the 1970s was suppressed by army action. With the federal government attempting to reassert its authority by building new military cantonments and mega development projects across the province, militancy in Balochistan has resurfaced. This paper argues that the present stand-off, while still broadly informed by the traditional concerns of Baloch nationalism, must be considered a response to the state’s commitment to intensive neoliberal accumulation. The purely reactionary nature of the insurgency explains its fragmentation.

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar ( is a Pakistani political activist associated with the People’s Rights Movement and teaches at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

or the past three years, a low-intensity conflict between ethno-nationalists in the south-western province of Balochistan and the centre has raged in Pakistan. This is not the first time that conflict has erupted between the central government and dissident Baloch nationalists claiming a greater share of resources, and more generally, a stake in the decision-making structures of the state. A prolonged insurgency took place in the province in the 1970s while there has always been a claim made by nationalists that they were actually forced to accede to Pakistan in 1948 [Khan 1975].

The Baloch struggle is not the only, or even the most prominent ethno-nationalist challenge to the post-colonial state’s project of unitary nationalism. The Pakistan movement itself was not supported by the Pakhtuns of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) who were organised in the form of the Khudai Khidmatgar movement. After the creation of the country, Pakhtun nationalism remained the major political idiom in the Pakhtun areas. Sindhis too have been protesting their political and economic marginalisation, particularly at the hands of migrants and allottees of state land, since well before 1947.1 Finally, and most notably, the eastern wing of Pakistan seceded in 1971 to form Bangladesh only 24 years after the inception of the state itself. The nationalist movement in east Pakistan consistently voiced grievances related to the ethnically skewed power-sharing arrangement in which Punjabis and Urdu-speaking ‘muhajirs’ (refugees) settled in the western wing dominated. Among the many effects of this skewed structure of power were language riots fuelled by Bengali anger over the fact that Bangla – the native tongue of more than half the Pakistani population – was not accorded the status of national language; a relationship of economic colonialism between the two wings whereby the export earnings from jute produced in the eastern wing were used to fund the industrial enterprises based almost exclusively in the western wing; and dismal representation of Bengalis in the administrative institutions of the state [Ahmed 1973; Ali 1970].

Both before and after the secession of the eastern wing – which, importantly, is the only instance in the history of the modern nation state in which the majority of the population has seceded – ethno-national resistance has retained a central place on the country’s political landscape, reflecting the fact that the Pakistani state remains heavily centralised and dominated by certain ethnic groups. It would not be incorrect to suggest that ethnic difference remains the single biggest faultline in Pakistani politics even 60 years after the creation of the state.2 The current conflict in Balochistan is yet another episode in a long con tinuum, and must therefore be considered in its historic context.

Economic & Political Weekly NOVEMber 17, 2007


This paper will attempt to analyse the most recent manifestation of Baloch nationalism in the “longue duree”, with a parti cular focus on the continuities and discontinuities between the present movement that of the 1970s. The existing literature confirms that the nature of Pakistani state formation and its unchanging posture towards oppressed nationalities after the secession of the eastern wing have ensured that ethno-nationalist resistance is structurally ingrained into the socio-political fabric of the country. However, the recent phase of ethno-national resistance would appear to be a direct response to the aggressive pursuit of neoliberal policies by the current military government – and in particular the establishment of direct control of land by the centre – as opposed to a pro-active and organised movement. Thus it follows that the current “movement” is far more fragmented in comparison to that of the 1970s. Nonetheless, in conclusion we postulate that, regardless of the weaknesses of this present phase of the ethno-nationalist struggle in the province, the nationalist idiom remains compelling to the majority of the Baloch and that only a comprehensive change in the unitary state structure can ensure peace in the province.

Colonial Inheritance and State Formation

Hamza Alavi’s (1987) well known, albeit somewhat dated, argument posits the Muslim nationalist movement in British India to be a struggle of what he calls the “salariat” – or the auxillary class of salaried professionals typically seeking employment within the institutions of the state – rather than a millenarian movement of a monolithic Muslim community across the subcontinent. More specifically, Alavi’s contention is that the primary support for the All-India Muslim League (AIML) that was to become the Pakistan Muslim League after partition was found amongst the educated elite of the United Provinces (UP) which did not become part of Pakistan. Moreover, within the Pakistan areas, the Muslim salariat was greatly overshadowed by its Hindu counterpart, with only the Punjabi Muslim salariat somewhat comparable in education and professional access to the UP Muslim salariat.

Alavi goes on to show that the Muslim nationalist movement essentially evolved as a movement of the UP salariat to assert itself vis-a-vis the Hindu majority, and that it reflected the fears and insecurities of a minority community facing the prospect of majoritarian democracy.3 While Alavi’s insights cannot be ignored, more recent scholarship has also suggested the importance of considering the ideational dimension of the Muslim nationalist movement [Talbot 1996]. More generally, the precise nature of the powersharing arrangement in the new state can only be understood by considering the role of landed notables, particularly in Punjab, as well as the role of migrant politicians, civil servants, and indeed the subalterns who acceded to the logic of the political economy of defence [Jalal 1990; Waseem 2002].4 As such, it was only after the British announced their intentions of leaving India at the end of the second world war that influentials in the Muslim majority provinces – and most crucially the Muslim landlords of Punjab

– decided to ally themselves with the AIML, at which point the latter was able to negotiate with the departing colonial authority on behalf of India’s Muslims [Jalal 1985].

When Partition finally came to pass, the predominant force of the Pakistan movement – the UP Muslim salariat – acquired the reins of government in cahoots with the Punjabi Muslim salariat, in spite of the fact that the UP was not part of the new state. Crucially, the Muhajir/Punjabi-dominated civil bureaucracy acquired almost unchallenged control over the levers of state power with the complicity of the Punjabi landed notables, and the Muslim League politicians, the vast majority of whom hailed from outside the Pakistan areas and therefore had no constituency within the new state. This “politics of compromise” was based on a consensus amongst these groups that any democratic dispensation would result in power shifting to the eastern wing on account of the demographic majority enjoyed by the Bengalis, who comprised 53 per cent of the total population of Pakistan [Jalal 1994:154-58].

Over time, a military-bureaucratic oligarchic form of rule was consolidated as a largely Punjabi army threw in its lot with the bureaucracy and landed notables of Punjab to keep the Ben


galis out of power. This oligarchic dispensation remained intact throughout the first 24 years of the country’s existence due to the complicit support of the propertied classes of the western wing, and this alliance of forces repeatedly thwarted all attempts to institutionalise a political process through which the ethnic imbalance in state institutions and the decisionmaking structure more generally could be redressed [Alavi 1972; 1990]. It was thus that Bengali nationalism reached a feverish pitch, and, in the aftermath of a bloody military operation initiated in March 1971, and the belated entrance of India into the fray, the new state of Bangladesh came into being following the Pakistan army’s surrender in Dhaka in December 1971.

While it is indubitable that the ethno-nationalist idiom in Pakistani politics has been in large part a function of an exclusionary political and economic order, it would be naïve to completely ignore what analysts associated with the “perennialist” school of thought would assert are the cultural bases of nationalism [Smith 1998]. By this logic, nationalism cannot be reduced simply to a political movement that emerges as a corporate group lays claim to material resources under the guise of being a “nation”, but instead national identity should be seen as rooted in historically shared symbols such as language, territory and broader aspects of culture. Ethnic nationalism can even develop “as people mobilise their own social and cultural resources as a ‘defence, a resistance against the depredations’ of what has been for many the largely empty promise of the liberal nationalism transported to the third world”. In the case of the Baloch there exists a substantial shared history and cultural imagining which underpins nationalist sentiment. Accordingly Baloch nationalism cannot be reduced only to functional engagements of the Baloch elite with the state as a means of securing political and economic resources [Titus 1996].

Old Wine in New Bottle

Remarkably, a little over a year after the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came to power follo wing the military’s ignominious defeat, the centre had once again

November 17, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly


launched a military operation against another dissenting ethnonational group. The new populist government managed to piece together enough support from the parliament to conclude a new constitution which made considerably more overtures to ethnonationalists under the guise of increasing provincial autonomy. The constitution was begrudgingly accepted by nationalists in the opposition, most importantly the National Awami Party (NAP), which had formed coalition governments with the Jami’at-e-Ulama-Islam (JUI) in both the NWFP and Balochistan [Leghari 1979:190-93].

However, tension between the two provincial governments and the centre increased steadily, the former attempting to assert their autonomy, the latter insistent on asserting authority. By October 1972, conflict had already emerged in Balochistan, ostensibly between tribes that were aligned on either side of the centre-province divide. By February 1973 the PPP government had dismissed both the Balochistan and NWFP governors – both members of the NAP – as well as the Balochistan provincial government under the pretext that there was a plot being hatched to overthrow the central government [Shafqat 1997:102].

It is believed that Baloch guerrillas outside of the NAP-JUI government had already been preparing for armed struggle against the centre following the success of the Bengali nationalist movement in achieving separation from Pakistan. This guerrilla faction was led by Sher Mohammad Marri [Noman 1988: 66].6 While the NAP-JUI government was not initially implicated in the guerrilla preparations, the Baloch sardars who were at the forefront of the NAP in the province, namely Ataullah Mengal, Khair Bakhsh Marri, and to a lesser extent Ghaus Bux Bizenjo, responded to the dismissal of their government by announcing their support for the guerrillas, insisting that nothing less than independence for Balochistan was acceptable. The Bhutto regime had thus squandered the opportunity to once and for all dismantle the military-bureaucratic oligarchic dispensation and overhaul the relationship between the centre and ethno-nationalist dissidents; Bhutto’s “deep mistrust of groups demanding greater provincial autonomy” allowed the military a chance to reassert its power very soon after the humiliation of December 1971 (ibid: 67).

The struggle of the 1970s was one that enjoyed broad-based support across Baloch society, as well as nationalist and leftist forces throughout the country. Broadly motivated by Marxist-Leninist principles, many intellectuals and activists joined the struggle from Punjab and other provinces, whereas within Balochistan, the prominent sardar leadership of the NAP was joined by the urban intelligentsia and professional class, or in Alavi’s words, the Baloch salariat [Harrison 1981]. Among the more active components of the Baloch salariat was the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO), which captured the imagination of a large number of Baloch youth. Many BSO members spent time abroad in the then USSR studying and imbibing radical ideas, and have since become major players in Baloch politics. The leader of the biggest nationalist party in the Balochistan provincial assembly after the 2002 elections for example, is a former BSO chairperson, Abdul Hayee Baloch.

The insurgency was able to withstand tremendous levels of state repression largely because of the active involvement of a wide cross-section of Baloch society, due to the fact that all major nationalist forces were united in and around the NAP dissidents,

Economic & Political Weekly november 17, 2007

and ostensibly because there was at least some support provided by external forces.7 Between 40,000 and 80,000 square miles of territory in Balochistan were wracked by unrest, an estimated 20,000 insurgents were involved, and at least five direct clashes between government forces and the insurgents took place weekly [Ahmad 1974]. Meanwhile the government deployed 80,000 troops over the four-year insurgency [ICG 2006:6].

Ultimately, the fact that immediately adjacent countries, and particularly Iran, were hostile to Baloch nationalism, as well as the tremendous use of force by the state to crush the movement, ensured that it was suppressed [Harrison 1981]. Leaders fled abroad or were jailed, while the young cadre of the movement was, and continues to be subjected to, harassment and intimidation. Almost paradoxically, it was after the Zia-ul-Haq led coup that toppled Bhutto that many NAP leaders including Wali Khan and the major Baloch sardars were granted amnesty. However, there was to be no revival of resistance. Instead, in September 1979, two years after the imposition of martial law, pro-establishment candidates won the non-party local body elections in the province conducted by the regime, reflecting just how comprehensively the infrastructure of the movement had been destroyed [Jalal 1994:175].8

Myth of Development

After a gap of 25 years then, militancy in Balochistan has resurfaced. Needless to say there are considerable differences between the present movement and that of the 1970s. The confrontation this time appears to be between a much more amorphous band of militants and the authorities over the fate of Balochistan’s natural resources, the building of military cantonments in the province, and so-called “mega development” projects, including the soon to be completed Gwadar port on the south-western tip of the province. While the broader demand for provincial auto nomy continued to inform the ethno-nationalist discourse, it is clear that the present phase of the struggle has emerged in response to the current military regime’s initiatives to establish greater control over the resources and territory of Balochistan.

This unique conjuncture is explained by the government’s commitment to intensive neoliberal accumulation, and is best understood through the framework offered by David Harvey (2003) in explaining, as he calls it, the current phase of capitalist imperialism.9 Specifically Harvey suggests that since the mid1970s when a structural shift took place in the global economy from a largely production-centred basis to a financial one, there has been a reassertion of state-led accumulation akin to what Marx called “primitive accumulation”. Harvey calls this “accumulation by dispossession” and defines it as a process through which gluts of financial capital needing spatial outlets acquire, typically through the medium of the state, territory in which “spatio-temporal fixes” can be undertaken.

Balochistan’s vast land mass – comprising over 40 per cent of Pakistan’s territory – and its reasonable endowment of natural resources including land, gas, minerals, as well as a highly strategic coastline, mean that it is a viable target for spatio-temporal fixes. The fact that the regime plans to construct military cantonments in Sui, home to Pakistan’s largest known supply of


natural gas, Gwadar, a highly strategic coastal city, and Kohlu where there are reportedly major deposits of untapped energy reserves, would seem to corroborate this “territorial imperative”. This also seems consistent with the increasingly blatant resourcegrabbing antics of the dominant state actor, the military, which has in recent decades built up a huge corporate empire, with capture and commercialisation of land as one of its major components [Siddiqa 2007].10 The establishment of territorial control has also facilitated the expanding interests of multinational capital which has substantively increased its presence in Pakistan during the tenure of the present regime. Most importantly, Chinese companies were given almost exclusive contracts to undertake construction of the Gwadar port, the first phase of investment totalling $ 248 million of which the Chinese provided $ 198 million [GoP 2005].

Discourse on Gwadar

The nationalist discourse surrounding Gwadar indicates the broader fears of cultural extinction that remain embedded within Baloch politics. Alongside the demand that “development projects” benefit the Baloch, including but not limited to the provision of employment for Baloch youth, nationalists have also protested that Gwadar is likely to precipitate an influx of non-Baloch into the province – for jobs, and due to broader multiplier effects – that will further skew the demographic imbalance in the province. For at least two decades the Baloch have claimed – the Sindhis have been at it for even longer – that they are being turned into a minority in their own province due to successive waves of in-migration. Indeed, it is widely believed within the province that figures in the last national census held in 1998 were deliberately fudged by the government to avoid the uproar that would necessarily have ensued if the genuine extent of the Pakhtun demographic majority in Balochistan had become public knowledge.11 It has been recently established that massive land acquisition has taken place in Gwadar that is nothing less than a transfer of land from Baloch to non-Baloch hands (Dawn, February 7, 2007). Thus the capture of land is not only a real material concern but is considered cultural encroachment as well.

It is important to bear in mind that the vast majority of Balochistan’s territory has remained largely outside formal state jurisdiction since the incorporation of the Kalat state into Pakistan in 1948. Under the British, present-day Pakistani Balochistan was split up into two distinct entities, namely British Balochistan and the Kalat state. The former was administered by the colonial authority similarly to the rest of British-administered India, replete with the formal institutional power of the “thana” and ‘kutchery’. In contrast, Kalat was a princely state and, like the more than 500 princely states across India, was accorded considerable autonomy to conduct its affairs as it saw fit so long as it accepted British sovereignty over external affairs and provided Delhi with a certain fixed revenue [Ahmad 1992: 113]. Accordingly, in many of the areas comprising the former Kalat state, the Pakistani state’s writ has been limited; this not only provides insight into why insurgents were able to hold the state at bay for four long years in the 1970s, but also lends weight to this paper’s claim that establishing territorial control over Balochistan represents for this government, an end in itself.

Balochistan has remained largely marginal to public discourse in recent years, and is still politically and economically the most excluded of all provinces in Pakistan. The quite sudden attention that the present government has decided to accord it has been couched in the language of “development”. Indeed General Musharraf has consistently claimed that the purpose of “security operations” taking place in the province is to suppress the resistance of “anti-development” forces (‘Musharraf Warns Sloganmongers’, May 23, Dawn). In particular, the central government has insisted that it is the “tribal sardars” that are keen on keeping their subjugated people backward and ignorant, whereas the government is attempting to extricate the Baloch from the vicious grip of these sardars.

This official discourse flags a couple of crucial points. First, while tribal sardars have always maintained a central position within Baloch politics, they neither monopolise political discourse nor maintain substantial political influence but for the immediate geographical areas in which their tribes are settled. For example, the Mengal, Marri and Bugti tribes, arguably the most politically visible of all of the Baloch tribes are concentrated within a relatively small geographical zone towards the northeast of the province. Second, ethno-nationalism in Balochistan

– while centred around the broad political slogans of autonomy and self-determination – is heavily influenced by the real material concerns of the Baloch salariat. In fact, as Ahmed (1998) argues conclusively, of all the major ethno-national movements in Pakistan’s history, the centre has been most successful in reigning in the Pakhtuns primarily because the Pakhtunsalariathas been co-opted through induction into the institutions of the state, including the military and the bureaucracy.12

As such, the recent history of Baloch nationalism emphasises exclusion from the power-sharing arrangement, and has been represented both by the Baloch sardars and the salariat, with the former often considered the symbolic figurehead of the Baloch people. While it would be facile to downplay the importance or centrality of the sardars, it is important to bear in mind that of the dozens of tribes in Balochistan, the state has always patronised a large number, a practice that can be traced to the so-called Sandeman system under the British whereby the tribal system that the colonial power encountered was consolidated through the granting of hereditary rights to “chiefs” and then vesting in them substantial authority to effectively mediate between ordinary people and the state in administrative, judicial and revenue-collection matters [Ahmad 1992:97-101]. At the present time, one of the major dissident Baloch sardars of the 1970s, Ataullah Mengal claims that “72 sardars are sitting in Musharraf’s lap” (‘Interview with Sardar Ataullah Mengal’, The Friday Times, July 7-13, 2006). Thus the nationalist movement in Balochistan must be considered much broader than simply a whim of sardars, and in fact, it can be argued that Baloch nationalist sentiment has survived in spite of the complicity of many sardars with the state oligarchy.

Resurgence of Insurgents?

The state’s attempts to depict the conflict in terms of a dichotomy between itself as pro-development and the sardars as anti-development are based primarily on the well-publicised

November 17, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly


series of relatively consistent attacks on gas pipelines, installations, railway tracks and other targets by unidentified militas. These attacks started as early as September 2004 and have taken place mostly in the northern part of Balochistan and in the bordering areas of Punjab and Sindh. It would appear that the basic objective has been to disrupt supplies of gas and other resources from Balochistan to the north of the country.13 The attacks do not appear, however, to be guided by a very coherent military strategy. As mentioned earlier, it appears as if the attacks have been reactions to the government’s decision to build new military cantonments, and the ongoing and intensive construction of Gwadar port. The spark for the current unrest however was the rape of a lady doctor at the Sui gas plant by an army officer, and the subsequent shielding of this officer from criminal prosecution by the government [ICG 2006:8]. Importantly, it was following the unrest triggered by the rape incident that the military actually moved in to take over direct control over the gas plant under the guise of “protecting the national installations”, which would appear to corroborate our hypothesis that the state is keen to establish control over at least part of Balochistan’s territory under whatever pretext it can (‘Security Forces to Remain in Sui: Owais’, January 30, 2006, Dawn).

In any case, while the state’s continuing encroachment into territory previously controlled autonomously by the Baloch themselves has continued, the scope of the nationalist response has not increased, or at the very least, the nationalists do not appear to have become very organised. On the one hand this is a function of the fact that Baloch nationalism is now articulated by at least four different parties as opposed to the unified force of the NAP in the 1970s.14 It has been acknowledged by all of these parties, particularly the NP which claims to be representative of the non-tribal middle classes, that there are considerable differences between the four parties. While Akhtar Mengal of the BNP claims that “on the Balochistan issue, we are one”, it is clear that Baloch nationalists in the mainstream political sphere are not nearly as united as in the 1970s [ICG 2006:11].

This is reflected in the fact that all of the major nationalist parties are unwilling to claim any direct or formal link to the militants that are actually engaging the state in armed conflict.15 Meanwhile, information about the militants is sparse. Various names have been floated for the entity perceived to be guiding the attacks against the authorities, including the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) but neither of these – or any other organisation – has a public face that can confirm grievances, demands and the overall contours of the militants’ politics [ICG 2006:12-13]. It is clear how ever, that support for the militants is increasing because it appears as if ordinary Baloch are willing to support any entity that challenges what is perceived to be a colonial army engaged in blatant self-aggrandisement.

Of the major NAP leaders that were involved in the 1970s insurgency, only Khair Bakhsh Marri has stayed out of parliamentary politics entirely. Meanwhile his son Balach Marri is reputed to be one of the major organisers of the militas current active in the province. Progressive political elements are also involved in the present movement, most obviously the BSO, which has fragmented

Economic & Political Weekly november 17, 2007

in recent years, but still remains a popular front for a large proportion of the educated youth in Balochistan’s cities as well as in Karachi. The BSO’s affiliated political organisation, the Balochistan National Movement (BNM) has also been a parliamentary party for many years, but distinguishes itself from other parliamentary parties by adopting a more radical position on most issues, including the militant attacks [BNM 2004]. While there is no conclusive evidence that BSO or BNM activists have been involved in perpetrating sabotage, they have been major targets of state repression, with a number of activists kidnapped and held for months without due process in the period after September 2004.16

All of these groups – Balach Marri’s militia, the various factions of the BSO, and the nationalist formations – have publicly supported, to varying degrees, the militant activities of the nebulous groups named the BLA and the BLF. While Balach Marri and the BSO/BNM are not engaged in any negotiations with the state, the two bigger parliamentary parties – the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) of the late Nawab Akbar Bugti and the Balochistan National Party (BNP) of Ataullah Mengal – have adopted a dual policy of negotiating with the state for greater power sharing whilst bolstering their bargaining power by providing support to militants.

Making of a Martyr

In spite of the lack of unity amongst the various protagonists, the visibility and scope of the Baloch cause seemed likely to be enhanced dramatically following the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti by security forces in August 2006. Bugti had emerged as the figurehead of the current nationalist wave because the Sui gas plant that the central government took over in March 2005

– the one government action that which triggered the most unrest and violence – is effectively the preserve of the Bugti tribe of which Akbar Bugti was the chief. Indeed, the government too had engaged with Bugti as the de factor spokesperson of the Baloch.

More specifically, a parliamentary committee was constituted in the aftermath of the first major battle of the current conflict in March 2005 to investigate the nature of Balochistan’s grievances. Subsequently, a high-profile visit to Dera Bugti by ruling party leaders Chaudhry Shujaat and Mushahid Husain was organised in which they were hosted by Nawab Akbar Bugti. Shujaat and Husain proclaimed that confidence-building measures would be taken and that any further use of violence by the authorities would be eschewed. A report detailing the history of Balochistan’s alienation from the centre and the government’s willingness to address outstanding concerns followed the visit [GoP 2006].17

It appears however that this report was prepared only to temper the anger rife amongst Baloch nationalists and none of its fundamental recommendations have been implemented. This reflects the unwillingness of the military high command to temper the policy of wielding the big stick by dangling the carrot, an approach that the authors of the report, Shujaat and Husain, ostensibly favour. Indeed, following the release of the report, the conflict intensified, leading to the Nawab Akbar Bugti’s fleeing into the hills of Kohlu where he was eventually killed in a military operation. The response to Bugti’s killing was acute, with both Balochistan


and the interior of Sindh paralysed by protests. Subsequently there has been a marked increase in the number of young people drawn to the militants that have challenged the government’s attempts to establish its control over the province [ICG 2006:9].

It was known to the military that the use of force to kill Bugti would further enflame public opinion across the province, yet this did not discourage the high command. This reflects a number of important aspects about the stand-off. First, the military appears to be convinced that the militants do not offer a potent threat to the state’s “development” agenda and in fact that killing the major figure in the ethno-nationalist movement is likely to weaken the movement further. Second, there has been no major shift in the state’s attitude towards the Baloch, notwithstanding major claims to this effect. And third, the state is undeniably aided in its suppression of the Baloch resistance by easy recourse to the “anti-terrorist” discourse that allows states to use force without impunity to deal with so-called “terrorist” threats, a charge that has been levelled against the Baloch militants regularly since the beginning of the stand-off.

The state appears to be right in its analysis that the nationalist “movement” is poorly equipped to genuinely challenge Islamabad. Within two months of Bugti’s killing, the tenor of the protests had died down considerably. For the most part this was a function of intensified state repression; in particular, a systematic policy of arresting and even “disappearing” political activists was clearly implemented, with a particular focus on BSO activists who are reputed to be among the major supporters of underground militant groups [HRCP 2007]. However, perhaps more important is what has already been asserted above: that the current phase of ethno-nationalism has been characterised by the quite erratic nature of the mobilisations.

Bugti’s killing has also reduced the credibility of the parliamentary option, and the mainstream nationalist formations have been compelled to announce that they too are quickly losing faith in the “political process”.18 The post-Bugti situation has also exposed the clear divides between the major parties on how to proceed. The JWP, has been virtually eliminated as a party with the government variously co-opting and coercing his sons who inherited the leadership of the party. Meanwhile the BNP-Mengal has been subject to intense repression, with both ex-chief minister Akhtar Mengal and the member of the national assembly Rauf Mengal on the list of the hundreds of disappeared persons the whereabouts of which the government claims to have no knowledge of.

In any case, given the scale and ideological clarity of the last major insurgency in Balochistan in the 1970s, it would be wholly inaccurate to call the current wave of militancy a genuine insurgency. While the government’s aggressive posture has induced another wave of nationalist sentiment, the fragmented nature of the response indicates that it does not pose a challenge to the state as was the case in the 1970s. There is little doubt that the slogans of all entities currently charged with representing Baloch outrage resonate across a wide cross-section of Baloch society, including the Baloch salariat, and particularly educated Baloch youth who are continually frustrated by the lack of employment opportunities in Balochistan, either in the echelons of the state, or because settler populations have garnered a significant share of jobs. Furthermore there is also an unmistakeable fear among the Baloch that the current phase of expanded state intervention in Balochistan will lead to further erosion of cultural autonomy. However, this frustration has not precipitated a revival of a politically coherent nationalist movement that allies with other progressive forces for the purposes of genuine transformative change.

Future Prospects

In spite of the fragmented and somewhat reactionary nature of Baloch nationalism time, it is clear that it is one of a handful of issues in Pakistan that has become lightning rod for the resentment felt by a majority of Pakistanis for the current military regime. The latter is widely viewed as a client of the US and committed to a ruthless model of neoliberal accumulation, and the resistance of Baloch nationalists has gained a great deal of popular support, although this has yet to translate into a chall enge to the centre’s ongoing policy of taking control over Balochistan’s territory. It would appear reasonable to suggest that the seemingly narrow ethno-nationalist struggle of the Baloch could – if it were to become more coherent and linked up to other people’s movements – become a major site of resistance to the current phase of neoliberalism which is heavily dependent on the state’s coercive power to suppress resistance.

Saul (2005) argues that the re-emergence of the debate over the relevance of the nation state in the era of imperialist globalisation is, one of many “false binaries” that characterise radical academic and political discourses at the present time. While on the one hand Saul critiques the oversimplistic approach of those

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committed to challenging the neoliberal globalisation project [ICG 2006:14]. Thus securing Balochistan is a crucial requirement through a transformative strategy situated exclusively within for the success of the neoliberal project in the region, and particuthe nation state context, on the other he doubts the efficacy of a larly so for the Pakistani state which has allied itself very closely strategy that emphasises global transformation in isolation. Saul, with western governments and multi national capital. Converamong others, argues for a strategy that acknowledges the im-sely, Baloch nationalists remain in secure about the intentions of portance of the local, national and global rather than attempting all players that seek to use the territory and resources of Baloto identify an exclusive site for radical resistance to neoliberal-chistan for their own parochial purposes. This is the “New Great ism. A ethno-nationalist struggle within a rentier post-colonial Game” and the stakes involved are extremely high [Rashid state such as Pakistan that challenges the state itself, could be one 2001]. If the long-standing struggle of the Baloch is able to such site of resistance. recog nise the immensely important position that Balochistan

It is important to further contextualise this assertion. At the occupies at the present time, and ally itself with forces commitpresent time Balochistan is of crucial geostrategic significance to ted not only to the rights of the Baloch people, but also the “rollnumerous world powers on account of its proximity to back” of neoliberalism and the military-bureaucratic oligarchy, Afghanistan and the Caspian region of central Asia. In fact, the the potentialities for an overhaul of the ethnically-skewed and closest warm water port to the Caspian region will be Gwadar centralised post-colonial state can be exploited.


1 See Ansari (2005).

2 One could argue that the ethnic imbalance of the state is symbiotically connected to the dominance of the administrative institutions, namely, the civil bureaucracy and the military.

3 See also Brass (1974) who makes the important point that the Muslim elite in the UP actually maintained a disproportionate share of jobs and access to the state in relation to its overall percentage of the population, but that this share was being steadily eroded.

4 In Gellner’s (1983) language, the state adopted the “high culture” familiar to Urdu-speaking migrants and members of the Punjabi salariat as the symbol of Pakistani nationalism while the “low cultures” of the indigenous groups were marginalised. This ensured a symbiotic relationship between the state and a critical mass of migrant subalterns and thereby created a natural constituency for the state’s censure of ethnonationalist resistance.

5 See Tan (2005) who traces the roots of military power in post-colonial Pakistan to the administrative order in colonial Punjab.

6 Indeed, the Baloch People’s Liberation Front (BPLF) which was the main guerrilla force during the 1970s insurgency had already come into being while General Ayub Khan was in power in the mid-1960s [Grare 2006:7].

7 It is beyond the scope of this paper to hypothesise on the nature and extent of support that was garnered by the insurgents from abroad, but the accepted convention seems to be that major sources of support were Afghanistan and the Soviet Union.

8 This fact becomes even more stark given that in none of the other provinces were pro-establishment candidates so successful. Nonetheless, this should not be taken to mean that the acute feelings of resentment amongst ordinary Baloch towards the centre lessened in any way, just that actual political expression of this

nationalist sentiment was muted.

9 See also Arrighi (2005).

10 See ICG (2006:16) for details on the land grab in Gwadar; locals are quoted as saying “every general has a plot in Gwadar”.

11 The official figures in the 1998 census indicate ethnic break-up of the population only in terms of “mother tongue”. By this count, approximately 55 per cent of the population of Balochistan is Balochispeaking while 30 per cent is Pushto-speaking. Even if such figures are accurate, they do not necessarily offer a good proxy of the actual demography of the province.

12 In both institutions, the Pakhtuns enjoy participation that exceeds their overall share in the population. On the other hand, Sindhis, Baloch and Siraikis are acutely underrepresented in all administrative institutions of the state, as the Bengalis were before them.

13 Ahmed (2006) reports that in 2005 there were 187 bomb blasts, 275 rocket attacks, 8 attacks on natural gas pipelines, 38 attacks on electricity transmission lines and 19 explosions on railways lines.

14 The parties are the Balochistan National Party headed by Sardar Ataullah Mengal, the Jamhoori Watan Party of the late Nawab Akbar Bugti, the Haq Tawar organisation of Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri and the National Party (NP) of Abdul Hayee Baloch.

15 While all of the political groups do salute the struggle of the militants and warn that support for them amongst ordinary Baloch will increase if the state does not alter its stance, they all maintain a distance from the sabotage attacks (interview, Nawab Akbar Bugti, March 12, 2005; Senator Amanullah Kanrani, July 16, 2005).

16 Incidentally, it has been a falling out over the status of “disappeared persons” between the chief justice and the military regime that has precipitated the current political crisis in Pakistan.

17 Indeed, on various occasions since the emergence of conflict, government functionaries have acknowledged that there has not been sufficient attention paid by the federal government to Balochistan’s needs in the past and that this would be rectified by the pro-development policies of the current regime.

18 Bugti himself had already announced his agreement with the militants that the time for dialogue was past, saying in January 2006 that “it is war now” [Hussain 2006].


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    Economic & Political Weekly november 17, 2007

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