January 01, 2006

Balochistan, a Bangladesh in the making

Balochistan, a Bangladesh in the making
by Rajeev Sharma

On December 14, Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf visited
Balochistan in his capacity as chief of the armed forces of Pakistan.

The two places he visited — the capital of Balochistan, Quetta, and the
oil and gas-rich Baloch-dominated township, Kohlu — made news for the
wrong reasons. At both these places, assassination attempts were made on

General Musharraf wanted his visit to signal to the people of
Balochistan that those who were blasting oil and gas installations would be
dealt with an iron hand. But he had a foreign constituency also to cater to
— the US.

Pakistan’s tribal areas, including Balochistan, are under the American
intelligence scanner as they believe that Al-Qaida chief Osama bin
Laden is hiding in these regions.

Soon after the General’s visit, the Pakistan military forces launched
yet another massive operation in Balochistan, targeted at the Marri
tribes, who are up in arms against the denial of basic civic amenities even
five decades after Pakistan was born.

Helicopter gun ships and jet fighters are pounding what Islamabad terms
as rebel positions in the area. There is a virtual blackout of news.
Unofficial reports put the death toll at over 200.

Reports speak of food shortages, spread of diseases, and non- supply of
water and electricity in the ‘operations’ zone. Pakistan’s Interior
Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpo declared on December 27 that the
government would not relent.

“We will not allow anyone to take the law into their own hands”, the
minister told the Senate. He left none in doubt that it was an iron fist
he was showing, not an olive branch.

These remarks came on the very day a general strike was observed in
Balochistan. It was obvious that the Federal Government was in no mood for
talks. The entire political spectrum of Pakistan has condemned the
ongoing operations. Noted human rights activist Asma Jehangir said that
using guns was not only violation of the spirit of the federation but also
infringement of human rights.

Opposition leader Raza Rabbani echoed her views in Pakistan parliament,
linking the Balochistan situation to “a crisis of the Federation” with
perceived destabilisation in Sindh and Punjab provinces as well.

Besides the Marris, the other dominant tribal groups in Balochistan are
Bugti, Mengal and Achakzai Pathan. None of them has any say in the
administration of the province. A senior Baloch leader, Ataullah Mengal,
made an ominous remark the other day that they did not want to leave the
Federation but were being pushed out of it.

This is the fourth outbreak of violence, officially called rebellion,
since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Phrases like “national
movement”, “azadi” and “injustice” are being liberally used by Baloch people.
There are frequent references to the similarities between present-day
Balochistan and pre-liberation Bangladesh.

“Warnings from a Baloch leader similar to what my fellow Bengali
journalists gave me in the late sixties of the situation in then East
Pakistan now keep reverberating in my ears”, Shamsul Hasan wrote in ‘The
Nation’ on December 23, 2005.

Balochistan is the largest of the four Pakistan provinces. Density of
population is a mere 12 persons per sq km. Around 85 per cent of the
population lives in scattered villages, which are not connected by road.
The area where the military operations are going on are rich in oil and

Within three years of its discovery in 1952, gas started flowing into
different areas of Pakistan, particularly Punjab. It reached Quetta, the
provincial capital, in 1984, that too to the cantonment area. The total
number of gas connections in Balochistan by December 2000 was 112,700 —
a number smaller than the total connections in Faisalabad city.
Balochistan is demanding a reasonable royalty on oil. Islamabad says a firm

A strategically important port is coming up at Gwadar with Chinese
assistance but it is hardly offering locals any worthwhile jobs. The
developments have serious implications for India, which came up with a rather
blunt reaction which Pakistan described as an “interference in
Pakistan’s internal affairs”.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you have your title backwards. Bangladesh is Pakistan in the making (i.e. becoming more of a Taleban state that Pakistan already finds itself in).