Frédéric Grare, Visting Scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
George Perkovich, Vice President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International
Frédéric Grare presented his paper, “Pakistan: The Resurgence of Baluch Nationalism,” which analyzes the conflict in a vast yet sparsely populated Baluchistan, a Pakistani province straddling Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan
Addressing the developments since the printing of his paper, Grare emphasized that the possibility of a military intervention in Baluchistan has now materialized. Grare introduced his paper by outlining Baluchistan’s significance:
• Unchecked, Baluchistan can add to the volatility of the region.
• Baluchis live all across Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.
• There are two military bases in Baluchistan, used by the U.S. to fight the war on terrorism.
• Baluchistan’s subsoil holds vast mineral resources, 36 percent of Pakistan’s total gas production, large quantities of coal, gold, copper, silver, platinum, aluminum and most importantly uranium.
• Baluchistan is the location of Pakistan’s nuclear tests.
• A commercial and military port in Gwadar is under construction mainly with Chinese capital and labor. Chinese presence is perceived especially in India as a threat, and by others as a way for China to have an eye on the Middle East.
Grare explained the conflict in Baluchistan by answering three questions: what is the conflict about; who are the actors; what does it tell us about Pakistan today? Grare argued that the conflict in Baluchistan is essentially about three issues. First, the Baluchis have been denied a fair share of their natural resources’ revenues. Second, the Baluchis are demographically marginalized as manifested in the construction of the Gwadar port, the absence of technical schools and colleges in the region, and acquisition of land around the Gwadar port by Pakistan Navy and Coast Guard at a minimal, below the market price. Third, the feeling of dispossession and colonization of Baluchistan by Punjab through a predominantly Punjabi army has been reinforced through the building of cantonments in the three most sensitive areas of Baluchistan: Sui, with its gas-producing installations; Gwadar, with its port; and Kohlu, the “capital” of the Marri tribe.
Grare identified that the actors in the Baluch nationalist movement are not strictly tribal leaders. Additionally, the movement is not confined to tribal areas. The Baluchistan Student’s Organization (BSO), which represents educated, but underemployed Baluchis and the young educated middle class Baluchis in the Gwadar region have been changing the sociology of the region and also the meaning of the movement. Out of some 28 Sardars (tribal chiefs), three are opposing the government—Khair Bux Marri, Ataullah Mengal, and Akbar Bugti. Marri and Bugti are fighting militarily. The three tribal chiefs now know that any division in the movement would be suicidal. Grare added that the Baluch “diaspora” in Pakistan could play a role in the Baluch nationalist movement.
Grare emphasized that ever since the start of the crisis, Islamabad has been spreading rumors about a “foreign hand” in Baluchistan. India has been suspected of wanting to forge an alliance with Afghanistan against Pakistan, the Baluch as well as the Pakistanis think that Washington would like to use Baluchistan as a rear base for an attack on Iran, and Iran is suspected of supporting Baluch activists in order to counter such a Pakistan-U.S. plot. Some Pakistanis perceive the U.S. using its Greater Middle East initiative to dismantle the major Muslim states and redefine borders in the region. Some Baluch nationalists charge the U.S. with conspiring with the Pakistan government to put an end to Baluch claims. So far nobody has been able to prove any of these accusations.
Grare pointed that the charges by Pakistan that the Baluch rebels are financed from abroad could serve to mobilize international support for Pakistan, particularly from the U.S., and neutralize opposition to a Pakistani military intervention. Hence these charges must be understood as part of a larger effort to discredit Baluch nationalism. Grare contended that given Baluchistan is an important center for the trafficking of arms and drugs that generates income capable of financing the supply of arms and ammunition to local armed groups, it is not certain that Baluchistan really needs outside financial support.
Analyzing the outcome of the secession of Baluchistan, Grare said that an independent Baluchistan will be unstable. For Pakistan it will be a loss of natural resources, strategic depth and testing facilities. Iran and Afghanistan, both with strong Baluch minorities in their territories, will be highly concerned by an independent Baluchistan because it could revive Baluch support for a Greater Baluchistan. A change of regional boundaries will not be favorable for India since it could stimulate irredentism in Kashmir and in the territories of the Northeast.
Grare concluded that the Baluch crisis epitomizes the army’s mode of governance and its relation with Pakistan’s citizens and world public opinion. Pakistan is a military dictatorship that still favors military solutions over political ones and the Pakistani government is using Islam and terrorism to forge the cause of Baluchistan crisis. Grare reasoned that the Baluch cannot expect to prevail over a determined and superior government. However, he perceived the risks of prolonged guerilla as quite real. For meaningful negotiations Grare recommended the building of trust between the Baluchis and Pakistani government. Not building the cantonments and increasing the unit price of gas accorded to Baluchistan would be useful places to start.
During the question and answer section, Grare was asked how the Pakistani government should negotiate with the Baluch middle class, which is more political and ideological than the Sardars who are more concerned with the preservation of their tribal influence. Grare responded that the middle class is still emerging and has not fully materialized. The government must negotiate with part of the representation which is in the provincial assembly and hope that these people will convey the message down to what is the real leadership of the movement. When asked if the military confrontation of BLA can be diffused by tactical concessions on issues such as the cantonments, Grare said that the Baluch are asking for no more than the respect of the 1973 constitution and tactical concessions on cantonments and the low unit price of gas accorded to Baluchistan are important initiatives for creating trust and having meaningful negotiations.
On the recommendations of the Parliamentary Sub commission, Grare said they were not implemented because of a lack of political will. The recommendations were neither revolutionary, nor sufficient to fully remedy the Baluch sense of dispossession, but if implemented they would be a step in the right direction. Grare was asked if he found in his research that as in Sindh, there is a growing acceptance in Baluchistan of the 1940 resolution (the backbone for the demand of Pakistan) as a reasonable compromise between the break up of Pakistan and a centralized dictatorial Pakistan. Grare emphasized that this is exactly what the Baluchis are asking for: the autonomy of Baluchistan within the federation.
With respect to the possible use of chemical weapons, Grare did not think this would significantly change the international involvement in the matter, for that would happen out of a larger concern for Western security and the stability of Pakistan, and the region. When asked about the need to construct cantonments and a port in the region, Grare said that these projects are enhancing the feeling of marginalization and dispossession in Baluchis and they must integrate the local population.
Summary prepared by Faaiza Rashid, Junior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace