New Delhi – The Pakistani diplomatic coup in inserting a reference to Balochistan in the Shram-al-Sheikh bilateral declaration insinuating Indian instigation of the uprising by the Balochistan tribes – Baloch, Marri, Mengal and Bugti – has not been able to camouflage or conceal the traditional reasons of exploitation of Balochistan’s mineral wealth by Punjabis and disappearance of hundreds of youth for the continuing resistance to Pakistan Army occupation.
That Pakistan as a whole is suffering is apparent in the daylong electricity shutdowns experienced in many parts of Pakistan largely because of frequent disruptions of gas from the Sui gasfields by the underground Balochistan Nationalist Army. The disruptions escalated dramatically after the Pakistan Army killed patriarch Akbar Bugti under mysterious circumstances during General Pervez Musharraf’s regime.
That youth continue to disappear by the day and the issue is still a raging controversy in spite of Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court Iftikar Chaudhury’s bravehearted indictiment of the Musharraf government for being unable to honour the habeas corpus (literally meaning produce the body in court) petitions adjudicated by the court. That was the main cause why Musharraf went about humiliating the Chief Justice and setting off political fires all over Pakistan without any help from India.
The Chief Justice had announced in open court that security forces must stop abducting Balochi youth on suspicion of being supporters of the Balochistan Nationalist Army. Many of them were never seen again. That situation persists to this date given sporadic admissions leaking into the media, Musharraf made him pay for the price for his insouciance and withheld Justice Chaudhury’s pay and perks – a move that fuelled the lawyers movement that eventually forced Musharraf to come to terms with Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and hold elections in which his “king’s party” made a miserable showing.
Musharraf have gone but Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Kiyani is continuing his policies in Balochistan in much the same way. The attempt to denigrate the Baloch sardars is continuing apace with frequent references in the media (largely Punjab based) to the wide economic disparity between the sardars and their clansmen even after large royalties are being paid to the tribal chiefs for exploitation of Balochistan’s gas and mineral reserves.
One of the demands at the time was adequate compensation to accrue to the tribes for the exploitation of gas and mineral deposits in Balochistan. The Musharraf regime evolved what came to be known as the Balochistan Package to eleviate the hardships suffered by the people of Balochistan even as their natural wealth was being exploited for the benefit of the other three provinces – Sindh, the North West Frontier Province now renamed Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and the resource-guzzling Punjab.
One of the reasons why the Package was not implemented was the continued resistence by the Baloch people to the creation of three new cantonment towns in the proximity of the Sui gasfields to try and provide failsafe protection against tribal depredations. Nonetheless the depradations have continued resulting in blackouts in all provinces sometimes for as long as 16 hours.
In an attempt at pacification of the local population (and supposedly wean them away from the Balochistan Nationalist Army influence) the Pakistan Army has recently started a programme to recruits local boys to the Pakistan Army, Several thousand have been recruited but it what appears to an element of suspicion about the Baloch youth and abundant caution it does not train the new recruits at the Baloch Regimental Centre at Abbotabad but in cantonments in Quetta and Sui.
One reason for this may well be that in Quetta and along the Balochistan-Afghanistan border there are large number of Pashtoon tribes who are well armed and deeply involved in the insurrection in Afghanistan. It is for this reason why that the Afghan Taliban led by Mulla Omar operates from this area and hence the name “Quetta Shura”.
It is this “Pustoon” element that is also being used by the Pakistan Army to try and dominate the Balochistan landscape. One of the main pillars of Musharraf’s Balochistan policy was to pit the Pushtoon tribals, who are generally considered to be “outsiders” against the indigtenous Baloch tribals.
Very often contending claims by Baloch and Pushtoon tribals has held up exploitation of mineral resource for the betterment of the local population. One such was the coalfields at Chamalang where exploitation was impossible because of the contending claims of the Pushtoon Loni and the Baloch Marri tribes. The project was only allowed to take off after the Pushtoon interests were accommodated.
Today there is a flourishing township, a large imported labour force and wage-earning facilities for the local Baloch. To the exchequer went more than Rupees five billion.
However, the fact that much of Baloch aspirations are far from being met is apparent in the long blackouts suffered by the rest of the country.