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On The Boil

But with little to show in terms of results, Baluchi insurgency is now turning towards the familiar route of religious sanctification, which oddly enough, overrides ethnic-tribal fixations, and is gaining traction. The man on the centerstage of ensuing Baluch protests is the local Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) leader, Maulana Hidayatur Rehman, leading the Gwadar Ko Huqooq Do Tehreek (Give Rights to Gwadar Movement)


The flawed ‘two-nation’ theory was exposed not just by millions of proud Indian Muslims who reposed faith in the civilisation ‘Idea of India’, or later with the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, but even with the manipulated, unwilling, and unaccepted accession of Baluchistan into Pakistan.

Ancient people of the largest province of modern-day Pakistan, predating the Indus valley civilisation, their regional politics during the British Raj entailed political parties like the Anjuman-i-Watan Baluchistan, that sought a united India and opposed partition.

The Princely Baluch State of Kalat had held out by declaring its own independence in 1947 till its plotted accession on 27 March 1948 ~ the Khan of Kalat, Ahmad Yar Khan Ahmedzai, would defiantly declare himself Khan yet again in 1958, only to be imprisoned on charges of sedition for an attempted coup d’état.

Ahmad Yar Khan’s dilly-dallying (including an alleged pitch to Nehru to join India) notwithstanding, the seeds of popular unrest and Baluch insurgency were sown by nationalists like Karim Khan, Nawab Nowroz, Nawab Khair Baksh Marri etc. Perceived disaffection and alienation from the state of Pakistan lay in the overwhelming belief of inequity, suppression, and usurpation of Baluchi natural resources by the dominant PunjabiPathan combine within the Pakistani ‘establishment’ ~ this continued distrust has a historical and empirical basis.

Despite the deeply conservative and traditional ethos of the region, early insurgents did not invoke religion, and instead, many separatist leaders of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) like Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, operated from exile in the then USSR-supported Afghanistan; he had earned the sobriquet of ‘Communist Nationalist’. During the Saddam Hussein era, Pakistan had stunningly expelled the Iraqi Ambassador after Pakistani forces had raided the Iraqi Embassy and found a large cache of weapons, ostensibly for Baluch insurgents.

Later, in the non-Taliban era of Afghanistan, notably under President Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan had provided shelter and training camps to the likes of Brahmudagh Bugti, to wage insurgency in Baluchistan. However, like most feudal-clannish fiefdoms of satraps, the arid Baluchi swathes were given to warring tribes and their irreconcilable Sardars who wielded enormous influence and loyalty over tribes ~ this phenomenon contributed to numerous internecine struggles and intrigues, multiple insurgent groups, and frequently changing loyalties.

But, with little to show in terms of results against Pakistan, Baluchi insurgency is now turning towards the familiar route of religious sanctification, which oddly enough, overrides ethnic-tribal fixations, and is gaining traction. The man on the center stage of ensuing Baluch protests is the local Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) leader, Maulana Hidayatur Rehman, leading the Gwadar Ko Huqooq Do Tehreek (Give Rights to Gwadar Movement).

The cynosure of Baluchi tensions has moved from the hinterland to the port city of Gwadar (combination of two Baluchi words i.e. Guad and Dar, implying ‘wind’ and ‘gateway’, hence ‘the gate of wind’). This sleepy fishing township, naturally given to a deep-water port, was transferred from the then British colony of Oman to Pakistan as late as 1956, at the active behest of the Austrian-born wife of the seventh Pakistani Prime Minister, Begum Viqar un Nisa Noon, who lobbied extensively in the British Parliament.

But it was only in April 2015 that ‘all weather friends’ Pakistan and China announced their intention to develop the strategic Gwadar port as the centerpiece of the $60 billion ChinaPakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an arterial extension of the global One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative.

Over a billion dollars was envisaged for the infrastructure of the Gwadar City alone (besides another $2 billion for the Special Economic Zone), as it was to provide alternate port access to the Chinese mainland. But the wary Baluchis had heard these unbelievable promises for long and knew better.

The local Baluchis were expectedly denied any role in the negotiations with the Chinese and disconcerting murmurs of an inevitable sovereign surrender a la another East India Company was alluded to by no less than the Chairman of Senate Standing Committee on Pakistani Planning and Development! All those imagined fears of the Baluchis were to be disastrously true, and as the terms of the inked CPEC arrangement trickled out, the Chinese had clearly driven a hard bargain with the cash-strapped Pakistani Government, and the wounded Baluchi sentiment was an ignored trifle in the scheme of things.

Today, as the increasingly debt-laden Pakistani Government scrapes the barrel for desperate funds to survive economically, the Chinese will invariably extract an even more lopsided bargain in the CPEC imperatives, the bulk of which is anchored in restive Baluchistan. Not only has the promised transformation of Baluchistan vanished into thin air, but even its traditional local fishing has been destroyed with multiple curbs on the local fishermen, and with the additional advent of Chinese ‘Factory Ship’ trawlers, that has crushed the local economy which existed before the fantastic dreams of CPEC.

From enhanced load shedding, water shortages, irksome checkpoints, reckless exploitation of natural resources, to even credible claims of ethnic cleansing, the groundswell of Baluchi angst is all-pervasive, and has gone beyond the romantic sense of entitlement and denialism to the Baluchi Sardars.

Armed attacks on Chinese expatriates and their assets are on the rise and the subservient behaviour of the Pakistani Army in defending the CPEC project with its 34th Light Infantry Division, also known as Special Security Division (SSD), is adding to Baluchi humiliation.

Imran Khan’s hands are tied in terms of his ability to pushback the Chinese and offer better terms to the Baluchis, whereas the nationalist Baluchi parties which had failed to make any significant dent, too have thrown their weight behind Maulana Hidayatur Rehman’s protests, to escalate the latent dissonance.

Much like the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which is embroiled in a violent expression led by its clerical order, Baluchi insurgency too is getting superimposed by religious sanctification and leadership. The tinderbox of Pakistani religious extremism which is predicated on an inherently regressive premise of a ‘two-nation’ theory, is getting torn at its seams, by that very principle that rationalises it i.e., religiousity. Baluchi insurgency is now firmly on the religious burner.

(The writer is Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd) and former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry)