Recruiting Balochis Might Undermine the Fight Against Pakistan’s Taliban

by Joshua Foust on 5/25/2009 · 3 comments

One of the only things Robert Kaplan noted correctly in his hype-piece on the Makran Coast area of southwestern Pakistan (which is, he says, just like Colorado right before he admits it is not) is that the Baloch—think carpets, Quetta, and the Khan of Qalat—are not limited to Pakistan itself (or neighboring Iran). Indeed, there is a sizeable number of Balochi merchants in the Persian Gulf area, who are occasionally looked down on and discriminated against, but they have a few centuries of presence there.

The issues the Baloch face in the Gulf region, though, are not just limited to being merchants and sometimes punching bags. A friend in Bahrain sent along a translation of this article about how the Bahraini government is trying to recruit Baloch men from the Makran area—home of Pakistan’s new Gwadar port (remember Gwadar?). It is in Urdu, which I cannot read, so he provided a translation (below the jump).

BLF Makes Appeal Against Recruitment in to Bahrain Army

Quetta (ONLINE): The Baloch resistance organization Baloch Liberation Front has made an appeal against being recruited into the Bahrain army. Speaking to ONLINE via satellite phone from an unknown location, Baloch Liberation Front spokesperson Basham Baloch said that the Bahraini army is currently trying to recruit people from the Makran area.

“Under the current conditions, we appeal to the Baloch nation not to become a part of any tyrant and oppressive army, as the Baloch nation is itself already in a state of war and is going through a sensitive period. Instead of becoming killers-for-rent, the Baloch youth should join their own national armies (the Baloch Liberation Front, Baloch Liberation Army, and Baloch Republican Army) to make the nation’s independence a reality.”

He added: “We warn all such establishments to stop the recruitment in Makran immediately. We are in a state of war ourselves and are struggling against an oppressor ourselves. We do not want want the Baloch to become mercenaries.”

It’s not the first time that Baloch issues have become something of a hot topic in the Gulf Region: in 1979, a Baloch activist was executed in Oman for attempting to murder an Omani colonel who was recruiting Baloch into their armed forces.

But who cares anyway? The BLF has been involved in the Baloch separatist movement in Pakistan and Iran, which seeks to break off the Balochistan areas to their own separate ethnic state. They are rather brutal in their methods, and they can organize mass protests against the Pakistani government when needed (for example, as they did during the 2007 flood).

Even more importantly: Balochistan is not, in one sense, a Baloch area any more. So many Pashtuns have moved to the area, whether a refugees or mere migrants seeking work and community in the provincial capital Quetta, that they outnumber the Baloch by a large margin.

Over at Reuters, Myra McDonald highlights just why this will matter much more in the future: Balochistan will be the eventual destination of the Pakistani Army if they can successfully continue their campaign through Swat, and eventually Waziristan. It will be a long, hard battle, and the Pakistani Army has a terrible reputation for brutality in Balochistan stemming from their extreme methods of quelling the separatist movement. That movement just might side with the broader Taliban movement in the Pashtun tribal areas out of a sense of pragmatism and shared survival—especially if, as Admiral Mullen suggests, a new push into Southern Afghanistan displaces even more Pashtun refugees into Quetta.

Now, Bahrain’s attempt to tempt away “mercenaries” from the Makran area is, for the time being, relatively small potatoes. But if the Baloch of Pakistan start to see a coordinated effort to dominate them, both by luring away young men with the promise of nicely-paid military gigs in the Persian Gulf plus a huge campaign by the Pakistani Army… well, who knows what will happen? Traditionally Pakistan has enjoyed a very uneasy peace with that area, in part because the Baloch never really liked being a part of Pakistan but also were never violent on enough of a scale to foment an existential crisis in Pakistan. Considering how much the Pashtuns seem to have sparked just such a crisis, it’s possible the Baloch might try to piggy-back on it.

Of course, then, once the dust settles many years down the road, you’d have a very nasty battle between Pashtuns and Baloch for control of their area. And they know this as well. But even if it is a remote possibility, it is enough to keep a worried eye on the unfolding situation.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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adabra cadabra May 25, 2009 at 9:37 pm


Afghan Girl May 26, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Neither the Baluchis or the Pashtuns (Afghans) want to be part of Pakistan. It’s time to give these people what they want.

J kalmati May 30, 2009 at 12:05 am

When you metioned Pushtoons in Balochistan they were always been in Balochistan in their controlled areas Baloch never claimed Pushtoon areas as theirs, they might have some disagreements but when it come to their enemy they were always united, hopefully recent mascare of pushtoons in swat by pakis will unite Baloch pushto Nationalist against common ememy ie Nationalist Muslim Punjabi army, which is often called as Pakistani army.
By supporting pakistani army West and American are commiting biggest sin ever because every body knows they ethinic punjabis they only represent them not all of Pakistan which also include Baloch, Sindhi and Pustoons.

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