Political History

The Baloch and Pashtun nationalist movements in Pakistan – III

The Colonial legacy and the failure of state policy

A new generation of Baloch leaders emerged who were influenced by Marxist guerrilla movements in other parts of the world.

Zia received billions of American and Saudi aid that allowed him to strengthen Sunni madrassas and provide funding for militants to fight the Soviets.

By Kriti M. Shah

Economic Exploitation

Deposits of natural gas were discovered in the Sui area of Balochistan in 1952 and piped to Punjab and Karachi soon after. Yet, it took 30 years for the gas supply to reach the capital city of Balochistan and that, too, because it was needed in the Quetta cantonment. At the same time, skirmishes were regularly taking place between the tribal guerrillas and the army, villages were being bombed, and rebel leaders arrested or killed. All this helped fuel anti-Pakistan sentiment.

Decades later, the sense of betrayal and exploitation that the Baloch have felt at the hands of the Pakistani establishment would continue. In the 1960s, a new generation of Baloch leaders emerged who were influenced by Marxist guerrilla movements in other parts of the world. They demanded the withdrawal of the Pakistani army from Baloch areas, the scrapping of the One Unit plan, and the restoration of a unified Balochistan. The movement was organized under the Baloch People’s Liberation Front and the fighting continued until Yahya Khan replaced Ayub Khan as Pakistan president and ended the One Unit plan. This led to the amalgamation of British Balochistan with the erstwhile state of Kalat, and thereby the merging of Pashtun and Baloch regions into one province of Balochistan.

Over the years, Balochistan has functioned as a Pakistani colony with its economy being run on the extraction of natural resources like minerals and hydrocarbon. The province, however, lags behind in physical and economic infrastructure, human capital, and investments. Moreover, the resources being extracted from its territory are processed elsewhere, leaving the people of Balochistan with little share of the revenues generated by the province.

In the tribal areas, the Pashtuns have been similarly neglected by the Pakistani state. The region is an important part of the Afghan poppy trade. The smuggling of illicit goods, including weapons and drugs across the border prompted the opening up of new trading and business opportunities for tribes in the region. As a result, posts in the Pakistani administrative and security apparatus in the border areas became highly lucrative, with agents getting a share of the profits being made by the smugglers. As Pakistan launched its military operations in the region, businesses and livelihoods were affected by the violence that followed, causing damage to the local economy. With no economic regulation or a proper judicial system, and with the explosion of militancy-related violence, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas or FATA suffered over the years, and today remain significantly underdeveloped.

Political and Military Oppression

The National Awami Party (NAP) defined Pashtun and Balochi politics in the early decades of Pakistan’s creation. Formed in 1957, the NAP included noted Pashtun, Baloch, Sindhi and Bengali nationalist thinkers and politicians, whose objective was for greater autonomy for the non-Punjabi populations of the country. In 1967, the party split into two factions over differences on how to achieve a socialist revolution. The pro-Soviet faction (which worked to achieve provincial autonomy in a democratic manner) was led by Wali Khan, the son of Gaffar Khan. In the 1970 election, the NAP-Wali faction emerged as the single largest party in Balochistan, forming a coalition government led by Sardar Atalluah Mengal along with the Islamic Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI). In NWFP, NAP-Wali put up an impressive performance as well. Fearing that NAP would make the western region especially Balochistan, another rebellious east Pakistan, then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto dismissed the Mengal government nine months after its formation, accusing it of undermining the state, exceeding constitutional limits, and getting involved with the Iraqis and Russians. The sacking of the government—first in Balochistan and then in NWFP—frustrated any idea of provincial autonomy and set the stage for Balochistan’s fourth rebellion, which would engulf the province for the next four years. The NAP would return in 1986, evolving into the Awami National Party (ANP), an entirely Pakhtun nationalist party working in the tribal regions, NWFP and northern Balochistan.

In the late 1960s, Pakistan consolidated the administration of the tribal regions with the inclusion of Dir, Swat, Malakand and Hazara in NWFP, and leaving the rest of the tribal areas as they were, declaring them to be Federally Administered Tribal Areas or FATA and placing them under the president. Administratively, it consisted of seven political agencies and six frontier regions that were controlled by political agents appointed by the federal government. However, the term “federally administered” is a misnomer as the tribal regions are not federally administered at all. Constitutionally, Islamabad has never maintained legal jurisdiction over more than 100 meters to the left and the right of a few paved roads in the tribal areas.

Beginning in the early 1970s, the Pakistan government began a massive social engineering experiment in the north. President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq pursued a policy of Islamization, giving orders for instance for the construction of thousands of madrasas in the Pashtun areas. These emphasized the importance of Islam over ethnic identity and were largely funded by private Saudi agencies. The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 intensified this policy, changing the nature of the western border permanently. Pakistan began supporting the Afghan resistance with material and financial support from the United States and Saudi Arabia. America’s interests were limited to stopping the spread of Soviet communist influence; for its part, Saudi Arabia, equally driven by the Iranian Revolution, worked to promote conservative Wahhabi Sunni Islam.

Zia received billions of American and Saudi aid that allowed him to strengthen Sunni madrassas and provide funding for militants to fight the Soviets. The promotion of Islamic identity and ideology during this time, created an atmosphere for the rise of the mullah or Islamic cleric, as a powerful leader. In the tribal areas, the mullahs engaged in misinformation campaigns, brainwashing and recruiting fighters from local mosques and madrassas for jihad. Jamaat-e-Islami, a radical Islamist party based in Peshawar at the time, was the first location for Saudi ‘charities and religious organizations’ to donate money, allowing the Saudi state to distance itself from the notion that it was officially supporting jihad. The war would reinforce the role of the madrassas as the first step in the process of recruiting and training fighters for jihad.

With the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, thousands of mujahedeen across the Durand Line fought for power in Kabul. From 1996-2001, the Taliban, a predominantly Pashtun, Islamic fundamentalist group came to power. Backed by massive support from Pakistan, the group rose to power and led the continuing deconstruction and dismantling of traditional tribal structures, particularly in the Pashtun tribal areas. While majority of the commanders of the Taliban were Pashtun, the group has never reflected traditional Pashtun thinking and customs, nor does it seek to represent the interests of all Pashtuns. In the years that followed, the Taliban would enforce their strict policies on Afghanistan: they imposed strict Islamic laws, forbade women from attending educational institutions or working, and banned television, music and non-Islamic holidays. The Taliban also provided sanctuary to al-Qaeda, the group responsible for the September 11 terror attacks that would force the United States to return to South Asia, fight in Afghanistan and make deals with Pakistan.

(Continues)

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About the Author

Kriti M. Shah is an Associate Fellow in the Department of Strategic Studies at the Observer Research Foundation. Her research primarily focuses on Afghanistan and Pakistan, where she studies their domestic politics as well as their relationship with each other, the Taliban, the United States and the larger South Asian neighborhood. Her other areas of interest include the role of technology in fighting terrorism in Kashmir and the ongoing Pashtun Tahafuz Movement and its dynamic and tumultuous relationship with the Pakistani state. Prior to joining ORF, she worked as reporter for NDTV. She is a graduate of McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Courtesy: Observer Research Foundation 

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