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The Balochistan impasse

Lal Khan

In this nauseating and disingenuous confrontation of the elites, real issues are shoved into oblivion. Balochistan appears in the corporate media in accordance with the whims and needs of the deep state and ruling classes. Ever since the creation of Pakistan, Balochistan has been in a state of turmoil, revolts and insurgencies. Militant struggles and military operations rage on. In reality, Balochistan has become a festering wound on the body politic of the whole region, including Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.

The discovery of mass graves in Tutak, more than 800 bodies of abducted activists dumped in Balochistan and Karachi, and the 18,000 missing persons, predominantly young people, are a stain on the system, state and the incumbent, so-called progressive government brought into power by Nawaz Sharif with the petitioning of over 600 NGOs. Under Abdul Malik Baloch’s watch the crisis has only been aggravated and its performance has proved to be even worse than the previous regime of clownish Aslam Raisani. Just as in Kashmir and Afghanistan, these killing fields have been outsourced to jihadis, resulting in making the lives of the Hazaras, Shias, Baloch and Pashtuns a living hell. In addition, proxy wars between various world and regional imperialist powers like the Iranian clergy and the Saudi monarchy are compounding miseries on a daily basis.

It would be wrong to limit our analysis to proxy wars and communalisation of Baloch society. The Baloch youth in particular have a rich tradition of generations of revolutionary struggle against national and class oppression. The first stirrings of polarisation between the youth and the narrow nationalist leadership are beginning to emerge, particularly on the question of internationalism and class struggle. Imperialist corporate vultures from the US and China to Russia and India are looking for proxies mainly amongst the leaders and sections of the state to become partners in the imperialist plunder of Balochistan.

Gwadar port, Mirani dam, the Makran coastal highway and other projects aimed at extracting the estimated $ 1.5 trillion in mineral wealth from Balochistan have intensified the great game between these imperialist monsters. The masses are being subjected to brutalities and excruciating social and economic woes. Baloch grievances in the past have centred on the gas fields (of which the biggest are around Sui, in Bugti tribal territory) that provide around a third of Pakistan’s energy. The Chinese corporation running the Saindak mine, in 2010, processed around 15,000 tonnes of ore a day. Scientific estimates for the Reko Diq field near the borders of Afghanistan and Iran show up to 16 million tonnes of pure copper and 21 million ounces of gold that, if developed, would make Pakistan one of the world’s largest producers of copper (though still far behind Chile) and a serious gold producer.

Ironically, Reko Diq could lead to explosive disputes between the Chinese contractors and among the tribes themselves, as has been the case with both Sui gas and Gwadar port. The principality that Baloch nationalists regard as the historic Baloch national state was that of Kalat, founded in 1638 around an oasis like that of Quetta, fed by two natural springs (now dry because of tube-wells and the radical sinking of the water table). The British arrived in the region in the 1830s and from 1839 to 1847 fought a fierce war with the Baloch tribes. In 1876, the British frontier official, Sir Robert Sandeman, signed a treaty with the Khan bringing Kalat and its dependent territories under British suzerainty. During partition in 1947, the myriad princely states of British India were voluntarily or involuntarily annexed to India or Pakistan, among them Kalat. While the new rulers of Pakistan claimed Kalat as a part of their new state, Baloch nationalists claimed that the relationship with the British Empire was closer to that of the British protectorate of Nepal that, after 1947, became an independent state.

The current insurgency is the fifth during the last seven decades between the Baloch masses and the state, the pro-establishment sardars, politicians, fundamentalist forces and those hungry for Balochistan’s resources. All these revolts have been concentrated in one tribal group or another, or parts of that group. In the late 1940s and 1950s, Mengals took the lead and, in the 1970s, it was the Marris. This allowed the Pakistani state to play on deep traditional rivalries between the tribes and, eventually, through a mixture of force and concessions to the sardars of the rebel tribes, bring these revolts to an end.

The Pakistani state’s approach is summed up in the remarkable fact that, as of 2009, out of 65 members of the Baloch Provincial Assembly, 62 were in the provincial government as ministers or advisers with ministerial ranks. Every member of the government received Rs 50 million as a personal share of Balochistan’s development budget. This was an effective co-option of the tribal leadership, as it ensured all but three of the 80 odd tribal sardars or claimants in Balochistan were neutralised and arrayed with the government, as opposed to the armed struggle. Rather than the old British strategy, this was closer to the Roman approach of making smaller local tribal chieftains into local officials and bigger chiefs into Roman senators. By making them responsible for tax collection, these local leaders were also given a share in state revenues. The Romans, however, had the advantage of representing not just overwhelming military force and an efficient state bureaucracy but also a great state-building idea, summed up in the values of Romanitas (Roman-ness). However, Pakistani regimes have always been inefficient, corrupt and in economic decay.

A senior army general summed up the state’s analysis and strategy to a British journalist in 2009: “Everything here is shades of grey. Here you have to be street smart. Or to put it another way, you need to be a little bit of a rascal to understand this part of the world. You always have to be prepared to negotiate with your enemies. Who knows, they may change sides and become your allies tomorrow. That is something the Americans still have not understood in Afghanistan…That is why you can meet in Quetta many nationalist politicians who have declared themselves as rebels against Pakistan, but whom we deliberately have not touched.”

Balochistan is plagued by extreme deprivation, poverty and joblessness. Social indicators are at rock bottom despite the province having the most natural resources. Human existence is traumatic. Constitutional amendments and reform packages are contemptuously rejected by the Baloch masses. These have never been sufficient nor can they be implemented in this catastrophic capitalist crisis. Balochistan is not homogeneous. It has Baloch, Pashtuns, Hazaras, Punjabis, and Mohajirs who have traditionally lived in harmony, but imperialism has sowed communal, ethnic and sectarian divisions that they use to divide and rule in order to perpetuate their plunder. There is no salvation on a communal, national, or ethnic basis. Under capitalism no solution is possible whatsoever. The struggle for national liberation must be linked to the class struggle within Balochistan and on a regional and international basis for genuine liberation.

The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and international secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at

Courtesy: Daily Times

Republished in The Balochistan Point on 15th September, 2014.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author and The Balochistan Point not necessarily agrees with them.

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