Balochistan is far from Bangladesh

Concerns over another break-up of Pakistan are overblown

Both Pakistani and foreign commentators have started drawing parallels between the Musharraf regime’s killing of Nawab Bugti and the Yahya Khan regime’s genocide in East Bengal in 1971. The latter led to the breakup of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent nation. Bugti’s killing, it is being argued, may now cause Balochistan to go the same way. On the face of it, the analogy sounds plausible. But look below the surface and there are several important differences that challenge this argument.

First, geography. East Bengal was surrounded on three sides by India, and Pakistan had to either fly its aircraft over the breadth of Indian airspace or take a long sea-route around peninsular India to supply its eastern wing. Getting supplies and troops in and out of East Bengal was not only expensive, but also a logistical and security nightmare. Balochistan, in contrast, shares a long land border with three of Pakistan’s provinces. Furthermore, the terrain allows for the rapid deployment of armed forces—including armour, heavy artillery and land troops to capture and hold territory. Air power can easily be deployed as the Pakistan air force has total control over the skies. Pakistan’s navy can patrol the Baloch coastline to prevent the traffic of arms and troops. And obviously, Gen Musharraf has already done all of this.

Second, demography. In the 1970s, the population of East Bengal was about 75 million, with a density of about 500 persons per square km. Balochistan has a population of about 7 million today, at a density of slightly over 20 persons per square km. As Maverick points out, the smallness and the sparseness of Balochistan’s population weigh against a sustained insurgency. Insurgents operating in unpopulated mountains can’t tilt the scales against the might of the Pakistani armed forces. Attacks on infrastructure and communication links may disrupt normalcy, but are unlikely to succeed in expelling Pakistani troops and officials from the province. So too the insurgency in towns and cities.

Third, resistance politics. East Bengal had a long history of democratic politics dating back to the early twentieth century. Its political values were modern, liberal and democratic, even more so than those of its western wing. This enabled the rise of a popular political leader like Shiekh Mujibur Rehman and the Awami League party, and enabled him to rally the province towards independence. Balochistan, on the other hand, did not even receive the same constitutional treatment as Punjab and Sindh until the mid-1970s. Its political values are based on tribal patterns of clan solidarity, courage and honour. The roots of the current rebellion can be traced back to Musharraf’s local government reforms, which damaged the interests of the Baloch sardars. Far from allowing the emergence of a united nationalist political bandwagon, Balochistan’s polity is rife for a policy of divide-and-rule—Musharraf can pay off, play off and bump off the Baloch leadership much like its predecessors have done.

Fourth, culture. This point is difficult to quantify and difficult to argue, but the political strength of the Bangla language and culture was a very strong force behind the emergence of Bangladesh. The Bengali identity trumped the Islamic one around which the founders of Pakistan (and their successors in West Pakistan) wanted to build their nation. Furthermore, the cultural differences were significant enough for leaders in the West to look down on the population in the easter wing. This is not to argue that the Baloch people lack a distinct culture or that they are not looked down upon by the Pakistani establishment. Rather, it is that culture as a political factor is not strong enough to sustain secessionary momentum.

Fifth, the
foreign hand. Like in 1971, the United States remains a silent spectator to the actions of its ally in Islamabad. The Nixon White House was indebted to Gen Yahya Khan for opening the door to China, never mind the genocide he was carrying out in East Bengal. Similarly, the Bush White House has scarcely uttered a word against Musharraf’s brutal military campaign to ‘pacify’ Balochistan. Yahya Khan counted on and received American military assistance—the crowning glory of which was Washington’s dispatch of an aircraft carrier to the Bay of Bengal to coerce India. Musharraf, of course, has been the recepient of fighter aircraft, helicopter gunships and electronic surveillance equipment as part of his FATWAT wages. The similarity ends there.

Unlike the Bangladeshis, the Baloch insurgents do not have sufficient military support that can swing the balance. India has been accused of ‘fishing in troubled waters’ in Balochistan. While that may even be true, such fishing is radically different from providing a base for resistance forces and in the event, sending its Eastern army in. Indira Gandhi’s decision to intervene militarily—and face off American coercion—has been popularly attributed to two causes: dealing a body blow to Pakistan and supporting the Bangladeshi national cause. While these certainly would have motivated her decision, the Indian state usually resists precipitate action until it faces a direct threat. In 1971, this was that of millions of refugees fleeing the conflict in Bangladesh from destablising India’s then fragile economy.

In contrast, few Baloch boat people have landed on Indian shores so far. Therefore India’s ‘fishing’ in Balochistan, if true, is likely to be limited to putting Pakistan on the mat vis-a-vis its support for terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir and elsewhere. Ditto Afghanistan, which resents Pakistan’s support for the Taliban. Iran is unlikely to support the Baloch resistance for fear that this may strengthen secessionism among its own Baloch minority.

Musharraf’s ham-fisted approach towards Balochistan will certainly breed more violence. However, this is only likely to cause one of Pakistan’s several festering wounds to bleed for some time. Balochistan, though, is far away from becoming another Bangladesh. It will require unprecedented unity, resolve and resources for the Baloch people to break away from Pakistan—even if they actually desire to do so. In the meantime, concerns over a possible break-up of the country mainly strengthen the Pakistani army and its hold over power.

10 Responses to Balochistan is far from Bangladesh

  1. Chacko 3rd September 2006 at 16:51 #

    Arcon, I don’t understand how you have labelled the Great Indian Mutiny (mutiny.wordpress.com) as a ‘foreign commentator’.

  2. Nitin 3rd September 2006 at 16:59 #

    Chacko,

    It is in the context of “Pakistani and foreign commentators”…foreign as in non-Pakistani.

  3. Chacko 3rd September 2006 at 17:59 #

    Oh ok ;-)

    I don’t this there is much India can do publicly but we should keep this issue politically active. If we do anything publicly, Mush might use this as a tool to tell his subjects that the Balochistan “core” issue is of Indian sponsorship. It is also too early to support the Balochs because their political evolution is still very primitive and feudal. Perhaps, India can train a few leaders in secret on organisational, political and diplomatic skills.

  4. Nitin 3rd September 2006 at 18:25 #

    Chacko,

    Yes. There is a need for balance in the manner in which India handles the Balochistan issue. Too strong a public posture in favour of Baloch rights will allow Musharraf to strengthen his case and position by using the India bogey.

    However, this does should not mean India remain silent. I read Prem Shankar Jha’s latest column where he excoriates the external affairs ministry for bringing up Balochistan. His argument is that doing so has so infuriated Musharraf, that horror of horrors, the General will be less amenable to have talks with the Indian PM in Cuba.

  5. S Jagadish 3rd September 2006 at 21:04 #

    India should enjoy the general’s discomfiture. I think it may not be a bad idea to mention that India is ready to provide “political and diplomatic support for the freedom fighters in Baluchistan” :)

  6. Bala 4th September 2006 at 14:19 #

    India must support Balochistan for a simple reason. India must do everything it can to increase of the cost(political, social and economical) of the proxy war that Pakistan wages. The more costly it is for Pakistan to sustain the proxy war the more docile and peaceful our western border will become(its the best deterrent). In this context, Balochistan offers a very good chance, and it would even be a justified cause to support…Balochistan deserves better anyway. If they become independent country its an added bonus…after all if Soviet Union can break so easily and quickly!! why not Pakistan?

  7. Farukh Lahori 5th September 2006 at 08:24 #

    Inshallah, Baluchistan must be liberated from the curse of Prez, and Baluchis are the messengers of Revolution in this Islamic Nation, Prez will fall and the death of Late Shaheed Bugti will be revenged a 1000 times. Amen.

  8. Atanu Dey 5th September 2006 at 21:57 #

    Reports of Pakistan’s dismemberment in 1971 were greatly premature. As it stands today, Pakistan and its eastern wing are very much one nation with one goal: the destruction of kuffar India. Islam is a stronger bond than language.

  9. Mir Azaad Khan Baloch 21st September 2006 at 08:15 #

    Dear Friends of Balochistan,

    Pakistan is a terrorist state. The Muslim Punjabi, the Pakistani military, and the Islamic Jihadists in Pakistan will always wish for the destruction of India. The fact and reality is that millions of so-called “peace talks” with Pakistan will NEVER appease them.

    So, my dear Indian brothers and sisters: WAKE UP and correctly and intelligently asses the danger that is lurking in your neighborhood. Pakistan is your perpetual ENEMY…don’t EVER forget it!

    If former Soviet Union could impolde, why couldn’t the Islamic Republic of Pakistan implode too without firing a single nuclear warhead? The solution to end this menace called Pakistan lies in Balochistan.

    Baloch nation is secular; there are Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Zikri among the Baloch tribes. An independent Balochistan could be the impetus to bring peace in the region. Furthermore, if Balochistan and Sindudesh are liberated, trading routes (including oil/gas pipeline) from Central Asia to India will be freely accessable without future blockages by Pakistan due to any conflict. Any deal between Pakistan and India to open trade routes and oil/gas pipeline will always make India prone to being blackmailed by Pakistan.

    Once again, Pakistan has been India’s enemy in the past, it is her enemy today, and it will remain her enemy as long as Pakistan has a Muslim population. This is the reality, and it is getting worse as Pakistan moves closer towards becoming an Islamic fundamentalist state.

    Mir Azaad Khan Baloch
    General Secretary
    The Government of Balochistan (GOB) in Exile
    http://governmentofbalochistan.blogspot.com

  10. purvmegh 2nd October 2006 at 21:57 #

    dear mir azad,
    unfortunately for u the govt of manmohan singh in india has
    become a puppet in the hands of usa.A large no of indian elite have their children studying and working in usa are toeing the usa line to not to support balloch.the govt officers ,military and politicians have already campaigning against support for ballochis.A good no of media columnists are ADVOCATING against support for ballochistan.
    Remember that the govt officers,militarymen,intelligent people,professors and politicians of india are sold out to usa.large no of this elite population has their children studying and working in usa and europe.It is this elite class
    which does not mind a few thousand indians getting butchered
    by pakistani terrorists every year.
    But it is the common people of india who are 100 % with you ,you will be surprised to learn that people in india will help you with body,soul and wealth.
    Give a call to common people in india,businessmen in india and abroad i am sure no one will say no to you balllochi brothers.
    Just don’t trust manmohan singh,sonia or vajapayee,they r no different than mursharrff.
    jai hind-jai balloch (victory for india victory for bolloch)

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