General will “hit Balochis hard”

By K.N. Pandita – “I will hit them so hard they won’t know what hit them”, thundered the General in Islamabad.

Pakistan military pounded the Baloch freedom fighters with helicopters, gun ships, artillery and heavy machine guns. The Balochis know what these weapons are but the stuff, which they do not know and with which the General threatens to hit them, could be chemical or biological ones. In the first overnight strike on the Baloch stronghold Dera Bugti, 16 freedom fighters were decimated bringing the total number of civilian casualties to 43 dead and 161 injured.

The ruler of Kalat, one of the princely states under the Raj, refused to accede to the dominion of Pakistan in August 1947. He declared his independence because he had strong reasons to take that decision. The tribal population of Kalat was secular as against sectarian Punjabis. Baloch tribesmen fiercely adhered to their indigenous traditions and lifestyle. The British had recognized and conceded their love for independent entity, which the Balochis were ready to defend at any cost. The rulers of the nascent dominion wanted to undo all this and submerge the Baloch nation in Islamic theocratic mainstream under ethnic Punjabi domination.

Pakistan’s Punbjabi ruling junta –- a feudal military combine — marched its war machine and men into Baloch territory, crushed opposition using brute force imposed their sway over and trampled Baloch nationalist movement under the iron heel.

In 1973, Pakistan alleged that Iraqi Embassy had shipped a consignment of arms to members of the Marri tribe in Balochistan. No proof was ever produced. Z.A. Bhutto, then President of Pakistan, dismissed the provincial government. For next five years more than fifty five thousand – strong Baloch irregulars engaged six Army divisions of Pakistan backed by air strikes. Bhutto ordered bombardment of Baloch nationalist strongholds with the result that 5,000 Baloch freedom fighters and 3,000 Pakistani soldiers died in the clashes.

The General speaking to CNN described the Baloch freedom fighters as “anti-government and anti-me”. But the Baloch tribal chief Nawwab Bugti calls it his struggle “for our rights – a fair share of the revenues from our country’s resources.”

Sui valley in Balochistan is reported to have one of the largest gas deposits in the world. Exploration, exploitation, marketing and control of this vast energy resource remain concentrated in the hands of ethnic Punjabi elite of Pakistan. The Balochis are at best only daily wagers at the project. On the one hand the Punjabi ruling elite robs the Balochis of huge amounts of revenue from the Sui gas pipeline and on the other covertly insinuates the Balochis into taking the warpath and, in the process, finds justification in “hitting them hard”.

Gawadar seaport on the Makran coast is also part of Baloch territory. First China and then the US evinced keen interest in developing this strategic port. Its importance is manifold: Central Asian gas and oil terminus, filling station for mega tankers of big cartels, counterbalancing Iranian naval bases in the Persian Gulf (Bandar Abbas, Bandar Hormoz, Khurramshahr etc) and of Indian west coast naval bases, and an outpost for American nuclear base in Diego Garcia. Balochis apprehend deprivation of financial and logistical benefits that are likely to flow from huge investment in the project. Again in this big enterprise the ethnic Punjabis are elbowing out the indigenous Balochis pushing them to the backyard.;

It is in this background that Balochis demand that they are accepted a party to Iran – Pakistan – India gas pipeline agreement. They want to be among the signatories to the deal. In other words, they demand that their share in the revenues be underlined because the proposed pipeline has to pass through Baloch territory.

India should never close her eyes and ears to this genuine demand. In fact the proposed pipeline through the Baloch territory will never be safe for India unless the Balochis are made a party to the deal.

On political plane, a leading Pakistani journalist made a meaningful remark in 2005. He wrote that as a result of “social and electoral engineering the military regime sidelined mainstream parties in favour of Islamite thus alienating both the old non-religious tribal leadership as well as the new secular urban middle class who see no economic or political space in the new military-mullah dispensation.”

Pakistan President is on record saying he has proof to show that India was providing support to Baloch nationalist forces. It is clear that the erstwhile State of Kalat never acceded to Pakistan. Pakistan has forcibly occupied the State violating all provisions of the instrument of transfer of power. As such, the Balochis are fighting a freedom struggle. India, as a sovereign democratic and secular state and as a neighbour of Balochistan, is within her rights to be concerned over the situation in Balochistan and extend moral, psychological and diplomatic support to the Baloch freedom fighters in terms of the standards set forth by Pakistan for Kashmir insurgency. Suppression of a freedom movement in a neighbouring region is a matter of great concern to India.

As regards Pakistan’s allegation of India covertly providing arms to Baloch freedom fighters, Nawwab Akbar Khan Bugti, the Baloch tribal chief has made it clear in a statement to the media. He said, ” The weapons we are now using flowed into this region when the US financed the jihad in Afghanistan. It was the ISI which distributed them to Afghanistan, Jammu and Kashmir – and to us in Balochistan”.

In the light of this statement, it would be a fine act of foreign policy if New Delhi provides material support also to the freedom fighters in Balochstan. In doing so, it will make amends to a mistake it made in 1975 when the time was ripe for the Balolchis to achieve their freedom from Punjabi domination. The writer is the former Director Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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