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Balochistan Insurgency

InsurgencydatesTribal Leaders
First Conflict1948Mir Ahmad Yar Khan
Second Conflict1958-59Nawab Nowroz Khan
Third Conflict1963-69Sher Mohammad Bijarani Marri
Fourth Conflict1973-77Nawab Khair Baksh Marri
Fifth Conflict2004-to dateNawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Mir Balach Marri

On Eighteenth Century French maps, this part of the world is marked "Terre des Balodges, feroces et guerrieres," land of the Baloch, fierce and warlike. Not much has changed. In the sixty years since it was incorporated into Pakistan, Balochistan has generated countless independence movements and uprisings, peaking in 1971 - 74 when then-Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto sent in helicopter gunships and thousands of Baloch rebels died.

Which Mel Gibson movie provides the greatest insight into Balochistan. At first glance, it might seem to be "We Were Soldiers" (2002). The story of the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War depicts a fight between a "liberation front" [of which Balochistan seems to have no shortange], and a regular conventional army. But this construct is far too modern and Western, too post-enlightenment normal. Turning to "The Patriot" (2000), a reluctant South Carolina farmer (Mel Gibson) is forced to fight the British in this epic adventure of the American Revolution. The film is marred by historical inaccuracies, but comes a bit closer to Balochistan's all-around mayhem. The movie "Apocalypto" (2006) probably takes things a bit too far back in time.

But the movie "Braveheart" (1995), in which William Wallace (Mel Gibson) leads an insurrection of Scottish highlanders against the English king, seems about right. While the movie depicted a highly romanticised version of William Wallace, the squabbling politics of the movie's highlander clan leaders ring true, and the conflict between vicious hightlanders and a vicious low-land monarchy are a useful metaphor for the Baloch conflict.

There are roughly half a dozen active militant outfits in Balochistan, although it is probable that these are overlapping factions operating under different names. The names attributed to these militant outfits constitute a falacy of mis-placed concreteness - they are in reality nom de guerre for various tribal militias. Thus the internal dynamics of these outfits are a product of family feuds, rather than ideology or strategy.

The power of the tribal Sardars and Nawabs (Chiefs) remains strong among many Baloch, and many tribal leaders still use this to resist the control of the central government, a pattern that dates from Balochistan's absorption into Pakistan in 1947 and 1948. Balochistan's history since Pakistan's inception is riddled with uprisings and insurrections followed by brutal repression from the center, with pockets of Baloch "liberation forces" carrying on the fight

Active named groups include the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA - a nom-de-guerre associated with Nawab Marri], the Baloch Republican Army, the Baloch People's Liberation Front, the Popular Front for Armed Resistance, the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) and the Balochistan Liberation United Front [BLUF]. The BLUF was the most radical of the three Baloch separatist groups.

Baloch nationalist / tribal leaders consider large-scale initiatives to develop the region as a threat to their influence. President Pervez Musharraf accused the leading tribal chiefs of the Baloch tribes of Bugti, Marri and Mingal of playing a direct role in the mounting insurgency. While nationalism has been a common Baloch cause, militant activity has generally been led by the Bugti, Marri and Mengal tribes. Currently, the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), directed by Brahamdagh Bugti from Kabul, was the Bugti tribe's leading insurgent group. The Bugti tribe is predominant in Dera Bugti district. The Marri tribe, traditionally based in Kohlu district, has been associated with the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF).

The Mengal tribe, with a strong presence from Lasbella to Khuzdar district, has been relatively moderate during the nationalist insurgency. The Mengals had been associated with militant groups such as the Balochistan Liberation Organization (BLO), the Baloch People's Liberation Front (BPLF), and more recently, Lashkar-e-Baloch (this also the name given to the BNP-M group that planned to participate in the aborted 2006 march across the province).

Many believed that the elusive Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is actually an avatar of the militia of Nawab Khair Bux Marri. His militia was also estimated at roughly 5,000 men, and was usually considered the have the best-trained and most hardcore fighters. While the Government of Pakistan frequently referred to Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti as head of both the BRA and the BLA, there were conflicting reports about BLA leadership since the 2007 death of BLA leader Mir Balach Marri.

The federal government banned five Baloch organisations including the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Lashkar-e-Balochistan (LB) and Baloch Musalla Difa Organization. Interior Minister Rheman Malik said the five organisations were involved in suicide attacks, rocket attacks and killing of innocent people. He said no organisation using the name of "army" or "lashkar" would be allowed to work in the province and the security forces would launch targetted operation[s] against them. He said the State Bank of Pakistan had been asked to freeze the accounts of these organisations. Baloch separatist organisations often did not allow civil society outfits and non-Baloch political parties to freely carry out their activities in the province.'

Balochistan Liberation Army is a listed terrorist organization not only under the law of Pakistan but also other countries including the UK. Balochistan House is said to be an affiliate of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). The Baloch are the indigenous peoples of Baluchistan which is split between the Pakistani province of Baluchistan and Iranian Baluchistan although the majority of this ethnic group live in Pakistan.

Some nationalist leaders admit that calls for Baloch independence are nothing more than political rhetoric, and that they really want a voice in the province,s development and a greater percentage of the revenues generated by the province's natural resources. The concerns and demands of the people of the Makran Coast, where the seaport of Gwadar is located, differ from those of the tribes of eastern Balochistan, home of the province's natural gas and coal fields. The coastal region is not dominated by tribal sardars as is the eastern quarter. It is less tribal, better educated, more middle class and politically aware than the rest of province.

Southern Pakistan's Baluchistan region is one of the most rugged and remote lands in the world. Pashtunistan and Baluchistan have long complicated Afghanistan's relations with Pakistan. Controversies involving these areas date back to the establishment of the Durand Line in 1893 dividing Pashtun and Baluch tribes living in Afghanistan from those living in what later became Pakistan. Afghanistan vigorously protested the inclusion of Pashtun and Baluch areas within Pakistan without providing the inhabitants with an opportunity for self-determination.

In 1897 the wave of unrest which passed down the frontier, made itself felt in Baluchistan. A movement among the Sarawan chiefs, which might have had serious consequences, was averted by the arrest and imprisonment of two of the ringleaders. In the same year an outbreak occurred in Makran, and British troops engaged the Makran rebels at Gokprosh in January 1898 and the ringleader with many of his followers were slain. Another outbreak occurred in Makran in 1901, which was also put down by British troops by the capture of Nodiz fort.

Since 1947, this problem has led to incidents along the border, with extensive disruption of normal trade patterns. The most serious crisis lasted from September 1961 to June 1963, when diplomatic, trade, transit, and consular relations between the countries were suspended.

Divided in the nineteenth century among Iran, Afghanistan, and British India, the Baloch found their aspirations and traditional nomadic life frustrated by the presence of national boundaries and the extension of central administration over their lands. Moreover, many of the most militant Baloch nationalists were also vaguely Marxist-Leninist and willing to risk Soviet protection for an autonomous Balochistan.

Inspired in part by the Sardars [tribal chiefs] who fear loss of power if the province develops economically, the movement has at times threatened the integrity of the Pakistani state. Grievances harbored by the Baluch stem from their economic deprivations. Baluchistan has economic resources which the successive federal governments have exploited without either due acknowledgement of Baluchistan's contribution to the national economy or recompense in monetary or financial measures. Natural gas deposits were found in the Sui area in 1953 and in Pirkoh in 1982. The natural gas deposits of Baluchistan cater in a very large measure to the running of industries, factories, businesses and domestic usage in all of the provinces of Pakistan. The Baluch nationalists claim that the royalties received from these projects are next to negligible.

Baloch nationalists demanding greater political rights, autonomy and control over their natural resources, have led four insurgencies - in 1948, 1958-59, 1962-63 and 1973-77 - which have been brutally suppressed by the army. Now a fifth is underway and this time the insurgents have gone a step further and are striving for seccession. Violence in Baluchistan historically has been the product of several factors: a fiercely independent Baluch people that eschew outside interference; the lasting legacy of British policy; mismanagement by ruling Pakistani regimes; and historical grievances that have allowed Baluch leaders to mobilize support for their nationalist cause. The most recent surge of violence in Baluchistan is a result of a change in the relationship between the central government and Baluchistan brought about by the province's growing strategic significance.

The province of Baluchistan, which borders both Iran and Afghanistan, remains notorious for cross-border smuggling and has more recently been infiltrated by former members of the Taliban and Al Qaida operatives. Armed battles between clans are frequent. Because the provincial police presence is limited, travelers wishing to visit the interior of Baluchistan should consult with the province's Home Secretary. Advance permission from provincial authorities is required for travel into some areas. Local authorities have detained travelers who lack permission.

Quetta, the provincial capital, has experienced serious ethnic violence that has led to gun battles in the streets and the imposition of curfews. The North West Frontier and Baluchistan remain feudal holdouts. President Pervez Musharraf had to undertake delicate balancing to carry out operations against al-Qaeda in these areas. There was talk of rising secessionist feelings in Baluchistan.


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Page last modified: 09-07-2018 12:55:42 ZULU