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Balochistan Insurgency - Fourth conflict 1973-77

led by Nawab Khair Baksh Marri

Bhutto dismissed the coalition government of Baluchistan in 1973 on the grounds of its alleged encouragement of a secessionist movement, smuggling and opposition to modernization. Opposition leaders were arrested and jailed, and in 1976 the sardari 'tribal chief' system was abolished. Meanwhile the war had escalated; by 1974 it was reported that as many as 55,000 Baluchis were fighting some 70,000 government troops. It is estimated that over 5,000 insurgents and 3,000 government troops were killed. The insurgency continued fitfully until the fall of the Bhutto government in 1977 and the subsequent release of jailed leaders of the region.

In 1972, major political parties from a wide spectrum of political ideology united against the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (the then President of Pakistan) and formed the National Awami Party NAP, which demanded more representation for the ethnic Baloch in the government. This did not sit well with Bhutto's approach, seen by some as elitist and authoritarian. In February 1973, in the presence of news media and the Iraqi ambassador to Islamabad, the police opened a consignment of Iraqi diplomatic pouches containing arms, ammunition and guerrilla warfare literature. The Pakistani intelligence agencies claimed these arms were en route to the Baloch (Marri) insurgents of Balochistan. Citing treason, Bhutto subsequently dismissed the provincial government of Balochistan and imposed governor rule. Secretly, the intelligence agencies as well as Bhutto knew the real intended party of the arms consignment were the ethnic Balochs of Iran. This was Iraq's response to Iran's support for the Kurds in northern Iraq. Dismissal of the provincial government led to armed insurgency. Khair Bakhsh Marri formed the Balochistan People's Liberation Front (BPLF) which led large numbers of Marri and Mengal tribesmen into guerrilla warfare against the central government. According to several authors, the Pakistani military lost 3,000 to 3,300 soldiers during the conflict with the Balochi separatists, while the Balouch lost 7,300 separatists, during this period are estimated at 8,000.

The Iraqi government provided support for Baluchi separatists in Pakistan, hoping that their conflict would spread into Iran. Iraq provided the Baluchis with arms, and it opened an office for the Baluchistan Liberation Front in Baghdad. Soon thereafter, a Baluchi insurgency which lasted until November 1977 broke out. Tehran supplied Islamabad with AH-1 (Cobra) helicopters and crews.

A long-dormant crisis erupted in Balochistan in 1973 into an insurgency that lasted four years and became increasingly bitter. The insurgency was put down by the Pakistan Army, which employed brutal methods and equipment, including Huey-Cobra helicopter gunships, provided by Iran and flown by Iranian pilots. The deep-seated Baloch nationalism based on tribal identity had international as well as domestic aspects. As the insurgency wore on, the influence of a relatively small but disciplined liberation front seemed to increase.

By early 1974, an armed revolt was underway in Baluchistan. In northwest Pakistan, populated mainly by ethnic Afghan-Pashtuns, insurrectionist sabotage was a common occurrence. The extent of the Daoud regime's involvement in these insurrections has been a matter of some debate, but he clearly was allowing Baluch resistance fighters to set up bases in Afghanistan. To retaliate against Afghanistan's actions, Pakistan provided funds, material and weapons to Islamic fundamentalist organizations and other anti-Daoud Afghan extremists conducting raids and sabotage inside Afghanistan, and was providing sanctuary to Pashtun dissidents who were under warrant of arrest in Pakistan. Iran, because of its own sizable Baluch community, had its own motives for seeing the armed revolt in Baluchistan quelled, and provided Pakistan with US helicopters for use in this effort. According to at least one source, these actions by Iran were carried out in "loose collaboration" with the US.

Bhutto was able to mobilize domestic support for his drive against the Baloch. Punjab's support was most tangibly represented in the use of the army to put down the insurgency. One of the main Baloch grievances was the influx of Punjabi settlers, miners, and traders into their resource-rich but sparsely populated lands. Bhutto could also invoke the idea of national integration with effect in the aftermath of Bengali secession.

External assistance to Bhutto was generously given by the shah of Iran, who feared a spread of the insurrection among the Iranian Baloch. Some foreign governments feared that an independent or autonomous Balochistan might allow the Soviet Union to develop and use the port at Gwadar, and no outside power was willing to assist the Baloch openly or to sponsor the cause of Baloch autonomy.

To retaliate against Afghanistan's actions, Pakistan provided funds, material and weapons to Islamic fundamentalist organizations and other anti-Daoud Afghan extremists conducting raids and sabotage inside Afghanistan. A former member of Pakistan's government at the time has insisted that these operations were not intended to overthrow Daoud but to force him to negotiate. This could explain why Iran, at the same time it was offering economic aid to Daoud and pressing him to resolve theconflict with Pakistan, was also supplying US weapons and equipment to the insurgent groups in Afghanistan. Some of this material went through Pakistani channels and some passed directly to groups operating in western Afghanistan. Iran, because of its own sizable Baluch community, had its own motives for seeing the armed revolt in Baluchistan quelled, and provided Pakistan with US helicopters for use in this effort.

During the mid-1970s, Afghanistan was preoccupied with its own internal problems and seemingly anxious to normalize relations with Pakistan. India was fearful of further balkanization of the subcontinent after Bangladesh, and the Soviet Union did not wish to jeopardize the leverage it was gaining with Pakistan. However, during the Bhutto regime hostilities in Balochistan were protracted. The succeeding Zia ul-Haq government took a more moderate approach, relying more on economic development to placate the Baloch.

In early April 1973, about six weeks after the ouster of the NAP Government in Baluchistan the hostilities were at their peak under Sher Mohammad Marri's trusted lieutenant Mir Hazar. Pitched against them were three divisions of the Pakistan Army in Central and Eastern Baluchistan covering Sarawan/Jhalawan and Marri-Bugti area. The insurgents were commanded by seventy two years old Laung Khan. The Army cleared the villages in this sector fairly easily: but, it faced stiff resistance at Mali, the Sector Headquarters of Laung Khan. In the operation Laung Khan and other Baluch were killed. The army suffered 14 casualties.

The insurgency remained at a high pitch during 1974. In July 1974 the rebels were blocking gravel roads linking Baluchistan with the neighbouring provinces of Punjab and Sind. But the roads leading to NWFP were safe. These roads passed through Pathan majority areas in the north east of Baluchistan. On some occasions traffic on the meter-guage Harnai-Sibi rail link, was also obstructed. Likewise oil and gas survey and drilling teams operating in the Marri-hugti areas were attacked. The insurgents seemed to be well-trained in guerrilla warfare and spared no opportunity to attack Army convoys and camps. The area of operations extended from the town of Dera Ghazi Khan in the Punjab to Sibi, south of Quetta and from Dadu in Sind to Nushki, close to the Afghan border. In the area of their operations the army convoys moved under protection and prior picketting of the routes was resorted to.

On September 3, 1974 about a year after Mali Operation army launched "Operation Chamalang". It lasted three days. In this operation helicopters were also used, some flown by Iranian pilots. Pakistan Air Force, was employed for shock action, spotting and essential straffing. The army claimed 120 guerrillas were killed and 900 captured. This was the bloodiest encounter record in Baluch insurgency which broke the back of the guerrillas. After this they started withdrawing to the hills. The Army followed them. In the mopping up operation the rebells were flushed out of hideouts and a large number were made to surrender. Many escaped to Afghanistan. Their sancturies dried up and the army encirclement became all the more effective.

It was a war of attrition in which the guerrilla with favorable factors like difficult mountainous terrain, poor communications, their good knowledge of the ground, friendly locals and secure sanctuaries were fighting a highly efficient army. Ultimately the Army had the better of the exchanges. The Army had the expertise, greater mobility, fire power and resources, including helicopters and fighter-bombers.

Under altered realities Mir Hazar Ramkhani changed his strategy. In late 1975, he along with some other commanders moved out to Afghanistan and made a number of sanctuaries along the cemmon border. From there they mounted cross-border raid; when ever an opportunity lent itself to them. This was done with the assistant of the Afghan government. They had five bases: One each in Kandahar and Kalat Ghilzai and three close to Pakistan border, opposite Dohmandi, Chaman and Gulistan. The later three served as forward bases, while the base in Kandahar was made the main headquarters for supply of arms, equipment and training. The Kalat Ghilzai base served as an intermediary base for the forward bases. These bases were described as 'refugee camps', to stave off criticism and complaints from Islamabad and the rest of the world. On the other hand Afghanistan build up pernicious propaganda by attributing atrocities to Pakistan resulting in exodus of a large number of laluch as refugees across the Durand Line. This was envisaged by Kabul to divert attention of other countries from its own interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan.

With the moving out of 'Ferraries' Headquarters to Afghanistan the guerrilla force level in Baluchistan declined and so did the level of insurgency. Government sources indicated that the insurgency had touched its highest mark in 1973, and then at the end of 1975. In all there were 178 major army encounters of which 84 took place in the Marri area in the year 1974. Others took place in Central Baluchistan, particularly in Sarawan and Jhalawan areas and in isolated areas like Nushki, Kharan and Turbat.

The Sardars still enjoyed a large measure of prestige and must be appeased. So a conscious effort was made to cultivate the highly politicised Sardar of the Bugti tribe, Nawab Mohammad Akbar Khan. He was installed as governor of the province. During his tenure of office army engineers constructed a highly useful road from Kohlu to Maiwand and from Fazil Chel to Kahan. The entire Marri area was thus effectively brought within the reach of government administration. Private buses started plying between Kohlu Agency and Dera Ghazi Khan, a border town of Punjab Province which was part of Baluch confideracy during the reign of Nasir Khar (1749-1817).Kholu was also linked with the district towns of Sibi and Kahan. By 1976, the army had constructed 564 miles of new roads, including the key link between Sibi and Maiwand. The road communication opened up the area to other provinces thus developing interprovincial trade and commerce.

Gradually the tribesmen started coming out of the Sardars' quarantine. Modern amenities, like medical aid, automobiles for_ passenger transport and schooling of children became available in the interior of Baluchistan for the first time. Land was also made available to tribesmen to settle down in the pursuit of peaceful life. This was in addition to liberal grant of agricultural loans and educational scholarships. It was estimated that about a billion rupees were spent in Baluchistan on development.

On 8 April 1976, Prime Minister Bhutto announced the abolition of Sardari System at a public meeting. This too was one of his political moves. Despite government reforms, land and other sources of production largely remained with the Sardars who continued to appropriate to themselves a generous share of government developmental funds. At the same time they opposed and blackmailed the government whenever they could. A highly opportunistic class, set of privileged people, since the days of Sandeman, who had been managing the successive governments both by aligning or opposing them. Their loyalties largely lay with their self interest; but it might also be said that they shared a common pride in being Baluch and had close connections with the elite of Afghanistan.


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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:26:56 ZULU