Insurgency in Balochistan– A saga having characters that include Indira Gandhi and Dr. Mahrang Baloch

DND Thought CenterInsurgency in Balochistan-- A saga having characters that include Indira Gandhi and...

By Agha Iqrar Haroon

“It was a morning of March 1972 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi invited the founder of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) and the hero of Operation Jackpot (disintegration of East Pakistan from Pakistan) R. N. Kao, Minister of External Affairs Swaran Singh (who also served as Minister of Defence during 1966–1970) and Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw for a candid meeting over a cup of morning tea. There was no agenda and all invitees were informed that the Prime Minister just wanted to have tea together.

   

After candid talks, PM Indira Gandhi abruptly asked everybody sitting in the room a question that was unexpected for all except for R. N. Kao. She said “I know you all had already celebrated the first anniversary of your hard work (a reference to Bangladesh formation) but what about next? Should we sit calm or move on to Balochistan which is already ripe soil? All participants got excited except Sam Manekshaw whose instant response was that it was not his piece of cake because military operations are not possible and the Soviet military would not love to be part of any such adventurism in its neighborhood (today’s Uzbekistan was part of Soviet SSR) and would not like the idea of transporting of weaponry through Soviet boundaries while Shah (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi) would not do either without the permission of Washington. Sam Manekshaw who by that time had turbulent relations with Indira Gandhi kept sitting in the meeting after giving his viewpoint while the rest of the participants got engaged in conversation and it was decided that all of them would meet soon for detailed deliberations with a presentation ready through their ministries”.

It was a morning of March 1972 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi invited founder of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) and the hero of Operation Jackpot (disintegration of East Pakistan from Pakistan) R. N. Kao, Minister of External Affairs Swaran Singh (who also served as Minister of Defence during 1966–1970) and Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw for a candid meeting over a cup of morning tea. There was no agenda and all invitees were informed that the Prime Minister just wanted to have tea together.

It is believed this was the first meeting of a series that continues to date. This above-mentioned information is obviously not documented but kept travel as oral history till the death of Manekshaw who never denied such information. To cut the story short, Pakistan got a golden opportunity to pay India in golden coin during the Golden Temple disaster but Pakistan failed to do so and refrained from being a part of the Khalistan movement for reasons best known to the then man in uniform—Gen Ziaul Haq. Several Sikh separatists had complained in their interviews published in the last four decades that Pakistan categorically refused to help them. Some former diplomats claimed that Ziaul Haq was afraid of the US response and he was too focused on Afghan Jihad and could not take the risk to antagonize Americans by supporting Sikh separatists.

In 1990 when I went to Quetta to document the Political dynamics of Balochistan as a Reporter working with daily the Frontier Post, it was my first opportunity to get firsthand information on Baluchistan’s political history that helped me to understand the current and undercurrents of several separatist’s movements and I also met some people who had been extremist nationalists and spent their youth in residing and hiding in mountains and then joined mainstream politics.

I published six articles as a series under the title of “Political Dynamics of Balochistan” after concluding my travel. Some information that I got and published was not new because several books had already been published about the Baloch insurgency during the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and thereafter. However, the unique information that I got was quite surprising for me. Some politicians including the late Akbar Khan Bugti confirmed that India was running espionage activities through the Sindh desert but our intelligence agencies were shy to share information with politicians as well as with journalists.

The most interesting information that I got was that a large number of Rajasthani women were traveling frequently in interior Sindh and as far as Balochistan and hundreds (if not thousands) of them were married/living with powerful politicians of Sindh and Balochistan. I shared this information with the then Chief Minister Balochistan Taj Muhammad Jamali who was my host but he refused to answer. I tried to figure it out with Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali but he also avoided answering my queries.

When I came back to Islamabad, I put the same queries to some of my friends working closely with security institutions. At least one of them confirmed that there was a trail of such women but since they had the patronage of powerful people of Sindh and Balochistan and the majority of them were married/living with powerful people, therefore, this issue was “undocumented” and “unattended”.

By the end of 90s, there was no big security issue in Balochistan although it was impossible to travel for a journalist alone without protection because the province was run by private armies of local power elites and criminal groups but there was no threat to the state of Pakistan. I traveled several times to Balochistan when I was working with Frontier Post and published several interesting interviews with powerful politicians.

However, things altogether changed in 2005 when Dr. Shazia Khalid alleged rape case came to the surface and played a pivotal role in changing the security scenario of the province. Instead of investigating the case, authorities allegedly tried to save the accused rapist. It is claimed by several politicians and journalists that the Musharraf government refused to accept the claims of Dr. Shazia and refused to register the case against the alleged rapist who was an army officer. When things came out of control, the government had to have a deal with alleged victim Dr. Shazia Khalid, and a member of Musharaf’s cabinet who was also Musharaf’s class fellow in F.C College locked the deal with Dr. Shazia with the help of a journalist. Dr. Shazia Khalid was sent out of Pakistan to the United Kingdom with the hefty compensation money. The story did not end here.

The then President Gen Musharraf who was drunk with the power of being a hero of the US-sponsored “war on terror” took several unwise rather senseless moves including instigating the Bugti Tribe and pitching state power against seasoned politician Akbar Khan Bugti who was known for his comfortable relations with state of Pakistan.  A cancer patient aged 80, Bugti was killed on August 26, 2006, in a cave blast where he was hiding.

I remember Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain tried his best to cool down the situation but Gen Musharraf was not ready to resolve the issue and decided to use all state power to snub the situation that was still not in the form of insurgency. This was the beginning of a fresh Indian onslaught over Balochistan and Indian intelligence agencies immediately jumped into the situation, offering all-out support to Bugtis as well to all those who again started a separatist movement. This situation continues and the latest sit-in of Baloch women, men, and children in Islamabad under the leadership of Dr. Mahrang Baloch was a scene of the series that was started in March 1972.

I am not saying that people like Dr. Mahrang Baloch do work for Indian intelligence agencies but they have surely become a part of Indira Gandhi’s vision of disintegration of Balochistan from Pakistan.

There is no doubt that Musharaf’s government provided golden opportunities to India to play havoc with the sensitive and fragile situation in Balochistan through ill-mannered and ill-planned administrative decisions and enemies got maximum advantages to play with our social fault lines.

One of the most ill-mannered administrative acts of governments had been dealing with sensitive issues with state power instead of engaging disgruntled elements in dialogue and discussions. I remember that people like former Corp Commander Lt Gen (retd) Nasser Janjua successfully engaged displeased elements and peace was restored during his tenure because he believed in clamping the conflict instead of winning the conflict. His message was very clear “there was no concept of winning and losing because we all are Pakistanis and we have problems but Pakistan belongs to everybody”. The situation also remained under control during Corp Commander Lt Gen (retd) Aamer Riaz but then instantly got out of control after Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa took over the charge certainly it has not normalized since then.

There is no doubt that Indian investment is so deep in Balochistan that it has played a huge role in indoctrinating Balochi youth that overtly shows hate against the state of Pakistan. The prime example of this hatemongering is the last press conference of Dr Mahrang Baloch in Islamabad before she announced to end sit-in outside the National Press Club. In her 40-minute-long press conference, she used the word “nafrat” (hate) 13 times. The word “nafrat” against Pakistan has been deeply injected into the minds of youth by our enemies and whenever the state of Pakistan makes efforts to promote peace and security, anti-national elements and forces immediately become active and start playing their negative role.

During the sit-in, Dr. Mahrang Baloch admitted that the families of terrorists of the Baloch Liberation Army who were killed in Iran were present at the Baloch Solidarity Council protest camp.

Whenever I talk with government officials dealing with the Balochistan issue, they blame the Balochistan Solidarity Council for using the people of Baloch against Pakistan. They say that Balochi youth is not ready to even listen to the other side of the story—the story that the state is telling because enemies in their multilayered propaganda have injected the narrative that the “state is always lies and State is ruthless and callous and does not love and respect Baloch people”.

After the death of Karima Baloch in Canada whose body was found on the bank of a river, Dr Manrang Baloch is leading Baloch Solidarity Council. Immediately after the death of Karima Baloch, the Baloch separatists claimed that Karima Baloch was killed by Pakistani intelligence. However, Canadian police confirmed that Karima was drunk so could not manage her balance and fell into the water. Meanwhile, the European organization Disinfo Lab confirmed that Karima Baloch was also linked with an Indian propaganda network spreading all over the world. These two pieces of information coming from the Western investigators were embarrassing and frustrating for the Baloch separatist movement.

The new leader Dr Mahrang Baloch is the daughter of Abdul Ghaffar Longo, who was a BLA commander and was allegedly involved in numerous attacks on state institutions. Dr. Mahrang Baloch has not only been studying on a state scholarship but has been receiving government salaries under a special incentive program launched in 2014 for higher education and facilitation of Baloch students, particularly female students.

A candid and impartial review of the protest led by Mahrang Baloch indicates that Mahrang Baloch brought families of “missing persons” from Balochistan to Islamabad to raise the issue of “missing persons” at the global level. She claimed missing persons were either in the custody of state agencies or were killed by the agencies. The prime case she highlighted was of Maula Bakhsh Balach.  However, there is a huge contradiction between what she claims and what the already available official indicates. The CTD not only filed an FIR against him but also started legal proceedings, taking him from one place to another. On his way, the BLA attacked and killed him to prevent him from confession or from becoming approver against BLA leadership.

Mahrang Baloch’s statement during the sit-in was riddled with contradictions. Mahrang Baloch in one of her statements accepted that terrorists recently killed inside Iranian Balochistan were also among “missing persons” while Iran also confirmed that they were illegally residing in Iran. This indicates that they were neither missing persons nor abducted persons rather they residing outside Pakistan and conducting terrorist activities inside Pakistan. The state of Pakistan time and again claims that the majority of so-called missing persons are either hiding in Afghanistan or have already lived in India and some of them in Iranian Balochistan or had been killed in Afghanistan and Syria in the past two decades.

She confirmed that families of those who were killed in Iran were also present in a sit-in in Islamabad where they claimed that their sons or brothers were in the custody of the government or had already been killed by security agencies.

On the other hand, the government of Pakistan says that it is determined to solve the problem of missing persons, and positive results are also coming forward. In this regard, the Commission for Missing Persons constituted has been functioning since March 1, 2011. According to the data of this commission, the number of registered cases is 10,014, the number of decided cases is 7,749 and the number of outstanding cases is 2,265, whose disappearance has not been proved yet.

Since the Balochistan issue has become so complex, multilayered, and multifaceted, it must be addressed at different levels. Instead of straight away considering people like Mahrang Baloch as Indian stooges, there is an opportunity to consider such people as indoctrinated, abused, and used by Indian intelligence agencies and victims of multilayered Indian propaganda that has been spread over 50 years—since the day Indira Gandhi decided to invest inside Balochistan. Moreover, there is a need to engage youth—not only Baloch youth but also the youth of whole of Pakistan.  We must not forget that the Indian target is not only Balochi youth but also youth in every city of Pakistan. Unfortunately, former prime minister Imran Khan played a pivotal role in injecting hate against Pakistan among youth and effectively instigated youth to attack state institutions and whatever we saw on May 9, 2023, was just a scene of what had been inoculated inside Pakistani youth that failed to think what it was doing while attacking monuments of martyrs and military installations.

I have been writing for the last 10 years that there is a great need to engage youth in dialogue and conversation and our universities (private and public) have become hubs of hatemongers who are constantly instigating our youth that the “State is not their mother” and “State must be challenged”.

The recent engagement of Chief of Army Staff General Syed Asim Munir with youth at the Youth Convention is an excellent move. However, COAS cannot visit all universities and all the colleges of the country therefore there should be a mechanism in place for constant interaction with youth through regional experts, intellectuals, academicians, and analysts who can mitigate cognitive blurriness that our youth is a victim of. Such discussion and study circles must be planned through a framework where special conversations and dialogues should be arranged regularly.

COAS Gen Asim Munir gave a very meaningful and important interaction with youth in which the participants raised important questions and he shared his views on the growing propaganda on social media and stressed that our religion mandates us to research before believing anything. The false propaganda spread about our country is to destroy our country.

He presented an optimistic approach to youth and said that Pakistani youth should be confident and proud of their country, its manpower and natural resources, and above all our national identity. The Army Chief also said that the tragedy of Pakistani politics is (was) that the axis of its politics is power.

While clarifying the negative effects of social media, the Army Chief suggested that it is everyone’s responsibility to avoid these negative effects. The purpose of making fabricated propaganda is to spread disillusionment. Now it is up to the youth to ignore this disappointment and rely on self-confidence.

In response to the question raised about the lack of political stability in the country, the Army Chief emphasized the importance of the five-year term of the Parliament. He was of the view that the people of Pakistan elected the parliament for five years and during that period, if the government or its head changes in a democratic way, then equating it with political instability is definitely a part of negative propaganda. Citing examples from the United Kingdom and India, he added that governments changed several times during the five-year term of the Parliament because it is part of the parliamentarian system.

In response to a question about the rights of Gilgit-Baltistan, the Army Chief stressed the need for all of us to be identified as Pakistan. The identity card and passport that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have are the same as any other Pakistani has and this identity keeps all Pakistanis united. He was of the view that there was a need to discourage all negative tendencies while avoiding the influence of all negative propaganda.

The speech of COAS Gen Asim Munir underlies his deep understanding of the psychological problems being faced by our youth that is the target of enemies and I am sure one day the government of Pakistan will also understand the need to engage youth through a proper system at place because hopelessness in youth is the most dangerous virus that kills the nations. If we really wish to move ahead, we have to engage dissidents irrespective of their provincial background and their harsh attitude towards the State. They can be victims of propaganda rather than propagandists against the State.  There is a thin line and this line must be viewed, reviewed, and understood by the State.

If I could be in the interim government, I could arrange flight tickets for every poor woman and child to Quetta who was misguided and abused by separatists and was brought to Islamabad to pitch against the mighty power of the State. They were poor and innocent Pakistanis. They were not criminals or terrorists like their sons, fathers, brothers, and relatives who were running away because they had already become victims of a half-a-century-old grand plan to disintegrate Balochistan from Pakistan. Moreover, this is the duty of the State to inform real history and events instead of hiding realities from people because ignorance is the lethal weapon enemies use against the state for disintegration.

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