The current scenario in Balochistan has been building up for quite some time now, especially since the federal authorities in Pakistan started developing Gwadar Port with road and rail links as part of an ambitious project to provide a surface trade link with Central Asia through Chaman, Kandahar and across Afghanistan into Central Asia via the Silk Route. This was a fashionable idea during Nawaz Sharif's tenure in the late 1990s. Chinese patronage further boosted this initiative and it continued after General Musharraf's takeover.
Balochi resistance to defy efforts by the federal government were initially limited to the nationalist fringe that came out with the traditional interpretation that even if it brought development to Balochistan, it would ultimately favour the Punjabis. However, the Balochi resistance submerged in the Islamist fervour that surfaced in the wake of post-9/11 'war on terror' in the neighbourhood.
The current Balochi disaffection grew in the aftermath of the attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan and the establishment of US bases in Pasni, Gwadar, Dalbandin and Jacobabad in Sindh. This was not so much because of the US military presence, but because the Musharraf administration decided to establish some army cantonments in Balochistan, under the pretext of contributing to the war on terror.
This was part of a larger plan to consolidate the army's position in the border provinces. The army as well as the MMA-led government in Balochistan could not effectively counter the Balochi nationalist argument put forth by the Pakistan Oppressed Nations' Movement, that the building up of cantonments would help the Punjabis in strengthening their control over the Balochis and their territory. The imperiousness with which the federal administration dealt with the legitimate demands of the Balochis, that they should be given preferential treatment in recruitment for the so-called developmental activities, hardened their sentiments further. In a way, General Musharraf obliged Balochi nationalists with a cause they were desperately looking for to resuscitate the nationalist resistance.
The problems that the resistance movement may encounter in the coming weeks could, however, come from within. It will be difficult to sustain the tenuous pan-Balochi unity, cutting across divisions on the lines of tribes, clans and even ethnicity (Baloch-Brahui). At another level, the Islamist enthusiasm of the majority Pushtuns in northern Balochistan, which seems to have infected many Balochis in the Balochi-dominated corners in the western, central and southern Balochistan, is also diluting the nationalist position and making the army intrusion in the name of anti-terrorist operation look more legitimate and creating more enemies than friends for the movement outside. In the Pakistani media, the insurgency in Balochistan is not given the attention it deserves. However, according to Pakistani sources, there is a suspicion in Pakistan that the army is deliberately provoking the Balochis, fully aware of their sense of disaffection, to prepare the case for the ouster of the MMA government in the province.
It has been a constant refrain of many analysts close to the Pakistani establishment to try and drag India into the internal troubles in Pakistan and invent an Indian hand even behind the sectarian killings on the occasion of Muharram in Quetta. Such inventions have hardly helped to bring down the temperature in Balochistan. The authorities in Pakistan will have to be sensitive to the genuine demands placed on the federal government by the Balochis, rather than seeking to quell any show of resistance through force alone. History is witness to the fact that suppression kindles such movements.
Balochistan as a whole has been spared the bloodshed, terror and brutalisation of civil society witnessed in Sindh and Punjab until the recent rocket and bomb attacks over the past few months. From all the reports appearing in the press, the local administration and security forces seem to be at a loss as to the identity of the perpetrators. This confusion is a reflection of the apathy of the internal security agencies towards law and order in a province that has seen four civil wars.
The federal government too needs to play a positive role in deescalating the tension between the provinces and centre, while the provincial government needs to patronise and help the forces that are demanding development, and groups that oppose the dismemberment of Pakistan. As suggested by Kamal Matinuddin, the feelings of deprivation, discontent and marginalisation can be mitigated with a concerted effort at both the federal and provincial level. Royalties, duties, development surcharges and other levies owed to the province by the centre must be paid. Development work should be carried out in the fields of infrastructure development, water for irrigation and drinking, education, health and productive economic activity.