BALOCHISTAN: ARE THE BALOCHIS READY FOR EXTERNAL SUPPORT?
Ever since the joint Indo-Pak statement was announced last month, there have been numerous discussions on India’s role in Balochistan in both countries. Pakistanis have been accusing India for interfering in Balochistan for a long time; they consider the inclusion of Balochistan in the joint statement as an admission of this by India. In India, many question the wisdom of this inclusion; especially the opposition parties who consider this as weakening India’s position. A section in India also believes that India should indeed support covert activities in Balochistan – a tit for tat policy in response to the terrorism sponsored by Pakistan’s ISI.
Three important questions need to be addressed in the context. First, are the Balochis really serious about waging an insurgency against Pakistan’s security forces? Are they politically united and ready to fight a long political struggle to gain their rights? Second, is India capable of helping such a Balochi struggle? Is such a help feasible and practical? Finally, will such an interference help secure India’s interests?
Unfortunately, much of the debate in Pakistan and India continues without a proper understanding of ground realities regarding the composition of the Balochi tribes. The Balochis are not a homogenous group and this has been the primary reason for the failure of Baloch insurgencies in the past. The latest insurgency was the fourth in a history of insurgency spanning five decades.
The Balochis are highly divided along tribal lines – the Bugtis, Mengals, Marris and numerous other tribes together constitute the Balochi people. Furthermore, the three major tribes mentioned above are not only clearly differentiated from each other but are also divided within themselves. For instance, the Bugtis have been fighting the Mazaris for a long time. Akbar Bugti used his connections with the federal government to outsmart the Mazaris. At the same time, Akbar Bugti also had a long running feud with two sub clans within his own tribe – Kalpars and Masuris. The federal government in Islamabad, always exploited this divide within the Bugti tribe and used the sub tribes against Akbar Bugti when it did not support his actions. The PPP-PML divide in Islamabad is also reflected in support or opposition to Akbar Bugti in Dera Bugti, the Bugti stronghold, where the Sui gas plant is also located. Akbar Bugti’s relationship with the federal government waxed and waned primarily on the issue of royalty relating to the Sui gas field.
The other tribes, especially the Marris and Mengals have always been upset with and apprehensive of Bugtis on this issue. When compared to the other two stalwarts, Khair Bux Marri and Ataullah Mengal, Akbar Bugti never really rallied around for a pan-Balochi cause.
Besides the intra and inter tribal fault lines, there exist ideological differences as well. The Marris, who have been leading the Baloch insurgency, are known for their Marxist leanings; Khair Bux Marri’s sons were educated in Moscow. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) which was leading the insurgency was primarily a Marri force. Bugtis never got involved with the BLA in a major way.
Any debate in India towards helping the Balochis or interfering in Balochistan should first take into account the basic structure and strength of Baloch nationalism. Undoubtedly, there is grave injustice in Balochistan and the Balochis are extremely upset with Islamabad and Punjabi leadership. However, the crucial question is, are they willing to rise above their tribal differences and present a unified force?
Second, any Indian support to Balochis should assess the nature of the Indian state’s support to regional movements in the neighbourhood in a historical perspective. Is India really willing to support a movement such as this to its conclusion – in this context, an independent Balochistan? If providing support is limited to identifying the issue in a joint statement or providing limited funds to some Balochi leaders settled in UK or elsewhere, it will be best for India to keep away from such an initiative. New Delhi has to make the decision to goes the whole way or not get involved at all. Given the Indian government’s failure in the recent past to take any such initiatives (despite intense provocations in the form of Kargil, the parliament attack and the Mumbai blasts), it will be useful if India forgets about meddling in Balochistan for good and makes this much clear to Islamabad.
Third, despite some international inputs on an independent Balochistan theory, no state is interested at the global level (read the US or Russia) or at regional level (read Iran) to help the Balochis achieve an independent nationhood.
Fourth, India and the international community should also understand that Islamabad will brutally suppress any movement led by the Balochis. Like the previous attempt in the 1970s, the latest insurgency was also brutally suppressed by the State in Pakistan, using fighter jets, bombing villages, with no concern for human lives or rights. Akbar Bugti, a former Governor of Balochistan and the leader of a nationalist party was hunted like a criminal and killed brutally; even the elusive brigand Veerappan was treated better by the Indian security forces, before he was finally killed. No group can hope to mount a successful insurgency, if the State that is its target is willing to use such extreme force.
Finally, New Delhi also has to make up its mind on how it sees its own security vis-à-vis Pakistan. Is a stable Pakistan in India’s interests? If it is indeed so, then New Delhi needs to work with Islamabad. India’s long term strategic interests in Pakistan should define its strategies and tactical approaches.