Many years ago in the 1970s Henry Kissinger famously said, ‘I wouldn’t recognize the Balochistan problem if it hit me in the face’.
Much to the chagrin of Baloch nationalists the situation largely remains the same as the focus of Western governments, driven by international terrorist concerns, has sidestepped the Balochistan issue almost completely. However, unlike the 1970s, there are a number of NGOs and foreign specialists keeping a much closer eye on the latest rebellion in Balochistan.
One of the best known experts on Balochistan is Selig S Harrison, formerly a senior correspondent of the Washington Post and senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment and currently director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy. To his credit twenty-five years ago he authored a book on the previous Baloch insurgency (In Afghanistan's Shadow: Baloch Nationalism and Soviet Temptations, Carnegie Endowment, 1981).
In his most recent article Pakistan’s Baloch Insurgency published in the Le Monde Diplomatique Harrison has this to say about the current situation:
- In the current fighting, which started in January 2005, the independent Pakistan Human Rights Commission has reported that indiscriminate bombing and strafing by F-16s and Cobra gunships are again being used to draw the guerrillas into the open. Six Pakistani army brigades, plus paramilitary forces totalling some 25,000 men, are deployed in the Kohlu mountains and surrounding areas where the fighting is most intense.
- Musharraf is using new methods, more repressive than those of his predecessors, to crush the insurgency. In the past Baloch activists were generally arrested on formal charges and sentenced to fixed terms in prisons known to their families. This time Baloch spokesmen have reported large-scale kidnappings and disappearances, charging that Pakistani forces have rounded up hundreds of Baloch youths on unspecified charges and taken them to unknown locations.
- The big difference between earlier phases of the Baloch struggle and the present one is that Islamabad has so far not been able to play off feuding tribes against each other. Equally importantly, it faces a unified nationalist movement under younger leadership drawn not only from tribal leaders but also from an emergent, literate Baloch middle class that did not exist three decades ago. Another difference is that the Baloch have a better armed, more disciplined fighting force in the BLA. Baloch leaders say that rich compatriots and sympathisers in the Persian Gulf provide money needed to buy weapons in the flourishing black market along the Afghan frontier.
- President Musharraf has repeatedly accused India of supplying weapons to the Baloch insurgents and funds to Sindhi separatist groups, but has provided no evidence to back up these charges.
In his final analysis Harrison warns that:
unless the military regime is willing to grant the provincial autonomy envisaged in the 1973 constitution, which successive military regimes, including the present one, have nullified… the prospect… is for a continuing, inconclusive struggle by the Baloch...against Islamabad that will debilitate Pakistan.
While on the topic of Balochistan today’s Daily Times (hardcopy October 21, 2006, page B3 – no link available) carried a statement from Akbar Bugti’s missing grandson Brahamdagh which evidently was given to Online [News?] via telephone.
According to this report Brahamdagh denied that he had left the country and declared that ‘I am amongst my people and endeavouring for the defense of my motherland’ and that ‘governmental claims of control over Marri and Bugti areas are baseless and false, because resistance has gained intensity more than ever before’ and a ‘large number of Baloch youth is gradually becoming part of the resistance’.
If Brahamdagh Bugti’s claim, that a ‘large number of Baloch youth’ are joining the resistance movement is true, then it would tend to support Selig Harrison’s assertion regarding ‘a unified nationalist movement under younger leadership drawn not only from tribal leaders but also from an emergent, literate Baloch middle class’.
The future is looking distinctly troublesome.