INDIAN government’s recent decision to provide shelter to the secessionist Baloch leaders has internationalised the issue of low intensity civil war in Pakistan’s largest province of Balochistan where the army of Pakistan has launched a brutal operation to control the rebellion of Baloch nationalists.
On Friday, CNN-News18 quoted Indian official sources as saying that India is all set to grant political asylum to the Baloch leaders who are fighting for independence from Pakistan. Sources said they wanted the Baloch leaders to formally apply for asylum and that this would be granted in a matter of a few weeks.
The Obama administration has flatly refused to go along with prime minister Narendra Modi’s stand on Balochistan. The state department’s spokesperson, John Kirby, Friday said the US ‘respects the unity and territorial integrity of Pakistan and we do not support independence for Balochistan.’
However, there is concern in the Congress about the current situation in Balohistan.
On February 17, 2012, Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher introduced a resolution in the congress, calling for an independent state for the Balochi people living in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.
The resolution said the people of Balochistan that are ‘currently divided between Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country and they should be afforded the opportunity to choose their own status among the community of nations, living in peace and harmony, without external coercion.’
In a statement from his office, Rohrabacher, who is also the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said, ‘The Balochi, like other nations of people, have an innate right to self-determination. The political and ethnic discrimination they suffer is tragic and made more so because America is financing and selling arms to their oppressors in Islamabad.’
The press release further added that Balochistan is ‘rich in natural resources but has been subjugated and exploited by Punjabi and Pashtun elites in Islamabad, leaving Balochistan the country’s poorest province.’
About the Iranian Balochistan, the resolution said ‘a popular insurgency is also under way in Sistan-Balochistan and being met by brutal repression by the dictatorship in Iran which has added religious bigotry to tyranny.’
The resolution also pointed out that historically Balochistan was an independently governed entity known as the Baloch Khanate of Kalat which came to an end after invasions from both British and Persian armies. An attempt to regain independence in 1947 was crushed by an invasion by Pakistan.
Congressman Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, and Steve King, an Iowa Republican, have also signed on as original co-sponsors of the resolution. Not surprisingly, Congressman Gohmert last month called for carving out Balochistan from Pakistan to fight Taliban.
The February 17 resolution was a follow up of the February 8, 2012 hearing by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher on the situation in Balochistan. While many witnesses in their testimonies focused on the human rights violations, retired lieutenant colonel Ralph Peters, the architect of the 2006 New Middle East map that showed a truncated Pakistan, called for the balkanization of Pakistan. It may be recalled that in his article accompanying the map — Blood Borders: How a better Middle East would look — published in the Armed Forces Journal in June 2006, he argued that Pakistan is an unnatural state and a natural Pakistan should lie entirely east of the Indus, except for a westward spur near Karachi. ‘Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier tribes would be reunited with their Afghan brethren. Pakistan, another unnatural state, would also lose its Baluch territory to Free Balochistan.’
Peters’ testimony was buildup on his New Middle East map with truncated Pakistan as he said ‘Pakistan’s borders make no sense and don’t work.’ He went on to say:
‘The Durand Line, delineating the state’s border with Afghanistan, was just a convenient inheritance from British India: Originally, it established how far the British believed they needed to push out a buffer zone west of the Indus River to protect “the Jewel in the Crown,” British India, from tribal warfare and imperial Russian machinations. The Durand Line marked a military frontier, but the “real” frontier of British India and its rich civilization was the Indus.’
Supporting the creation of Pashtunistan by separating the northern Pashtun tribal belt along the border with Pakistan, Peter argued that why not forty million Pashtuns in Pakistan and Afghanistan have their own state? ‘Of course, determining the final boundaries of such a state would be problematic, but why shouldn’t the Pashtuns have their own country?’ He went on to say that our allegiance to today’s boundaries exacerbates the conflict. He argued:
‘The Durand Line arbitrarily divided tribal territories for British (and now Pakistani) convenience. It would be hard to devise a more dysfunctional international border. Along with the rupture of minor ethnic groups, it split the substantial Pashtun and Baluchi populations between the artificial constructs that emerged as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Also for convenience, the rest of the world agreed to pretend that these are viable states. Yet, Afghanistan is little more than a rough territorial concept: Its historical rulers controlled, at best, major cities and the caravan (now highway) routes between them. At its birth sixty-five years ago, Pakistan was a Frankenstein’s monster of a state, cobbled together from ill-fitting body parts to award the subcontinent’s Muslim activists a state of their own.’
Repeating his argument of the New Middle East, Peters said at present, the Baluchis are divided between southwestern Pakistan, southern Afghanistan and southeastern Iran — all because of those artificial borders that were convenient for someone else. ‘At least ten million and perhaps twice that number suffer intolerable levels of discrimination, dispossession and state violence’, he said adding:
‘We need to ask honestly why Baluchis are not entitled to a Free Balochistan, why the Pashtuns — despite their abhorrent customs — are not entitled to a Pakhtunkhwa for all Pashtuns, why forty million Kurds aren’t entitled to a Free Kurdistan, or why its eastern provinces must remain part of the geopolitical monstrosity we call “Congo”.’
Balochistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, has oil and gas resources and is afflicted by fighting, violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and a separatist rebellion. The insurgents demand at least autonomy from Islamabad and a larger share of the oil-and-gas revenue generated locally.
For the Balochis, a turning point in their war against the state occurred in 2006, when a prominent Baloch tribal leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed by the Pakistani army. Bugti, 79 years old at the time of his death, had just submitted a list of demands to Islamabad, which, among other things, called for greater local control of natural resources, more autonomy from Islamabad, and a moratorium on construction of military bases in the area.
Bugti’s death was followed a few years later by the killings of Baloch National Movement president Ghulam Mohammed Baloch and two other nationalist leaders — allegedly by the Pakistani military. Their deaths sparked strikes, protests and civil disturbances that periodically continue to the present day.
The Pakistani government has branded Baloch militants organisations as ‘terrorists.’
The Balochs suffer from high rates of poverty, low literacy and other woes — all of which serve to fuel an insurgency. According to the World Bank, eight of Pakistan’s 10 most deprived districts are located in Balochistan. Just 22 per cent of Balochs are literate, versus 47 per cent for Pakistan as a whole, and only 20 per cent of Balochs have access to drinking water, versus 86 per cent for the country.
Countercurrents.org, September 20. Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the chief editor of the Journal of America.