Remarks by Selig S. Harrison, Director,
Asia Program, Center for International Policy
Delivered at the Baluchistan
International Conference, Washington, D.C., Nov. 21,
I am going to start with a citation from the scripture.
Scripture for me on the subject of Pakistan is an important
book called the Shadow of the Great Game: the Untold
Story of India’s Partition, by Narendra Singh Sarila,
a retired Indian diplomat who was the ADC to Mountbatten
[Viceroy of India]. He got unprecedented access to the
British archives. In his book he presents detailed, definitive
evidence showing that as early as march, 1945, Winston
Churchill and the British general staff decided that
partition was necessary for strategic reasons. They deliberately
set out to create Pakistan because Jinnah had promised
to provide military facilities and Nehru refused to do
This is the key to understanding why Pakistan is so
dysfunctional. It’s an artificial political entity.
The British put together five ethnic groups that had
never before co-existed in the same body politic historically.
The Bengalis were the biggest. They outnumbered all of
the other four combined—the Punjabis, the Pashtuns,
the Baluch and the Sindhis. Five became four of course
when Bangladesh seceded [in 1971].
As it happened I was in Dacca during the Bangladesh
crisis of 1971 when the army moved in to crush the independence
movement. I had a memorable conversation with Zulfiqar
Ali Bhutto in which he said it would be best if the Bengalis
did secede because Pakistan would be more manageable
without them. What he meant was that he would have a
better chance of running Pakistan in cooperation with
the Punjabis if he could get rid of the Bengalis. And
that’s what happened except that the army, as you
know, eventually executed him.
The army bequeathed by the British to Pakistan was overwhelmingly
dominated by Punjabi officers and soldiers. So with the
Bengalis gone the Baluch, Pashtuns and Sindhis have faced
a cruel historical irony. For centuries they had resisted
the incursions of the Moghuls into their territories,
but now they find themselves ruled by Punjabis who invoke
the grandeur of the Moghuls to justify their power.
The Baluch never wanted to be in Pakistan. They had
to be forcibly incorporated in 1948 by a Pakistan occupation
army. The army still has cantonments located all over
Baluchistan to cope with an insurgency that is periodically
suppressed and then soon revives.
Every time it is suppressed there’s a legacy of
hatred that explains why the Baluch fighters of the next
insurgency are so highly motivated. I’d like to
recall today the fighting that raged between 1974 and
1978 to convey an idea of why the Baluch of today are
so highly motivated. More than 80,000 Pakistani troops
roamed the province at the height of the war.
By July 1974, the guerrillas had been able to cut off
most of the main roads linking Baluchistan with surrounding
provinces and to disrupt periodically the key Sibi-Harnai
rail link, thereby blocking coal shipments from Baluch
areas to the Punjab. in the Marri area, attacks on drilling
and survey operations effectively stymied Pakistani oil
exploration. Army casualties soared as the frequency
and effectiveness of ambushes and raids on military encampments
At this juncture, the Pakistan Air Force was called in.
Helicopters were used not only to ferry troops but also
to conduct combat operations in mountainous areas. initially,
the Pakistanis employed the relatively clumsy Chinook
helicopters that they had received from the United States
under their own military aid program, fitting them with
guns for combat use. But in mid-1974, Iran sent thirty
U.S.-supplied Huey Cobra helicopters, many of them manned
by Iranian pilots. The Huey Cobra was developed during
the Vietnam war and had devastating firepower, including
a six-barrel, 20-millimeter automatic cannon with a firing
rate of 750 rounds per minute. Until the Huey Cobras
arrived, the only way that the Pakistani forces could
block off guerrilla escape routes after an encounter
was by concentrating troops at key points on roads and
trails. That tactic rarely worked, since the Baluch had
much greater knowledge of the terrain. Once the Pakistanis
were backed up by six or more Huey Cobra gunships, however,
special patrols could move in while the helicopters sprayed
gunfire in the area ahead of them, slowly herding the
guerrillas into ever-shrinking sanctuaries. Even when
they sought to hide in previously secure mountain redoubts,
the Baluch were often flushed out by the ubiquitous,
readily maneuverable Huey Cobras.
The turning point in the war came in a brutal six-day
battle at Chamalang in the Marri region, which helps
to explain the continuing intensity of Baluch bitterness
toward Pakistan today. Every summer, the Marri nomads
converge on the broad pasture lands of the Chamalang
valley, one of the few rich grazing areas in all of Baluchistan.
In 1974, many of the men stayed in the hills to fight
with the guerrillas, but the women, children, and older
men streamed down from the mountains with their flocks
and set up their black tents in a sprawling, fifty-square-mile
area. Chamalang, they thought, would be a haven from
the incessant bombing and strafing attacks in the highlands.
As the fighting gradually reached a stalemate, however,
the army decided to take advantage of this concentration
of Marri families as a means of luring the guerrillas
down from the hills. The Pakistani officers calculated—correctly—that
attacks on the tent villages would compel the guerrillas
to come out into the open in defense of their families.
After a series of preliminary skirmishes in surrounding
areas, the army launched operation Chamalang on September
3, 1974, using a combined assault by ground and air forces.
Interviews with Pakistani officers and Baluch participants
indicate that some 15,000 Marris were massed at Chamalang.
Guerrilla units formed a huge protective circle around
their families and livestock. They fought for three days
and nights, braving artillery fire and occasional strafing
attacks by F-86 and mirage fighter planes and Huey Cobras.
Finally, when the Baluch ran out of ammunition, they
did what they could to regroup and escape.
Today, the ISI continues to round up Baluch and Sindhis
without giving them access to lawyers and courts despite
the advent of the so-called civilian government in Islamabad.
More than 900 Baluch and Sindhi activists have disappeared
without a trace. I urge you to read the Amnesty International
report, denying the undeniable: enforced disappearances
in Pakistan, which cites chapter and verse on this massive
violation of human rights, more than the much publicized
disappearances in Pinochet’s Chile.
By themselves, the Baluch are in a weak position militarily,
but they are beginning to forge alliances with Sindhi
factions that could become significant. What some of
the Baluch and Sindhi leaders are talking about is a
sovereign Baluch-Sindhi federation stretching from the
Indian border to Iran. The most obvious impediment to
this dream of course is the fact that Karachi is right
in the middle of the area concerned with a multi-ethnic
population. But the Baluch and Sindhis point out that
Karachi depends on gas and water pipelines crossing through
areas of the surrounding countryside under their control.
An independent Baluch-Sindhi federation would not necessarily
conflict with U.S. interests because the Baluch and Sindhi
areas are strongholds of secular values and moderate
Islam. Most of the Sindhis are Sufis and many of the
Baluch are Zikris. They reject the Wahabi and Deobandi
brand of Islam pushed by the Sepa-e-Sehaba and other
virulently anti-Shia Sunni groups in the Punjab. The
Islamist threat is centered in the Punjab where Lashkar-e-Taiba
and other hard-core jihadi groups are increasingly strong.
The word debilitating best describes the impact of ethnic
tensions on Pakistan. Ethnic tensions will steadily debilitate
Pakistan even if it hangs precariously together. Reducing
ethnic tensions has been made more difficult by the United
States, which has created a Frankenstein by pouring in
military aid for the past fifty years. We now confront
bloated armed forces that have become a privileged elite
and have a vested interest in holding onto power. They
smother civilian government in Islamabad and oppose the
constitutional reforms necessary to stabilize the federation.
The United States should do what it can to strengthen
the civilian leadership and encourage a devolution of
power but it may be too late.
Harrison is director of the Asia
Program at the Center for International Policy and
a senior scholar of the Woodrow Wilson International
Center for Scholars. He has specialized in South
Asia and East Asia for fifty years as a journalist
and scholar and is the author of five books on Asian
affairs and U.S. relations with Asia, including Korean
Endgame: A Strategy For Reunification and U.S. Disengagement,
published by Princeton University Press in May 2002.
He has visited North Korea eleven times, most recently
in January 2009. Please click here for full