Might was right in days gone by, and the position of the party aggrieved was the principal factor in determining the price to be paid for blood; hence the compensation for a mullah, a said or a person belonging to a leading family was ordinarily double that for a tribesman. The ordinary rate of compensation (for a death) at present among the Jamalis, Golas and Khosas is a girl and Rs200; Umranis, a girl and Rs200 or Rs1,500 if no girl is given.
(District Gazetteers of Balochistan, 1906)1
Quetta is a garrison town in an oasis, on a high desert frontier. Windblown dust is everywhere, covering the world with a fine, gritty film, and turning the coarse grass and dry shrubs to a uniform grey, so that from the air it sometimes seems as if you are flying over the moon. Every now and again, whirlwinds stir the dust up into looming towers, which spread out and fall again in a stinging grey rain. At the end of the broad, straight streets of the cantonment, bare tawny mountains rise against the hard blue sky. In summer, the sun burns with a searingly dry heat. In winter, it is freezingly cold.
The kepis of the Foreign Legion would not feel out of place here, and as for the sola topees of the British Raj – well, they built the place. Their dead rest in the bleak, windswept Christian cemetery on the outskirts of the cantonment. Many of them are from the Welch Regiment, which served in Quetta in what seem to have been the especially unhealthy years of 1905 and 1906. By an odd chance, both the Welsh when they were conquered by the English and Indians when they converted to Christianity often took Christian names as their surnames. So Private William Hughes rests beneath the carved ostrich feathers of his regiment next to Martin Williams, a Punjabi Christian clerk. Pairs of old British cannon and mountain guns stand outside the gates of the Pakistani generals who have succeeded them; and many of the challenges that those guns were dragged on to this high plateau to face continue to face those Pakistani generals, though in new forms.
But Quetta, like Ougadougou or Fort Lamy, is today a garrison town with elephantiasis. For reasons that will appear, people in Balochistan are even vaguer about figures than in the rest of Pakistan, but the general assumption is that Quetta has between 2 million and 2.5 million people – almost a quarter of Balochistan’s sparse population. It contains not just the government and the military headquarters, but the vast majority of Balochistan’s institutions of higher education and almost the whole of whatever little the province has of manufacturing industry.
Like so many colonial creations, Quetta sometimes seems like a ship moored to the land on which it sits, rather than growing from it. Its ethnic mixture, its economy and its official and commercial architecture all differ radically from those of Balochistan as a whole and have always done. According to the census of 1901, there were more speakers of European languages (mostly British soldiers and their families) in Quetta than there were speakers of the local languages, Baloch, Brahui and Pathan. The biggest number of inhabitants consisted of Punjabis, followed by Urdu-speakers.
The city used to be known to its educated inhabitants as ‘Little Paris’. This is about as staggering a statement as one could well imagine, and not one that I would like to make in Paris itself – except perhaps to a Roman frontier official in Lutetia Parisorum 2,000 years ago, who might have seen some similarities. The notion of Quetta as Paris certainly brings home the distance between most of Quetta and the rest of Balochistan.
Outside Quetta begins the world which Quetta was built to quell and hold at bay: the world of the tribes. Drive out along the Saryab Road, and, between the edge of the city and the ridges that fringe the Quetta valley, you find yourself amid villages of yellow-grey mud, which from the outside could be the first human towns of the Middle East 12,000 years ago. Regular driving on the Saryab Road is not, however, a good idea these days. This is the poor Baloch area of Quetta, where the patrols of the Frontier Corps clash nightly with Baloch nationalist militants; quite apart from the threat of common-or-garden banditry and kidnapping. The tribal frontier is now within the boundaries of the garrison city, just as the tribal leaders sit in the government buildings of the cantonment.
On 11 August 2009, on which day the militants had vowed to hold their own Baloch Independence Day, I drove out on the Saryab Road with the Frontier Corps in a Flag March – an old British tradition which is exactly what it says it is. The soldiers hoisted large Pakistani flags on their jeeps and armoured cars and drove slowly up and down the road and around the outskirts of the city.
I asked an officer what all this was for. ‘To show everyone that we are still here, and no one is going to push us out,’ he replied. More specifically, the Frontier Corps was there to tear down any Baloch nationalist flags, which pro-independence parties had sworn to fly on that day. So beside the tribes, around them, and watching them from without and within sits another power in the land, the Pakistan army, flexible, pragmatic, restrained – most of the time; but implacably determined that in the end, and in all essential matters, its will should prevail.
However, since 2001, Balochistan has been menaced from another direction: the overspill of the war in Afghanistan, which has brought the Afghan Taleban to the Pathan areas of Balochistan – and Pathans make up as much as 40 per cent of Balochistan’s population, and are a majority in Quetta itself. According to US intelligence, much of the Taleban leadership itself, grouped in the so-called ‘Quetta Shura’, was still based in Balochistan in late 2009. So far, this hasn’t been bad for Balochistan. On the contrary, the Afghan Taleban seem to have struck a deal with the Pakistani security forces whereby they will not stir up militancy among the Pathans of Balochistan, in return for being left alone.
Given Pakistan’s problems with Baloch militancy, Islamabad considers it especially important to keep the Pathans of Balochistan loyal. This is an additional reason for the shelter that Pakistan gives to parts of the Afghan Taleban leadership in Balochistan. Until early 2007, local journalists told me, the presence of these leaders was so open that it was very easy for Pakistanis (not Westerners) to gain interviews with them. Since then, however, US pressure has made Pakistan more careful, and the ‘Quetta Shura’ has been moved out of Quetta to more discreet locations in the Pathan areas in the north of the province.
The Afghan Taleban’s presence risks provoking the US into launching the kind of cross-border attacks that have been going on for years in FATA to the north; and there is also the risk that US and British military actions in southern Afghanistan will lead to a major influx of Taleban fighters into Pakistani Balochistan. This could well be disastrous for the province.
If the Pathans of the province are stirred up against the Pakistani state, their latent tensions with the Baloch would also be awakened, above all concerning who should rule Quetta itself. Baloch nationalists who say that an independent Balochistan would be prepared to let the Pathan areas break away to join a new Balochistan fall very silent when you ask them what then would happen to Quetta. With Pathans against Pakistan and Baloch (and other Pathans), and Baloch against Pathans, Pakistan and Iran (and other Baloch), and Hazaras and others caught in the middle, that would have all the makings of a really unspeakable mess.
DISPUTED HISTORY, DISPUTED POPULATION
Balochistan is closely linked to the Sindh of the previous chapter – indeed, as previous chapters made clear, many ‘Sindhis’ and southern Punjabis are in fact from Baloch tribes, which retain their tribal loyalties and much of their tribal way of life. Like the Sindhis, the Baloch tribes worship saints and shrines, and most have so far been impervious to the appeals of modern radical Islamist thought. Neither the Islamist political parties nor the Taleban have made any serious inroads among the ethnic Baloch. There does however seem to be some Baloch support for the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba movement, which has carried out savage terrorist attacks on the Shia Hazara community in Quetta.
Balochistan is both much bigger and much smaller than Sindh – in fact it is both the biggest and smallest of Pakistan’s provinces. With 134,000 square miles and some 43 per cent of Pakistan’s land area, it is by far the biggest in terms of territory. With only some 9 – 11 million people and around 7 per cent of Pakistan’s population, it is by far the smallest in terms of people.
Until 2010, the Pakistani central state allocated its support to provincial budgets according to population, resulting in a very small share for Balochistan. By the new National Finance Commission Award of that year, however, the allocation was rebalanced to take account of poverty and revenue generation. This meant that Balochistan’s share went up from 7 per cent to 9.09 per cent, around 50 per cent above Balochistan’s share of Pakistan’s population. This was not nearly enough to satisfy more radical Baloch nationalists, but increased Pakistan’s appeal to more moderate Baloch.
The contrast between territory and population largely shapes Balochistan’s particular situation and problems. Balochistan’s huge territory is home to the greater part of Pakistan’s mineral and energy resources (with the colossal exception of the Thar coalfields of Sindh). Its tiny population means that it has little say in Pakistani national politics and little control over how its huge resources are developed.
Up to now, Baloch grievances have centred on the gas fields (of which the biggest are around Sui in Bugti tribal territory), which provide around a third of Pakistan’s energy. Disputes over benefits from the field for the local tribal population sparked the latest Baloch insurgency. In future the giant copper mine under development at Reko Diq in western Balochistan may also be a fertile source of anger.
Plans have long been under consideration for two great overland energy corridors taking Iranian, Turkmen and Persian Gulf oil and gas across Pakistan. The first would go to India, to feed India’s rapidly growing economy. Should a settlement between India and Pakistan ever permit this to be built, much of it would cross Balochistan. This would give Baloch militants great new opportunities for pressure on the Pakistani government; but, on the other hand, it would also give India a strong incentive to withdraw its support from those militants.
Another energy pipeline is already being built by China from Iran through Pakistan and across the Himalayas along the route of the famous Karakoram Highway. It is intended to help China to escape the threat of blockade of its seaborne energy routes by the US or Indian navies. The great new port of Gwadar which China built at General Musharraf’s request in south-western Balochistan (as part of what has been called China’s ‘string of pearls’ strategy in the Indian Ocean), near the entrance to the Persian Gulf, is intended as the starting point of that route. Gwadar could in future be of great benefit to the province in terms of Pakistani trade not only with China but with Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and India.
Together with the road from Karachi through Quetta to Afghanistan, Gwadar makes Balochistan of great strategic importance as a supply route to the Western forces fighting in Afghanistan. So far, however, the development of Gwadar has only led to bitter Baloch nationalist complaints that non-Baloch are being settled in Quetta and that ethnic Baloch are not benefiting from the port. Pakistani officials retort that the local tribesmen in fact sold their land for a great profit, and are living off the proceeds. As so often in Pakistan, objective truth on this seems impossible to determine.
The ethnic Baloch are certainly the least developed and least privileged of all Pakistan’s ethnic groups – or, at least, they are when they stay in Balochistan. Elsewhere, as noted, Baloch tribes which moved hundreds of years ago to Sindh and southern Punjab have provided a range of leading Pakistani politicians, including two presidents – Sardar Farooq Khan Leghari and the present incumbent (as of 2010), Asif Ali Zardari. This, however, has done almost nothing to benefit Balochistan itself.
Great dams (‘gabrbands’) from previous eras attest to the presence of civilizations long ago, but since the last round of climate change, Balochistan’s desert soil has not generated its own civilization. Instead, poverty has mixed with tribal tradition to keep the Baloch poorly educated and unable to participate fully in the economy, administration and development of their own province. This has been left to other ethnicities – who are then blamed by the Baloch for ‘exploiting’ them.
Radical Baloch nationalists see their nation almost as the Red Indians of the American West in the middle decades of the nineteenth century – their territory dotted with mining camps and patches of alien settlement guarded by the forts of the US cavalry, and in imminent danger of ethnic swamping and extinction. This is exaggerated, and for most of their problems the Baloch have their own culture and social structures to blame. It is true, however, that they have been dealt a rather poor hand by modern history, and that they have not generally been treated with vision or generosity by Pakistani governments.
Baloch legends say that they originally moved into their present territories from the Middle East. Modern nationalism by contrast has sought to claim that they have lived where they are now for thousands of years. One very curious feature suggests that some of them at least may in fact have been around for that long: the fact that the Baloch are divided between two different languages, the main one being of Indo-European origin like those of all the surrounding peoples, but the smaller, Brahui (or Brouhi), being largely Dravidian, which is the language-group of southern India, and – so it is presumed – of the Indus Valley civilization.
The Baloch, since records began, have been divided into several dozen tribes. At various times either outside empires or local princes exercised a loose hegemony over some of these tribes. In the late fifteenth century, the leader of one such short-lived tribal confederation, Mir Chakar, chieftain of the Rind tribe (1487 – 1511 CE), briefly conquered parts of Punjab and Sindh, laying the basis for large-scale Baloch migration into those lands.
However, the principality which Baloch nationalists regard as the historic Baloch national state was that of Kalat, founded in 1638 around another oasis like that of Quetta, fed by two natural springs (now dry because of tube-wells and the radical sinking of the water table). The British arrived in the region in the 1830s, and from 1839 to 1847 fought a fierce war with the Bugti tribe, which in many ways prefigured the present Pakistani war with the Bugti that began in 2005.
In 1876, the British frontier official Sir Robert Sandeman signed a treaty with the Khan bringing Kalat and its dependent territories under British suzerainty. According to the Pakistan state, this placed Kalat in the same position as the other princely states of British India, which after 1947 were voluntarily or involuntarily annexed to India or Pakistan. Baloch nationalists, however, claim that the relationship with the British empire was closer to that of the British protectorate of Nepal, which after 1947 became an independent state. There seems a good deal of truth in this – but, so far, the Pakistani army has been in a position to rule on this question.
The British put together the territories of what is now the Pakistani province of Balochistan for geographical, administrative and security reasons, but out of historically and ethnically disparate elements; in fact the province is almost as much of an artificial creation as Pakistan itself. Moreover, just as was the case with the Pathans and Afghanistan to the north, the British drew a frontier with a neighbouring state which cut the ethnic Baloch lands in two, dividing them between the British empire of India and the Persian empire to the west (with a small number in the deserts of Afghanistan to the north).
Baloch nationalists today claim a large chunk of Iran as part of the ‘Greater Balochistan’ that they hope to create – thereby guaranteeing the undying hostility of the Iranian as well as the Pakistani state. The Jundallah movement for the independence of Iranian Balochistan is active in the western parts of Pakistani Balochistan on the Iranian border, in alliance with the Baloch tribal gangs who smuggle heroin from Afghanistan to Iran and the Gulf states through Pakistani territory. Pakistani and Iranian officials both firmly believe (though with little real evidence) that the US and British intelligence services are supporting Jundallah so as to put pressure on Tehran over its nuclear programme. In October 2009 Jundallah killed several senior Iranian officers in a suicide bombing in Iranian Balochistan. The Iranian government accused US, British and Pakistani agents of being behind the attack. Pakistan hit back by arresting what it said were several Iranian intelligence agents operating in Balochistan.
However, in a sign of the hellish complexity of this part of the world, Jundallah and the Baloch smugglers are also responsible for smuggling weapons and recruits to the Taleban and Al Qaeda. Thirteen suspected international Islamist volunteers, including three from Russia (apparently Tatars), were intercepted by the Pakistani army during my stay in Balochistan. One was a doctor, seemingly on the way to boost the Taleban’s primitive medical services. I do not know what happened to them.
To the Kalat territories and those of the independent tribes, the British added Pathan territories to the north. These were taken from the nominal sovereignty of Afghanistan and, like the tribes of FATA, the tribes of northern Balochistan were split in two by the Durand Line drawn by the British to divide their sphere of influence from Afghanistan. They retain close tribal links to southern Afghanistan, and strong sympathies for the Afghan Taleban.
Some of the leading Pathan tribal families of northern Balochistan originated in what is now Afghanistan, and fled to British territory to escape from the ruthless state-building of Emir Abdur Rahman towards the end of the nineteenth century. After 1977, Pathan numbers in Balochistan were swelled greatly by a new wave of Pathan Afghan refugees, this time from the wars which erupted after the Communist takeover and the Soviet and Western occupations of Afghanistan.
Balochistan’s third major ethnicity, the Hazara, also fled from Afghanistan to escape from Abdur Rahman. They are Shia of Mongolian origin from the central highlands of Afghanistan, and between 200,000 and 300,000 of them now live in Quetta and a few other towns. The only moment when I thought that Quetta might be, if not Paris, then a transmogrified provincial town in southern France in a particularly hot summer, was when I visited the Hazara cemetery.
Like the Mohajirs of Sindh, their uprooting from their ancestral territory in Afghanistan has helped turn the Hazaras of Quetta into a remarkably well-educated and dynamic community (possibly also with the help of aid from Iran, though they deny this fervently). They have by far the best hospitals and schools outside the cantonment, and their cemetery breathes a sort of Victorian municipal pride in their community’s heroes. They are especially proud of their prominence in the Pakistani military, and of the fact that a Hazara woman has become the first female fighter pilot in the Pakistani air force. Tragically, though, their cemetery also bears witness to the many Hazara killed in recent years in anti-Shia terrorist attacks by the Sunni sectarian extremists described in previous chapters.
Finally, there are the Punjabi and Mohajir ‘settlers’ (as they are known by the Baloch), who moved to the region under British and Pakistani rule. Put all these other ethnicities together, and the ethnic Baloch (i.e. the Baloch- and Brahui-speakers) are at best a small majority in Balochistan. In Quetta itself, Baloch may be as little as a quarter of the population, with Pathans the majority. But nobody really knows for sure. In 1901 British officials conducted a census which recorded down to the last child the population of all but the most remote tribes in Balochistan. More than a century later, in 2009, the Commissioner Quetta Division could not tell me within half a million people the population even of Quetta itself. This, however, was not mostly his fault. Apart from the general weakness of the Pakistani bureaucracy when it comes to gathering information, the main parties among the Pathans successfully urged their Pathan followers to boycott the last census in 1998, in the hope that this would help the Pathan Afghan refugees to merge with the local Pathan population, become Pakistani citizens, and boost Pathan political weight in Balochistan.
This boycott meant that the official figure of 6.5 million people for that year (4.9 per cent of Pakistan’s population) was almost certainly a serious underestimate. According to the 1998 census, ethnic Baloch formed 54.7 per cent and Pathans 29.6 per cent, with the rest divided between Punjabis, Hazaras and others. But the Pathans claim to be 35 – 40 per cent of the population, and they may well be right. Almost as many ethnic Baloch live outside Balochistan as within it, though the figures are very hard to determine because many no longer speak Baloch but, while retaining Baloch tribal customs, consider themselves Sindhi or Punjabi.
Fear of ethnic swamping has been one factor in repeated Baloch revolts in both Iran and Pakistan, and the development of Gwadar has only increased these fears. In Pakistan, until the Islamist revolts after 2001, the Baloch were the most persistently troublesome of all the ethnic groups. There was armed resistance in 1948 – 9, after Kalat’s accession (under considerable duress) to Pakistan; unrest again in the late 1950s, after Balochistan was merged into the ‘one unit’ of West Pakistan and the promises of full autonomy to Kalat state were broken; and a serious revolt between 1973 and 1977, after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto dismissed the moderate nationalist government of Balochistan as part of his moves to centralize power in his own hands, and arrested its leading members.
In all of these cases, however, most of the unrest was concentrated chiefly in one tribal group, and only parts of that group – in the late 1940s and 1950s, parts of the Mengel and other tribes of the old Kalat state and, in the 1970s, parts of the Marri tribe with certain allies. This allowed the Pakistani state to play on the deep traditional rivalries between the tribes and between sub-tribes of the same tribe, and eventually through a mixture of force and concessions to the Sardars of the rebel tribes, to bring these revolts to an end. In all of these cases, it was also never entirely clear if the rebellions concerned were themselves really aiming at full independence, at greater autonomy within Pakistan, or at benefits and redress of grievances for the particular tribes concerned.
THE BALOCH INSURGENCY AFTER 2000
Initially, this also seemed to be the case with the recent round of violent unrest which began after General Musharraf took power in 1999. Baloch fears were aroused by what may have been basically well-intentioned projects on the part of the Musharraf administration for the construction of the new deep-water port at Gwadar in south-western Balochistan near the Iranian border, and for the construction of new military cantonments in the province. These were intended to increase ethnic Baloch recruitment into the armed forces and spread employment in their neighbourhoods. Things were made worse by the high-handed way in which local land was bought for these projects and distributed to workers and officials from elsewhere in Pakistan.
Lack of consultation and intelligence meant that the administration was unaware of the risk that many Baloch would see these projects as increasing Punjabi immigration into Balochistan and threatening them with new ‘swamping’. Islamabad seems to have been unsympathetic to Baloch demands that many of the jobs in these projects be reserved in advance for ethnic Baloch.
The result was a growth in armed protest – which was initially limited to some of the Marri tribe, and was led by a younger member of its Sardari family, Balach Marri. He later based himself in Afghanistan, where he was killed in obscure circumstances, probably by Pakistani intelligence, possibly by a misdirected US air strike, or – a remoter possibility – by an accurately directed US strike at Pakistan’s request.
The insurgency took on a more serious aspect when it spread to parts of the Bugti tribe, led by their Sardar, Nawab Akbar Bugti. Nawab Bugti was not an inveterate enemy of Pakistan. On the contrary, he pursued throughout his life an opportunist course. After spending many years in gaol under Ayub Khan, in 1973 he sided with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in dismissing the moderate nationalist government of Balochistan – thereby sparking the Baloch rebellion of that year – and was rewarded with the post of governor, which he held for a year before falling out with Bhutto. In 1989 – 90 he was chief minister. Bugti therefore demonstrates not implacable nationalist separatism, but rather the old tribal tradition of alternating between rebellion and participation in government, depending on circumstances. The old Italian principle that ‘he who draws sword against his king should throw away the scabbard’ has never applied in Balochistan, at least as the tribes see things.
Much of the Pakistani army, however, does not see rebellion simply as another form of legitimate political pressure, and this has led to what one might call fatal misunderstandings. They certainly proved fatal in the case of Nawab Bugti. The details of Bugti’s rebellion after 2005 have been obscured by rival propaganda and myth-making, but the two main versions are as follows. According to Baloch nationalists, Bugti launched increasingly strong protests against the Musharraf administration’s policies and in favour of a greatly increased share of revenues from Sui Gas for Balochistan. When these were rejected, he eventually took to the hills with his armed followers, where he was killed by the military in August 2006.
Alternatively, according to officials of Sui Gas, officers of the Pakistan army and rival Baloch politicians, Bugti was interested only in increased money and favours for his immediate family, and opposed a new military cantonment in Sui because it would threaten his control of the Bugti tribe. He ordered his men to start sabotaging the gas pipelines in order to blackmail the state; and when Musharraf failed to yield to this blackmail, Bugti took to the hills, where he was killed by accident in the course of military operations, or even – depending on which military version you listen to – killed himself and the Pakistani military delegation sent to negotiate with him. The supposed reason for this was that he knew that he was, in any case, dying of disease.
Senator Mushahid Husain Syed, who led a parliamentary delegation which negotiated with Bugti on behalf of the Musharraf administration, told me that the administration and high command were divided between those who wished to go on negotiating with Bugti, and hardliners who had become exasperated with what they regarded as his blackmail and who were determined to crush armed rebellion by force. In the senator’s view, however, Bugti was not out for personal gain, but to defend his honour and his leadership of his tribe, which he regarded as threatened by the increasing military presence in his area; and to receive guaranteed jobs for Bugtis in the gas fields.
Two incidents pushed matters from skirmishing between the Bugtis and the military into full-scale revolt: in January 2005 a woman doctor in the military base in Bugti’s area was raped. The military immediately alleged that a Bugti tribesman was responsible. Bugti took this as a personal insult and broke off talks with the government. As with Bugti’s death, the actual facts of the case have been completely obscured by misinformation on all sides. The second critical incident came in December 2005, when Musharraf visited Kohlu in Balochistan (the first Pakistani leader to visit the region in many years), and rockets were fired at his helicopter. No one knows which Baloch group was responsible, but this attack in turn gave hardliners in the Pakistani military the chance to argue to Musharraf that no further concessions should be made to Bugti.
Fighting in the Bugti areas escalated, and on 26 August 2006 Bugti was killed, or died, along with three Pakistani officers when an explosion destroyed the cave where he had taken refuge. It is a mark of just how disastrous this was that every Pakistani officer with whom I have spoken has sought to absolve the army of responsibility. However, since they have come up with several different and incompatible accounts of what actually happened, it is difficult to attach too much credence to what they say.
What is certain is that senior Pakistani officials – including most probably Musharraf himself – had developed a deep personal contempt and loathing for Bugti. This is in part a matter of class and culture, and of a very different set of attitudes to the authority of the state. Representing both the Pakistani state and what they see as modernity, Pakistani generals were infuriated by Bugti’s mixture of aristocratic contempt for them, democratic posing, economic blackmail and authoritarian and retrograde rule over his own tribe.
The result of Bugti’s death was a surge of support for his even more radical grandson (and, in the view of the Pakistani military, evil genius) Baramdagh Bugti, who is now leading one wing of the Baloch insurgency from bases in Afghanistan. According to both Pakistani and Western intelligence sources, this is with the covert support of Indian intelligence. The resulting fighting in Balochistan has caused almost 1,000 deaths among militants, Pakistani soldiers and police, and local Punjabi and other ‘settlers’. Between 600 and 2,500 suspected militants were arrested and held without charge by the Pakistani intelligence services (the figures differ wildly depending on whom you listen to), and, while most were eventually released again, some have disappeared for good. Many of the militants supposedly killed in battles with the Frontier Corps have also undoubtedly been subjected to extra-judicial execution.
When it comes to the Bugtis themselves, the Pakistani military has done a pretty effective job of divide and rule – just as previously in the case of the Marris, who are also split into several sub-tribes most of which are siding with Pakistan against the insurgency. The Kalpur sub-tribe of the Bugtis is still in arms against Sardar Akbar Bugti’s family for control of the benefits of Sui Gas; and in that family, apart from Baramdagh in Afghanistan, there are two other claimants to the leadership of the Bugtis. The eldest son of Akbar Bugti’s eldest son, Sardar Ali Bugti, holds the family base in Dera Bugti, though only under heavy military protection; and one of Bugti’s sons, Talal Bugti, holds the family mansion in Quetta and the leadership of what is left of Bugti’s Jamhoori Watan Party. Talal Bugti spent most of his life in Karachi, and only returned to Balochistan after his father’s death.
When I attended a meeting of the party in Quetta, the not very resolute-looking Sardar Talal Bugti on the platform was rather cast into the shade by the fierce features and impressively bristling beard of his nephew Baramdagh, whose large picture was being held aloft by two fifteen-year-old children from – of all places – the elite St Mary’s School. And this illustrates the most worrying aspect of the insurgency as far as the Pakistani state is concerned: that it seems to have spread from sections of the Marri and Bugti tribes to parts of the new Baloch educated youth who have emerged in recent years.
As in so much of the developing world, there are not nearly enough state jobs to provide for these people, and their often worthless education certificates do not equip them for modern technical or managerial jobs in gas, mining or at Gwadar – which they believe that they should be given as representatives of the indigenous ethnicity. The more moderate elements try to use their Sardars and the Pakistani political system to force the state to give them jobs; the more radical ones have turned to armed revolt.
So far, this revolt has not been impressive in military terms (which also means that Indian help to the insurgents must so far be at a pretty low level). Attacks on the army, the Frontier Corps and even the wretched police (many of whom in Balochistan are still armed with Second World War-era Lee Enfield bolt-action rifles) are still relatively infrequent. The great majority of the militants’ targets are ‘soft’ ones – the Punjabi and other ‘settlers’ who have moved to Balochistan over the past 150 years to work in a variety of technical occupations for which the Baloch lack the education (like teachers) or which they consider beneath them (like barbers).2
What is happening is a sort of low-level ethnic cleansing, with more than 250 ‘settlers’ killed across Balochistan in the year before my visit in August 2009. The district of Kalat was typical. In the first seven months of 2009, the militants had killed three Kashmiri bakers (together with a Baloch customer), three Punjabi tube-well drillers, one Punjabi teacher and one Baloch policeman.
The result naturally has been an exodus of non-Baloch teachers and technicians from villages and small towns in the ethnic Baloch areas, except where (as in the case of Sui Gas, the mining camps and the cantonments) settlements are under the direct protection of the army. The result has been to depress both Baloch educational levels and the Baloch economy still further, but, unlike the Taleban in FATA, this less than heroic insurgency does not as yet pose a serious threat to the control of the Pakistani military.
Whether this remains the case will depend largely on how far Baloch tribal society is changing, and generating the kind of frustrated new class which will identify with Baloch nationalism rather than their own tribe. From the point of view of government, Baloch tribalism, like Pathan tribalism, was always an infernal nuisance, but it was also a containable nuisance susceptible to bribes. Among the Pathan tribes, social change and disruption helped to bring about the Taleban movement. It is not clear yet if social change among the Baloch is capable of creating a modern nationalist movement.
In many respects, Baloch tribal culture is close to that of the Pathans. Like the pashtunwali, the traditional Baloch code requires tribesmen:
To avenge blood.
To fight to the death for a person who has taken refuge with them.
To be hospitable.
To refrain from killing a woman, a Hindu, a servant or a boy not yet in trousers.
To cease fighting on the intervention of a woman, Sayyid or mullah bearing the Koran on her or his head.
Not to kill a man who takes refuge in a shrine.
To punish an adulterer with death.3
This last provision – extended to illicit sexual relations in general or the mere suspicion of them – has been responsible for the ghastly and continual stream of ‘honour killings’ among the Baloch tribesmen, who have an obsession with the purity of their female kinsfolk which is extreme even by the pathological standards of their Pathan neighbours.
In one respect, however, Baloch tribalism is very different from that of the Pathans: its leadership is hereditary, hierarchical and even monarchical, whereas the Pathan tradition is meritocratic and even in a sense democratic. In the Baloch tradition (and that of the Pathan tribes of northern Balochistan which are influenced by the Baloch), the position of Sardar – in principle at least – always passes from eldest son to eldest son. The ceremony of ‘turbanning’ the new Sardar resembles a coronation. Beneath the Sardar, a hierarchy of subordinate chieftains called waderos (the same word as for a ‘feudal’ landowner in Sindh, illustrating the close links between the provinces) and mirs rule over sub-sections of the tribe. Sardars can be savagely tyrannical in a way that Pathan chieftains are not; yet in one way both are alike. Over them stands a greater tyrant, which is tribal custom.
That said, the Baloch system in practice seems to have been more flexible than its formal appearance would suggest. Historical records suggest that, before the arrival of the British, tribes repeatedly either split into smaller tribes or grew by assimilating other tribes or bits of tribes. Leaders of sub-tribes revolted against their Sardars and founded separate tribes of their own. This was partly the result of migration from place to place, which British rule prevented. The British Gazetteer of 1906 describes the situation among some of the tribes near the Afghan border:
The local tribe is nominally subject to Sardar Rustam Khan of Jebri, but he has no real influence over any Mamasani clan north of Kharan. The Mamasani tumandar or headman who appears to exercise most power over these wild tribes is Shah Khan Gul, Siahezai Mamasani, but even he has little influence except over his immediate followers.4
In fact, it has been suggested that the whole structure of single autocratic Sardars ruling over clearly marked tribes was in part at least a creation of the British, who found this convenient from the point of view of bribing and controlling the tribes. If this is so, then the process one can see today in Balochistan (and which is being encouraged by the army), of rival Sardars breaking up tribes into smaller feuding elements, is not really new, but a return to the pre-British norm.
One central feature of Baloch tribalism, however, was certainly not created by the British: the blood feud. As the Gazetteer has it:
A Baloch tribe is not a homogeneous group, but has attained its growth by the gradual assimilation of a number of alien elements, the process being admission to participation in common blood-feuds, then admission to participation in the tribal land, and lastly admission to kinship with the tribe ... In other words, common blood-feud is the underlying principle uniting a tribe, but the conception merges into that of common blood, i.e. connection by kinship.5
The tradition of the feud is alive and well in Balochistan today. The process of becoming Pakistani politicians and ministers does not seem to have reduced one bit the enthusiasm for this tradition among the Baloch Sardars, whose penchant for murdering fellow politicians makes Baloch politics in some respects closer to those of the Sicilian mafia than the ‘social democratic’ politics officially espoused by the political parties over which they rule.
What is more, to tribal traditions of violence the Baloch Sardars seem to add a more aristocratic sense of touchy personal honour which makes them even more trigger-happy – quite apart from their feudal (as opposed to tribal) sense of personal entitlement, including the right to kill anyone who offends them. Indeed, if I were to make a distinction within the terms of Baloch culture between a good Sardar and a bad one, it would be that a good Sardar doesn’t kill anyone without what he thinks is a good reason.
Thus the late Nawab Akbar Bugti once declared:
You must remember that I killed my first man when I was twelve ... The man annoyed me. I’ve forgotten what it was about now, but I shot him dead. I’ve rather a hasty temper you know, but under tribal law of course it wasn’t a capital offence, and in any case as the eldest son of the Chieftain I was perfectly entitled to do as I pleased in our own territory. We enjoy absolute sovereignty over our people and they accept this as part of their tradition.6
The Nawab in fact seems to have been exaggerating somewhat for the sake of the effect on his British interviewer. A Sardar who repeatedly shot his own followers without serious provocation would soon enough find himself without followers, or would be shot in the back himself. Nonetheless, as Paul Titus writes, ‘The Bugtis remain entrenched in a world in which honour, expressed through the forceful and uncompromising response to challenges to oneself, remains a pre-eminent value. Specific acts of assertion and vengeance follow from and constitute Bugti cultural logic and history.’7
In recent decades, the Bugtis have been involved in several feuds, which have helped to define the politics of Balochistan as a whole. There is a longstanding feud between the Sardars and the Kalpur sub-tribe, whose lands cover much of the gas field. The Kalpurs want to keep more of the benefits for themselves and out of the hands of the Bugtis. In the 1980s, Hamza Khan Kalpur was killed during an election campaign, allegedly by the Bugtis. In the early 1990s, the Kalpurs in revenge allegedly killed Akbar Bugti’s youngest son Salar, which in 2003 led Akbar Bugti to kill the Kalpur candidate in the elections of that year. One of the reasons for the Chief Minister (as of 2010), Nawab Mohammed Aslam Khan Raisani, to have stayed loyal to Pakistan and joined the government is that he also has a feud with the Bugtis, and accuses Akbar Bugti of having arranged the murder of his father by members of his party from the Rind tribe.
The Bugtis are also involved in a bloody feud with the family of the hereditary Sardar of the Marri tribe, Khair Baksh Marri – afeud which has helped split the Baloch radical nationalists into different tribal camps, since Khair Baksh Marri is another radical nationalist who led the revolt against Pakistan in the 1970s. His family also has a feud with one of the Marri sub-tribes, the Bijranis, which has helped lead that tribe to join the present government and reject the insurgency. And so on, and on, and on.
Chief Minister Nawab Mohammed Aslam Khan Raisani has a notoriously hot temper, and is accused of responsibility for at least half a dozen murders. The only living member of the Provincial Assembly not to hold a position in government cannot do so because he cannot set foot in Quetta – for Raisani has publicly sworn to kill him if he does. The aggressively bristling beards and upturned moustaches of the men of Sardari families would have a comically theatrical effect were it not for the fact that they say something very real about the men who sport them.
If you want to live in Balochistan – and indeed Pakistan as a whole – without going crazy, it is probably a good idea to try to cultivate an anthropologist’s approach to the issue of Sardari feuding, as Sylvia Matheson did when researching her remarkable book The Tigers of Balochistan. After all, murder by mutual cultural consent is in a certain sense a kind of blood sport. Those Sardars who don’t want to participate can always leave their traditional power and their traditional territories and go to live in London or wherever (Karachi isn’t far enough, as the Minister for Excise, Sardar Rustam Jamali, discovered when he was gunned down there in August 2009).
When it comes to Baloch tribal tradition, cultural broadmindedness has however two limits, as far as I am concerned. The first is Baloch independence. It seems all too probable that Baloch tribalism would soon reduce this to a Somali-style nightmare, in which a range of tribal parties – all calling themselves ‘democratic’ and ‘national’ – under rival warlords would fight for power and wealth. The task of the Pakistani Frontier Corps on the ‘national day’ proclaimed by existing pro-independence parties was made easier by the fact that the nationalist parties could not even agree what flag to fly, let alone who should lead them.
In these circumstances, independent Balochistan would revert to its pre-British condition of unrestrained tribal warfare, but this time the wars would be fought not with swords and single-shot muskets, but with AK-47s, machine-guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and whatever heavier weaponry could be acquired with the proceeds of the heroin trade. Claims on the territory of all Balochistan’s neighbours would lead to economic blockade and make dependence on heroin and smuggling even more complete. Ethnic chauvinism would kill or chase out the ethnic minorities which provide whatever there is of a modern economy. Quetta would be wrecked in fighting with the Pathans and Hazara. As in Somalia, Al Qaeda and its allies would fish happily amid the ruins: a version of Somalia on the Persian Gulf.
At the end of Sylvia Matheson’s book, after recounting the killing of yet another lesser Bugti chief by his enemies, she asks:
And how and where can it end? Can these traditionally lawless tribes, so cussedly and illogically proud that they consider it more praiseworthy to steal cattle and grain than to demean themselves by working and earning money – can such men as these ever fit into the pattern of modern, democratic civilization as we know it, or must this dream be left for the coming generation?8
Her book was researched in the 1950s and published in 1967. Almost two generations have passed since then, but there is still very little sign of this ‘dream’ coming true among the Baloch tribes.
THE TREATMENT OF WOMEN
The second area where anthropological tolerance should have its limits is in the treatment of women. This is not universally bad, and it may have been better in the past. According to Sylvia Matheson:
In the early days of tribal society, women enjoyed a tremendous amount of liberty ... The women folk of the leading Khans of Kalat were noted for their activities in politics and warfare; segregation of the sexes is in fact fairly recent, probably introduced since the gradual opening up of the country to strangers.9
I did indeed meet one formidable aristocratic lady politician from the Kalat royal family, Mrs Rubina Irfan, a deputy from the formerly pro-Musharraf PML(Q) Party (in a sign of the irrelevance of national party labels in Balochistan, her husband, Agha Irfan Karim, is a deputy from the PPP). Unusually, her development fund has been responsible for some successful projects in Kalat. Even more unusually, she is the leading force in promoting women’s football in Pakistan. This has to be played by single-sex teams, indoors, and only in the presence of women and family members – still, a step forward.
Mrs Irfan also stressed that in really traditional Baloch tribal society women had more freedom than in partially modernized society, where male anxiety has been stirred up to pathological levels. Another very impressive lady (though a Mohajir, not an ethnic Baloch), Surriya Allahdin from the great Habibullah industrial family, described to me her charity’s success in setting up two girls’ schools in rural Balochistan, and how in one area this had led to the average age of girls at marriage going up from twelve to fifteen in the course of thirteen years. ‘So give us another generation, and hopefully we will have helped bring the marriage age up to a civilized level, and as a result of this and education we will also help to bring down the birth-rate, which is vital.’
All the same, much of the treatment of women in the Baloch tribal society of today is nothing short of appalling, even by Pakistani standards; and, what is more, some of the most atrocious actions against women in Sindh and southern Punjab are carried out by local tribes of Baloch origin. Quite apart from ‘honour killings’, as described in the first chapter of this book, the giving of minor girls in marriage as part of the settlement of feuds is still commonplace.
I must confess that several times during my visit to Balochistan I found myself muttering the famous words of General Sir Charles Napier, then Commander-in-Chief in India, when informed that suttee (the burning of widows) was an ancient Rajput custom:
You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, I do not have General Napier’s power, or at least three Baloch politicians would find themselves dangling from lamp-posts – if Quetta had lamp-posts, which of course it doesn’t outside the cantonment. No, make that four or five.
These particular thoughts were inspired by a particularly ghastly case of ‘honour killing’, which occurred on 13 July 2008 in Babokot village, Nasirabad District, near the borders of Sindh. Three teenage student girls of the Umrani tribe were shot by order of a tribal jirga for trying to marry men of their own choice rather than their family’s, and then buried while still alive. Two female relatives who tried to save them were killed as well. It is alleged that a chieftain of the tribe, Mir Abdul Sattar Umrani, chaired the jirga which ordered the killings.10
According to a police official with whom I spoke, his brother, Balochistan Minister of Communications Sadiq Umrani, put strong pressure on the police not to investigate. Amusingly – if your sense of humour runs that way – on 13 August 2009 a court in Sindh finally issued an arrest warrant for Sadiq Umrani and his brothers; not, however, for the case of the buried women, but for the alleged murder of five people of the Palal tribe of northern Sindh, including a woman and two children, in a dispute over land in 2008.
Sardar Israrullah Zehri, a PPP senator of Pakistan’s upper house of parliament, defended the burial of the Umrani women, saying that ‘these are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them. Only those who commit immoral acts should be afraid.’ The Zardari administration later made him Minister of Posts. The acting chairman of the Senate – another Baloch chieftain, Sardar Jan Mohammad Jamali – described the killings as having been blown out of proportion by the media.11 All of these politicians belong to the PPP, a party dedicated, according to its programme, to women’s rights, social progress and the rule of law. None has been expelled from the government or the party.
Another Baloch minister (for Sports and Culture) from a Sardari family, Mir Shahnawaz Khan Marri, told me:
The burying of those girls alive was a conspiracy against Balochistan. There is no report on who killed them and why. The Supreme Court has not produced a report. It has not been proved yet that they were killed. These kinds of things are designed so as to create a scenario against Balochistan. The Afghans are here, they get millions of dollars to create subversion here, all different international agencies are working here ...12
After this, the minister plunged into a rant lasting more than five minutes, during which a paranoid account of the conspiracies of the outside world against Balochistan somehow ended with the statement that ‘I don’t believe in nationalism. The world has become a global village and we should all love each other.’
All of these politicians have claimed either that the girls were not killed at all, killed but not buried alive, or that they had engaged in ‘immoral acts’ and therefore deserved their punishment, or all of these together. None of this is true. I interviewed the police surgeon who dug up and examined the bodies of the three girls, Dr Shamim Gul. They had all been buried alive, and they were all virgins.
Dr Gul – the only police surgeon for the whole of Balochistan – is the most remarkable person I met during my travels in Pakistan. Among other things she is very much more of a man than the vast majority of the men I encountered – if I may be forgiven a Baloch-sounding comment. This fifty-eight-year-old Pathan grandmother, deaf as a post in one ear (our conversation was conducted in bellows on my side), spends her professional life travelling around Balochistan at night (because there are a great many people of course who do not exactly favour her investigations), digging up rotting corpses and examining them in makeshift morgues in temperatures which can reach 50 degrees Celsius. ‘Sometimes the bodies fall to pieces and I have to put them back together again,’ she told me.13
Dr Gul does her work without a police escort – for reasons that will come as no surprise to anyone who knows the police of Pakistan. And she goes on doing her duty despite the fact that of the ten or fifteen bodies of women murdered in ‘honour killings’ which she examines each year, not one case has ever been successfully prosecuted, though a few people may have been embarrassed a bit; and those she examines are in her estimate only around 5 per cent of the total killed, because the vast majority are never reported.
Dr Gul retired in 2008 but then took up the job again in 2009 because no one else wanted it. For myself, if I had Napier’s powers I would begin by making her the Inspector-General (i.e. provincial chief) of police in Balochistan, and then promote her upwards from there. She certainly deserves a senior job more than any other local politician or official whom I met.
VISIT TO A BUGTI
Nawabzada Jamil Bugti, son of Nawab Akbar Bugti by his second wife, took a rather more restrained – and coherent – line on the murder of the girls when I visited him on his estate outside Quetta. He also said that there was no proof that they had been buried alive, but then immediately changed his line to say that, if indeed it had happened, it was contrary to Baloch tradition:
If there is a case of adultery then in our tradition you have to kill the man as well as the woman involved; and if you do so without sufficient evidence then you have a blood feud on your hands. Salik Umrani is not even the real head of his tribe. He is neither partridge nor quail, that is why he didn’t follow tribal tradition in this case ... I remember a case that my father once deputed me to judge. A man had killed his wife and her lover and volunteered to walk through a fire to prove that they had been having an affair. The lover’s family had denied it and demanded compensation, or they would have launched a blood feud. And the husband took his seven steps through the fire as if on rose petals! So the lover’s family withdrew their demand and I closed the case.14
This was strange stuff to hear in an elegant modern living-room lined with vaguely Impressionist still-life paintings, and from a man with some at least of the manners and appearance of an English gentleman; but then, there was a good deal that was strange – and revealing – about our meeting.
Nawabzada Bugti’s house is set in an artificial, tube-well-fed oasis near the village of Miangundi, a few miles outside Quetta. The area has been developed by various Baloch nobles as a commercial venture of orchards, with their mansions set in the middle of them. The contrast between his garden, with its green lawns and rose-beds, and the arid, savage mountains behind added to the slightly surreal air of our conversation.
The Nawabzada complained that the conservatism of Baloch farmers meant that they would not accept drip technology even though almost the whole cost of installing it is covered by the Asian Development Bank – though I could not help noticing that his own garden was being watered by the old, horribly wasteful technique of flooding the whole lawn several inches deep. In one corner of the vast garden, a new swimming pool was under construction.
Like his father and most of his family, Jamil Bugti at fifty-nine is a tall, handsome, aristocratic-looking man with aquiline features and a modified version of the bristling Baloch beard. He towered over his lawyer, a squat, rubber-faced and obsequious Punjabi who had driven out with us from Quetta as a partial safeguard against nationalist banditry. The sense of racial difference was even starker when it came to the Nawabzada’s small, thin, dark-skinned servants. These are ‘Mrattas’, descendants of Marathas from central India, captured in war by the Mughal emperors and given to their Bugti troops as slaves in lieu of wages.
Traditionally, their women have served as concubines to the Bugti (‘their women were regarded as fair game for all Bugtis’ in Matheson’s words) but there was no sign of Bugti blood in the faces of the Nawabzada’s servants. The Mrattas were officially made equal citizens of Pakistan after 1947, and the Nawabzada insisted that ‘they have merged completely with the Bugti and no one can tell the difference any more’ – given all the circumstances a real whopper. On the other hand, the British official and ethnographer R. Hughes Buller stated in 1901 that,
Many Baloch tribes consist chiefly of elements which have been affiliated to the Baloch and have afterwards set up for themselves. As time passes, their origin is forgotten and with it any social inferiority which may have originally existed. An instance of a group which has only lately asserted Baloch origin, is the Golas of Nasirabad. Though enumerated with the Baledis they are looked upon by other Baloch as occupying a low place in the social scale. Common report assigns them a slave origin, and as the word gola means slave in Sindhi, it is quite possible that this belief has some foundation in fact.15
So just possibly something of the sort may indeed very gradually be happening in the case of the Mrattas, even if it obviously hasn’t happened yet.
Like most of the members of Sardari families whom I met, the Nawabzada talked a fiercely pro-independence and anti-Pakistani talk, accentuated by his deep booming voice and frequent use of English obscenities. His resentment of the Pakistani state seemed genuine enough when he spoke of his father’s death at the hands of the Pakistan army, of how, at the age of nine, he had seen his father arrested for the first time (‘When he was released in 1969 I had already graduated’), and of his fury at seeing pictures of Pakistani officers posing in his ancestral home at Dera Bugti. He accused the Pakistani army of committing ‘genocide’ in Balochistan, and declared that ‘I don’t see how any honourable Baloch can celebrate Pakistani independence. For us it has been sixty years of slavery, barbarism and torture.’
He expressed utter contempt for Pakistan-led development in Balochistan, declaring of Musharraf’s new port at Gwadar,
We don’t want to develop Gwadar or other ports – we don’t want another Dubai in Balochistan. What is Dubai? A bloody whorehouse like the Hira Mandi [‘Diamond Market’, or red-light district] in Lahore. Why should we allow millions of outsiders to come here and take our land?
At first hearing, then, this is an example of the Pakistani state’s utter failure to retain or cultivate the loyalty of many of the Baloch tribal aristocracy. At the second hearing, however, certain questions began to arise. If he was so committed to independence, why had he not taken sides in the conflict over the leadership of the Bugti tribe between his two nephews, Nawabzada Ali Bugti, the officially turbaned head of the tribe sitting in Dera Bugti under army protection, and Nawabzada Baramdagh Bugti, leading the pro-independence forces from exile in Afghanistan (whom he described as ‘following my father’s line and doing a pretty good job’)?
And, above all, of course, why had he not been arrested by the Pakistani security forces, and why in fact was he still sitting in a paid position on the board of Pakistani Petroleum, to which he had been restored after a period of suspension? To these questions the Nawabzada’s responses became rather less fluent. Concerning his non-arrest, he declared that ‘I suppose given all my medical problems, they do not want another dead Bugti on their hands’, though I must say he looked in fine fettle to me.
By the end of the interview, therefore, the Nawabzada seemed to me to represent not an unqualified failure on the part of the Pakistani state, but rather a sort of qualified success – a success, that is for the old twin imperial policies of divide and rule and co-optation of elites, something that every successful empire-builder from Rome to Victorian Britain has understood perfectly. In the case of the British empire on the Baloch frontier, this involved financial subsidies to the Sardars to keep their tribes quiet, subsidies which could then be withdrawn from those who stepped out of line. Military action was very much a last resort.
PAKISTAN AND BALOCHISTAN
The Pakistani approach has generally been the same in essence but different in form. It is summed up in the remarkable fact that, as of 2009, out of sixty-five members of the Baloch Provincial Assembly, sixty-two were in the provincial government as ministers, ministers without portfolio or advisers with ministerial rank. Nor did the remaining three deputies constitute much of an opposition. Two had not occupied ministerial chairs by virtue of being dead, which is an obstacle to government service even in Balochistan. The third cannot visit Quetta because of the blood feud with the chief minister, mentioned above.
This is the kind of thing which has led me to place the word ‘democracy’ in this book in inverted commas; and perhaps I should do the same for ‘development’; because the point of this whole set-up is that on top of their ministerial salary and staff, every member of the government gets a Rs50 million (£385,000) personal share of Balochistan’s development budget, to spend on projects in his own district.
Irrational? Not at all. From the point of view of serious development, yes of course completely crazy. As a new way of co-opting the tribal leadership (in an age when you can’t just have political agents handing out bags of gold coins), eminently sensible – and effective. It is above all thanks to the Pakistani state’s ability to hand out this kind of personal largesse – as well as some hard blows when necessary – that as of 2009 all but three of the eighty-odd tribal Sardars or claimants in Balochistan were ranged with the government, and had not joined the anti-Pakistan insurgency. For that matter, even members of Nawab Bugti’s own Jamhoori Watan Party continued to sit in the provincial assembly!
The priorities of Baloch ministers took on an almost comically obvious shape in the already mentioned interview I had with the Minister of Sports and Culture. Outside his office, his four staff sat around drinking tea, chatting, reading the papers and otherwise doing absolutely nothing – not that they could have done very much, since neither they nor the minister had a computer or even a typewriter. The minister complained bitterly that Balochistan has a quota of state jobs according to its small population, when instead – in his view – it should get the same proportion of jobs as it has of Pakistani territory – i.e. almost half of all jobs in the central bureaucracy, a thought which made me choke into my tea. For the population in general, he demanded that Islamabad create 60,000 junior administrative jobs in Balochistan, and distribute them to graduates. As of early 2010, this is being negotiated between the governments in Islamabad and Quetta, with 30,000 jobs a frequently mentioned compromise figure.
Completely unprompted by me, the minister also complained three times in the course of the interview that ethnic Baloch should be given more Pakistani ambassadorships, which seemed to me a pretty clear indication of what was on his own mind as far as jobs were concerned. The idea that merit or qualifications should play any part in appointments to any these jobs appeared nowhere in his remarks – nor does it, apparently, in the negotiations between Quetta and Islamabad.
Rather than the old British strategy, this then is closer to the Roman approach of making smaller local tribal chieftains into local officials, and bigger ones into Roman senators. By making them responsible for tax collection, these local leaders were also given a share in state revenues. The Romans, though, had the advantage of representing not just overwhelming military force and an efficient state bureaucracy, but also a great state-building idea, summed up in the values of Romanitas.
It would be quite a stretch to suggest that there exists a civilizing concept called Pakistanitas – if only because Pakistanis differ so radically over what it is or should be. However, sitting in Quetta and looking at the alternatives does bring home the fact that there is at least a certain kind of modernità alla Pakistanese. In Balochistan, this is to be found above all in three places: among the Hazara; in the gas fields and mines; and in the army. The last element in a way embraces the other two. The Hazara are both deeply attached to the armed forces and proud of their prominent role in them, and look to those armed forces for protection; and the gas fields and mines also depend wholly on the army for protection. Inevitably, therefore, and despite a determined effort on their part to pretend otherwise, the responsibilities of the Pakistani army in Balochistan go far beyond the purely military.
This appeared strongly from my interview with the Pakistani general commanding in Balochistan, Lt-General Khalid Wynne. I am not qualified to judge his qualities as a general; but when it comes to relative modernity, I must confess that I was greatly prejudiced in his favour by his daughter – whom I have never met, but who is studying for a PhD in molecular biology in the US. The general admitted disarmingly that ‘my wife and I wanted to arrange her marriage but she insisted on doing research instead, so we gave in, and sold some property to pay for her education. Then she won a top scholarship, which makes us very proud.’
My interview with General Wynne illustrated the way in which the Pakistani army is repeatedly drawn into managing wider areas of the state. This is not always because the generals want this, but because of an iron logic proceeding both from the fact that the armed forces constitute by far the most efficient and coherent institution of that state, and that in the NWFP and Balochistan economic development has a critical security dimension. It has to be protected from insurgency, and it can contribute to defeating insurgency.
Thus our conversation began with the usual ritualistic declaration on the part of the general that the army has no interest in once again becoming involved in politics and government, and wishes to concentrate on its core tasks of defending the country against external aggression and defeating domestic insurgency. He said that while the army is ultimately responsible for internal security within Balochistan, it is not involved in operations against the present insurgency, which are the business of the Frontier Corps.
The interview ended with the general describing how the army is closely involved in the management of the big coal mine being developed at Chamalang near Balochistan’s border with Punjab and Sindh, which in 2007 – 9 produced around 1 million tons of coal. This is in a mixed Pathan – Baloch area, where Marri tribesmen have traditional grazing rights, and a violent dispute broke out between them over access to benefits from the mine, which for many years held up its development. In 2006 the army was invited to settle this dispute, and to guarantee the resulting agreement.
This involved recruiting and paying Marri tribesmen as local police (levies), and a development fund from the profits of the mine to be spent on schools, roads and health care to benefit both the Pathans and the Marris. ‘This is something that I am really proud of, that we are involved in nation-building,’ the general told me. All this also has a security dimension. In the general’s view, the deal over Chamalang has contributed greatly to persuading Marris not to join the present insurgency.16 It will be very interesting to see if – as has been proposed – the army now starts taking a key part in running other mining projects in Balochistan and elsewhere, and distributing the benefits to the local population. The army will in any case have to be present at these sites in order to protect them from the insurgents.
The question of just how much wealth lies underneath Balochistan is the subject of crazed nationalist myth-making, with stories abounding of Balochistan ‘having more oil than Kuwait’, and so on. Having talked to geologists, the truth appears to me to be that Balochistan probably has very little oil, and few major new gas fields left to discover. What it does have, however, is very large amounts of copper, together with lesser amounts of gold.
The Chinese corporation running the Saindak mine as of 2010 processes around 15,000 tonnes of ore a day. Informed (as opposed to mythical) estimates for the Reko Diq field near the borders with Afghanistan and Iran range up to 16 million tonnes of pure copper and 21 million ounces of gold, which if developed would make Pakistan one of the world’s largest producers of copper (though still far behind Chile), and a serious gold producer. A joint Canadian – Chilean consortium (Tethyan Copper) plans to invest up to $3 billion in Reko Diq’s development (leading to the inevitable paranoid headline on the pakalert website, ‘Reko Diq Mystery: Why Neocons and Zionists are after Balochistan?’).17
Reko Diq could be of great benefit to Pakistan and Balochistan – or it could lead to explosive disputes between them, and among the Baloch themselves, as has been the case with both Sui Gas and Gwadar Port. The most obvious solution to distributing the benefits of mines like Reko Diq would be something like the Alaska Permanent Fund, which invests a proportion (in effect 11 per cent) of the proceeds of Alaskan oil for the long-term benefit of the population of Alaska, above all in terms of investment in infrastructure, services and water conservation.
Especially water conservation. Although Balochistan’s population is so small, it is still far too large for the province’s water resources, unless the use of water is radically improved. At present, the Quetta valley in particular is beginning to look like my grim prediction for Sindh and even Pakistan a few decades down the line: millions of people trying to survive in a desert. Over the past fifty years, water experts in Quetta told me, draining by tube-wells has made the local water table sink from 40 feet to more than 800 feet below the ground. In ‘Settler Town’, in the mid-1990s, the water table was at 200 feet. Now it is at 1,200 feet, and there is in any case less and less to bring up. Many of the local tube-wells and manual wells are now dry, and much of the population has to buy its water from tankers. Settler Town contains approximately 200,000 people. It goes without saying that the state’s water-pipe system is now permanently dry. In the grim judgement of Andrew Arthur of the UNHCR, ‘In another ten years or so, the water table in parts of the Quetta valley will be below 2,000 feet and people will start to migrate out, as has already happened in Sibi, Chaghi and Dalbandia, where the situation is even worse.’18
The two natural springs which created an oasis in the Quetta valley and were responsible for the creation of Quetta itself have both long since dried up. A new water pipeline is being built from the hills to supply drinking water to the city, but what will become of local agriculture if this goes on no one likes to think. Moreover, corruption and changes of government mean that this pipeline is already three years behind schedule. An urgent need is for more small earthen dams to trap rainwater, since what little there is in Balochistan at present mostly goes to waste, and for the replacement of private tube-wells with metred government windmill-pumps that bring up a little at a time and cannot be used for the dreadfully wasteful ‘flood irrigation’.
So there would be an immense amount of valuable work to be done by a long-term infrastructure fund drawing on the profits of Balochistan’s gas and mineral wealth. The problem is that, left to Baloch Sardari politicians to administer such a fund, there is no way that most would save anything for the future, or for the benefit of Balochistan as a whole. Everything would be spent on short-term gains for themselves and their followers. This would actually increase discontent both among educated Baloch and in the tribes in the immediate vicinity of the mines.
If the army or some other Pakistani national institution were made responsible for distributing the benefits of extractive industries to the population, their task would therefore involve a huge and perhaps impossible degree of diplomacy. This is something at which the Pakistani army and state in Balochistan have a decidedly mixed record. In general they have not done too badly, aided by the fragmentary and feuding nature of Baloch tribal society. Sometimes, however, they have slipped up very badly indeed, as in the death of Sardar Akbar Bugti.
Like other senior officers, General Wynne now admits that the army seriously mishandled its treatment of Bugti and Bugti’s death. Like them, he claims that the Pakistani army did not in fact kill Bugti (which is highly doubtful) and (which has been confirmed to me by several different sources) that they were in fact negotiating with him to the very end. The general was open in his personal contempt for Bugti, whom he described as interested only in his own family and followers and doing nothing to spread the benefits of Sui Gas among his tribesmen, let alone Balochistan as a whole. He said that when, as a young officer, he had asked Bugti about his representatives stealing the workers’ wages, Bugti had just laughed at him dismissively.
On the other hand, the general said, there is no good seeing things in Balochistan in terms of black and white:
Everything here is shades of grey. Here you have to be street smart. Or to put it another way, you need to be a little bit of a rascal to understand this part of the world. You always have to be prepared to negotiate with your enemies – who knows, they may change sides and become your allies tomorrow. That is something the Americans still haven’t understood in Afghanistan ... That is why you can meet in Quetta many nationalist politicians who have declared themselves to be rebels against Pakistan, but who we deliberately haven’t touched.
When it comes to dealing with Akbar Bugti, the overwhelming majority of Pakistani political, media and elite opinion – including liberal opinion – agrees with General Wynne that the state and army should have gone on negotiating with him even after he took up arms and started killing Pakistani soldiers. Indeed, there have even been demands not just from Baloch nationalists but from liberal human rights lobbyists that Musharraf be tried for his murder. Certainly everyone sensible agrees that it is necessary to negotiate with radical-sounding Baloch nationalists in an effort to wean them away from the real hardliners. Given that these Baloch rebels are not exactly progressive people, this makes an interesting contrast with the attitude of Pakistani liberals to the attempts of the state and army to negotiate with Islamist militants in the Pathan areas and elsewhere. These attempts have been denounced not just as foolish and hopeless but as evidence of sinister hidden sympathy and co-operation between the military and the Pakistani Taleban.
The reality seems to me rather different, and will be explored in the following chapters. Certain sympathies and strategic calculations concerning the Taleban have existed; but the main underlying theme has been a different one, characteristic of the Pakistani state in many areas including Balochistan. This theme involves a chaotic but often in the end fairly effective mixture of continual negotiation and bargaining, with intermittent brutal force. As is obvious, this mixture failed in the end when dealing with the Pakistani Taleban; but as will be seen in the following chapters, the way in which it failed has also been crucial to Pakistan’s success against the Taleban.