Pakistan: Baluchistan province conflict flares up

A recent armed clash between armed nationalist activists and the Pakistani security forces in the city of Sui once again proves that the situation in Baluchistan is far more fragile and volatile than the Pakistani media implies.

In three attacks over three consecutive days, rockets and small arms fire have damaged gas pipelines, electricity supply installations, and public and private property. The loss of life, which is heavy for the relatively small population in Baluchistan, is escalating in direct proportion to the increasing intensity of the exchanges.

Gas supplies have been disrupted throughout Pakistan. The clashes are a direct consequence of the shameful incident of the rape of a female doctor in a hospital in Sui. The alleged perpetrators are reportedly an officer and three other security personnel from Pakistani Petroleum Limited (PPL). No-one has been arrested, so far, for this crime. PPL has pulled out all its staff from the Sui gas field. Fertiliser industries and other operations have been halted by the disruption of gas supplies.

The unknown armed groups have also destroyed Sui airport and the central telephone exchange. The ‘Baluchistan Liberation Army’ (BLA) later claimed responsibility for these attacks.

The Pakistani media and government officials always accuse the BLA of carrying out any and all attacks in the province. Some nationalist activists counter that the BLA is a creation of the Pakistani establishment, which is intended to divide the ethnically mixed population of Baluchistan. There are some who do accept that young members of the BLA may be behind these attacks.

Last month, one bomb attack on a military truck killed 11 soldiers of the Pakistani army. Rocket attacks have become a daily routine in Quetta and other cities in Balochistan. Violence is on the increase in all areas where Baluchi people in the province live. There are increased attacks on security forces. State forces in retaliation have arrested many political activists of different nationalist parties. The state is using all means of repression and torture. But still the situation is not in the control of the government. It is most likely that government will start military operations in the province on a small or large scale.

General Musharraf, Pakistan’s ruler, has demanded that the nationalist parties stop violence or face dire consequences. But it will be a big mistake if the military begin an all-out military campaign against the insurgency in Balochistan. The results of previous misadventures for military was disastrous in 1948, 1958-62,1963-69 and1973-77. On all four occasions the military failed to quell the rebellion of the different ethnic groups in Balochistan. It will not be easy to fight against Baluch guerrillas fighting on their home soil and as they have the support of local people. An all-out war against guerrillas can create very dangerous situation for Musharraf and his political machine.

The main struggle is over natural resources and for their control. Baluchistan is full of gas, oil, copper, silver, gold, coal, uranium and other natural minerals. The Pakistani Establishment wants full control of these resources and tribal chiefs want control to be in their hands. Chinese and Western multinationals want to explore and exploit these resources. The Musharraf regime has historically played the ‘watchdog’ of these multinationals.

The experience of last 57 years shows that no solution on a capitalist basis is possible. Capitalism has failed to solve the national question in Pakistan provinces like Baluchistan, where oppressed minorities live. On the contrary, it has made the situation more complicated. Only a system which is not based on exploitation can give full rights to all nationalities.

This can only be possible on the basis of socialist transformation of society. The situation in Baluchistan will become one of the most important issues in Pakistani politics in the near future. As a result of the build up in tension it seems that a much more open clash between the Pakistani state and nationalist forces could develop in the near future. This could lead to a far more unstable situation for the working class and poor peasantry, in both Baluchistan and the whole country.

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January 2005