By Johar Ali Bugtti, London
“If you see the sun red… any redness in flowers. These must be the blood of my people”
(Ghulam Rasool Mulla (1939-)).
With a rich and colourful history stretching back over some 2000 years the Baloch people have become accustomed to struggling against the overtures of outside powers and would-be rulers. Their resistance is a sad, unending tale of suffering, the latest chapter of which started in 1947 with the creation of Pakistan. Even today the Baloch continue to resist through whatever means are at their disposal including constitutional dialogue and armed struggle, as they strive for autonomy and recognition of their inalienable rights.
The current impasse between the Pakistani state and Balochistan is the result of a series of broken promises, unsuccessful military operations carried out to subdue the Baloch and a failure to absorb the Baloch identity into a larger, more comprehensive, Pakistani identity.
Set this against a backdrop of exploitation of Balochistan’s natural resources and an apparent failure by Islamabad to invest and develop the biggest province of Pakistan and it is not then surprising to find the current situation is still so fluid and volatile.
Right from the outset the relationship between Balochistan and Pakistan has been strained to breaking point. Prior to the creation of Pakistan the Baloch, however, had enjoyed many years of settled independence and relative peace. In fact, before the dissolution of the British Raj the Khanate of Kalat had enjoyed sovereignty since 1666. The British, at the height of their empire, with the agreement of the Khan of Kalat, annexed an area of land adjacent to Afghanistan dubbed “British Balochistan” and created a military base in Quetta to give them a strategic foothold in the region.
The British did not involve themselves in the affairs of the Kalat state with the proviso that the Baloch would allow the British army unfettered access to Afghanistan. This agreement was honoured by both parties until it was rendered obsolete with the end of the British Raj in 1947. Shortly after the Mari and Bugti tribal regions were once again brought under the control of Kalat thereby ensuring that the whole of Balochistan was under the control of Kalat just as it had been under Nasir Khan I. During the final years of the British Raj the Baloch lobbied and campaigned vigorously for their continued independence, but ultimately this would be undone with one tragic act.
Six days before the partition of Pakistan, on the 8th of August 1947, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, the then Khan of Kalat, declared that the Kalat State was an independent entity and would remain so. Subsequently a series of talks took place in order that an agreement could be reached to the satisfaction of all parties involved in the region. Amongst the attendees were Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, the Quaid-i-Azam M.A. Jinnah and the Khan of Kalat. A final agreement was reached on the 11th of August 1947 which stated that:
a. The Government of Pakistan recognizes Kalat as an independent sovereign state in treaty relations with the British Government, having a status different from that of the Indian States.
b. Legal opinion will be sought as to whether or not agreements of leases will be inherited by the Pakistan Government.
c. Meanwhile, a Standstill Agreement has been made between Pakistan and Kalat.
d. Discussions will take place in the near future between Pakistan and Kalat in Karachi with a view to reaching decisions on defence, foreign affairs and communications.
Clearly the initial agreement between Kalat and Pakistan was based on an agreement that Kalat would remain an autonomous entity with control over its own land, resources and politics. This position was widely reported and commented upon across the globe.
The New York Times reported the news under the heading of “New Status For Kalat” as follows:
“George C. Marshall the United States Secretary of State announced in the assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947 that;
“ Kalat, Moslem State in Baluchistan, has reached an agreement with Pakistan for the free flow of communi cation and commerce, and would negotiate further for decisions on defence, external affairs and communications. Under the agreement Pakistan recognises Kalat as an independent sovereign state with a status different from that of the Indian States”.”
In addition, ‘The Statesman Calcutta’ published on the 12th of August 1947 that:
“The Government of Pakistan recognises Kalat as an independent sovereign state in treaty relations with the British Government with a status different from that of Indian States.
It has been agreed that further meetings will take place between the representatives of Pakistan and the Khan of Kalat at Karachi.
Meanwhile a standstill agreement has been made between Pakistan and Kalat.
Discussion will take place between Pakistan and Kalat in Karachi at an early date, with a view to reaching decision on defence, external affairs and communication.”
However, from the outset the government of Pakistan sought control of the region and began setting in motion the means to achieve this end. On August 15th 1947 the Kalat government made a formal declaration of independence and dispatched a delegation to Karachi to take part in discussions relating to the Standstill Agreement and other outstanding matters.
On arrival, however, the Khan of Kalat was told in no uncertain terms to expediate the accession of Kalat to Pakistan. The Khan explained that he did not have the authority nor did he have the permission of the Baloch people to agree to such a demand and would present the proposal to the Kalat Houses of Parliament on his return. The proposal was unanimously rejected and immediately the Pakistani government set about breaking up Balochistan surreptitiously. Eventually they granted Lasbela and Kharan equal status to Kalat and formalised their individual mergers into Pakistan. The pressure on Kalat to follow suit further intensified and tensions rose markedly.
On the 12th of December 1947 the inaugural session of the Kalat State Parliament took place and famously Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo gave a rousing and fatidic speech in which he argued that accession to Pakistan on the basis of religion (a main reason cited for merging) was not only illogical but fundamentally flawed.
He stated clearly that:
“We have a distinct culture like Afghanistan and Iran and if the mere fact that we are Muslims require us to amalgamate with Pakistan, then, Iran and Afghanistan should also be made to amalgamate with Pakistan”.
Furthermore, he warned that should Pakistan not respect the decision of the Baloch people to reject the accession then:
“Every Baloch will fight for freedom”.
Despite this warning the government of Pakistan continued upon its course of breaking up and weakening Balochistan further. Makran was given independence from Kalat on March the 17th 1948 and subsequently joined Pakistan.
Under immense duress from Pakistan combined with opposing pressure from tribal leaders the Khan eventually capitulated. Without the consent of the Baloch people and with no mandate whatsoever he signed the accession of Kalat to Pakistan, in his own personal capacity, on the 27th of March 1948.
By this one stroke the Khan of Kalat put the final nail in the coffin of Balochistan’s dream of independence alongside Pakistan.
Subsequently the Pakistan army entered Kalat on the 14th of April 1948 and the following day the Kalat Parliament was dissolved with many of its members being imprisoned or exiled. The Khan’s younger brother, Prince Abdul Karim declared and fought a brief revolt but was soon crushed by the Pakistan army and imprisoned. Thus began the ongoing conflict between Balochistan and Pakistan.
Since 1948, four more revolts have taken place:
1958 – Nawab Nauroz Khan fought in protest against the declaration of One Unit (a plan to merge the four provinces of West Pakistan).
1962 – Sher Mohammad Khan Marri (also known as General Sherof due to his Soviet ties) introduced modern guerrilla warfare tactics to the fighters of Balochistan in an armed struggle against the Pakistan army.
1973-1977 – In response to the dissolution of the elected provincial government of Balochistan by President Bhutto some 50,000 Baloch fighters engaged the Pakistan army resulting in mass casualties especially within the civilian population of Balochistan.
2002-2006 – Nawabzada Ballach Khan Marri, leader of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), in conjunction with Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti led a revolt in response to the appropriation of Balochistan’s resources by the Pakistan government without adequate development in the region. The Nawab was brutaly murdered in 2006 in one of the caves of Bhambhore Hills near Kohlu and Nawabzada Ballach Khan Marri was later murdered in Afghanistan in 2007.
Even today the flame of resistance sparked by Mir Ghous Baksh Bezinjo’s speech burns brightly and refuses to be quelled despite the repeated attempts of the Pakistan army to extinguish it. Thousands of men, women and children have been murdered, hanged and dumped in the numerous struggles which erupt like a raging volcano intermittently between the Baloch nation and the Pakistan army.
Even today the armed struggle continues as does the exploitation of Balochistan’s vast resources. With some of the biggest natural gas reserves in the world, vast deposits of gold and other minerals, Balochistan remains the poorest and least developed of Pakistan’s four provinces and there are no signs of this changing anytime soon.
How long before we hear the roar of the Baloch Tigers once more?
Published in The Balochistan Point