Originally Published 2005-04-19 10:59:01 Published on Apr 19, 2005
The decision by the Pakistani and the Chinese authorities to cancel the programme for the formal inauguration of the newly-constructed Gwadar port by the Chinese Prime Minister Mr Wen Jiabao during his recent visit to Pakistan gave a clear indication of the further deterioration in the situation in Balochistan.
Baloch Shadow Over Wen Jiabao's Visit
The decision by the Pakistani and the Chinese authorities to cancel the programme for the formal inauguration of the newly-constructed Gwadar port by the Chinese Prime Minister Mr Wen Jiabao during his recent visit to Pakistan gave a clear indication of the further deterioration in the situation in Balochistan.

The first stage in the construction of the Chinese-aided port had been completed ahead of schedule by the Chinese engineers after the death of three engineers in a terrorist explosion by suspected Uighur terrorists last year. Its formal inauguration was one of the principal functions planned by the two countries during the visit of Wen.

However, on the eve of his arrival in Pakistan, the authorities of the two countries decided to cancel the function. Though the Pakistani authorities have attributed the decision to serious damages to the roads in the area due to the recent heavy floods in some parts of the province, Pakistani media have reported that the cancellation was due to security reasons.

It is said that the Pakistani authorities were worried that the Baloch nationalists, who have been opposing the port, might stage a spectacular incident during Wen's visit to the province to draw world attention to their opposition. On the other hand, the Chinese were reportedly worried that the Uighur terrorists, who have been sheltered by the Taliban in its camps in the province, could pose a threat to Wen.

It has been indicated by the Pakistani authorities that the port would now be commissioned by President General Pervez Musharraf or Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz after three or four months. It is not clear whether the 450 Chinese engineers, who were working in the first stage of the project, continue to stay there to participate in the construction of the second stage or whether they have all left the province due to security concerns, as claimed by the Baloch nationalists. The "News" of April 14 reported as follows:" The port has been constructed at a cost of $248 million. China has paid $198 million while Pakistan has contributed $50 million. China also offered expertise in the form of technical staff. Plus they have given the bulk of the equipment. Their work done, most of the 450 Chinese personnel have left for home. Phase 2 of the port will be constructed adjacent to Phase 1. It will be bigger. But for now, some ships have already started berthing at this port. Pakistan Petroleum, which is exploring off shore gas, is using the port loading and off-loading equipment fairly regularly."

Details are only now available of the 10-hour-long battle between the Frontier Corps troops and Balochi nationalists belonging to the Bugti tribe on March 17,2005. Twenty-eight members of the Bugti tribe and 33 Hindus living under the protection of the tribe were killed during the exchange of fire. Of the Hindus killed, 19 were children.

Following this incident, there has been an exodus of Hindus from Balochistan into Sindh. Even earlier, the military-intelligence establishment had forcibly removed a large number of Hindus and some Sikhs, who were living in the Gwadar and other areas on the Mekran coast, since it viewed them as a possible threat to the security of the port. The number of Hindus living in Balochistan has further thinned down as a result of the latest exodus, but the numbers involved are not available.

The prestigious "Friday Times" of Lahore has reported as follows in its issue for the week ending March 31,2005: " Because of the clash, a large number of Hindu residents of Dera Bugti have reportedly migrated to Sindh's Khandkot, Kashmore and Jacobabad towns..... Hundreds of Hindus and Sikhs have migrated to the towns and villages of Sindh and Balochistan adjacent to Dera Bugti. There are still many, who have sent off their families, but stayed back themselves to lend support to Akbar Bugti (leader of the tribe), whose ancestors have protected them for over 400 years."

While the Baloch nationalists have claimed to have killed 35 Frontier Corps personnel in the clash, the FC has asserted that it lost only eight. According to the Baloch nationalists, during the clash of March 17 and thereafter, the Pakistan Army and the Frontier Corps have diverted to Balochistan from South Waziristan in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) some of the troops deployed there for operations against anti-US foreign mercenaries and much of the equipment given by the US for use against the remnants of the Al Qaeda, such as helicopter gunships and communication equipment. This equipment is now being used to crush the Baloch nationalists.

To enable it to focus on its campaign against Baloch nationalists, the Pakistan Army has reached a ceasefire agreement against the leaders of the pro-Al Qaeda tribes in South Waziristan, after paying them large amounts as bribe in return for a promise by them that they would not indulge in any violent incidents in South Waziristan when the Army was engaged in its counter-insurgency operations in Balochistan.

The Army has further strengthened the iron curtain, which was already there in the province, in order to prevent details of the situation from spreading to other parts of Pakistan and the rest of the world. Despite this, many details have started coming out as a result of tours of the area undertaken by members of Parliament and intrepid journalists. Salient points from their reports given in the following paragraphs would give an idea of the situation prevailing there after March 17:

"The recent gun battle between the FC and the tribesmen seems to have delivered a coup de grace to whatever little element of stability was left in the province. While the FC spokesman claims that the Bugti tribe attacked an FC convoy at Sangsila with automatic weapons, the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP, of which Nawab Akbar Bugti is the leader) and Bugti tribal leaders blame the FC for opening fire by launching mortar and rocket attacks on the fort of Nawab Akbar Bugti. " (Hasan Mansoor in the "Friday Times" for the week ending March 31). 

"FC sources now report that Marri tribesmen have also reached Dera Bugti to join hands with the Bugtis in a war against the paramilitary force. A FC spokesman said: " We are using helicopters to provide supplies to our people...Tribesmen have dug more than 40 trenches and have taken up positions in the hills." (Hasan Mansoor). 

"There is a war-like situation in Dera Bugti. (Parliamentary) Delegates saw burnt cars and fired shells scattered everywhere." (The "News" of March 26) 

"The Sui-Bugti area is bristling with the grim rumble of intermittent war, scarred on many sides with the bleak indicators of a weapon saturated conflict zone. The majority of the tribals are united under the banner of the Sardar (Akbar Bugti) and the JWP. The once abstract notion of long-term deprivation and random grievances has been institutionalised into a hardcore resistance movement that can seriously damage the security and existence of the Federation as we know it." (Sherry Rehman in the "News" of March 26) 

"Vital parts of the huge province are in the grip of an open civil war." (Sherry Rehman) 

"The pipelines are vulnerable to any member of the Baloch resistance movement, who can easily blow a vital installation up with one bomb and no particular resources.....The road convoys (of the Army) are completely exposed to tribe pickets posted at key junctures on the passes, able as they have been to roadblock and cripple all traffic on the critical supply line to troops and the FC posted in the valley of Dera Bugti." ( Sherry Rehman) 

" Anybody who has followed the tortuous history of the Afghan resistance against the Soviets can see the parallels with the Salang highway bottlenecks and the negotiating power of the warlords, who routinely bartered their control of the supply route for political and fiscal exchanges. The only difference here is that the Baloch field commanders cannot be broken by cash and compromise, so they remain committed to their political objectives and, in this case, they are engaged in battle against their own Government, not a foreign power". (Sherry Rehman). 

" For the FC and the Army battalion now posted there, the situation is untenable. They have to fly in their supplies from Sui to Dera Bugti because their approach to the Valley is now blocked." ( Sherry Rehman) 

" The Balochs are now so alienated from the Federation that they see no reason to negotiate on issues they would have done in the past...He (Akbar Bugti) kept saying: Islamabad must come to me." ( Mansoor Akbar Kundi in the "Nation" of March 26). 

The "Nation" of March 26, 2005, quoted Musharraf as having told the leaders of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Qaide Azam) as follows: " The Government strongly desires to resolve this issue once and for all, but not on the terms and conditions of Baloch nationalist Akbar Bugti. Bugti at present harbours his private army of 7,000 people; Marri (Khair Bux Marri) 9000 and Mengal (Ataullah Khan Mengal) 10,000. Who is funding them and providing ammunition they are using to meet their nefarious designs? The situation is very alarming. The Government cannot be cowed down by the threats being hurled by Akbar Bugti."Musharraf told a public meeting in Kasur (Punjab) on April 11 that only one worthless tribal leader ( his reference apparently was to Akbar Bugti) in Sui was creating problems and the Government would protect all national installations at all costs. He warned that any attack on the FC or military would invite swift retaliation.

While thus ostensibly taking a strong line, a concerned Musharraf has been encouraging Chaudhry Shujjat Hussian, leader of the PML (QA), who enjoys his confidence, to negotiate with Akbar Bugti in order to find a solution to the grievances of the Bugti tribe in matters such as an increase in the payment of royalty to the tribe for the gas extracted from their areas. Under an agreement reached with Bugti, the tribe as well as the FC have already withdrawn many of the armed pickets set up by them after the March 17 clash.

Musharraf has embarked on a three-pronged strategy. Firstly, to remain firm in his determination to go ahead with the construction of new military cantonments in Balochistan and the Gwadar and other projects involving non-Baloch labour to which the Baloch nationalists are opposed. Secondly, to show flexibility in settling the grievances of the individual tribes in matters relating to their tribal rights with regard to issues such as payment of royalty for the utilisatiion of the natural resources found in their territory by entering into separate negotiations with the leaders of each tribe. Thirdly, to refuse to negotiate with the Baloch freedom-fighters and to crush them through the army and the para-military forces.

He is emulating the policy of divide and rule followed by the Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto Government in the 1970s when it crushed the Baloch freedom struggle, which had erupted after the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, by creating differences between the Bugti tribe on the one side and the Marris and the Mengals on the other. Bhutto then used the Bugti tribe to crush the Marris and the Mengals.

Now, the Baloch freedom-fighters, wise from the experience of their predecessors of the 1970s, remain determined that they would not allow Musharraf to succeed in his policy of divide and rule. They know that this is a "now or never" struggle for them and their success would depend on their remaining united. Musharraf has not only been trying to create differences amongst different tribes, but he has also been trying to drive a wedge between the Baloch Sunnis, who are in a majority, and the Shias.

'Remain united. Don't betray the Baloch cause". That is the call reverberating across the hills and valleys of Balochistan. Remaining united and resolute in the pursuit of their objective is the sine quo non of their new freedom struggle. But that alone may not be adequate. They need to strengthen their capability for waging a relentless struggle inside and outside their homeland. 

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-mail: [email protected]  

Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group, New Delhi, Paper no. 1339, April 18, 2005.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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