Balochistan after Habib Jalib’s murder – by Jan Assakzai

Shaheed Habib Jalib Baloch
Baloch nationalist leader Habib Jalib was not only a nationalist politician dedicated to Baloch cause, but also was the brain behind the ideology of Baloch nationalism. He was a leftist intellectual. Baloch nationalist leadership could be classified into two categories: one that believed in  centre-left nationalism and the second type was not only adherent of centre-left nationalism but also the follower of  Marxism and Leninism as ideology underpinning their struggle against Islamabad.

Habib Jalib was contemporary to other Baloch Marxist-cum-nationalist leaders like  young student leader Dr Khoer Baloch, Late Raziq Bugti and Late Sher Mohammad Marri  who were also staunch believers of the all encompassing  left ideology of Marxism and Leninism. Like them, Habib Jalib had a direct exposure to the Soviet system and ideology.

After the end of cold war  the geo-political changes, left  Baloch nationalist leadership without a foreign sponsor and a sanctuary (Afghanistan, and USSR). With the collapse of the political  Left in Pakistan following the dismemberment of ex- Soviet Union, the Marxist-cum-Baloch nationalists became ultra nationalist leaders.

The advent of controlled  democracy after the plane crash of Gen Zia al Haq,    raised hopes  among the Baloch nationalist  leadership who believed that peaceful struggle  might enable Balochs to get their rights from Islamabad.  Led by  Nationalist Leader Attaulah Mengal, his son Akhtar Mengal, and Habib Jalib ( among other) Baloch nationalists participated in elections eventually paving way for Sardar Akhtar Mengal becoming Chief Minister of Balochistan in  1997.

However, the other strand of Baloch nationalist leadership led by Nawab Khair Baksh Marri  doubted that controlled  democracy is the solution for Baloch grievances. Taking over the  power by military Dictator Gen Perves Musharraf in 1999 and subsequent killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2004,  vindicated the stance of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri.

This is why a new militant nationalist leadership led by Balach Marri (the son of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri) and Brahamdagh Bugti  (the grand son of Late Nawab Akbar Bugti) emerged on the scene. Although Balach Marri was allegedly killed by the agencies, his elder brother Mir Harbiyar Marri is now in the driving seat.

But the insurgency this time around  is not limited to sardars or nawabs  a large section of  Baloch middle class have also joined in showing the frustration of the Balochs with Islamabad’s unwillingness  to resolve their grievances. Pakhtuns who constitute half of the population are also supporting Balochs in their cause, though strongly  opposing  militants’ methodology: targeted killings of   innocent Punjabis and Pakhtun businessmen in Baloch dominated areas.

Habib Jalib and other Baloch leaders who still believed in parliamentary and peaceful struggle were increasingly left isolated by the militant leadership.  The meeting of Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani  with Sardar Attaulah Mengal May 8, infuriated the hardliners and they openly criticised Mengal for receiving the  Prime Minister.

However, after  nearly six years, the militant group  BLA is still a formidable force and has increasingly  made the job of Baloch moderate leaders like Habib Jalib very difficult. The moderate Baloch leadership is left  to choose between  bad and the worse options: if they  continue to  participate  in peaceful parliamentary  struggle, it would  invoke the wrath of militants, or should they  join hardliners,  they would put themselves in harm way by ending up on the  wrong side of the army.

During this period, the PPP-led political coalition government  offered  NFC award18th Amendment, Aghas Haqooq Balochistan package , but  these attempts were too little  too late. However, Balochistan’s problems can not be solved by these packages, army’s PR  campaigns, and other cosmetic measures.

The underlying  issue is that Baloch nationalists across the board ( including  militants) believe that civilian government-led by the  PPP has no control over Balochistan policy which is being run by the army, just like Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan, India, the US and FATA. They are not prepared to trust the assurances and guarantees of the federal government.

Their demands are more of strategic nature: for example, the rest of Pakistan is  not prepared to buy Balochistan’s gas on market rate and have been  enjoying  below market prices where there are hundreds of villages in the province even today who are without gas connections.

There are fears that over the next two decades, Sui Gas reserves will be completely depleted. Ironically,  people of villages located on the Iran and Afghanistan border are being assured that they wait for the gas and electricity supply from Iran and Central Asia, respectively.

The second grievance is related to Gawadar. The  Balochs’ fear is that since they have a tiny population in Pakistan, people from other provinces would flock to Gawadar and Balochs will become red Indians on their own land: only Gawadar’s population would surpass the total population of Balochs in Balochistan.

For them Karachi is a case in point were Urdu-speaking people confined  Sindhis  to their villages in  rural Sindh. The establishment is not yet  prepared to accept their fears,  offer guarantees,  while the  Balochs are not ready to trust any assurances  from the Federal government in this regard.

The third demand is  the exploitation of  Balochistan’s natural resources. The rest of Pakistan has been exploiting Balochistan’s natural assets on cheap  like  jute and other resources of East Pakistan while the province is a scene of neglect and deprivation even today. Pakistan’s Punjab-dominated elite including the bureaucracy and  the army and its politicians are not willing to accept the veracity of these demands

Meanwhile, in the thinking of the army establishment, there is  a disconnect between the underlying problems of Balochs and insurgency. It claims that  insurgency has been blown out of proportion and that  India is stirring militancy in Balochistan.

However, many strategic experts questions these propositions  for simple reason: the strategic, tactical and operational ability of BLA is far  smaller than that of even Pakistani Taliban who have not only hit targets within Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on regular basis but also in Punjab.

Whereas BLA has mainly confined itself to focusing on soft targets like targeting ethnic Punjabis and now elements of  Pakhtuns, instead of government and military formations and installations. Its raw capability for the use of improvised explosives shows that it has no sophisticated skills in home- made -explosives as reflected in the limited damage it often causes in explosions.

Were BLA  in  receipt of India’s material/technical support, militants  would have shown more horned skills in  explosives and would have thus reflected in their use and impact. Nonetheless, one may disagree with the methodology of the militants but their grievances are real and can not be brushed aside.

No one knows who killed Habib Jalib but it was clearly politically motivated murder. In Balochistan, many  suspect agencies’ hand  as in the past they have played  murkier role in the disappearance of Baloch activists.

In the murder of Habib Jalib, however, Islamabad lost future’s potential nationalist ally. Since ordinary Baloch suspect agencies’ hand in the murder, the killing most likely will be the strongest indicator of an impending surge in militants’ activities reaching to another level. Besides, it is likely to serve a new recruitment drive for the militants.

Increased militant activities mean renewed conflict with the army, even marginal could lead to defensive measures by the BLA and an escalation of violence in Balochistan.



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