Why is Balochistan important to Pakistan 1


Jochen Hippler

To person

Dr. sc. pol., born 1955; Private lecturer at the Institute for Development and Peace (INEF), University of Duisburg-Essen, Geibelstrasse 41, 47057 Duisburg. [email protected]

The Pashtun-populated northwestern province of Pakistan has developed into a bloody focus of conflict. The families and tribes there have been in close contact with their relatives in Afghanistan, across today's border, for centuries. A border that was drawn by Great Britain in colonial times ("Durand Line") and that artificially separates the Pashtun settlement areas.

In the Chota Lahore refugee camp in northwest Pakistan, displaced persons who fled the fighting between the Pakistani military and Taliban fighters in the Swat Valley are waiting for food to be distributed. (& copy AP)


The Afghanistan war continues to attract public attention, so that the strategically far more important Pakistan is often neglected. The country has 170 million inhabitants, has nuclear weapons, is unstable itself and a scene of political violence. Last year over 12,000 people were killed in political or military violence there. [1] Nevertheless, it is either ignored or viewed from the tactical point of view of how Pakistan can be instrumentalized as a helper in the Afghanistan war. It is only since Barack Obama took office as US President that this has begun to change in part, albeit occasionally in an unhelpful form. Indeed, it is important to realistically assess the connection between the violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan if one is to reduce the level of violence on both sides of the border.

It should not be overlooked that the violence in Pakistan has now reached war level, but that it does not affect the entire country, but rather reveals certain regional focuses. In addition, the causes and dynamics of violence vary greatly from region to region. In Pakistan today there is not one violent conflict, but at least three, some of which are intertwined with one another, but some also have independent dynamics. Since this has already been explained in more detail elsewhere, [2] a short list is sufficient: (1) In Balochistan, due to a long-term disadvantage of the province, an uprising with an ethno-nationalist, anti-colonial coloration broke out Aims at equality or autonomy; (2) Since the mid-1980s, a violent, often terrorist, violent conflict has developed between Sunni and Shiite extremist groups, starting from the central Punjab, which has now been repeated in other provinces and Northern areas flares up. These two sources of violence - as well as the now subsided ethnic civil war in the metropolis of Karachi - are in principle independent of the Afghanistan war, even if there are potential connecting points in all cases. This applies to Balochistan due to the strong Pashtun settlement along the Afghan border and in its capital Quetta; and it applies to the sectarian conflict due to the cooperation between Sunni extremists and the Pashtun insurgents in the northwestern province of Pakistan, who are also Sunni-influenced. This brings the focus of violence in the north-western province, which is strongly linked to the war in Afghanistan.

Civil war in the tribal areas of the Northwest Province

Map of Pakistan (& copy Chambers Cartography)
The north-western province, which is mainly populated by Pashtuns and borders Afghanistan, has become Pakistan's bloodiest focus of conflict. The families and tribes there have been in close contact for centuries with their relatives across the current border that was drawn by Great Britain in colonial times ("Durand Line") and artificially separates the Pashtun settlement areas.

The tribal areas (Federally Administered Tribal Areas, FATA) belong to the Northwest Province (NWFP). Legally, they are part of Pakistan, but the constitution states: "No law passed by parliament applies in any of the tribal areas or any of their parts unless the president orders it" [3], which rarely happens. This lack of state law in the region on the Afghan border reflects the weakness of the state there. The governance within FATA is archaic. [4] It is based on the principle of autonomy of the individual tribes, which is managed by seven "political agents" of the President (political agents, PA) appointed by the Governor of the Northwest Province on his behalf. The PAs are the highest representatives of the state in the seven Tribal Agencies. However, they do not have direct government or administrative authority; their influence is based on the cooperation with the tribal leaders (maliks). They use the old carrot and stick technique to make that maliks to encourage cooperation; to do this, they grant financial or other incentives or threaten collective fines or the withholding of funds and other goods.

The political agents and maliks are interdependent: The power of maliks over their tribes depends on financial, political and other support from the PAs. They use them to build clientelist networks. At the same time needs a political agent the maliks, in order to be able to represent the interests of the government at all. This type of indirect government originated during the British colonial era and was established in the 1901 Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) codified. It still applies today, as no government has ever been able to take complete control of the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.

Such a model of government, if you want to call it that, largely excludes the local population from political participation. It has only been allowed to take part in elections since the mid-1990s. Before that, the members of parliament were appointed by the tribal leaders. Even the Pakistani parties are still illegal, although the president announced a reform to legalize them in 2009, which, however, has yet to be implemented. There are no state courts in the FATA, tribes are collectively held liable for criminal activities of individuals. In addition, this anachronistic system of Governance only work as long as the tribes actually control their respective territories and the tribal structures (such as the dominant role of the malik) persist. However, these two requirements are often no longer met. In the Afghanistan war of the 1980s and early 1990s, the old tribal structures were undermined by at least two social groups that rose in power. This includes leaders of non-state armed groups. In wartime, traditional social structures are less important than military efficiency. Therefore, because of their military and organizational skills, many military leaders have become powerful local figures. Second, because of the increasing importance of religious motivation in anti-Soviet jihad, mullahs and other religious leaders gained greater influence. Originally, the mullahs were mainly part of a tribe and of secondary political importance, even the subject of jokes, but now they have often gained considerable political influence.

In addition, socio-economic trends contributed to a weakening of the tribal structures, such as the ongoing rural exodus. The jihadist transformation of local religiosity, which served to provide additional motivation and mobilization for the anti-Soviet struggle, as well as the creation of a paramilitary infrastructure contributed to the social restructuring. Both of these were not reversed after the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan and could later be used seamlessly in the fight against NATO troops in Afghanistan and against the Pakistani government, as well as being used for international jihadism by al-Qaeda. Overall, the tribal areas are only loosely integrated into the Pakistani state, while at the same time they have informal but close ties to the tribes across the Afghan border.