• Monday 13th July 2020

Mis)Understanding Balochistan By Mahvish Ahmad

(PkMAP), has been refreshingly critical of Nisar’s decision to equate the BLA and LeJ attacks. Unlike the National Party, which called a strike to mourn both attacks, the PkMAP’s secretary general, Akram Shah, pointed out that the residency was a “symbol of slavery.” Originally built by Sir Robert Groves Sandeman, the colonial British officer who ruled Balochistan until his death in 1892

When the Pakistan state looks at Balochistan–from Islamabad, or Raiwind, or Lahore, or from the commercial capital, Karachi–it assumes it has the right to decide how events in the country’s largest province ought to be interpreted. Certainly, it has had the power to silence the Baloch in the mainstream national conversation. Sometimes, the muffling of Baloch voices is deliberate: last, the offices of the Balochi newspaper, Daily Tawar, was ransacked and burned, allegedly by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). At other times, it is unintentional. Most observers and pundits sitting at the center in Islamabad take little time in understanding the province.

The failure to accurately understand the conditions in Balochistan was reflected in the pronouncements by commentators and activists last week as they lamented attacks carried out by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) in a way that appeared to treat both events as equal.

They are not.

On June 15, 2013, there were three attacks in Balochistan, Pakistan’s most resource rich, but sparsely populated, province. In the early hours of that morning, BLA separatists attacked a residence once used by Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Jinnah’s residency is featured on Pakistan’s 100 rupee notes, and is seen as a symbol of Pakistani nationalism in Balochistan. The attack left one police officer dead, and took place in Ziarat, 3 hours outside of the province’s capital, Quetta.

Later that day, the LeJ, a Sunni sectarian organization, carried out two separate attacks. A female suicide bomber mounted a university bus carrying explosives, killing 15 students, most of them women. They followed up the attack on the bus with an offensive against a hospital complex where the wounded had been taken. When it was over, 25 were dead.

It was the attack on a historical site, however, far more than the killing of the police officer at that location, or the targeted attacks on students and the wounded that drew the attention of Pakistani politicians. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, and Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed, decided to skip the funerals of these victims, instead choosing to visit Ziarat. The integrity of this quintessential symbol of Pakistani nationalism seemed to be their highest priority.

At a press conference on the attacks held by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) after the attacks, Pakistan’s ruling party failed to mention the LeJ, or the police officer killed at Ziarat. Social media feeds swelled with laments mourning the loss of the Quaid’s, or Jinnah’s, residency, at least in equal measure as, if not more than, they mourned those who lost their lives. The attack on the residency already has a Wikipedia page with far more detail—including domestic and foreign responses—than the shorter page dedicated to the attack on the students and patients of Quetta.

And, when Interior Minister Nisar appeared on the parliament floor, he insisted that a newly-formed Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probe both attacks—as if an attack on a building were the same as the loss of 25 lives.


The PML-N’s coalition partner in the National Assembly, the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), has been refreshingly critical of Nisar’s decision to equate the BLA and LeJ attacks. Unlike the National Party, which called a strike to mourn both attacks, the PkMAP’s secretary general, Akram Shah, pointed out that the residency was a “symbol of slavery.” Originally built by Sir Robert Groves Sandeman, the colonial British officer who ruled Balochistan until his death in 1892, the residency “reminded the Baloch and Pashtuns of the long period when they were slaves of [the] British empire.” Sandeman successfully established a colonial policy that turned the Khan of Kalat and Baloch sardars into agents of the British crown, in exchange for an allowance that covered their personal expenses. That policy persisted long after the creation of Pakistan. Balochistan did not become a full-fledged province until 1970, and the legal loophole that allows sardars to maintain a personal police force, the Levies, can be traced back to Sandeman himself.

Shah made bold remarks. But, there is a more complex issue at hand than Ziarat’s historical lineage.

To understand Balochistan and properly analyze the violence of these attacks, we must turn to the larger context of violence and counter-violence in the province. And, we must acknowledge that when it comes to exercising force, the state is just as bad as the militant organizations that we love to hate.


In Balochistan, Jinnah is seen as a man who ordered the Pakistan Army to annex Balochistan and force it to join Pakistan in 1948. The forcible inclusion of Balochistan in Pakistan ran counter to Baloch wishes: only a group of British-appointed tribal sardars in Balochistan’s northern Pashtun belt agreed to join Pakistan in a July 1947 conference, where neither the Khan of Kalat—then the ruler of the Kalat state in present-day Balochistan—nor its sardars were included. The only body, similar to a representative assembly was the two-chamber Kalat Assembly. It declared that Kalat did not want to join the new state. Only 29-years-old, Ghaus Bux Bizenjo, the father of the National Party (NP) leader, Hasil Khan Bizenjo, clarified.

“I do not propose to create hurdles for the newly created state in matters of defense, external affairs and communications. But we want an honorable relationship and not a humiliating one. We don’t want to amalgamate with Pakistan.”

The Baloch narrative does not end here.

In fact, the current Baloch uprising is the fifth in Pakistan’s history. This is not the first time that the Pakistani state has signaled an interest in negotiations. The Pakistan Army has, several times, promised safe passage to Baloch rebels in exchange for peace negotiations. Instead of living up to their word, however, our state’s security forces arrested and hanged Baloch rebels. One of the more circulated stories is that of 90-year old Nawab Nouroze Khan Zarakzai, the chief of the Zehri tribe, who led a strong guerilla force of 750 to 1000 men. According to the Baloch, the army had promised the abolition of the One Unit Plan, a return of the Khan of Kalat (whom they had arrested), and amnesty to the guerillas. But, when Nouroze Khan returned with his men, they were arrested and his son and five others were hanged on treason charges. The Baloch still memorialize the date of their hanging on July 15th every year. They call it Martyr’s Day.

Two years after losing East Pakistan—now Bangladesh—then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was set F-14 fighter jets with Irani pilots by the Shah of Iran, Muhammad Reza Shah Pehlavi, to carry out operations in Balochistan. One brigadier, who took part in the 1973 operation in Balochistan, told me that his unit “sprayed bullets on a village to pacify the residents. We never got any trouble from them after that,” the brigadier grinned.

Bhutto also dismissed the democratically elected National Awami Party (NAP) government in Balochistan on charges of treason. Some of Balochistan’s most influential leaders, including Ghaus Bux Bizenjo, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, Sardar Attaullah Mengal, and Sher Muhammad Marri were tried in the Hyderabad Conspiracy Trial, which lasted from 1975 to 1979.

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