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BALOCHISTAN

BALOCHISTAN Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province in terms of area (347,000 square kilometers), and smallest in terms of population (80 million estimated for early 2005) With only 23 persons per square kilometer, it has the lowest population density among Pakistan’s four provinces Much of the province is a high plateau, some 1,000 to 1,500 meters above sea level The plateau is bounded by two mountain ranges: the Tabakkar range runs along the border with Afghanistan, whereas the Sulaiman range runs along the right bank of the Indus River To the south lies the inhospitable Mekran desert, in which Alexander the Great almost succumbed as he was pulling his troops out of India The Balochis, although constituting the majority of the province’s population, share Balochistan with a number of diverse ethnic groups including the Brohis, the Pathans, and the Mekranis Present-day Balochistan was formed by the merger of a number of “princely states” that chose-or, in some cases, were forced-to join Pakistan The province of Balochistan in its present form was created after the dissolution of the one unit of West Pakistan, in 1969 The creation of the separate province of Balochistan was well received by the tribal sardars (leaders) of the area, who worked with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to launch Pakistan’s third constitution in 1973



The new constitution provided the federating provinces with a great deal of autonomy within the Federation of Pakistan In 1973, soon after the promulgation of the new constitution, Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) formed governments in Islamabad and in the provinces of Lahore and Sindh The smaller provinces went to a coalition of the National Awami Party (NAP) and the JamiatulUlemai Islam (JUI) In 1974, however, Bhutto dismissed the Balochistan government on the charge of anti-state activities This action was resented by the sardars, some of whom started an armed insurrection against the central government Bhutto called in the army to help put down the rebellion, and the army remained engaged in the province for as long as Bhutto was in power It was only after the military takeover in 1977 that the sardars laid down their arms and peace returned to the province Some of the tribal leaders remained unhappy, and continued to support various forms of political movements aimed at securing more autonomy, if not outright independence, for the province of BalochistanDuring the time in which President Zia ul-Haq was in power (1977-1988), he was able to keep peace in Balochistan by working closely with the tribal sardars of the province This policy of accommodation was continued by the two Benazir Bhutto administrations (1988-1990 and 1993-1996), and by the two administrations headed by Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif (1990-1993 and 1997-1999) This approach brought tranquility to the province after years of turbulence, but its cost was the continued backwardness of the region

The tribal sardars became restive again when the military returned to power under the leadership of General Pervez Musharraf They began to agitate for a larger share in the government’s revenues from the extraction and sale of natural gas from the fields in Sui, once one of the largest gas deposits in the world The sardars also disapproved of the Gwadar port project in the northwestern port of the province, fearing that the port’s development would attract new migrants from provinces outside Balochistan When some Balochi activists began to attack construction workers in Gwadar and gas installations in Sui, the government announced that it would establish new military cantonments (bases) in the province to protect public assets from terrorism The crisis deepened in the early months of 2005, with heavy loss of life in the Bugti areas, inhabited by one of the main tribes in the province In March 2005, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, president of the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam), the party in power in Islamabad, worked out a deal with Sardar Akbar Khan Bughi, that once again brought peace to the troubled province Construction of a number of “mega projects” was part of the economic strategy pursued by the government of Pervez Musharraf to revive the country’s economy Balochistan was allocated Rs 131 billion (US$22 billion) for the projects located in the province Apart from the port of Gwadar, they also included a number of small dams on the numerous hill torrents that caused significant damage when rains came, albeit, infrequently Sabakzai was one of the several dams to be built in the province by the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA)

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