The Baluchistan impasse

In the nauseating, disingenuous confrontation going on between the elites, the real issues are brushed to one side. Baluchistan appears in the corporate media in accordance with the whims and needs of the bourgeois state and the ruling classes. Ever since the creation of Pakistan, Baluchistan has been in a state of turmoil, revolts and insurgencies. The militant struggles and the military operations are raging on. In reality, Baluchistan has become a festering wound on the body politic of the whole region, including Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.

The discovery of mass graves in Tutak, the more than 800 bodies of abducted Baluchis dumped in Baluchistan and Karachi, and the 18,000 missing persons, predominantly young people, are a stain on the system, state and the incumbent so-called “progressive” government brought in to power by Sharif with the petitioning of over 600 NGOs. Under Malik’s watch the crisis has only been aggravated and its performance has proved to be even worse than the previous regime of the clownish Aslam Raisani. Just as in Kashmir and Afghanistan, these killing fields have been outsourced to ‘jihadis’, resulting in making the lives of Hazaras, Shias, Baluchis, and Pashtoons a living hell. In addition, the proxy wars between various world and regional imperialist powers, like the Iranian clergy and the Saudi monarchy are compounding the miseries on a daily basis.

It would be wrong to limit our analysis to ‘proxy wars’ and communalisation of Baluch society. The Baluch youth in particular have a rich tradition of generations of revolutionary struggle against national and class oppression in Baluchistan. The first stirrings of a polarisation between the youth and the narrow nationalist leadership is beginning to emerge, particularly on the question of internationalism and class struggle. The imperialist corporate vultures from the US to China to Russia and India are looking for proxies mainly amongst the leaders and sections of the state to become partners in the imperialist plunder of Baluchistan.

Gwadar Port, Mirani Dam, the Makran Coastal Highway, and many other projects aimed at extracting the estimated $1.5 trillion in mineral wealth from Baluchistan have intensified the “great game” between these imperialist monsters and the masses, who are daily subjected to brutalities and excruciating social and economic woes. Baluch grievances in the past have centred on the gas fields (of which the biggest are around Sui, in Bugti tribal territory), which provide around a third of Pakistan’s energy. Now, with these new revelations, the lust for plunder and the resultant bloodshed has intensified. The Chinese corporation running the Saindak mine in 2010 processed around 15,000 tonnes of ore a day. Scientific estimates for the Reko Diq field near the borders of Afghanistan and Iran show up to 16 million tonnes of pure copper and 21 million ounces of gold, which, if developed, would make Pakistan one of the world’s largest producers of copper (though still far behind Chile), and a serious gold producer.

Reko Diq could be of great benefit to Pakistan and Baluchistan – or it could lead to explosive disputes between them, and among the Baluch themselves, as has been the case with both Sui Gas and Gwadar Port.

The principality which Baluch nationalists regard as the historic Baluch national state was that of Kalat, founded in 1638 around an oasis like that of Quetta, fed by two natural springs (now dry because of tube-wells and the radical sinking of the water table). The British arrived in the region in the 1830s, and from 1839 to 1847 fought a fierce war with Baluch tribes. In 1876, the British frontier official Sir Robert Sandeman signed a treaty with the Khan bringing Kalat and its dependent territories under British suzerainty. During Partition in 1947, the myriad princely states of British India were voluntarily or involuntarily annexed to India or Pakistan, among them Kalat. While the new rulers of Pakistan claimed Kalat as a part of their new state, Baluch nationalists claim that the relationship with the British Empire was closer to that of the British protectorate of Nepal, which after 1947 became an independent state.

The current insurgency is the sixth during the last sixty six years between the Baluch masses and the state, the pro-establishment sardars, politicians, the fundamentalist forces, and those hungry for Baluchistan’s resources. All the revolts in the last seven decades have been concentrated in one tribal group or another, or parts of that group. In the late 1940s and 1950s, Mengals took the lead, and in the 1970s, it was the Marris. This allowed the Pakistani state to play on the deep traditional rivalries between the tribes, and eventually, through a mixture of force and concessions to the sardars of the rebel tribes, to bring these revolts to an end.

The Pakistani state’s approach is summed up in the remarkable fact that, as of 2009, out of sixty-five members of the Baluch Provincial Assembly, sixty-two were in the provincial government as ministers or advisers with ministerial ranks. Every member of the government received Rs 50 million as a personal share of Baluchistan’s development budget, for their district. This was an effective co-option of the tribal leadership, as this ensured all but three of the eighty-odd tribal sardars or claimants in Baluchistan were neutralised and arrayed with the government, as opposed to taking the road of armed struggle. Rather than the old British strategy, this was closer to the Roman approach of making smaller local tribal chieftains into local officials, and bigger chiefs into Roman senators. By making them responsible for tax collection, these local leaders were also given a share in state revenues. The Romans, however, had the advantage of representing not just overwhelming military force and an efficient state bureaucracy, but also a great state-building idea, summed up in the values of Romanitas. However, the Pakistani regimes have always been uninspiring, inefficient, corrupt and in socio economic decay.

A senior army general summed up the state’s analysis and strategy to a British journalist in 2009: “Everything here is shades of grey. Here you have to be street smart. Or to put it another way, you need to be a little bit of a rascal to understand this part of the world. You always have to be prepared to negotiate with your enemies – who knows, they may change sides and become your allies tomorrow. That is something the Americans still haven’t understood in Afghanistan… That is why you can meet in Quetta many nationalist politicians who have declared themselves as rebels against Pakistan, but who we deliberately haven’t touched.”

The beautiful land of Baluchistan is plagued by extreme deprivation, poverty and joblessness. The social indicators are at rock bottom in this province, despite having the most natural resources. Human existence is traumatic. The constitutional amendments and ‘reform packages’ are contemptuously rejected by the Baluchi masses. These have never been sufficient enough nor can they be implemented in this catastrophic capitalist crisis. Baluchistan is not homogeneous. It has Baluchis, Pashtoons, Hazaras, Punjabis, and Mohajirs who have traditionally lived in harmony, but imperialism has sowed communal, ethnic and sectarian divisions, which they use to divide and rule in order to perpetuate their plunder. There is no salvation on a communal, national, or ethnic basis. There is no salvation under capitalism. The struggle for national liberation must be linked to the class struggle within Baluchistan, Pakistan, and on a regional and international basis, in order to achieve a decisive victory.