The insurgency in Balochistan is far from over. Apart from a series of bomb blasts and attacks on gas pipelines, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) claims that it shot down a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighter aircraft on 10 September. During the past three months, symbols of government authority have been targets; rockets have been fired at the chief minister's residence, the electricity pylons, the railway lines, etc. The Baloch nationalists have also claimed that the government is planning another major military operation in the province. It appears that the relative calm that has prevailed since the last bout of confrontation in Dera Bugti is only the lull before the storm.
Last year saw Baloch nationalists planting mines, firing rockets, exploding bombs and even ambushing military convoys, killing over 100 troops. The Sui airport building was blown up, gas pipelines and electricity grids were repeatedly hit, the chief minister and the governor were targeted. Their complaints related to gas royalties, setting up of cantonments, and development projects, which deprive locals of the benefits while allowing carpetbaggers to make a large profit. The operations in Wana, and operations against Al Qaeda in Pakistan, however, eclipsed the happenings in Balochistan throughout 2004. This year began with a bang, acts of violence in Sui in January and Dera Bugti in March forced the Pakistani establishment to sit up and take notice of Balochistan. The BLA, an unknown organization hitherto, claimed responsibility for most of these acts of violence.
The Balochis have rebelled four times since Pakistan's creation, demanding greater autonomy, or even an independent state, which would reunite the five million Balochis in Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan under one flag. Balochistan comprises 43 per cent of Pakistan's area but has only five percent of Pakistan's population. It also has immense natural resources and most of Pakistan's energy resources. Baloch joined Pakistan quite reluctantly. The predominant ruler of Baloch - the Khan of Kalat signed the merger document under duress, resulting in the first armed insurgency in 1948. Since then, the Balochis have revolted thrice and have faced the security forces in 1958, 1963 to 1969, and 1973 to 1977. Though the insurgencies in the past have been crushed with a heavy hand, they have left scars that are yet to heal. Each insurgency has been more intense than the previous one, and the organisational capabilities and the popular support for the insurgents have increased with each subsequent insurgency. At the height of insurgency in 1973, 55,000 insurgents faced 80,000 Pakistani troops. The Pakistan Air Force as well as The Iranian Air Force supported these troops. More than 5,000 insurgents and over 3,300 soldiers were killed in the insurgency that lingered on until 1977.
The current spate of violence has manifested after a hiatus of three decades and at a time when most of the nationalists are out of power in Quetta. The insurgents have mainly attacked developmental activities and economic targets. Gas pipelines, railway tracks, bridges, power transmission lines, telephone exchanges, military and government installations have been targeted with amazing regularity. The rape of a woman doctor in Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) complex at Sui in January, allegedly by an Army Captain, saw pitched battles between insurgents and security forces. In four days of fighting 14,000 rounds of small arms, the insurgents fired 436 mortar shells and 60 rockets. In another incident at Dera Bugti, a minor exchange of fire between the tribesmen and the security personnel resulted in both sides firing rockets and shelling mortars. The daylong shelling claimed 67 lives, including 33 Hindus and eight troops. Over 100 people were injured and houses and temples were severely damaged.
A parliamentary committee set up to address problems of Balochistan has recommended a hefty economic package, but the nationalists have rejected its report. The Pakistani establishment has rather simplistically attributed the violence in Balochistan to mainly two factors, the rejection of nationalist parties by the voters in the last elections and the apprehension of feudal lords that the mega developmental projects will expose the population to outside world and weaken their hold. However, a careful analysis indicates a deep-rooted alienation in Baloch, whose people feel they have been denied representation in the government and perceive it as an alien government. There are hardly any Balochis in the Army or top federal jobs, even most of the provincial jobs are held by outsiders. As a result, the ratio of unemployment in Balochistan is highest in the country.
The Balochis fear marginalisation in their own province by Pakhtoons and other Pakistanis. This feeling of being reduced to a minority has led them to oppose the mega projects, as they perceive that it will not result in greater economic opportunities for them but will be used by outsiders to colonise their land. Absence of genuine federalism and the lack of any worthwhile decision making powers with the provincial government under the current military dispensation has accentuated the alienation of population. The issue has to be dealt with prudently to prevent the spiral of violence that threatens Pakistan's existence.