Balochistan issue – All you need to know

 

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the issue of Balochistan conflict in his recent Independence Day address. While this was appreciated and welcomed by the Baloch leaders, it was criticized by Pakistani leaders. Using the Balochistan card in the battle for Kashmir has also invited criticisms from few Indians.
  • The government of Pakistan has been dealing with animosity among the tribes of Balochistan since the time the country came into existence in 1947.
  • The causes of the conflict with Balochistan include a ripe ethnic nationalism along with feelings of economic and political exclusion.

Geography of Balochistan:balochistan

  • Balochistan is
    • located in the South West of Pakistan and constitutes half of the country’s territory.
    •  Pakistan’s largest, but least developed province,
    •  which is sharing its border with Iran and Afghanistan
  • due to which it is one of the most important states for Pakistan geo-politically.
    • In April 2015, Pakistan and China announced to develop $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which in turn forms part of China’s ambitious one belt, one road.
    • It is one of the four provinces of Pakistan and is strategically extremely important to the country because of the high concentration of natural resources including gas, oil, copper and gold.
  • Demographically though it constitutes a mere 3.6% of the total population of Pakistan. The province is home to over 13 million people, mostly Balochis.

History

  • Prior to independence from British rule, the province of Balochistan comprised of four princely states; Kalat, Lasbela, Kharan and Makran.
  • Three months before Partition, Mohammad Ali Jinnah mooted an independent state of Kalat which would consist of all four princely states. Accordingly a communique, was released on August 11, 1947, which gave an independent sovereign status to Kalat.
  • By October of 1947, however, Jinnah changed his mind regarding the status of Kalat and voiced his demand for Kalat to formally join the state of Pakistan. The Khan of Kalat refused to let go off his independent sovereign status and a standstill pursued between two leaders regarding the status of present day Balochistan.
  • On March 26, 1948, the Pakistan Army moved into Balochistan and captured Kalat on April 1, 1948
  • Following the capture of Kalat, cases of military atrocities have been a recurrent occurrence in the province. Acts of ill treatment by officials in the region included torture, arbitrary arrests, executions and acts of indiscriminate violence. Thousands of people have been reported to be missing.

Why conflict between Balochistan and Pakistan?

  • Ethnic difference: It remains the single biggest fault line in Pakistani politics. When Pakistan was formed, skewed power relations among the different Muslim ethnicities was visible. The Punjabi landlords had an almost unchallenged hold over Pakistan’s bureaucracy. The people of Balochistan also felt a sense of separate identity on account of a shared history, language and other cultural aspects. This shared culture among the Balochs led to the ripening of a strong sense of nationalism that propounded for a larger political autonomy and a separate state for Balochistan.
  • Human Rights: It is reported that from 2003 to 2008 more than 8000 people were kidnapped by Pakistani security in the province. Cases of torture have also been reported.  According to the report from the Human Right Commission of Pakistan (2006), the population also lacks in the area of basic services.
  • Unstable Politics: The Baluch people have never had their required representation in politics, including the military.
  • Resources and Development Issues: Unequal distribution of resource revenues remains one of the major sources of the problem. The resources in Baluchistan province consist of gas, which is used to produce energy for Pakistan.
  • Terrorist Organizations and Islamic Extremism: A number of extremist groups such as Al Qaeda, Quetta Shura e Taliban and Tahreek Taliban are active in Baluchistan province.
  • The government of Pakistan has accused the Indian government and occasionally the United States for supporting the Baluch movement to destabilize the country. Both countries have rejected these claims.
  • Gwadar issue: The current developmental issues are the construction of Gwadar Port as a major transportation hub with Dubai. This project was announced in 2001 and is being implemented by the Chinese. The Baluchs have been totally excluded from the construction of the project.

In Short there are three components to the comprehensive solution to Balochistan problem:

  • One, recognition of the legitimate demands of Baloch people and assessment of the ground reality.
  • Second developments of sound policies and plans that would address the economic deprivation and sociopolitical issues and empower people.
  • Third and final, immediate, direct, accountable and transparent delivery through provincial and local governors.

Why is India interested in this?

  •  The Baluchistan area is also the hub for the Iran- Pakistan- India gas pipeline and has been targeted several times by the Baluch’s militia to show their disagreement with the government in its exploitation of the province.
  • India has long maintained a political stance of not interfering in the internal matters of Pakistan or any other country. Despite Pakistan repeatedly bringing up the Kashmir issue over the years, India had maintained silence on Balochistan. Recent remarks on Balochistan come in the immediate aftermath of the Independence Day celebration in Pakistan that was dedicated to the independence of Kashmir. India’s response was quick with Modi clearly putting his foot down and reminding the neighbours of the atrocities they mete out upon their own countrymen.
  • However, the Pakistani government has for years been accusing India of instigating unrest in the province of Balochistan.
  • On the other hand, Baloch nationalists welcomed Modi’s comment with full enthusiasm, saying it is the first time their cause has acquired international support.

What lies ahead ?

  • As the diplomatic exchange with Pakistan gets sharper by the day, India is discussing concrete steps to put its new policy on raising human rights violations by Pakistan forces in Balochistan into place, and the External Affairs Minister has been consulting former diplomats on its foreign policy implications.
  • India has a strong human rights record, and is naturally concerned about human rights violations in [Balochistan]- the measures under discussion range from
    • enlisting Indian embassies and missions worldwide to raise the issue of rights violations by Pakistan,
    • easing visa restrictions on Balochis visiting India on the lines of the Cabinet’s recent notification on facilities extended to persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries,
    • as well as allowing them more “political” space in India.
  • In the next few days, officials of the Home Ministry, External Affairs Ministry and PMO are expected to finalise details of announcements to be made on Balochistan. It will also decide whether the Baloch issue will be raised at the U.N. General Assembly this September, even as Pakistan says it intends to raise the violence in Kashmir at the U.N.

Conclusion

  • Balochistan to Pakistan is much the same as what Kashmir is to India. Recent remarks by Indian PM sends out a clear signal that India will no longer be “cornered and submissive” on the Kashmir issue. This has clearly opened up a new chapter in India-Pakistan relations.
  • However, the conflict in Baluchistan is protracted and extremely complex. Basically, the root causes of the conflict are both historical and political. Besides the historical and political reasons, the social factors such as ethnicity and religion has also played a vital role in the continuance of the conflict. Lack of representation at the decision-making level and low quotas for political representation are the prominent factors that have added more misery to the ongoing problems, thus spiraling this conflict out of control. It is time for Pakistan to sort out the issue before any international intervention is necessitated