By M.V. Kamath
Baluchistan is again in the news, but for wrong reasons. Truth to tell, it has not been as much in the news as it should have been. And it is somewhat intriguing that a civil war now being fought in Pakistan'slargest and most alienated province is not being covered fully, whether by the western news agencies or by the media, both in Pakistan and especially in India. The silence of the western news agencies is particularly stunning and suggests a deal between them and President Pervez Musharraf'sgovernment in Pakistan.
The current war, now being fought, is the fifth of its kind. Baluchistan'sthird civil war began in 1962 and ended in 1968 and was fought between Baluch tribals, Muslims all, and Pakistan'sparamilitary forces. It ended, expectedly, with the Baluchs taking huge losses in livestock through shelling and air attacks.
This, as Stephen Philip Cohen once noted, was merely a prelude to a far bloodier war at the peak of Baluchi separatism during the insurrection of 1973-75. This, the fourth war, had been sparked by the then Premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto'sdismissal of two local administrators, namely the powerful and respected Mir Ghaus Baksh Bizengo and Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal, on grounds that they were arming their followers.
The Baluchs could only field some 1,000 guerrillas armed with ancient rifles. But the Baluch casualties were three times that number, while 7,000 Baluch families were forced to take refuge in Afghanistan.
The current war, the fifth of its kind, began, innocuously in January 2003 when four Pakistani soldiers were alleged to have raped a doctor employed by the Pakistan Petroleum at the Sui gasfield believed to be among the largest of its kind in the world. When the authorities failed to file a case, Bugti tribesmen attacked the gasfield, but the fighting tapered off.
About that time, Musharraf issued a warning that if the insurgents continued fighting he will hit them so hard ?they won'tknow what hit them?. That comment did not help matters. The latest eruption of warfare started when the Baluchis made a rocket attack on a rally held by Musharraf in the town of Kohlu, last month.
A day later, according to reports, insurgents opened fire on a helicopter carrying the Inspector General of the Frontier Corps, Baluchistan, Major General Shujaat Zamir Dar and his deputy. What followed was routine. Pakistan'sFrontier Corps, backed by helicopter gunships launched a full-scale attack on the insurgents and one can be assured that when the fighting ceases, if it ceases, there will be heavy Baluchi casualties.
India, which usually maintains a discreet silence, last month expressed concern over what is going on in Baluchistan only to be told by Pakistan to mind its own business. Pakistan'sInterior Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao charged India with ?supporting the miscreants? and Pakistan'sformer Army Chief Aslam Beg and a former Chief of ISI, Gen Hamid Gul (retd) went further to charge both India and the US with fomenting trouble in Baluchistan. ?The terrorists who are fighting in Baluchistan are friends of India and foes of Pakistan. That is the only reason the Indian government has expressed concern against military operations in the province,? Gul said.
If Pakistan claims that Jammu and Kashmir has a right to autonomy if not independence, why should not New Delhi insist that the same right can also be claimed by Baluchistan and with greater justification?
In the first place may it be said that India'sofficial comment has been the minimal. In the second place, there is no reason why India should not make any comment considering that Pakistan has been actively interfering with India'sinternal affairs in Jammu and Kashmir since 1946. Indeed, though India has not been helping the Baluchi rebels with arms and equipment, it would be entirely within its rights considering what jehadi forces have been doing in Jammu and Kashmir. It is about time India made that clear to Islamabad. But it pays for Pakistan to make wild and vile charges against New Delhi. Thus, Musharraf himself told the TV Channel CNN-IBN that India was providing the Baluchi nationalist forces which he said were ?anti-government and anti-me? with ?financial support and support in kind?. This has been ridiculed by Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, who is now leading the Baluchi insurgents. He told The Hindu in a telephonic interview: ?What is the need for us to take anything from anyone? The weapons we are now using flowed into this region when the United States financed the jehad in Afghanistan. It was the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) which distributed them to Afghanistan, Iran, Jammu and Kashmir?and to us in Baluchistan.?
Apparently the ISI-distributed weapons are easy to get besides being cheap in the bargain. The point, however, to be noted is that Baluchi tribal leaders are fighting on their own and don'tneed Indian support. They have been fighting consistently in the past because they have a distinct culture and tradition and an autonomous history that does not permit Pakistani?in essence Punjabi military?dominance. As in the case of former East Bengal, Baluchistan has no cultural affiliation with Pakistani Punjab; indeed Baluchis resent the Punjabis? domination and Islam is not?and never has been?a binding factor.
Baluchistan, incidentally, constitutes 42 per cent of Pakistan'slandmass and if Baluchistan succeeds in winning independence, as did East Bengal, then it won'tbe long before Sindhis, too, claim independent status. And that would reduce Pakistan to a joke. Musharraf is acutely aware of it. But will the Baluchs succeed?
If Stephen Cohen is to be believed ?Baluchistan is an unlikely candidate for a successful separatist movement, even if there are grievances, real and imagined, against a Punjab-dominated state of Pakistan? because ?it lacks a middle class, a modern leadership and the Baluchs are a tiny fraction (about five per cent) of Pakistan'spopulation and even in their own province are faced with a growing Pashtun population.? Also, according to Cohen, ?neither Iran nor Afghanistan shows any sign of encouraging Baluch separatism because such a movement might encompass their own Baluch population.?
Even worse, Baluchs have little domestic resources. In the circumstances it would make no sense for India to encourage Baluchi separatism unless the idea is just to keep the Pakistan Army engaged. That by itself is not a bad idea. Indeed it should be prescribed tactic to tell Islamabad that interfering in the internal affairs of one'sneighbour is a game at which two can play.
If Pakistan claims that Jammu and Kashmir has a right to autonomy if not independence, why should not New Delhi insist that the same right can also be claimed by Baluchistan and with greater justification? Meanwhile what is clearly evident is that Jinnah'sTwo-Nation Theory stands entirely exposed. Think this over, General Musharraf.