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Blaochistan Crisis-Insurgency and ‘Geo-Politics of Energy Resources’



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This Blog post is an extract from our research paper ‘Balochistan Crisis: Problem’s and Solution”. In the paper we have tried to analyse the issues and factors, which gave rise to the conflicts which have continued to fester and periodically given rise to the revolts and insurgencies resulting into the present crisis in the province, highlighting the recommendations for the urgent action in order to eradicate the root causes of the long standing conflict.

[click on the title to read the complete paper on our website]

History of the conflicts

Controversies involving the areas comprising Balochistan date back to the establishment of the Durand Line in 1893, that divided Pashtun and Baluch tribes living in Afghanistan from those living in what later became Pakistan. Afghanistan vigorously protested the inclusion of Pashtun and Baluch areas within Pakistan without providing the inhabitants with an opportunity for self-determination.

Since 1947, this problem has led to incidents along the border, with extensive disruption of normal trade patterns. The most serious crisis lasted from September 1961 to June 1963, when diplomatic, trade, transit, and consular relations between the countries were suspended.

Baloch nationalists demanding greater political rights, autonomy and control over their natural resources, have led four previous insurgencies – in 1948, 1958-59, 1962-63 and 1973-77. The fifth conflict between the Baloch nationalists and the Centre started in 2005 and this time the insurgents have gone a step further and demanded for seccession.

Divided in the nineteenth century among Iran, Afghanistan, and British India, the Baloch found their traditional nomadic life frustrated by the presence of national boundaries and the extension of central administration over their lands. Moreover, many of the most militant Baloch nationalists were also vaguely Marxist-Leninist and willing to risk Soviet protection for an autonomous Balochistan.

In 1947, When India and Pakistan eventually gained independence from the British, princely states were given the choice of either joining Pakistan or India or being independent. Initially Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan declared Kalat’s independence. However, in 1948 the princely state of Kalat was annexed to Pakistan. According to the then ruler of Kalat, the agreement had been to accept the unique status of the state by incorporating it into Pakistan as a sovereign, independent and autonomous unit. But he then signed an accession agreement ending Kalat’s de facto independence, which he later claimed he had only done under duress. However Khan was never an absolute monarch. He was required to act under the provisions of Rawaj and was undoubtedly under the influence of British empire.

In 1948, Prince Karim Khan, the younger brother of Khan, decided to conduct a rebellion and guerrilla warfare against the Pakistan army basing himself in Afghanistan. It is said that he had a personal grievance in that Pakistan recognized Sardar Gichki as Makrans’ ruler instead of accepting him as a governor. This ended with the arrest of the prince, who was imprisoned in Quetta Jail. He was later sentenced to ten years of rigorous imprisonment.

After  this  Nawab Nowroz Khan (1958) took up arms in resistance to the One Unit policy. He and his followers were charged with treason and arrested and confined in Hyderabad jail. Five of his family members (sons and nephews) were subsequently hanged. Nawab Nowroz Khan later died in captivity.

Later on the more serious insurgency happened in 1963-69 led by Sher Mohammad Bijarani Marri against the establishment of Pakistan Army’s garrisons in the troubled areas of Baluchistan . And the fourth conflict in 1973-77 was led by Nawab Khair Baksh Marri. Undoubtedly this was provoked by Mr Bhutto’s arrogance and federal impatience, high handedness and undemocratic conduct.

The Current Insurgency and Baloch Nationalism

The current scenario for the conflict in Balochistan started building up when the federal authorities in Pakistan started developing Gwadar Port with road and rail links. The development projects of the coastal highway and the Gwadar port have been also opposed tooth and nail by Baloch nationalists. Balochi resistance to defy government’s efforts to start Gwadar was based on the charge that it will change Balochi ethnic culture.

Balochi disaffection grew more in the aftermath of the attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan and the establishment of US bases in Pasni, Gwadar, Dalbandin and Jacobabad in Sindh. This was not so much because of the US military presence, but because the then administration decided to establish some army cantonments in Balochistan.

During the eight years of Musharraf’s military rule in Pakistan, the absence of political process that is necessary to deal with the insurgencies resulted in the further alienation of even moderate Baloch nationalist from the Federation of Pakistan. It shut the doors of negotiation process with the Baloch Leaders.

This conflict became more intense, in 2006 when Nawab Bugti, the Baloch tribal leader and ex chief minister and governor of Baluchistan was killed in an army operation. He had been accused by Pakistan’s government for series of bomb blasts, killings of his own people and mainly the rocket attack on the then President of Pakistan. He was lauded as a leader of Baloch by the nationalists who had died fighting for their cause and was turned into a hero.

During this time the political parties did not play their role to raise the issues of deprivation and neglect at the serious level. This was not limited to the ruling parties; unfortunately opposition also ignored the Balochistan issue. In the All Parties Conference that was held in 2007, to plan a collective line of action to deal with the different problems faced by Pakistan, the Balochistan problem was not even included in the agenda.

Close analysis tell us that the Baloch nationalist movement is not a unitary force that it may appear. There is not much love lost between the leading tribes involved in the insurgency. There is no single voice which can claim to speak for all. There is no coherent second tier middle class leadership, despite increased support in the Baloch areas. In fact the middle classes may still be on the side of moderate federally inclined Baloch politicians. For some Baloch nationalism only means tribal identity such as Marri or Bugti, at best. Some Baloch nationalists demand complete independence. Most, still believe that 1973 Constitution is the most workable basis for a ‘reconstructed and strengthened’ federalism, and all they want is greater autonomy.

Therefore while it is true that anti-state violence has been the chosen tactic of some, for the great majority, federal framework stays the chosen method to address grievances. And it is this that Pakistan government must capitalize on to.

The danger as we mentioned earlier are two-fold. The educated middle class in Baloch towns has started rallying behind nationalists and even Sardars. These sardars will never deliver but like all other Pakistanis, they are being fooled into utopian idealism. Second various vested local, national and international interests are trying to take advantage of this situation.

Steven Metz has persuasively argued that contemporary insurgency has undergone fundamental change in its strategic context, structure, and dynamics. He assert that this requires Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments to adopt “a very different way of thinking about (and undertaking) counterinsurgency.  The real threat posed by insurgency, he observes, is the sustained conflict leading to political destabilization and related socio political pathologies. ‘Protracted conflict,” he declares, “not insurgent victory, is the threat.

To summarise the nationalist’s complaints are mix of old and new. Older complaints consist of lack of autonomy, exploitation of resources and lack of development. In addition since then, the new complaints are that hundreds of people are missing in action and there has been a silent war that nationalists allege state is waging upon them.

Above analysis make two things absolutely clear. One that there is virtually no chance that the problems confronting Islamabad arising from the current resurgence of Baloch nationalism can be swept aside. While the actual scale of the rebellion may be a matter of considerable controversy, the danger is present and clear; and the reasons underlying it are genuine and real. Second, there is considerable avenue of hope with majority still willing to work within the state framework and through political methods.

Insurgency and ‘Geo-Politics of Energy Resources’

Selig Harrison writing in his book  ‘In Afghanistan’s Shadow’ in 1981, predicted ominously ‘ A glance at the map, quickly explains why strategically located Balochistan and the five million Baloch tribesmen who live there could easily become the focal point of superpower conflict.’

With the present energy crisis it should be no surprise that energy security in Pakistan, now stands at or near the top of national priorities. Pakistan’s economy is one of the world’s most natural gas dependent. Natural gas, accounting for about 50 percent of Pakistan’s total energy consumption, is currently the country’s principal energy source. Out of Pakistan’s proven natural gas reserves two thirds are located in Balochistan. But while Balochistan accounts for about 40 % of Pakistan’s natural gas production, but consumes only a modest 17 percent of it.

Pakistan’s current annual consumption of natural gas is about 1.2 trillion cubic feet and fast increasing. This means that there are extreme pressures on Pakistan’s natural gas resources coming from industrial, commercial, transport, and residential consumers. But any more aggressive efforts for domestic exploration and extraction risk militant strikes. The remedy is to get the ordinary Balochs out of militant mindset and back to political grounds. As long as Pakistan has gas supply, there will always be a flash point for a sharp controversy between Islamabad and Baloch nationalists. Therefore the security of this supply for Pakistan is top of the agenda.

Baloch insurgency directly threatens this energy security. Robert Wirsing points out that this context is related to Baloch nationalism in at least three ways. One is that Balochistan is rich in energy resources. The most persistent and long-standing grievance that nationalists have is that these resources have been exploited by the central government without adequate compensation to the province. Second, Balochistan is a transit route for major proposed natural gas pipelines from either Iran or Turkmenistan to Pakistan and from there potentially to India. Baloch militant attacks are a major threat to any such undertaking. Third, Gwadar is the site of a major port facility and energy hub.

He further elaborates that this energy context also exerts a powerful threefold impact on Baloch nationalism itself. First, it vastly increases the importance of Balochistan and Baloch nationalism to the central government. Second, the changed energy context simultaneously incentivizes the Baloch insurgents to claim control of Balochistan. Third and most important however, he states that ‘to both sides’ advantage, the changed energy context, which includes the potential for major increases in Pakistan’s revenues and dramatic improvements in Balochistan’s economy and Social infrastructure, also supplies novel and abundant opportunities to address Baloch nationalist demands in a positive and mutually acceptable manner’.

Therefore to conclude, as in the previous section we again see that the danger and the avenue of hope exist side by side. The choice remains for the Pakistan’s government in how to deal with these matters. Being swift, decisive, fair, just and transparent are key to success in the political engagement, which is the only option available to Pakistan. Baloch nationalism has to be accommodated in good faith. The Baloch need to become partners of energy development, not its enemies.  There are no two ways about this.

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Vision 21 is Pakistan based non-profit, non- party Socio-Political organisation. We work through research and advocacy for developing and improving Human Capital, by focusing on Poverty and Misery Alleviation, Rights Awareness, Human Dignity, Women empowerment and Justice as a right and obligation. We act to promote and actively seek Human well-being and happiness by working side by side with the deprived and have-nots.

1 Comment

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