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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Baluchis in Pakistan

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Pakistan Facts
Area:    803,943 sq. km.
Capital:    Islamabad
Total Population:    159,196,336,000 (source: CIA World Factbook, 2004, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References



Risk Assessment

Although Baluchis are fragmented politically, as well as by tribal and clan identities, they have several other factors placing them at risk for future rebellion: a history of political and economic discrimination as well as recent rebellious activity carried out by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). The transition from the Musharraf government in 2008 to a new government may change government relations with the Baluchis, but the instability of a democracy in transition may further put the group at risk. Furthermore, the continuation of violent conflict in Afghanistan adds to instability in Baluchistan and ensures a ready supply of cheap weaponry. Increasing Pashtun nationalism (which is responding to many of the same stimuli as Baluch nationalism) may also lead to tension between the Baluch and Pashtun residents of Baluchistan.

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Analytic Summary

The Baluchi, who speak Baluch and Brahui, (LANG = 1) are among the oldest inhabitants of the desert regions in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, first arriving to the region more than 1,000 years ago. Although their origins are debated, the myth most commonly invoked among the Baluch is that their ancestors migrated from Aleppo (in modern-day Syria) shortly before the time of Christ. They are traditionally nomads, and many still combine subsistence agriculture with semi-nomadic pastoralism (CUSTOM = 1). While Baluchis still hold a tenous majority in Baluchistan, only 56 percent of Pakistan's Baluch population resides there (GROUPCON = 2; GC2 = 1). Most are Sunni Muslims (RELIGS1 = 5). However, religious identity is not most Baluchis' primary identity. Instead, Baluchis generally base their identities on tribal, clan and sub-clan affiliations and loyalties to sardars, clan chiefs. Clan and sub-clan divisions have at times led to open intra-Baluch conflicts.

Under British rule, Baluchis enjoyed widespread autonomy and were also granted autonomy when Pakistan initially gained independence. However, provincial autonomy was revoked in 1955, when several provinces were merged. Autonomy was restored in 1970, but the secessionist crisis of East Pakistan (Bangladesh), led Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to tighten central control. While a newly drafted constitution guaranteed minority rights, provincial autonomy existed merely on paper. Baluch nationalists, inflamed by the continued economic deprivation of the region and the revocation of traditional autonomy, rebelled against central control in 1973, when the Bhutto government dismissed the Baluchistan provincial government. (The government, which had just seized an illegal cache of weapons, claimed the provincial government encouraged violence and opposed modernization.) The uprising was not suppressed until 1977, when the Bhutto government was removed. Bhutto's successor, General Zia ul-Haq released as many as 11,000 Baluchi leaders and activists from jails and declared an amnesty for guerrillas who had fled to Iran or Afghanistan. During the imposition of martial law in Pakistan (1977-1985), Zia's government actively sought to promote solutions to economic and social programs in Baluchistan.

Yet, despite some limited efforts by the Pakistani government, Baluchistan still remains the most economically disadvantaged province (ECDIS04-06 = 2). Further, Baluchis are underrepresented in the bureaucracy, armed forces, and government at both the provincial and national level (POLDIS04-06 = 2). While in 2003, a Baluch became prime minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, this probably does not indicate a general shift in the political realm for most Baluch, and indeed his assumption of power could be seen as more inspired by the necessities of the political game; the current Pakistani political scene will not allow him much freedom of action or independence. Furthermore, while provincial and national elections have taken place since 2001, they were viewed as deeply flawed by most ethnic groups in Pakistan, as well as by the international community. It is still unclear if the return of civilian government to Pakistan will improve the political and economic situation of Baluchistan.

Baluchistan contains reserves of coal and natural gas that provide for most of Pakistan's needs. The exploitation of these resources by the Pakistani government has often been opposed by Baluchis on the grounds that they are not reaping the benefits from the revenue that is generated (ECGR206 = 2). Recently, Baluch sardars have demanded concessions from foreign exploration and development companies (including everything from profit sharing to college scholarships for family members). While some concessions have been granted, on several occasions the companies have simply gone elsewhere. Political and economic neglect are at the root of Baluch protests (PROT01-03=3), such as the 2003 protest against both a gas company and the government for not paying royalties due to a Baluch community. Protests continued through 2006 and included demonstrations against state-led violence such as the 2006 violent protests following the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti (PROT04-05 = 3; PROT06 = 4).

Several Baluch parties compete in provincial and national elections (which Musharraf suspended in 1999 but reinstated in 2001), although the legitimacy of these elections has been challenged. In 1998, several Baluch parties joined with Mohajir, Pashtun and Sindh parties to form the Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement (PONM), which seeks to challenge Punjab hegemony in Pakistan's political life. The solidarity between these groups has continued to grow since then. The violent separatism of the 1970s apparently had disappeared. However, in 2000, two militant groups—the Baluch Liberation Army and the Baluch People's Liberation Front—arrived on the scene, each taking responsibility for several bombings. The groups (which may actually be the same) seem to be small, but they are indicative of continuing dissatisfaction with the status quo. The demands of most Baluch groups, conventional and militant, center on Baluch autonomy and Baluch control over resources, although some radical Baluchis demand full independence (POLGR04-06 = 4). In recent years, there has been increasing demand for the protection and promotion of Baluch culture, particularly with regard to the Baluch language. There is a lack of support for instruction in Baluch language. Conventional groups also lobby for increased Baluch representation at the center (although this could be construed as a strategy in pursuit of Baluch autonomy). Related to this central issue is contention over migration by other groups into traditional Baluch areas. Baluchis fear becoming a minority in their own province. Other than Pakistani ethnic group migrating to Baluch areas, Afghan (primarily Pashtun) refugees have also flooded Baluchistan, although that flow has moderated recently. In 2006, the BLA attacked several Punjabis following the death of Akbar Bugti (INTERCON06 = 1).

Baluchis are also fragmented by tribal loyalties. In the 1990s, there was a significant number of violent clashes both within and between tribes as each tribal group has sought to consolidate control over its traditional area and its resources. Recently, Kalpars and Bugtis have fought over gas royalties in the past and tensions remain between the tribes. In 2006, the clashes became violent involving automatic weaponry and causing several deaths (INTRACON06 = 1).

Rebellion increased in the Balochistan region in Pakistan (REB04 = 1; REB05-06 = 6). As a result of the fighting, recent governmental repression of the group has also been on the rise with thousands arrested and others tortured, disappeared or killed since fighting broke out in 2005 (REPGENCIV05-06 = 5; REPVIOL04-06 = 5).

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References

Blood, Peter, ed. 1994. Pakistan: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: GPO for the Library of Congress.

Government of Balochistan. 2005. Ethnic Distribution. http://www.balochistan.gov.pk/New%20Folder/ethiniv.htm, accessed 3/10/2008.

International Crisis Group. 9/14/2006. "The Worsening Conflict in Balochistan". http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=4373&l=1, accessed 3/10/2008.

Kennedy, Charles H. 1986. "Policies of Redistributional Preference in Pakistan." In Neil Nivitte and Charles H. Kennedy, eds. Ethnic Preferences and Public Policy in Developing States. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.

LexisNexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

Mahapatra, Kailash. 1994. "National and International Determinants of Ethnic Conflicts: Testing Some Theoretical Propositions in the Baluch Case." Paper presented at the 26th annual conference, NPSA/NISA.

South Asian Journal. 2005. "The Crisis in Baluchistan." http://www.southasianmedia.net/magazine/journal/8_balochistan.htm, accessed 3/10/2008

South Asia Terrorism Portal. 2004-2006. "Balochistan." http://satp.org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/Balochistan/index.html, accessed 3/10/2008

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Pakistan 1998-2006.

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Information current as of December 31, 2006