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Remarks by Selig S. Harrison, Director, Asia Program, Center for International Policy

Delivered at the Baluchistan International Conference, Washington, D.C., Nov. 21, 2009

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 so.

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 increased.

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