The Government of Balochistan in Exile

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Balochistan begins to hit the headlines


AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands (Holland) -- First the BBC, and now The Economist are increasingly turning their attention to this hitherto little-known conflict. A sign perhaps that, like Darfur, it's beginning to flicker up on international radar?

Further to my initial remarks that it's all about gas, while I don't doubt that resources have something to do with the situation there appear to be many more complex things going on:

While Bugti tribesmen harry the army, a mysterious outfit, the Balochistan Liberation Army, which the government says is also run by the sardars, is attacking policemen and soldiers across the province. Both groups are believed to have received assistance from India, across the nearby porous border with Afghanistan.

Read behind the lines here: India is using this as a proxy war against Pakistan, in addition to Kashmir. And who are Pakistan's main backers? Along the border with Afghanistan the US fights its futile war on terror; upon the coast, at Gwadar, China builds a massive new naval base for the export and protection of energy supplies. The insurgency is disrupting construction, so sooner or later the Chinese may begin putting pressure on Musharraf.

Furthermore, Balochistan straddles the border between Pakistan and Iran. An explosive combination if ever I heard one.

In addition to being members of UNPO, with which I became familiar with during my correspondence with Uyghur leader-in-exile Erkin Alptekin, the Baloch movement also has a significant web presence. This comment, which I received this morning, is worth reproducing:

Balochistan is currently occupied by Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, and the Baloch people are struggling for self-determination. Pakistan forcibly occupied Balochistan in 1948, and treated the territory as a colony by oppressing the ethnic Baloch. The Baloch people launched four unsuccessful insurgencies in the past, and now they have embarked on the fifth one, which is officially declared as the “Baloch War of Independence”.

However, the military dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf has resorted to committing serious human rights violation in Balochistan by sending fighter jets, gunship helicopters, heavy artillery, and over 60,000 troops to eliminate non-combatant, innocent men, women and children of Baloch ethnicity. In other words, the Pakistani military regime is systematically conducting ethnic cleansing.

The Baloch want a democratic, liberal and secular Balochistan in midst of military dictatorship and Islamic fundamentalism. The international community must support the Baloch if they want to subdue Talibanization of the region. To read more on Balochistan, please visit our blog.

So the Baloch are not, as I previously believed, an Islamist group driven by resource nationalism but indeed a secular organization that promotes itself as anti-Taliban. Interesting. The site itself is at and contains a number of useful links. Take a look at this story in which a prominent figure also casts a shot at the idea of Balochistan as being a centre of world politics.

Original report reprinted below, and note also this blog with very similar scope to Other Means, discovered via Govt of Balochistan site.

The Economist:

Turning a fight into a war
Pakistan's aggressive policy towards its aggrieved west is causing chaos

THE castle belonging to Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in Dera Bugti, a small town in Pakistan's western province of Baluchistan, stands like an epitaph to a lost battle. The walls have been ruined by cannon fire. Most of the local residents have fled. Those who remain in the town are mostly renegade Bugtis, of a clan opposed to Mr Bugti's God-like rule over the tribe. A few years ago, Mr Bugti drove them from Dera Bugti. But, since he began squabbling with the government, which set its troops on him last year, it has carted them back. “He's finished,” says one of their protectors, a colonel in Pakistan's frontier corps. “People want change.”

Few in Baluchistan would disagree with the second claim. It is Pakistan's biggest and poorest province: a vast expanse of arid plains and brittle hills, home to 5m people, half of whom are impoverished. It produces most of Pakistan's natural gas—including 40% from a single gasfield, at Sui, on Mr Bugti's land—yet, until recently, almost no Baluch village had access to gas. Thus marginalised, the province has arisen in insurgency every decade or so since Pakistan's creation. The biggest, in the mid-1970s, sucked in 80,000 troops and cost 8,000 lives.

The latest uprising, led by Mr Bugti, a former interior minister, now nearly 80 years old, and two other tribal lords, or sardars, has raged for the past 18 months. After the government shelled Dera Bugti last year, Mr Bugti took to the hills on camel-back to direct the insurgency, armed with a Kalashnikov and a satellite telephone. Last December, after rockets were fired at a rally attended by Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, the army began assaulting him there.

To reach the cave Mr Bugti calls home, your correspondent trekked for a week through scorched valleys and moonlit hills, circumventing army pickets. Though half-crippled by thrombosis, Mr Bugti, who claims to have killed his first man at the age of twelve, was in good spirits. “It is better to die quickly in the mountain than slowly in bed,” he said, surrounded by a silent crowd of Bugti gunmen. A fan of Nietzsche and Genghis Khan, he speaks perfect English and delights in punctiliously-pronounced discourses on the love-life of camels and wreaking horrible revenge on his foes. “What is better than seeing your enemies driven before you and then taking their women to bed?” he says.

While Bugti tribesmen harry the army, a mysterious outfit, the Baluchistan Liberation Army, which the government says is also run by the sardars, is attacking policemen and soldiers across the province. Both groups are believed to have received assistance from India, across the nearby porous border with Afghanistan. In the past few years, 400 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in the conflict, as well as several hundred people in army attacks. Pakistan's Human Rights Commission has documented government atrocities, including a massacre of 12 civilians in January.

For General Musharraf, this has become a serious headache. Gas supplies to Pakistan's main towns have been interrupted by attacks on Baluchistan's pipelines and gasfields. Construction of a vast new port, at the Baluch village of Gwadar, has been occasionally disrupted. Across Pakistan, meanwhile, for reasons including rising inflation and his pro-America policies, the general is fast becoming unpopular; and the Baluch insurgents have drawn sympathy.

Mr Bugti has a dreadful history of oppressing his people, yet the grievances he claims to be fighting for are real. Moreover, Pakistanis see the conflict as an extension of an even more unpopular campaign General Musharraf is waging against Pushtun Islamic fundamentalists in the northern tribal areas. In the past two years, for no obvious gain, over 600 soldiers have been killed there—including six on June 26th in a suicide bomb attack in North Waziristan tribal agency.

If only General Musharraf would listen to the aggrieved Baluch, his more level-headed critics say, worse violence could be averted. But that looks unlikely. In May 2005, a parliamentary committee proposed 32 sensible ways to placate them, including increased development spending and a local stake in the port at Gwadar. None of these has been taken up. And General Musharraf's hand is growing heavier. Across Baluchistan, thousands have been arrested, often merely because of their alleged nationalist opinions. An alliance between feudal tribes, like the Bugtis, and more enlightened nationalists, who despise the sardari system, has been forged by shared suffering.

“We are no longer fighting for autonomy but for survival,” says Akhtar Mengal, leader of the Baluchistan National Party (BNP), and son of another sardar. The BNP has been holding mass rallies across Baluchistan, including in the capital, Quetta, attended by teachers, doctors and students, as well as bearded tribesmen. “Our demand is simple,” he says: “Maximum autonomy; or we too will take to the mountains and fight for independence.”

General Musharraf is believed to be sincere in wanting to bring greater prosperity to Baluchistan—and to make it the hub of Pakistan's energy sector. Yet he seems convinced that to end its insurgency, he has only to crush the bothersome sardars. In that, though, he is wrong.


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