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Why is the current Baloch nationalist movement different from the rest?


Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

Balochistan tends to draw global attention because of its strategic location and enormous mineral resources. And it’s in the spotlight once again due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Often termed a ‘game changer’, the corridor will stretch from Gwadar (a strategic port in Balochistan) to Kashgar (a city in the restive Muslim Chinese Xinjiang area). But it is also the term ‘the new game’ that has gained currency in the recent past with stakeholders trying to influence Pakistan’s volatile province.

The unrest in Balochistan can be traced to the country’s creation and the 1948 annexation of the Kalat state — the biggest region in the province. Even today, some Baloch nationalists and most separatists call the annexation an act ‘devoid of moral and legal norms.’ And they often cite the proceedings of the Kalat Tribal Assembly which, at the time of Partition, had declared independence.

Over the past 68 years, there have been four insurgencies in Balochistan: in 1948, in 1962-69, in 1974-77, and the current nationalist movement that began in 2006.


The Baloch have agitated for more autonomy since the creation of Pakistan. However, a new generation of politically-savvy, urban-educated youth makes this wave different from the ones before


What drove so many Baloch insurgencies?

In all of these nationalist movements, the conflict with the central government over control of land and resources remained a fundamental issue, and resulted in the deployment of the Frontier Constabulary (FC) and the strengthening of security infrastructure in the province.

But in order to understand why the Baloch have continued to fight for their rights for close to seven decades, one needs to look at how these movements have in some way changed the political landscape of the country and posed a significant challenge to the military and security establishment.

The first Baloch nationalist movement occurred due to the issues that arose from the 1948 annexation. The second insurgency (1962-69) occurred during Gen Ayub Khan’s regime: Balochistan’s Marri and Bugti areas rose up against the repressive policies of the military regime and the imposition of a highly-centralised one-unit state structure.

The third revolt was on a larger scale. The elected government of National Awami Party and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam in the province was dismissed by the Bhutto regime in February 1973 on unsubstantiated charges of illegally supplying Iraqi arms to Baloch nationalists. The resulting insurgency from 1974-77 resulted in the killing of thousands of people and large-scale displacements.

The fourth Baloch insurgency began after Akbar Khan Bugti was killed in a security operation in August 2006 and relates to the struggle of fourth generation nationalists to have Baloch identity, as a nation, recognised.

In the current movement, the role of external political powers in the region can’t be ignored. And let’s not forget that the emergence of a burgeoning Baloch middle class, free from the clutches of the Sardari system, will also influence the movement.

Why the fourth Baloch movement is different from the rest

Four major realities exist. First: while Pakhtun and Sindhi nationalists have been largely co-opted in the state power structure, the Baloch population — despite claims by successive federal governments that large-scale developmental projects have been launched — remain marginalised.

The state’s policy of using more stick than carrot has also proved to be counterproductive as the present generation of Baloch youth have been more professional than their predecessors in dealing with the instruments of state power.

More than 10 years of forced disappearances, missing persons and the recovery of mutilated bodies of Baloch youth has deepened a sense of alienation in large segments of the population. The state’s indifference to Baloch nationalist groups is the single largest failure of the Pakistani state since the military operation of 1974-77 in the province.

While there have been Urdu-speaking, Punjabi, Pakhtun and Sindhi presidents and prime ministers, the only prime minister from Balochistan, Zafarullah Jamali, had to resign in July 2004, less than two years after assuming office in November 2002.

Secondly, to a large extent, the conflicts in the province have failed to transform into positive political movements as all four waves of Baloch nationalism were brutally oppressed by state power. Nationalist groups weren’t even given a platform to address their grievances and were labelled ‘miscreants’, ‘separatists’ and ‘anti-state.’


The unrest in Balochistan can be traced to the country’s creation and the 1948 annexation of the Kalat state — the biggest region in the province. Even today, some Baloch nationalists and most separatists call the annexation an act ‘devoid of moral and legal norms.’ And they often cite the proceedings of the Kalat Tribal Assembly which, at the time of Partition, had declared independence.


Instead of empowering the local people, the state suspected their loyalty and introduced cosmetic measures such as ‘Aghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan’ that was introduced under the PPP-led government in 2009. It failed to take off, as have other initiatives by the state. One reason is the failure of successive governments to realise that the Baloch people’s perception of their land and resources being unfairly exploited by non-locals, particularly in Gwadar, is not unrealistic.

A third factor is the emergence of the Baloch middle class. This will lead to the marginalisation of the sardari system and transform the fourth wave of Baloch assertion. In addition, educated Baloch youth, particularly those who have lived or studied abroad, are highly critical of the state’s policies.

Proper urbanisation and industrialisation — the pillars of the middle class — have not occurred till now. On the one hand, the Baloch remained subservient to the sardars who were often least interested in the social and human development of their people. On the other hand, they were caught in the cross-fire between Baloch separatist groups and the security forces.

The first three waves of Baloch assertion had the patronage of icons from the Sardari system in Balochistan, namely the Khan of Kalat and the chiefs of the Marri and Mengal tribes.

However, the fourth wave is different from the earlier ones because the fourth generation of Baloch youth is more educated, urbanised and politically conscious than their predecessors. Paradoxically, the strengthening of the Baloch middle class is expected to stem from the industrialisation and urbanisation unleashed under CPEC. If handled fairly, they can be the significant beneficiaries of economic developmental just like the Bengalis of former East Pakistan were in the 1960s.

The Baloch insurgency and power games in the region

The role of external players in the fourth wave of Baloch assertion is not difficult to gauge. Indian Prime Minister Narandra Modi’s Independence Day speech on August 15 of this year — in which he pointedly remarked about alleged human rights violations in Balochistan — was met with a quick response from Pakistan. The Foreign Office spokesperson, Nafees Zakaria, made it clear that Pakistan saw Modi’s remarks about Balochistan as a cover-up for India’s human rights violations in India-held Jammu & Kashmir.

Certainly, equating Balochistan with India-held J&K is far from reality. Yet empathising with those Baloch youth and nationalist forces who are resentful of Islamabad’s age-old policy of internal colonisation provides not only India but also the United States with a valuable opportunity to exert substantial pressure on Pakistan.


The fourth wave is different from the earlier ones because the fourth generation of Baloch youth is more educated, urbanised and politically conscious than their predecessors. Paradoxically, the strengthening of the Baloch middle class is expected to stem from the industrialisation and urbanisation unleashed under CPEC. If handled fairly, they can be the significant beneficiaries of economic developmental just like the Bengalis of former East Pakistan were in the 1960s.


A segment of the Baloch nationalist diaspora welcomed the remarks of the Indian prime minister and called them “timely.” For instance, Khalil Baloch, Chairman of the Baloch National Movement, pointed out in a statement that the “Baloch nation hopes that the United States and Europe will join Prime Minister Modi and hold Pakistan accountable for the crimes against humanity and the war crimes it has committed against the Baloch nation in 68 years of its occupation of Balochistan, and during the five years that the Baloch nation has fought with Pakistan to win its national freedom.”

Likewise, in an interview given to the Hindustan Times, the self-exiled Khan of Kalat, Mir Suleman Dawood, said: “We welcome the Indian prime minister’s brave and long-awaited stance on Balochistan. We, the Baloch, are looking forward to working with the Indians and others for peace, prosperity and security in South Asia.”

In the same interview, the Khan of Kalat pointed out that “[Modi] will be remembered by the Baloch nation for a long time. … India can help us at the United Nations and at the International Court of Justice. Together with our supporters in the US, we can at least get assets of the leading lights of Pakistan frozen, to begin with.”

The views of another self-exiled separatist Baloch leader, Brahamdagh Bugti, who is the grandson of slain Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, about the independence of Balochistan are not difficult to gauge.

Baloch nationalists and separatists may be labelled lunatic fringe characters who are completely divorced from ground realities and operate from abroad on the directives of their foreign masters, particularly the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), by the Pakistan state. One cannot shut one’s eyes, however, to the fact that these issues have been the cause of antagonism in Balochistan since Partition.

The issues have historical, political and socio-economic dimensions which no regime of Pakistan has been able to effectively and prudently address. According to many Baloch nationalist leaders, there is lack of political will and determination among Pakistan’s power elites to address what many nationalists call “forced occupation.”

In a seminar ‘CPEC: Development or Exploitation?’ in Islamabad on July 12 this year, Akthar Mengal, chief of the Balochistan National Party (BNP) talked about why it has been difficult for many Baloch to accept CPEC.

“In 1953 gas began to be produced in Sui, Balochistan, but it was sent to far off cities in 1963,” he said. “Dera Bugti has never controlled the facility. How can I believe that CPEC will be beneficial to Balochistan? Through the Saindak Project, copper and gold are produced in Balochistan. However, China gets 60 per cent of the revenue, 38 per cent goes to the federal government, and only two per cent comes back to Balochistan. We want development. We support it. But not at the cost of exploitation.”

To a large extent, the narrative held by Baloch nationalists against the state of Pakistan is more or less the same as that held by Bengali nationalists in the former East Pakistan.

The Pakistan state could gain some insight from a famous saying during the British days about how to sustain the British hold over what is present-day Pakistan: “Rule the Punjabis, tame the Sindhis, bribe the Pathans and honour the Baloch.”

As far as the Baloch are concerned, honouring them might be the most useful and tactful way to win the hearts and minds of a community that remains resentful of Pakistan’s military and bureaucratic establishment.

The writer is Meritorious Professor at the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi. He can be reached at amoonis@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 6th, 2016

This entry was posted in: Uncategorized

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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.

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