On August 14, 1947, Pakistan gained its independence from Great Britain. Twenty-four hours later, the Union Jack would come down the flag pole in India for the last time. Thus is the story of partition told. However, this tale remains unfinished. The project of partition is not yet complete, even 60+ years after independence. I refer to, of course, the Baloch region of western Pakistan (although a similar claim can be made about Pashtunistan, it stands on weaker legs). Completing this unfinished story may well behoove India…or not.
In September 2006, the Grand Jirga of Balochistan, composed of over 95 tribal chiefs from Balochistan, Punjab, and Sindh, demanded that steps be taken to secede from Pakistan and make Balochistan a free nation. There is no room left for the Baloch nation to live in Pakistan now, the chiefs said, “Balochistan was an independent state and it was not part of united India. It was forcibly annexed to Pakistan and [the] Baloch nation was divided in three provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan [through] a conspiracy.” The new borders of the Baloch state would revert back to the pre-partition understanding of the Baloch region. This declaration did not arise from a vacuum – Baloch relations with their neighbours (Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) have been difficult in the best of times and have resulted in a series of clashes. Baloch sources claim that the Baloch question predates the demarcation of the Perso-Baluch and Baloch-Afghan frontiers in 1871 and 1895 respectively. In 1854, Britain entered into a treaty with the Khan, the ruler of Balochistan, in order to defend its territories against an external invasion from Central Asia and Iran. At the same time, the Qajar dynasty which was ruling Iran then, pursued a policy of expansion into Baluchistan in order to compensate for the northern areas they had lost to the Russians. However, in 1870, the British Government set up the Perso-Baloch Boundary Commission to address the border issue and in a deal with Iran (perhaps to keep them away from the Russians), agreed to partition Balochistan in complete indifference to the claims of Baloch tribal leaders, history, geography, and culture.
Baloch hostility to what they considered foreign rule has been in evidence since the early part of the 20th century – in 1932, the Baloch Conference of Jacobabad voiced itself against the Iranian occupation of Western Baluchistan. In 1933, Mir Abdul Aziz Kurd, a prominent national leader of Balochistan, showed his opposition to the partition and division of Balochistan by publishing the first map of Greater Balochistan. In 1934, Magassi, the head of the Baloch national movement, suggested an armed struggle for the liberation and unification of Balochistan. Although the Baloch chose to become a part of Pakistan when India was partitioned, it was with the explicit understanding that they would be an autonomous region within the new Islamic state. Since 1947, Baloch insurgencies have wracked the Pakistani government in 1948-52, 1958-60, 1962-69, 1973-77, and now most recently in 2004-2006. In fact, on August 15, 1947, a day after Pakistan came into existence, the Khan of Kalat (Baloch kingdom founded in 1638) had declared independence (but offered to negotiate a special relationship with Pakistan in the spheres of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications). Kalat’s independent status had been affirmed several times by the Muslim League and by the Kalat National Assembly. Despite this, on 1 April 1948, the Pakistan Army marched into Kalat and arrested the Khan. His brother, Abdul Karim, declared a revolt proclaiming the independence of Kalat and issued a manifesto in the name of the Baloch National Liberation Committee rejecting the accession to Pakistan. Karim hoped to obtain Afghan support since Afghanistan had objected to the inclusion of the Baloch and Pashtun areas into Pakistan and had even opposed the admission of Pakistan to the United Nations. However, Afghan help was not forthcoming as they were opposed to an independent Balochistan too. For Pakistan, Islamic Balochistan was an important part of Pakistan as they had claimed a separate state based on their Islamic identity. However, the farce of Muslim unity was exposed when Mir Ghaus Bux Bizenjo declared in 1947-48, “We are Muslims but it (this fact) did not mean (it is) necessary to lose our independence and to merge with other (nations) because of the Muslim (faith). If our accession into Pakistan is necessary, being Muslim, then the Muslim states of Afghanistan and Iran should also merge with Pakistan.”
Balochistan is important to Pakistan for more than its religious demographic – the province also holds large deposits of natural gas and minerals. One of the world’s largest copper deposits have been found at Reko Diq in Balochistan. Zinc, onyx, coal, iron, gypsum, gold, and other minerals have also been discovered in the province. Thus, despite being a backwater in the Pakistani state, Balochistan remains strategically (the port of Gwadar falls in Balochistan) and economically vital to Pakistan. Typical of the Punjabi ruling elite, Balochistan has been neglected as was East Pakistan and is therefore even today, a largely semi-arid region with little to show for human development. Literacy was around 20% as late as 1998, but has shot up to around 36% according to latest government statistics. Over 50 percent of its population subsists below the poverty line. In the FY 2004, the federal contribution to the provincial development programmes was 56 percent for NWFP, 28 percent for Punjab, 19 percent for Sindh and only eight percent for Balochistan. The share allocated in foreign project assistance (FPA) to Punjab was 53 percent, NWFP 29 percent, Sindh 12 percent and again only six percent for Balochistan. Nine of ten most deprived districts in Pakistan fall in Balochistan. A report commissioned by the Pakistani government shows that in 1998 the percentage of population living in a high degree of deprivation was 25 percent in Punjab, 23 percent in urban Sindh, 49 percent in rural Sindh, 51 percent in NWFP, and 88 percent in Balochistan. In 2005, the figures were: Punjab 28, Sindh 35, NWFP 35 and Balochistan 91.
Pashtunistan is another region that voted to join Pakistan during partition. In this region, there was actually a referendum and although the leaders of the region, Amir Mohammad Khan of the Khudai Khidmatgar group wanted to create a separate state, the people voted to join Pakistan. For whatever reason, Pashtun nationalists have not had as much trouble with Pakistan over the years. Indeed, they did not exploit Pakistan’s vulnerability during the nation’s 1965 and 1971 wars with India, and even backed Pakistan against a largely Hindu India. Nonetheless, Afghanistan supported the creation of a distinct Pashtunistan which could then be incorporated into the Afghan state. As a result, the Pakistani government under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto started supporting Islamist opponents of the Afghan government. Today, the Pashtun problem is more between Pakistan and Afghanistan than between separatist Pashtuns and the Pakistani state. Most Pashtun nationalists today demand simply that the Northwest Frontier Province be renamed Pakhtunkhwa. Nasim Wali Khan declared in an interview: “I want an identity…I want the name to change so that Pathans may be identified on the map of Pakistan.” On 31 March 2010, Pakistan’s Constitutional Reform Committee agreed that the province be renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
From an Indian perspective, there is a clear opportunity in Balochistan to foment separatist passions. In Pakhtunkhwa, perhaps the opportunity is yet to present itself. However, in the former case, there is much to be gained by covert Indian support to Balochi nationalists. The Baloch are quite fed up with the treatment they have received at the hands of the Pakistanis (and Iranians), and an independent Balochistan would be financially viable due to the resources it has. Most importantly, the separatist movement would keep the Pakistani army off India’s borders and preoccupied with the Balochis. If Balochistan were to become independent, not only would it deny Pakistan precious resources, but it would also deny them the strategic Chinese-built port of Gwadar, increasing the safety of Indian shipping lanes. The dismemberment of yet another Muslim-majority part of Pakistan (after East Bengal) would be a mortal blow to the Pakistani national myth of being the refuge for Muslims in the subcontinent. Given the history between the Balochis and the Pakistanis, it is unlikely that there will be any amity between them any time soon. With a strong and secular Afghanistan (if it is ever achieved) and an independent Balochistan, Pakistan’s energies would be tied down and dissipate from the Indian border.
The disadvantages of this policy are also numerous. Most importantly, India must realise that a separatist struggle will not be a battle fought out on an open field – it will be an insurgency and probably a bloody one at that. India’s Balochi clients will be, for all intents and purposes, terrorists. Supporting such groups is always tricky – not only will India lose the higher moral ground if ties between such groups and the Indian government are proved, India will also face difficulties internationally as a terror-sponsoring state. This may mean little for hawks in Indian policy circles; after all, wouldn’t India be paying Pakistan back in its own coin? Such thinking, however, is short-sighted. For one, India will have little to no control over the terror cells. If any of them choose to target U.S. or European targets to discourage Western aid to the Pakistani state, it could become a foreign policy debacle for India, especially with India’s attempts to become part of the international elite (the security Council seat and Indo-U.S. ties to contain China). Indian support to Balochistan would also mean souring of relations with Iran, given that Iran also holds a part of Balochistan and any free Balochistan on the Pakistani side would only encourage their brothers on the Iranian side. Admittedly, India has never had good relations with Iran. However, they have not been bad either, and it would not serve Indian interests to lose what little foothold it may have among Muslim states and the Middle East. It would also not be in India’s interests to push Iran closer to Pakistan. Another question Indian strategists must ponder is who will Balochistan turn to in order to defend its new independence? Will it be a terrorist-sponsoring Arabia? Will they maintain good relations with China and continue the development of Gwadar? The fact is, even if India were to assist Balochis form their own state, it is unlikely that it will be a democratic one. Balochistan has a reputation of being “unfriendly” to non-Muslims already – what are the chances that they will overcome their hatred of Hindus overnight? Lastly, India must also consider whether it would not be better to let Balochistan remain within Pakistan but keep it a festering wound. A Pakistan devoid of its extra baggage, if smart, can consolidate its Punjabi-Sindhi identity and emerge a stronger and more stable state, perhaps posing greater threat to Indian interests (it is unlikely that Pakistan will lose any of its nuclear arsenal to an independent Balochistan as the Russian inheritence of the Kazakh, Ukranian, and Bylorussian nuclear arsenals has indicated).
In any case, this question deserves some scholarly attention in India. It is hoped that such ideas are being discussed in South Block, even if they never see the light of day outside the offices of the select few Indian officials. Supporting the Baloch movement will be like riding a tiger. However, if it can be successfully managed, its rewards seem to be bountiful.