This is the fifth installment of ‘The Balochistan Series’ here on my blog. To see more of the series, click here.
This is the second half of PART 4, and the first part went up separately, simply to make reading easier and more enjoyable.
The question of the province’s official language was another point of contention. The provincial government wanted Balochi to be formally declared the official language, and worked for the development of regional languages, and Balochi culture. The center, however, opposed this, and Urdu was declared the provincial language. It seems this decision by the center, though used by nationalists as an example of anti-Baloch sentiments, is logical. Urdu was the national language, and to have different languages in place in the four provinces would not have been cohesive with smooth-running of state affairs. The reason major opposition to this was not organized can be attributed to many factors relevant to the times:
1) The declaration of Balochi language as the official language of the province would cause immediate opposition by the Pashtuns, who would demand that their language also be deemed official.
2) Balochis and Brahuis are linguistically quite different, though usually accepted as one ethnic group. If schools were to be divided on the basis of Balochi language and Brahui language, it was feared that this would cause a divide between the people, and the Pathans might be able to claim that they were the majority in the province.
3) Fighting the center on the basis of language might bring ideas that the NAP government was seeking to secede, as Bangladesh had done. If this was the case, the Pakistani government could be expected to launch a large-scale offensive which the Baloch were at this time neither able nor willing to combat, and Balochistan would become the victim of suppression, oppression and neglect. “A decision against Urdu would have immediately raised the scare of secession.” (Baloch, 2001)
The Pakistani government laid a charge of treason against NAP leaders Ataullah Mengal and Wali Khan (London Conspiracy of 1972) claiming that they had met with then-Bangladesh PM Mujib-ur-Rahman to “plan the disintegration of Pakistan… into several autonomous states”. (Awan, 1985) Awan, among other writers on the subject, points to the fact that Mujib told The Times that the charge was baseless when he says that the center was just creating an excuse to break up the provincial government. Accusations of PPP-led sabotage against the provincial government are recurring in the literature for this time period. Provincial government employees were mostly non-Balochis who owed their allegiance to the center and were “instructed to put every possible obstruction” and “acted in complete disregard of their minister’s instructions”. Furthermore, “They were made to believe… that the NAP ministries were only for a short period. Hence they should not ruin their future by becoming loyal to them.” (Breseeg, 2004)
1973 Constitution & other conflict-points
According to the Daily Balochistan Express (Saturday, 12 May 2001), a majority of Baloch leaders did not sign the constitution of 1973 as they did not agree the quantum of provincial autonomy granted in the document. Out of the five MNA’s, only Bizengo and Abdul Haq signed it. The other three were agreed in their opposition that the state should handle only foreign affairs, currency and defence, while the provinces collected taxes and used them to benefit their local populations.
Dehi Muhafiz (literal translation: Rural Police) was established by the Mengal ministry in 1973, and according to Bizenjo, was established with the consent of the governor. Islamabad viewed it as an “NAP army”. Interestingly, the later PPP ministry maintained this force, renaming it the Balochistan Reserve Force. The Civil Armed Force that was in place before the NAP government was abolished when the NAP came into power “depriving the two provincial ministries of an instrument for the maintenance of law and order”. (Dehwar, 1994)
The list of offenses committed by the center is extensive. Following are some of the most evident:
- Ghulam Mustafa Khar withdrew all Punjabi bureaucrats serving in Balochistan, causing a severe administrative problem.
- A police strike was organized against the Balochi government as a response to the establishment of the Dehi Muhafiz.
- Artificial law and order crises were created in Pat Feeder and Lasbela. When the Dehi Muhafiz attempted to combat it, the centre sent its own forces to combat the provincial force.
- The PPP government promoted landlordism.
- 1973 assassination of Abdus Samad Achakzai of Pakhtunkhwa-NAP – widely attributed to have been arranged by the center.
- In the 1970 elections, the PPP did not have a single elected member in the Balochistan provincial assembly, but in 1974 (without any general elections having been held during this time) it had the majority.
- Unlawful appointment of Ghulam Qadir as Chief Minister (in violation of constitutional article 131)
- 1974 White Paper on Balochistan accusing Balochi government of expelling non-Balochis, whereas this decision had been made by Yahya Khan and was in the process of being carried out in 1972 when the NAP-JUI came to power.
- Bhutto’s exploitation of the sardari system, causing in-fighting between tribal leaders, vilification in national media, manipulative political alliances. Mir Ghaus Bizenjo, in an interview with the monthly The Herald, on July 1986 said: “NAP introduced a bill… in 1973, for the abolition of the sardari system. The PPP opposed that bill and the central government refused to ratify it”.
- 1976 Hyderabad Conspiracy Case against 55 individuals, claiming that they were waging war against the state.
Bhutto’s seeming tirade against the Balochistan government must have had a reason. One may say that it was simply his need to hold on to as much power as possible, and his sense of alarm with respect to the nationalist sentiments in Balochistan? As the first Prime Minister after the secession of East Pakistan, is it possible that he was hedging his bets, determined not to go down as the man who lost another piece of Pakistan? Determined to make a name for himself in the foreign arena, is it possible that Bhutto felt threatened by the strength of Balochi nationalism, and the obvious weakness of the central government after the dismemberment of the country in 1971?
One may also assume that it was not so much the Balochis and their nationalism that troubled Bhutto, but foreign pressures from countries such as Iran (the main supplier of economic assistance to Pakistan at the time). The dismissal of the NAP government could be a result of Iran’s fears that Pakistan-based Baloch nationalist tendencies would spill over the border and cause unrest in that country. During his Supreme Court trial, Bhutto is quoted as saying, “I cannot hand over Balochistan to NAP, because the Shahinshah of Iran does not approve of it.” (Breseeg, 2004) Selig Harrison lists “Bhutto’s larger political objectives in Pakistan, pressure on Islamabad from the Shah of Iran, Iraqi Iranian tension, and the Soviet support for Baghdad in its conflict with Tehran” as the “key factors”. (Harrison, In Afghanistan’s Shadow, 1981) Lending further weight to this theory is the fact that “Iran’s government provided 30 Cobra helicopters with their own pilots to fight 55,000 Baloch guerillas.” (Khan, 2009)
Ataullah Mengal presented a third view, saying that the progressive educational and developmental reforms passed by his ministry and the ministry in the NWFP were accepted and acknowledged by the people as positive and more “rational” than any reforms in the PPP-led provinces of Sindh and Punjab. This attitude led to a decrease in the popularity of the PPP.
Awan lists his “inherent mistrust and fear of Wali Khan as a political adversary” reason enough for him to seek to “neutralize… the NAP, as a political threat”, and refers to Bhutto’s socialism, saying that Bhutto viewed the sardari system as a blockade between him and the common Balochi, and saw the “political liquidation of the sardar” as a way of eliminating this blockade.