A new game is unfolding on the South Asian chessboard. The pawns in this game are the common Pakistanis living in the province of Balochistan. The Indian prime minister’s statement on Balochistan should be an eye opener for those who doubt that the game is afoot. Those who think in terms of strategy and supply routes know that the idea involves blocking China’s access to the Gulf via Pakistan. Gwadar is the focal point of the game. The tall claims of the so-called Baloch separatists and regional and global backers are at best special pleadings.
First of all, let us get the history and geography right. The Baloch separatist claim rests on the way accession of the Kalat state was procured by Pakistan in March 1948. Let this be a geography lesson for those who have become the loudest voices for separation of Balochistan from Pakistan. Kalat, the princely state, is only a landlocked subsection of the province of Balochistan. The rest of Balochistan formed British Balochistan that became a part of Pakistan immediately at the time of independence in 1947, with the exception of Gwadar, which was procured from the Sultanate of Oman in the late 1950s.
One of the earliest endorsers of British Balochistan’s decision to join Pakistan was none other than Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a chieftain who controlled the Bugti area. His conversion to the ‘Baloch separatist cause’ in the later part of his life was rank opportunism as had been the case with every decision he took. His falling out with the Pakistani establishment, of which he had been a trusted ally for 50 years, was essentially about gas royalties, which he believed were his own personal God-given right. How Bugti treated his tribesmen, those unfortunate people living under his ‘suzerainty’ is well known and needs no repetition. It is amazing that a man like that is being portrayed posthumously as some sort of a freedom fighter.
Every inch of the so-called Bugti lands are sovereign territory of Pakistan by law, by history and by fact. There is no court and no tribunal in the world that would dispute this. I am sorry to break it to people like Akbar Bugti’s grandson, Brahumdagh Bugti, and that hilarious joker from Toronto, Tarek Fateh, but the world has ceased to recognise divinely ordained rule of primogeniture to personal fiefdoms as a convincing argument for creating new states or for holding on to territory. For example, the people of the United Kingdom can, if they are so inclined, depose their Queen and declare a Republic by a simple constitutional act.
If Saudi Arabia did not have the oil, its tribal rulers too would have been deposed a long time ago. Primitive hereditary claims by tribal chiefs over tracts of land may have historically shaped certain states, like Saudi Arabia and UAE, but it is sure as hell not going to be the basis of new states.
So now we come to the issue of the Kalat state, which I have mentioned was a landlocked princely state, surrounded on all sides by the newly formed state of Pakistan in 1947. Under it there were two smaller feudatories of Lasbela and Kharan, the rulers of which had been itching to accede to Pakistan. Indeed it was Jinnah who refused to deal with them over the head of Khan of Kalat. Khan of Kalat was a close personal friend of Jinnah and had, by his own admission, assured the founder of Pakistan that he would join Pakistan.
The Khan admitted as much to Munir Hussain, former chief secretary of Balochistan. This is what the Khan of Kalat had to say: “Besides this, I had verbally assured the Quaid-e-Azam that I would accede to Pakistan as soon as it was established. When the time came to accede, I started vacillating and I was conscious of the fact that it had caused great anguish to the Quaid-e-Azam, particularly in the last days of his life. I was misguided by some Baloch leaders [such as Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo]. I continue to regret my behaviour, and when I am in low spirits such as today, the whole thing haunts me. That is why I requested you to come to me so that I could open my heart to you.”
On March 27, 1948, the Khan of Kalat signed a valid and binding document of accession, which federated his state with the Dominion of Pakistan as it was then.
This document of accession is as valid and binding as any of the documents of accessions signed by princely states that joined India. India, it must be remembered, had coerced most of the states that joined it in 1947-1948, the bloodiest being Hyderabad, where it carried out one of the worst massacres in subcontinent’s history. Jawaharlal Nehru had then appointed the Pandit Sunderlal Commission. Its findings with respect to that operation were so harrowing that Nehru buried it, and it only came to light in 2013. The most conservative estimates of the government commission put the number of dead between 27,000-40,000 in a span of a few days.
There was massive rape and loot of Muslims that went on. This is how India took ove the Hyderabad state. Pakistan by comparison did no such thing in Kalat or with any other princely state in Pakistan. Would those who claim that Kalat’s document of accession was obtained by coercion also raise voice for the independence of Hyderabad Deccan from India? The truth is that no princely state in the Indian subcontinent was allowed to go independent. There were 562 princely states in the undivided India in 1947. Kalat was no different. If today some people seek to reopen that question, then fairness demands that the status of all 562 princely states should be reconsidered de novo. That would mean one-third of the territory of present day India.
Therefore, I am not convinced that India is interested in Baloch separatists’ demand for self-determination to succeed. What it wants, along with others, is to keep Pakistan’s Balochistan province in a perpetual state of unrest so that the Gwadar route does not take off. Of course, there is the question of Kashmir. Instead of resolving the Kashmir issue, and thereafter working with Pakistan and China for an Asian success story, India’s current government would much rather keep both Pakistan and India impoverished. Such is the nature of global geopolitics. The losers inevitably are the people, in whose name we play such games.