Tag Archives: Balochistan

Unravelling the acrostic—or the unravelling acrostic? 18 June 2014


Image: http://cache.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/09/pakistan_word_map.jpg

Unravelling the acrostic—or the unravelling acrostic?      18 June 2014

The term ‘Pakistan’ is a manufactured acrostic in which the letters stand for various regions: ‘p’ for Punjab; ‘a’ for Afghania (the area around the former North-West Frontier Province (NWFP); now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa); ‘k’ for Kashmir (the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)); ‘i’ stood for nothing and was not in the original term ‘Pakstan’ coined in 1933 but was added later to make the term easier to pronounce, although some revisionists now claim that the ‘i’ stands for Indus; ‘s’ for Sind; and, ‘tan’ for Balochistan. Another meaning of the term is ‘the land of the pure’ in Urdu, Sindhi and Persian. More on that later.

Almost from its inception, this acrostic has proven to be problematic. Firstly, it did not include a ‘b’ for Bengal, a factor that may partially explain why Bengali-dominated East Pakistan always struggled to belong in the geo-political construction of Pakistan comprising two wings separated by a thousand miles of Indian territory. In 1971, East Pakistan separated violently and became Bangladesh. In retrospect, the demise of the unique, two-winged, post-colonial entity of Pakistan unified only by religion was not surprising.

Another problem area has been Balochistan. Since 1947, Balochis have struggled with the concept of their region being part of Pakistan. This may be because there is no ‘b’ in the acrostic ‘Pakistan’ that specifically represents Balochistan. The ‘tan’ in the acrostic, which term means ‘the land of’, does not relate strongly to Balochistan only. There were many others ‘tans’ in or near the British Indian Empire in 1947: Hindustan, the land of the Hindus, a popular pre-partition name for India; Waziristan, the tribal area adjacent to NWFP; Afghanistan; Cholistan, the desert area of southern Punjab; Baltistan, in northern J&K; Kohistan, in northern Pakistan; Nuristan, in Afghanistan; and, Central Asia’s Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan (formerly Kirghizia), Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan; etc. There also was India’s post-1947 agglomeration called ‘Rajasthan’, meaning the land of rajas or kings, with an ‘h’ in the ‘tan’, but close enough.

Another problem is the ‘a’ representing ‘Afghania’. This refers to Pakhtuns in Pakistan’s north-west. But the term also includes Pashtuns in Afghanistan, whose nation does not accept the British-imposed Durand Line border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and whose summer capital was Peshawar until they lost it to the Sikhs in 1834. Equally, some in ‘Afghania’ aspire to create a separate state of Pashtunistan/Pakhtunistan, which would displease Islamabad. Equally, the term ‘Afghania’ is inappropriate for ethnic Hazaras living in Khyber Paktunkhwa, some of whom now want their own state since following NWFP’s renaming in 2010. The same applies to people in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), although most of them are ethnic Pakhtoons. Would the creation of new states for Hazaras and FATA-ites require the insertion of an ‘h’ and possibly an ‘f’ into the acrostic ‘Pakistan’?

Conversely, the capital letter ‘P’ for ‘Punjab’ dominates the acrostic, as do Punjabis numerically dominate Pakistan. Punjabis comprise about 53 per cent of all Pakistanis—if Saraiki speakers in southern Punjab are included. (Pakhtuns are next largest ethnic group, comprising 15.5 per cent of all Pakistanis.) Punjabis are powerful numerically, politically and in the military. There is, however, talk of Saraiki speakers being given a separate state, which may not be problematic as the Pakistan acrostic already contains an ‘s’. But, Sindhis, who long ago lost control of their provincial capital, Karachi, to Urdu-speaking Muhajirs (refugees) from India and their descendants—which ‘interlopers’ also have no letter representing them in the acrostic Pakistan—may be displeased.

As noted, the term ‘Pakistan’ also means ‘land of the pure’. When coined, this term represented a slight to twice-born, high caste Hindus seeking to obtain ‘moksha’, or liberation, from the cycle of birth and rebirth by engaging in virtuous activities to acquire spiritual purity. By using the term ‘Pakistan’, Pakistanis essentially were thumbing their noses at these Hindus and saying ‘we’ve already made it spiritually’. While most Hindus are often disinterested in Islam, in Muslim-majority Pakistan, some Pakistanis seemingly—and increasingly—are disagreeing that this nation is actually the ‘Land of the Pure’. Hardline Muslims, such as the Pakistan Taliban, now are seeking to impose their version of Islam and/or Sharia law, including by using violence, to make both Pakistan and Pakistanis, regardless of their sect or religion, more Islamic. Consequently, the self-perceived ‘Land of the Pure’ increasingly is becoming the ‘Land of the Intolerant’. This is tragic given that Islam is supposedly a religion of peace. Perhaps the ‘i’ in the acrostic ‘Pakistan’ should now stand for Islam, given how all-encompassing the struggle over which type of Islam should be imposed on Pakistanis has become?

The final meaning for the term ‘Pakistan’ comprises a different interpretation of the acrostic. Devised long after the original term, possibly in an attempt to maximise the size of the prospective Pakistan, this acrostic’s components stand for Punjab, Afghania (North-West Frontier Province), Kashmir, Iran, Sindh (including Kachch and Kathiawar), Tukharistan [which roughly equated to Turkestan], Afghanistan and BalochistaN. This represented a huge and ambitious claim that extended the proposed state of Pakistan well beyond the boundaries of British India. For this reason, it was totally unrealistic.

The current difficulties and troubles in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan suggest that the acrostic known as ‘Pakistan’ may be unravelling. Perhaps people in this nation need to contemplate changing their nation’s name to something more inclusive. One possibility might be ‘Indus-stan’, given how important this river system is to large parts of Pakistan—although India also takes its name from this waterway, which could cause confusion and provoke further rivalry. Another possibility is something geographic, like the accurate but inane ‘Western South Asia’. A third possibility is something that draws on the area’s glorious past, such as ‘Greater Harappa’ or ‘Greater Mohenjo-Daro’. While I am being somewhat flippant, names are important and have power—to both unite and divide.

The opinions in this blog are mine. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organisations, professional or otherwise, with which I am involved or associated.

Christopher Snedden
18 June 2014



Bitter Battles in Balochistan 22 July 2013

Bitter Battles in Balochistan                                                        22 July 2013

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(Photo from balouchistantimes.blogspot.com)

Two incidents in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province that were reported yesterday in the Pakistan press—an attack against some petrol tankers and the arrest of twelve militants planning acts of anti-state terrorism—suggest that this province continues to pose major strategic and political problems for Islamabad. These incidents follow three major incidents in June: the burning of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s nationally symbolic residence in Ziarat; the brutal killing of fourteen women university students on a bus in Quetta; and, a seemingly related attack against senior government officials at the Bolan Medical Complex, Quetta, after they went to visit casualties from the bus attack. Additionally, there have been numerous sectarian attacks in the Quetta area against Shia Hazaras originally from Afghanistan.

Comprising 347,190 sq kilometres or some 44 per cent of the nation, Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province. It also is Pakistan’s most resource-rich province, having natural gas, coal and other minerals. In 1998, Pakistan conducted six nuclear tests in the Chaghai Hills of western Balochistan. However, Balochistan is also Pakistan’s most lightly-populated province. In 1998 (the last time Pakistan conducted a complete census), Balochistan’s population was only 6.5 million, or five per cent of Pakistan’s population of 132 million. Some 3.6 per cent of Pakistanis used Balochi as their mother tongue. The majority of the people of Balochistan—only just—comprised ethnic Balochis: 55 per cent. Pakistan’s current estimated population is 193 million. The percentages related to Balochis remain much the same.

There are three important factors in relation to Balochistan. First, populations of Baloch also straddle Pakistan’s border with Iran and Afghanistan. Among some of these Baloch, there is a desire to create a united greater Balochistan state. Second, in the north of Balochistan Province, about 30 per cent of the population comprise ethnic Pakhtoons. This is a substantial minority with whom Balochis compete for political and economic power. Third, many Baloch dislike so-called ‘Punjabi domination’. They feel that, among other things, their province’s significant mineral and energy resources, chiefly gas, have been, and continue to be, exploited to the advantage of other Pakistanis, particularly the majority ethnic group, Punjabis, who comprise 44 per cent of Pakistanis. These Punjabis also dominate the Pakistan military and bureaucracy, which traditionally have had few Baloch participants and which have been used to suppress Balochis. Since the recent Pakistan election, Punjabis now also dominate Pakistan’s democracy.

Apart from being exploited, Balochi antipathy partially arises because some Balochis have been reluctant Pakistanis since at least 1948. In that year, the Pakistan Army brutally integrated Kalat, a large princely state located in what now is eastern Balochistan, into Pakistan. The Khan (ruler) of Kalat had wanted independence, which Pakistan (and India) was not prepared to countenance for any post-British princely state. Kalat’s position contrasted with the nearby princely states of Makran, Las Bela and Kharan, all of whose rulers willingly joined their states with Pakistan. These four former princely states, along with British administered parts of the Baluchistan Agency, now comprise the modern Balochistan provincial entity.

Since 1948, Balochistan has seen other upheavals and violence. In 1958, the Pakistan Army again was involved in action there when a tribal leader opposed the creation of the unified province of West Pakistan and the subsequent diminution of his power, a significant negative factor in a province and society where tribal leaders have traditionally held (and still hold) enormous sway. A similar action took place in the mid-to-late 1960s as Balochis sought to assert themselves and gain some control over the exploitation of their assets. From 1973-1977, the Pakistan Army brutally suppressed an uprising in Balochistan using ‘scorched earth’ tactics, with Balochis possibly partially inspired by the 1971 victory of Bengalis (formerly East Pakistanis) and their creation of Bangladesh. Since about 2004, some Balochis in separatist organisations such as the Balochistan Liberation Army (which claimed responsibility for the abovementioned Ziarat incident) have been trying to obtain independence, or at least greater control over Balochistan’s resources and assets. Other separatist bodies include the Baloch Liberation Front, Baloch Republican Army, Lashkar-e-Balochistan, Baloch Liberation United Front and the Baloch Students Organization. In a recent development, Pakistan’s former president, Pervez Musharraf, has been arrested and charged with the 2006 murder of the senior, aged and respected Baloch tribal leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. If Musharraf is convicted, that could be a positive development for Balochis.

Apart from internal issues, Balochistan is interesting for two other reasons: the role that foreigners may be playing there and Gwadar Port. These two matters are related. On occasions, Islamabad has claimed that a ‘foreign hand’ is responsible for inimical activities occurring in Balochistan, with Islamabad usually pointing the finger at India. Other nations such as neighbouring Iran or the nearby United Arab Emirates (UAE) may also have been involved. Apart from wanting to destabilise its enemy, any Indian involvement, and that of the UAE and Iran, is possibly because of Pakistan’s development of Gwadar on Balochistan’s far western Makran Coast. This deep-sea port competes for trade with UAE ports such Abu Dhabi and Dubai and with Iran’s Chah Bahar, which is located 380 kilometres to Gwadar’s west and with which India has an involvement. Gwadar was developed with Chinese assistance. To Balochi chagrin, non-Baloch personnel generally administer this port. After a period of lease to a Singaporean company, the China Overseas Port Holding Company now controls Gwadar. India therefore has a double reason for keeping a keen eye on developments in Balochistan.

Given Balochistan’s size, its disgruntled population and its strategic significance, stabilising this province and integrating it fully and successfully into Pakistan are important and ongoing issues for Islamabad. As things stand, Baloch independence seems unlikely in the short term, with one major reason being Baloch disunity. Equally, the latest (Punjabi-dominated) government in Islamabad is unlikely to turn this issue around soon, given the array of significant and urgent problems that it currently confronts. In the short term, therefore, disgruntled Balochis will continue to offer Pakistan’s rivals significant opportunities to meddle and cause problems.

Christopher Snedden
22 July 2013

Pakistan’s post-election future? 20 May 2013

Mao Tse Dung allegedly was once asked what the impact of the French revolution was on the world.  Mao replied that ‘It was too early to tell’.  It is a little like that about Pakistan’s post-election future: it is too early to tell what the impact of Nawaz Sharif’s victory will be on Pakistan and the region.

It is certainly a very positive development that a civilian government in Pakistan has, for the first time, completed its full term without interruption.  Previously, all civilian governments either ended when the Pakistan President sacked the government (1990; 1993; 1996) or when the Pakistan military imposed martial law (1958-1971; 1977-1988; 1999-2008).

A further positive is that about 60 per cent of Pakistani electors voted in the recent national and provincial elections.  This was despite threats to their physical security and almost 200 people being killed in pre-poll and poll-day violence, with the Pakistani Taliban being the chief perpetrator.  Generally, the elections were considered to be reasonably free and fair.

While the results are yet to be finally determined—some by-elections need to be held where a candidate has won one more than one seat—they suggest some interesting possibilities.  Nationally, the big losers are the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) faction and the Awami National Party, which latter has almost disappeared from the political scene nationally and provincially.

The big winners are Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) faction (PML (N)) and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party (PTI).  The PML (N) will form government in Islamabad and in Punjab, and will be involved in the Balochistan government in coalition with the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and the National Party.  Imran Khan, while seemingly disappointed with the results, could possibly be the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, while his party will provide the bulk of the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

To some extent, religious elements have prospered in this election, with the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) now involved with the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.  Indeed, it is likely to obtain the important Education Ministry, which may not augur well for female students in this conservative province.  Similarly, some analysts fear that the Pakistan Government might go ‘soft’ on hardline religious elements, especially the Taliban, with whom Sharif and Khan both stated they would be prepared to negotiate.  Many neighbouring Afghans dislike this prospect, as do some Indians.

The big question will be who will oppose the PML (N)?  In Punjab, this party is overwhelmingly dominant, with few elected members in opposition.  Similarly, the PPP, the traditional opponent of the PML (N), lost in southern Punjab, an area where it previously had been strong.  Nationally, the PPP also is weak, while the PTI is new and unused to parliamentary procedures.

Conversely, the PPP is in a powerful position in Sind, where it will govern with in coalition with the Muttahida Quami Movement (United National Movement), which is exceptionally powerful, and sometimes disruptive, in Pakistan’s most important city, Karachi.  Already, MQM leaders have talked of wanting to oppose ‘Punjabi domination’, as they see it, a concept that also resonates with Baluchis who are politically unsettled.  I expect to see this become more of an issue as Sharif consolidates his rule throughout Pakistan.  Indeed, Sind could become a real ‘thorn in his side’.

Other variables involve personnel.  Pakistani legislatures need to select a new President in September.  The Prime Minister needs to appoint a new Chairman of Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and a new Chief of the Pakistan Army in October-November, and a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in December.  Given Nawaz Sharif’s history with previous officials in these important positions, it will be important for him to ensure that people with whom he can deal are appointed.

Elections in Pakistan’s neighbours, Afghanistan and India, also could well impact on Sharif’s success, or otherwise.  Next April, Afghans will elect their next President.  No ‘stand out’ candidate has yet emerged.  In India, general elections must be completed before the end of May 2014.  Some analysts are predicting a change of government, with the possibly harder line Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party) being elected.  A small issue will be what to do with General Musharraf, with exile a distinct possibility.  However, this issue also is sensitive, and Sharif will have to take account of the wishes of the Pakistan Army in relation to its former chief, and on some other matters of importance.

The ‘jury’ is out about Nawaz Sharif and the PML (N), but it is still (far) too early to tell to tell how they both will go.