Interviewed by Malik Siraj Akbar
Abdul Waheed Baloch is a former Speaker of the Balochistan Assembly, ex-chairman of the Baloch Students Organization (B.S.O.) and former Vice President of the Balochistan National Movement (B.N.M.). As a student at the University of Balochistan in Quetta, Mr. Baloch emerged as a leader, becoming the Central Secretary of the Pakistan Progressive Students Alliance. He led student delegations to meetings in India, Singapore and Karachi and Islamabad, Pakistan. He earned degrees in pharmacy and law, practicing criminal and civil law in Balochistan. He became a member of the central executive committee of the Balochistan National Party. He is former editor of the Balochistan National Movement’s publication, Juhd, or “struggle,” in Balochi, as well as the Baloch Students Organization political publication,Pajjar, meaning “Identity,” in Balochi, and its literary publication, Girok, meaning “Lightning,” in Balochi. Mr. Baloch now lives in self-exile in the United States where he serves as the executive director of the Baloch International League (for peace & freedom), a Washington, D.C.-based organization. He speaks Balochi, Pashtu, Urdu, English and Brahui languages. The Baloch Hal spoke to him exclusively about the conflict in Balochistan, its dynamics and the challenges.
How do you see the imposition of the recent governor’s rule in Balochistan?
Whether it was the Pakistan People’s Party government headed by Aslam Raisani or the governor’s rule led by Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, they were both meant to safeguard the interests of the Punjab-dominated federal government and the Pakistani Army. The real power lies in the hands of the Corps Commander, the Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.) and other intelligence chiefs. These people are not relevant when it comes to the policies and decisions about Balochistan. Both of them at different occasion have admitted the fact while sitting on Balochistan throne under Pakistani flag and constitutions. It does not make any difference to the sufferings of Baloch people, whether it is the governor’s rule or a Chief Minister installed under the 1973 constitution.
The federal government cited “bad governance’ and the lawlessness as the main reasons for the imposition of the governor’s rule. Do you think that was a genuine pretext?
Well, bad governance is an issue across Pakistan. Balochistan is not an exception. As time is passing, Pakistan’s ranking in corruption is moving upward among the corrupt countries. The pretext of corruption and lawlessness is another excuse to get away with injustices done to the Baloch people by the Pakistan government. Governor Magsi and President Zardari both were charged by the National Accountability Bureau (B.A.B.) during Pervez Musharraf’s regime in Iran Petrol case. Later on, General Musharraf brokered a deal with Zardari and appointed Magsi as the governor of Balochistan. The monitory corruption is the real issue. The real problem is that the people who ruled Pakistan over the years are mentally, intellectually and morally corrupt.
The history of bad governance in Pakistan dates back to its creation because the country was ruled by those who did not belong to the soil and came from India. They had no interests in and commitment with the people who had already lived on the land that was eventually called Pakistan. The problem with the governments in Balochistan is its small size which makes corruption easily noticeable. There is more at the federal level and in other provinces but, unlike Balochistan, that corruption goes unnoticed because it is hard to trace corruption over there.
Do you think the composition of the government in Balochistan would look different if the nationalist parties had participated in 2008 general elections?
I do not think it would have significantly changed the composition of the government. The federal government does not want to withdraw its interests in Balochistan whether the province is ruled by the nationalists or federalists. Pakistan’s interests are deeply attached with Balochistan. Until a new power emerges that contests Pakistani claims on Baloch land and resources, Balochistan’s relationship of slavery with Pakistan is unlikely to change. For instance, in 1998, when the Balochistan National Party was a part of the government, Pakistan wanted to conduct atomic tests in Balochistan, and it did so. We were not strong enough to resist Pakistani plans but as a result of our opposition to those tests, the BNP itself disintegrated. Pakistan pursues and achieves its interests in Balochistan through brute force. Having said that, I consider the Raisani government equally responsible for the killings of the Baloch people because his government did not even protest against all these rights abuses.
When you talk of Pakistan’s interests in Balochistan, what is your response to the recent handover of the Gwadar Port to China?
I think it had already been decided at the beginning of the construction that the Gwadar Port would ultimately serve the interests of Pakistan and China. Handing over the port for a temporary phase to the Port of Singapore Authority (P.S.A.) was a mere face-saving trick. If you look at the details of the contract signed between the government of Pakistan and the P.S.A. then it is clear that Pakistan deliberately did not follow the terms and conditions of the contract because Islamabad wanted to finally provide the Chinese an opportunity to come and take control of the Port. Islamabad knew that there would be public reaction and resistance from the international community (such as the United States and India) if the Chinese immediately took control of the Gwadar Port.
Islamabad often says Pashtuns also live in Balochistan and they account for the half of the population. The Pashtuns do not seem to have an objection to the federal government’s policies and decisions about Balochistan.
All Baloch nationalists, regardless of their political belief and organizational affiliation, have consensus on the fact that Pashtuns of Balochistan live on their own historical land, not on the Baloch territory. They have been forced to live with the Baloch as a result of a historic injustice done to them and to the Baloch. Balochs furiously fought against the Pakistani occupation of Balochistan and afterward under dominion of Pakistan for different causes and demands in particular times. To quash those demands, successive Pakistani governments tried to come up with concessions and bribes instead of political solution to the Baloch question.
In those hard times, Pashtuns usually sat on the sideline and watched, demanding more share in the doll, and/or silently supported the actions of the federal government against the Baloch. Even currently, when the Balochs are taking heavy toll in the hands of Pakistan army, the Pashtuns are beating the same old drum, demanding from rights from the Baloch despite knowing that the Balochs have no control over their own fate. In fact, the Balochs have suffered more because of that historic injustice.
There are also tensions between Balochs and the Pashtuns as to who owns and controls Quetta City. What do you have to say about this?
Some Balochs tend to remain silent when it comes to the status of Quetta. The City, before the Partition in 1947, was actually the home of some tribes. The indigenous tribes who lived in Quetta among the Baloch included the Shahwanis, Langoves, Lehris, the Sumalanis and the Raisanis while the Pashtun tribes included Yasinzais in Hana Odak, the Bazis in Nosar who were actually the domestic servants of the Raisanis.
If you look at the population of the Kasis in Quetta, they are still living in the old Kasi Qila area but there has not been a significant increase in their population. Likewise, if you look at the Shahwanis, Lehris, Jattaks and Bangulzais and Langovs of Qili Almo, Qili Shabo, Qili Ismail, the Sarmasthani Balochs in Nichari and the Marris in Marriabad, their population has not increased as significantly as the population of the Pashtuns because the Pashtuns in Quetta actually came from outside the city. For example, there is no increase in the population of the Pashtun Yasinzais in Hana Odak and the Pashtu-speaking Syeds of Shiekh Manda and the Bazais.
Demographic changes in Quetta were caused by the Pashtuns migration from neighboring districts, along with the Pashtuns and Hazaras from Afghanistan. If a genuine census is held in Quetta today, it will turn out that the Balochs are still in the single majority in the city.
Who do you think benefits from the violence in Quetta?
The attacks on the Punjabis and Hazaras in Quetta directly benefit the Pashtuns. If the Hazaras or the Punjabis leave Quetta, the Pashtuns would be the first ones to purchase their property and real estate. Even if Balochs leave a place, the Pashtuns buy their property. The violence in Quetta benefits the Pashtuns and it is backed by the Pakistani intelligence agencies and the Frontier Corps, which comprises of 90% Pashtuns and all their top officers, including the current and several past inspector generals were Pashtuns. There is coordination between the Pashtun political forces and the military to force the Baloch to withdraw from Quetta and even from Balochistan eventually by changing the demographic ratio.
What do you think the Baloch nationalists should do in such a situation?
I think it is the right time for the Baloch nationalists to assert their stance on Quetta. While a discussion has already begun in Pakistan about the creation of a separate Saraiki province, the Baloch nationalists should also put forward a demand that the Pashtun districts of Balochistan should be incorporated with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K.P.) Province, and Baloch historical territories in Sindh and Punjab return to Balochistan. However, I do not see the Pashtun leadership in Balochistan agreeing to this proposal. For example, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, the head of the Pashtunkhawa Milli Awami Party, has not demanded even on a single occasion that the Pashtun districts of Balochistan should be made a part of the K.P. although he should have taken advantage of the opportunity provided by the ongoing debate about the creation of a Saraiki province. The reason for this stance is because the Pashtuns want to claim equal benefits from the Baloch province and its resources. The Pashtuns have even a higher claim on Pakistan than the Punjabis as they want to simultaneously get benefits from the K.P. and Balochistan.
Do you foresee a confrontation between the Balochs and the Pashtuns in the future?
Absolutely. Pashtuns are the last checkmate move of the Pakistan government to Baloch and their movement. If the Balochs do not speak up on this crucial issue at this point, it is certainly going to be a major source of discontent and confrontation in the future. If the Balochs are unable to get absolute freedom from Pakistan at this point, their preference, while living within Pakistan, should be to exert maximum pressure on Islamabad to separate the Pashtun areas from Balochistan. If the Pakistani figures are correct that Balochistan is 60% Baloch and 40% Pashtun then one does not require an additional 60% to convert the Baloch into a minority on their own land. Only 20% population can totally change the face of Balochistan’s demography by including 20% more Pashtuns, Punjabi and Muhajir from Karachi and other parts of Pakistan as soon as the Gwadar Port becomes operational. We must keep in mind the fall of Karachi to the migrants of India, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Would you support the Baloch nationalists if they decide to participate in the upcoming general elections?
I am not opposed to the elections but the way the nationalist parties are approaching the polls, I see no benefits for the Baloch people in this process. If the nationalists fail to give a clear election policy before deciding to run for the race then there is hardly any difference between them and the other federalist, right-wing and pro-establishment political parties. Prior to going to the elections, the Baloch nationalists, particularly the Balochistan National Party, because people still have faith in the leadership of this party, Particularly Sardar Athaullah Mengal and Akhtar Mengal, should present a list of demands in front of Islamabad. These demands should focus on the Gwadar Port, seek the separation of Pashtun areas from Balochistan and integration of Baloch areas from Sindh and Punjab, propose Baloch people’s control on their natural resources and no compromise upon brining to justice all civil and military officials and political leaders responsible for the kill and dump policy and return of the Afghan refugees. If the nationalists do not make these demands and still contest elections then their participation simply amounts to validating and certifying the elections and endorsing the ongoing genocide of the Baloch people. Pakistan government and intelligence forces will try their best and utilize their all means to drag Nationalist parties, especially BNP in to these elections to validate their point of view against the Baloch movement. Nationalists’ participation without cause and demand will go against the interests of those who have been working for national rights and also cause problems for those who will raise Balochistan’s issue in the future.
On the other hand, armed groups made a major mistake by alienating these nationalist parties. It is like running on one leg. In my opinion political movement compliments not antagonize with the struggle, if it has clear objectives. They should have understood that even a weak or a moderate nationalist could still be a great help. Today, the armed groups and moderate nationalist parties are so divided that they have reached such a high level of confrontation that Pakistan is enormously taking advantage of their disunity.
What do you have to say about the new wave of religious radicalization in Balochistan? Is it going to cause problems for the Baloch nationalism in the future?
Baloch nationalism is very secular while Pakistan was founded in the name of Islam. So, the two ideas are clearly opposed to each other. They cannot coexist. Since Baloch nationalism contradicts the idea of Pakistan, Islamabad has used all methods to eliminate this movement. For this purpose, Pakistan has used radical Islam and also promoted tribal rivalries. Pakistan heavily depends on Balochistan and it is going to further accelerate radicalism in Balochistan to make sure that Baloch nationalism is contained by hook or by crook. To achieve this goal, the army is patronizing and arming tribal militias in sensitive areas to eradicate Baloch nationalist dissent.
What are the reasons what Baloch nationalists, despite facing repeated military operations and exploitation, still remain disunited?
Although we identify ourselves as nationalists, we are still tribal in our behavior. Tribalism is based on the perception that one tribe or tribal chief is superior to the other. Tribalism has impeded the Baloch movement from maturing and gaining strength.
Secondly, we are still inexperienced in the area of political dialogue. We do not communicate with each other, nor do we tolerate dissenting opinions. We will continue to face this problem until we get out of the cocoon of tribalism and individual king-size egos. We really need to learn to listen to different points of view. It is encouraging that more new people have joined the movement. The problem with the new cadre is its unwillingness to recognize diverse perspectives and also the tendency to unilaterally impose decisions on the others. Such behavior does not benefit the broader nationalist movement. We still are unable to distinguish between our friends and foes.
We must have the courage of re-analyzing our political strategy and tactics without fear of losing ground today among the masses for the sake of future accomplishments. It is very important for all Baloch forces to unite or at least start dialogue with each other. If there is willingness among various factions, we would be glad to mediate such efforts.
It is often said that the Baloch nationalist movement has an ambiguous vision. Do you agree?
No. Balochs are clear with what they want. It is very simple and proven that no other nation, government or an authority can rule another one by exploitation, subjugation or militarization forever. We want to be the master of our destiny. Even if we live in Pakistan, we still want an arrangement where the military has no political role, re-demarcation of the federating units, a provincial National Guard force to eliminate the chances of Martial Law or in case of illegal and unconstitutional exercise of authority from the federal government in the matters of the provinces. Provinces have absolute authority on their natural resources and have bargain powers with federal government and so on. All these and many other arrangement requires a new constitution and a new Pakistan based on equality and respect, where Balochs and other nationalities freely make their decisions. This is a wishful thinking because I see no possibility of the Pakistan military ever withdrawing from its political and economic interests.
The second option for the Baloch is to get their absolute freedom from Pakistan. Considering the brutalities and exploitation we have faced, there is no question that every Baloch wishes to become the master of his fate. However, the power that is required by the Baloch to attain that level of autonomy is still missing.
Published in The Baloch Hal on March 17, 2013