Speaking as host in a public meeting, presided by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in Quetta, Lal Din Sharaf (my father) demanded an end to the distinction between locals and non-locals in Balochistan. To offset the parochial and divisive forces, he urged all Pakistanis to work concertedly towards an egalitarian and prosperous Pakistan. That was October 1947!

Sixty-five years on, the situation has deteriorated precariously. Empowerment, emancipation of the people and federalism crucial to assimilate and integrate the diversity of the province never progressed beyond meaningless rhetoric and hallow slogans. Now, as Balochistan becomes a hotbed of international intrigues and cross currents, the distinction of locals and non-locals has gone from a simmer to a boil. Over 15,000 non-locals have been murdered since 2002, and many times more have sold whatever they had and migrated to other areas of Pakistan. Armed organised gangs of every description from a score of separatist movements to sanctioned death squads kill and desecrate corpses numbering thousands; deepening the wounds towards a point of no return. The unchecked and targeted killing of Hazaras has left a sectarian stain on the city of Quetta.

With issues identified since 1947 and lapse of 65 years, why has such a catastrophe come to pass? The answer, perhaps, lies not in bad, but pathetic governance and criminal neglect. Though the entire country has faced similar scourges, vast and sparsely populated expanses of Balochistan, abject poverty, absence of opportunities for a better life, non-existent communication infrastructure, underdevelopment and failure of successive governments to infuse a common Pakistani narrative have all taken their toll in this neglected backyard. In fits and starts, the efforts of the government have been at an aggressive enforcement of the writ of law, rather than the welfare and empowerment of the people. These poor and deprived people have continued to live under local chieftains, in harsh weather and terrain conditions with no glimpse of a central authority. As a result, cracks have widened, suspicions and mistrust aggravated and writ of law diminished.

In 1947, parts of Balochistan under the British rule automatically became part of Pakistan. This was the British Balochistan, comprising areas of Naseerabad, Marri and Bugti, Quetta, Chaman and Zhob. The area with the railway line provided the jump off point for invasions into Afghanistan. Due to direct British rule that area was comparatively developed due to the railway infrastructure, educational institutions, power grids, roads and health facilities.

In 1878, following the Afghan precedence under Ahmad Shah Abdali,  Robert Sandman entered into a treaty with the Khan of Kalat and brought under the British Suzerainty Kalat and the other three tribal states of Makran, Lasbela and Kharan. Consequently, the British merely placed a resident at Kalat to oversee the Khan. They allowed the Khan to look after Baloch areas, including the states of Makran, Lasbela and Kharan with nominal allegiance. As a result, these states maintained their status and continued to survive in the stone age with no socio-economic benefits trickling down from the British rule.

In 1947, through an agreement with the Khan of Kalat, the British Suzerainty was exchanged for Pakistan. Nothing else changed. Under the One Unit, British Balochistan became Quetta Division and the Old Balochistan became Kalat Division. Later, Pakistan bought the coastal areas and Gwadar from Oman, and merged them into Kalat Division. The benefits of independence and the economic growth of the 60s never permeated to Kalat. Rather the benefits of oil, gas, chromite and mineral exploitations in Quetta Division, rather than being passed to the people in the form of development were transferred into the hands of the sardars of the area with criminal neglect and conceit. As a result, areas of Marri and Bugti, historically part of the British Balochistan, were also pushed into stone age.

The PCO of 1970 abolishing the One Unit was the ‘cruellest cut of all cuts’ for Balochistan. Consequently, the special distinction between the British Balochistan and Old Balochistan was lost creating an enduring controversy on the socio-economic and political fronts, always vulnerable to Pettu tribal politics. While making administrative divisions, the contrasts in development, lack of government writ, hold of sardars and miserable conditions of the people were never taken into account.

Tragically, the control of underdeveloped areas in the form of ‘B’ Areas was passed on to the dictatorial writ of the sardars with levies under their control. The independence of 1947 did not change the ground conditions for the Baloch people, depriving them of an opportunity to become part of the Pakistani construct. Today, this region is cocooned in a time-warp at least two centuries old.

Advent of democracy with the 1973 Constitution is notional. The historically predisposed notional allegiance to a far away distant authority, like Persia, Kabul, Delhi and Islamabad, strengthened the hold of Baloch sardars on the electoral process. It also distanced the people from their country. This had enabled chieftains to effectively move into a centuries old vacuum to disproportionate power over their tribes and sub-tribes. This has led to a proliferation of nationalist parties, each belonging to a separate tribe. Hence, in pursuit of tribal cleavages and power, they resort to sometimes genuine, sometimes expedient and sometimes perceived grievances; the Baloch areas have intermittently remained restive. It is worth noting that nearly all the troubles areas in Balochistan are Brahvi (the original inheritors of the area), yet the Balochistan name is exploited to make headlines and propaganda. Pathans, Sindhis, Punjabis and Hazaras do not form part of this supposed Baloch construct.

The development of Gwadar coincides with recent unrest and violence in Balochistan. The government under General Pervez Musharraf, rather than nip the evil through political means, embarked on a bulwark approach. While the Marris and Mengals boycotted the elections of 2002, Nawab Akbar Bugti’s results were, probably, manipulated to deprive him his stature at federal and provincial levels.

At the same time, a deliberate process of resettling Kalpar Bugtis began. Oblivious and negligent to the international intelligence war plans in play, the government played into the cobweb. Its reaction was to lump tribal politics, issues particular to Nawab Akbar Bugti, royalties and hostile actions by dissidents and sponsored separatist into one military operation to define an enemy. This is the immediate cause of the present tragedy facing the province and Pakistan.

Yet, as a reappraisal, the political lifelines were kept alive, but distrust between the government and Nawab Akbar grew. A point came in 2005 when the government felt that reconciliation with the late Nawab was inevitable. Tragically, on August 26, 2006, when a delegation of officers of Special Services Group entered Bugti’s cave to escort him honourably to a negotiated freedom, they were fired upon. Soon after booby traps triggered huge explosions and collapsed the millennia old Cro Magnan caves. Balochistan’s premier conciliator and a staunch Pakistani was no more!

The ever eager and vitriolic media was quick to seize the occasion as leverage against a military dictator. The two main actors of the tragedy Balach Marri and Brahamdagh Bugti escaped to Afghanistan. Tribal parlance indicates that in a spate of karo kari, Balach was ambushed and killed in Chagai, while the lady involved fell to the assassin’s bullets in Karachi in January 2012. Brahamdagh himself now lives a comfortable life in Switzerland under the watchful eyes of British intelligence, calling shots against Pakistan.

Tragically, the “democracy as best revenge” has worsened the situation. The boycott of 2008 elections by APDMA brought many new actors and turncoats to the fore. As a result, the government has been successful in buying off every member of the Provincial Assembly in the name of development funds. Massive corruption, extortion, killing squads and counter intelligence operations have all combined to add fuel to the fire. A perception of military operations, a far cry from the ground realities, has been created by the vitriolic media to sharpen international focus on Balochistan. The FC is operating on the orders of the provincial government to impose the writ of law once again; ironically, in an area where the government has neither the political will, nor the moral wherewithal to reach out to the people. An old callous drama is being replayed at the cost of Pakistan!

The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist. Email: samson.sharaf@gmail.com