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The Rediff Special/ Alok Bansal
Why Balochistan threatens Pakistan
January 25, 2006
The extreme reaction to the innocuous Indian remark asking Pakistan to exercise restrain while dealing with its own population in Balochistan has clearly exhibited Pakistani vulnerability in Balochistan.
Balochistan has been Pakistan's Achilles heel.
The region is of importance to India as any pipeline bringing gas to India from Iran or Central Asia will pass through it. The ruling elites in Pakistan, in their quest for nationalism and national unity, have always tried to suppress any spirit of genuine federalism perceiving it as a prelude to separatism.
The main challenge to Pakistan's effort to have a unitary structure can be attributed to the extreme ethnic consciousness and a sense of strong socio-cultural identity of most of the ethnic groups residing inside Pakistan. In nearly six decades of Pakistan's existence the Baloch have always been out of the mainstream and that is why while the Pakhtoons gradually assimilated in Pakistani society with the passage of time, the Balochs moved away. The regional aspirations of various ethnic groups and their efforts to assert their sub-national identities poses a potent threat to the Pakistani State.
With the exception of Punjabis all other groups perceive themselves as Pakhtoons, Balochs, Sindhis or Mohajirs first and Pakistanis later. All these groups also suffer from a persecution complex and feel that they are being discriminated against by the Punjabi elite.
Contentious issues like the Kalabagh dam, distribution of Indus water and frequent dismissal of elected state governments have fuelled this feeling of alienation and led to the creation of Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement by various groups clamouring for regional autonomy and federalism.
Of all the sub-nationalisms, the strongest threat to Pakistan at present is posed by Baloch nationalism, which is again rearing its head after 30 years. The problem in Balochistan is potentially serious in that it seeks to generate separatist and nationalist sentiment within a culturally distinct ethnolinguistic group that had its own autonomous history and has not changed much under British rule.
Spread over 147,000 square miles, Balochistan comprises 43 percent of Pakistan's land mass but has only five percent of Pakistan's population. It also has immense natural resources and most of Pakistan's energy resources. Its location astride the oil lanes of the Persian Gulf, at the triangle where Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan meet, makes it geopolitically and strategically the most important part of Pakistan.
It commands nearly the country's entire coast -– 470 miles of the Arabian Sea. On the west, it borders Iran and after Peshawar, its northern border was the key staging area for the 'jihad' in Afghanistan.
It is a land that is ruled autocratically by its feudal lords. Historically, it has been a loose tribal confederacy, which owed allegiance to the Persian emperor and the Afghan kings at different times in history. The ethnic origins of the Baloch set them distinctly apart from the peoples of the Indo Gangetic plains.
The Pakistani establishment has rather simplistically attributed the violence in Balochistan to mainly two factors, one: the rejection of nationalist parties by the voters in the last elections and their consequent removal from power, and two: the apprehension of feudal lords that the mega developmental projects will expose the population to outside world and thereby weaken their hold on them.
However, a careful analysis of the events shows that ethnicity intertwined with a sense of political isolation and relative economic deprivation continues to be a potent force in evoking Baloch mobilisation. Such a feeling is more intense amongst the Balochs as compared to other ethnic groups in Pakistan for
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