Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Administrative control over Baluchistan

The system of self-governing tribes has dominated Baluchistan’s history till very recent times. The rise of defined states in the 17th Century and their eventual control by the British Empire changed this system. After fighting several battles with the Baloch tribes the British established a military control over the land and built a communications infrastructure to support that armed presence. This control evolved into an administrative system wherein the province of Baluchistan was divided into two prts—the A areas covering the regions under direct British rule and the B areas under the Sardars.

This administrative division along with the army cantonments and the roads, railways, and telegraph lines were inherited by the state of Pakistan. But since the Baloch had striven for independence and had forcibly resisted incorporation into Pakistan they were regarded with some suspicion and hostility. The Pakistan Army merely replaced the British Indian Army as the force responsible for keeping the tribal areas under control and the new state of Pakistan became the colonial power that would bribe, cajole, and bully the tribes or play them against one another to exploit the natural resources of Baluchistan.

Under Pakistan the A areas are run by civil servants and regular police while the B areas, comprising 95% of Baluchistan’s territory, are run by local levies recruited and led by federal officers. Assisting these forces is the Baluchistan Reserve Police and the newly raised Balochistan Constabulary that will guard sensitive installations and infrastructure projects in the province. Ever since the military coup of 1999 the federal government has tried to tighten its grip on the B areas that lie outside a roughly 10km radius around the district headquarter/town. Since Baluchistan now holds the key to Pakistan’s future economic growth and the local militants are growing increasingly bold in their attacks on the federal government the latter have decided to convert the B areas into A areas district-by-district. The conversion will include five phases[1]:

Phase 1: Quetta, Lasbela, Nasirabad, Gwadar, Pishin and Kila Abdullah.
Phase 2, Sibi, Bolan, Zhob, Kila Saifullah and Kech
Phase 3: Loralai, Musa Khel, Jhal Magsi, Mustung and Ziarat
Phase 4: Awaran, Kalat, Chaghai, Barkhan and Dera Bugti,
Phase 5: Khuzdar, Panjgur, Kharan and Kohlu

The system of local government in all of Pakistan was changed by General Pervez Musharraf after his coup of 1999—in the place of federally appointed civil servants Pakistan now has locally elected Nazims heading district, tehsil and village councils[2]. The Nazim is assisted by the District Coordination Officer (DCO) who provides the federal funds and oversees their disbursement and the District Police Officer who supervises policing. Specific to Baluchistan province is the District Administrative Officer (DAO) who is in charge of the B areas levies—this office will cease to exist once each B area in a district is converted into an A area.

The ostensible reason for the change in local government across Pakistan is to ensure that economic development reaches the common man and that there is no corruption. However since these elections took place under a military dictatorship it is largely viewed as an attempt by the army to establish its control over the country and bypass the political parties. For Baluchistan this change, along with the conversion of B areas into A areas, is an attempt by the Pakistan Army to end the reign of the Sardars and the system of self-governing tribes. This will ensure complete control over Baluchistan’s resources and infrastructure by outsiders.

a) The Frontier Corps (FC) is a paramilitary force with an area of responsibility stretching from the Baluchistan coast to the mountains north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. This is again another legacy of the British Empire in India[3]. To secure India’s boundary with Afghanistan the British raised units of scouts and militias led by British Indian Army officers in the frontier regions—collectively they were known as the Frontier Corps. Under Pakistani control since 1947 the FC increased its area of responsibility to inner reaches of Baluchistan (the B areas). Traditionally manned by Pashtuns and Punjabis the FC did not recruit the local Baloch in its units because their loyalty and ardour for Pakistan were suspect and many of them had taken to arms to resist their forcible integration into Pakistan[4].

The Frontier Corps (Baluchistan) has 11 units termed ‘scouts’ or ‘rifles’ throughout the province with its headquarters in the capital Quetta (For this data the author is indebted to Mr. Sunil S an independent researcher[5]):

1) Zhob Militia (HQ-Fort Sandeman, 4 Wings at Zhob, Sambaza, Muslim Bagh and Qamardin Karaz.)
2) Sibi Scouts (HQ at Sibi, contingents at Mach under the command of a major, 71 Wing at Dera Murad Jamali for protection of Chinese engineers)
3) Kalat Scouts (HQ Kalat)
4) Makran Scouts (HQ-Turbat, Wing at Panjgur, Detachment at Sur-e-aab, Company at Grawag, Contingent at Kech, Wing at Mand)
5) Kharan Rifles (Lad Gasht/Mashkhel 84 Wing, Wing at Nokkundi)
6) Pishin Scouts (HQ at Pishin Fort)
7) Chaghai Militia
8) Maiwand Rifles (HQ at Barkhan Town,contingent at Kohlu)
9) Ghazaband Scouts
10) Bhambore Rifles (HQ at Dera Bugti, Wing HQ at Sui,)
11) Loralai Scouts (HQ at Sarduki, a company at Musakhel)

Each unit is commanded by army officers of the rank of Colonel/Lt. Colonel who in turn are assisted by Majors—the entire force is headed by the Inspector General Frontier Corps of the rank of Major-General. The Corps numbers 30,000 personnel and is a lightly armed and mobile force with the duty of controlling smuggling along the porous border with Afghanistan, Iran, and the long seacoast—it is more often used for internal security operations. The FC is a favourite target of the Baloch fighters who resent its foreign personnel[6] and their often brutal methods and insulting attitude towards the tribal population.

This attitude of the federal agency was strongly condemned in the Baluchistan Assembly on September 20, 2003 following the ill treatment of the Health Minister, Hafiz Hamadullah at the Shalabagh checkpoint by two army captains of the FC. The Minister alleged that the FC committed excesses on the people in the name of anti-smuggling action and also demanded bribes from them[7].

In another incident on June 2003 the FC killed three persons when they did not stop for a vehicle search in Panjgur. Rioting and arson broke out while the residents shut their shops and struck work for a full week in protest at the incident. The offices of the district nazim and the DCO were also burnt. In the nearby Makran area the FC conducted house-to-house searches and ripped through the personal belongings of the people to unearth any weapons stores. Such incidents only provoke more Baloch youth to join the rebels and as Mohammad Hussain of Turbat says, “Punjabi youngsters are captains and majors, but Baloch youth have dust in their hair. What else can they do?”[8]

b) The 12 Corps, headquartered in Quetta, commands all army formations in the province of Baluchistan. At its head is a Lt. General who is said to be more powerful than the legitimately elected provincial government and the federally appointed Governor[9]. He has the responsibility of negotiating with rebellious Sardars and of hunting down the shadowy militant groups—the normal task of training and maintaining his armed formations is almost secondary to these internal security and political duties! The 12 Corps strategic role was to act as reserves for the formations facing India and maintain the communications infrastructure linking Baluchistan with Sindh and Punjab.

The formations under the corps originally were (For this data the author is indebted to Mr. Sunil S an independent researcher[10]):

16 Infantry Division (HQ Quetta):
48 Infantry Brigade (Quetta)
34 Infantry Brigade (Chaman)
70 Infantry Brigade (Khuzdar)
61 Infantry Brigade (Quetta)
Divisional Artillery (Quetta)

33 Infantry Division (HQ Quetta):
29 Infantry Brigade (Zhob)
60 Infantry Brigade (Sibi)
205 Infantry Brigade (Loralai)
Divisional Artillery (Zhob)

Following tensions with India in 1987 the Pakistan Army began building a large cantonment at Panno Aqil in northern Sindh—the headquarters of the 16th Division were eventually shifted there. Similarly the headquarters of the 33rd Division were shifted to Rahimyar Khan in southern Punjab either during the Kargil War of 1999 or during India’s Operation Parakram in 2002. It is not known how many or if at all any of the brigades under those divisions went along with the headquarters. Some reports suggest that Panno Aqil has now become a Corps Headquarters, perhaps of the 31 Corps at Bhawalpur, and new formations may be raised for both 33 Div and 16 Div. At this point the 41 Infantry Division is headquartered at Quetta and perhaps another division will be raised for Baluchistan. The new cantonments planned at Gwadar, Sui, and Kohlu will in all probability house formations under this to-be-raised infantry division.

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and the Pakistan Navy (PN) also have numerous bases throughout Baluchistan—a newly built coastal highway from Karachi connects the naval bases of Ormara, Pasni, Gwadar, and Jiwani. In previous wars between India and Pakistan the Indian Navy had successfully blockaded the sole Pakistani port of Karachi—now the task of destroying the Pakistani Navy and blockading merchant shipping to Pakistan will be difficult.

The ports are also home to Pakistan’s Coast Guard, which assists the FC in clamping down on incidents of smuggling along the coast. Apart from military reasons these ports will also take on commercial traffic and link up to Afghanistan and Central Asia. The PAF operates major bases at Samungli, Dalbandin and Pasni and satellite airfields at other places in Baluchistan. These are ostensibly meant for Pakistani aircraft to evade the Indian Air Force’s reach but with the latter acquiring mid-air refuelling aircraft and the long-range Su-30 MKI this advantage has already been neutralized. But more importantly these PAF bases are now occupied by foreign troops.

c) In October 2001 the United States of America launched Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban from ships anchored in the Arabian Sea and from PAF bases in Baluchistan and Sindh. After the Taliban were toppled the Americans continued their stay in these bases[11] to hunt down the enemy who had swarmed across the border into Pakistan—for cooperating in this hunt the Pakistanis were given helicopter gun ships and other advanced weaponry. Unfortunately this gift has been used by the Pakistan Army against its own people—whether at Wana in the Pashtun tribal areas or at Sui and Kohlu against the Baloch. It is also feared that once the Americans leave, all the infrastructure that they have set up in these bases will belong to Pakistan and will thus add to its military strength in Baluchistan.

d) The Peoples Republic of China has also been an important military partner and aid-giver to Pakistan—Chinese engineers are engaged in several dam and harbour projects in Baluchistan. It is believed that the Chinese Navy will acquire a base along the Baluchistan coast once the harbour project is completed and will thus sit astride India’s vital sea lane of communication.

e) Some of Pakistan’s important nuclear assets are also located in Baluchistan. There is a missile flight test range at the Sonmiani bay near Ormara that may contain missile parts. Samungli Air Base near Quetta is said to contain long-range missiles and missile launchers while the nuclear test site at the Ras Koh hills near Chagai is believed to be a storehouse of nuclear material and unassembled nuclear weapons.

[1] See
[2] See Amanullah Khan, Musharraf Cyan, Local Government A Snapshot, report for the Decentralization Support Program 2004
[3] See
[4] Another reason for the low Baloch recruitment is the quota system by which jobs in the FC are allotted to each province—the quota is decided on the basis of its total population and Baluchistan with a 7% share thus comes a cropper. Business Recorder on July 01, 1997. See THE BALOCH PROBLEM, IN PAKISTAN AND IRAN-Dr. N Amar October 24, 2003
[5] Sources:
[6] From the Business Recorder, July 1 1997, The Baluchistan Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution calling on the federal government to allocate other province’s quota in recruitment to the FC to Baluchistan since the Baloch were jobless and were not given any quota in other provinces.
[7] See Dawn 21 September, 2003
[8] See
[9] From the international edition of The News dated Thursday August 12, 2004: elected ministers of the Baluchistan government and speaker of the provincial assembly called on the then Corps Commander to condole with him on the death of some army personnel in an attack by the BLA! In another remarkable instance the head of the Kalpar-Bugti tribe Ahmadan Bugti visited the Corps Commander in Quetta and apprised him of the problems in his area!
[10] Sources: XII Corps redeployments post 9-11 – Chaman Times
[11] Dalbandin, Pasni, Jacobabad