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Paper no. 1087             15. 08. 2004

By. B.Raman

(To be read in continuation of the earlier articles titled "Unrest in Balochistan"  at  and "The Blast in Gwadar" at )

The law and order situation in Balochistan  continues to deteriorate steadily despite the use of the Army by the military-dominated regime in Islamabad  to put an end to acts of violence directed at the members of the Shia community, the Chinese experts deployed at the Gwadar port project, gas pipelines and other economic targets, including a local airport, and military personnel.

2. The responsibility for the restoration of law and order has been informally taken over by the Army without a formal proclamation and helicopter gunships, received in the past from the US for use in counter-terrorism operations directed against the dregs of Al Qaeda and the Taliban taking shelter in the areas near the Afghanistan border, are being used against the Balochi population, which has had nothing to do with either Al Qaeda or  the Taliban, in an attempt to suppress their movement against the military-dominated regime and what is perceived as its attempts to reduce the Balochis to a minority in their traditional homeland.

3. There are various root causes for the resistance movement being waged by the Balochis: 

  • Mounting anger over the denial of the benefits of the natural gas and other mineral resources of the province to the Balochis in the form of increased royalty payments.
  • The denial of any meaningful role to the Balochis in decisions relating to the construction and administration of the Chinese-aided Gwadar port project.
  • The influx of a large number of Punjabis and other non-Balochis into the province to work in the Gwadar project.
  • The continuing acts of discrimination against the Balochis  in matters of recruitment to the Armed Forces and various civilian departments of the Government.
  • The establishment of more cantonments in the Province to enable the Army better maintain law and order.

4. The ground situation has been further complicated by the import of the Shia-Sunni sectarian divide into the province from Punjab and Karachi and by the influx of the dregs of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Uighur terrorist elements from the Xinjiang province of China into the province, where they have been given shelter by the local fundamentalist organisations with the tacit approval of the Government.

5. The root causes mentioned in Para 3 above have given rise to two kinds of anti-Islamabad and anti-military movements:

  • An overt political movement in the form of protest meetings, demonstrations and rallies not involving the use of violence. Four  non-religious political parties of  Balochistan, who have formed a united front, continue to play a leading role in this movement. These are the Jamhoori Watan Party, the National Party, the Balochistan  National Party (Mengal) and the Baloch Haqtawar.
  • A covert freedom movement involving targeted acts of violence against economic targets and other infrastructure and military personnel.

6. The factors mentioned in Para 4 above have made Quetta, the capital of the province, the scene of periodic anti-Shia incidents and the bordering areas of the province  safe sanctuaries for Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Uighurs for mounting operations against Afghan and American troops in Afghan territory. The presence of the Uighurs has added to the security concerns of the Chinese, necessitating the deployment of a large contingent of the Pakistan Army, exclusively for the protection of the Chinese experts working in the Gwadar port and the Saindak copper extraction projects.

7. The frequent visits of Chinese security experts to the province and the recent high-profile  joint Sino-Pak counter-terrorism exercise held in Xinjiang were meant to restore the confidence of the Chinese experts and to strengthen the co-operation between the counter-terrorism agencies of the two countries.

8. The reluctance or inability of the provincial authorities  to act effectively against the dregs of Al Qaeda and the Taliban operating from the border areas of the province and to put an end to their terrorist infrastructure directed against the Americans and the Hamid Karzai Government in Kabul have brought the Pakistan Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) under US pressure  to mount operations against these dregs in Balochi territory, similar to the operations mounted by the Armyt since October last year against the dregs in the South Waziristan area of the Federally-Administered Tribal areas (FATA).

9. At a time when its troops inducted into the South Waziristan area have been involved in a bleeding guerilla warfare with the tribals and the Uzbek, Chechen and Uighur dregs in that area resulting in mounting military casualties, a further alienation of the local tribals and increasing anti-Musharraf feelings in the Armed Forces, the Pakistan Army is reluctant to get bogged down in a similar guerilla warfare against Al Qaeda and the Taliban dregs in Balochistan, which might further come in the way of its efforts to quell the Balochi resistance movement.

10. Senior army officers and the ISI are against getting involved in a two-front military operation in Balochistan--- one against the Balochi nationalists, who, in the Army's perception, pose a threat to Pakistan's unity and economic prosperity and endanger its relations with China and the other against the dregs of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, who do not threaten Pakistani lives and interests. Their first priority is quelling the re-emerging Balochi independence movement before it assumes alarming proportions similar to those of the 1970s.

11. Gen.Pervez Musharraf has been trying to follow a three-pronged policy: 

  • Keeping the door open for a political dialogue with the non-religious political parties, who have confined their activities to an overt political movement against Islamabad without indulging in acts of violence.
  • A no-holds-barred military campaign against the Balochi youth who have started a violent struggle to achieve their objectives. While large sections of the Balochi population look upon these youth as freedom-fighters, the military has been projecting them as terrorists.
  • Avoiding getting bogged down in operations against the dregs of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the bordering areas lest it weaken its operations against the Balochis. The Americans seem to understand Musharraf's imperative of quelling the re-kindled Balochi independence movement before acting against the dregs. The position might change as the US presidential elections approach, particularly if the reports regarding the presence of some senior Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in the areas near the Iran border are confirmed.

12. The move for a political dialogue with the provincial political parties has been a non-starter till now in the absence of any indication of the military's willingness to consider their demands relating to the increase in the payment of royalty, suspension of the construction  of the Gwadar project till its implications for the economic interests of the Balochis are examined, the stoppage of the influx of the Punjabis and other non-Balochis into the province and the abandoning of the plans for more cantonments. They also want the suspension of the military operations against the Balochi youth.

13.Musharraf has already made clear his determination to go ahead with the Gwadar and other Chinese-aided projects in the province and the projects for new cantonments. His Government continues to deny any military operations against the Balochi youth. Thus, the only issues on which his regime may be prepared  to negotiate relate to the demand for more royalty and for more job opportunities for the Balochis. Even this has not been indicated openly and specifically.

14.There are two generations of Balochis now engaged in a simultaneous confrontation with the Islamabad regime. The first is the older generation, consisting of the grown-up members of the younger generation of the 1970s, which had spearheaded the post-1971 freedom struggle,  which was brutally crushed by the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto with the help of the Army and the Air Force. In their midst, one could see recognisable faces like  those of Ataullah Khan Mengal, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Khair Bux Marri etc and their progenies, who were born in the 1950s and the 1960s and fought with their elders against the Pakistan Army before giving up their armed struggle and taking up to politics.

15. The second is the post-1970 generation of young Balochis. Many of them are from the same legendary tribes which had waged a freedom struggle in the 1970s, but had no role to play in it, because they were still children or not yet born. Many members of this younger generation went to the Gulf countries in the 1980s and 1990s, served in the local police and security forces, acquired a certain expertise in the use of arms and ammunition and explosives and have since returned to Balochistan. It is these elements, which constitute the hard-core of the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), which has been in the forefront of the current freedom struggle.

16. The BLA is a very well-organised and well-motivated cladestine organisation, with a high degree of invisibility. Very little is known about its leaders and cadres. One hears of them whenever there is a spectacular incident such as the eight explosions in Quetta on Pakistan's Independence Day on August 14, 2004, the ambush of a group of seven Pakistani army officers going for shopping in the Khuzdar area on August 1, killing five of them,, the abortive attempt to kill the Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Yousef in the same area the next day, the frequent disruptions of gas and oil supplies to Punjab by blowing up the pipelines, the blowing-up of the Sui local airport etc, but one rarely sees them.

17. The resistance fighters of the BLA are as invisible as those of Iraq and have been operating in a large number of small. autonomous cells, capable of opportunistic actions without the apparent need for a central command and control. Like the US Army in Iraq, the Pakistan Army in Balochistan has been totally foxed by their activities. It has been groping in the dark, without being able to identify them and penetrate their set-up.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Reserach Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: