Balochistan Insurgency in Pakistan 1973-1977

[ 1973 - 1977 ]

A long-dormant crisis erupted in Balochistan in 1973 into an insurgency that lasted four years and became increasingly bitter. The insurgency was put down by the Pakistan Army, which employed brutal methods and equipment, including Huey-Cobra helicopter gunships, provided by Iran and flown by Iranian pilots. The deep-seated Baloch nationalism based on tribal identity had international as well as domestic aspects. Divided in the nineteenth century among Iran, Afghanistan, and British India, the Baloch found their aspirations and traditional nomadic life frustrated by the presence of national boundaries and the extension of central administration over their lands. Moreover, many of the most militant Baloch nationalists were also vaguely Marxist-Leninist and willing to risk Soviet protection for an autonomous Balochistan. As the insurgency wore on, the influence of a relatively small but disciplined liberation front seemed to increase.

Bhutto was able to mobilize domestic support for his drive against the Baloch. Punjab's support was most tangibly represented in the use of the army to put down the insurgency. One of the main Baloch grievances was the influx of Punjabi settlers, miners, and traders into their resource-rich but sparsely populated lands. Bhutto could also invoke the idea of national integration with effect in the aftermath of Bengali secession. External assistance to Bhutto was generously given by the shah of Iran, who feared a spread of the insurrection among the Iranian Baloch. Some foreign governments feared that an independent or autonomous Balochistan might allow the Soviet Union to develop and use the port at Gwadar, and no outside power was willing to assist the Baloch openly or to sponsor the cause of Baloch autonomy. During the mid-1970s, Afghanistan was preoccupied with its own internal problems and seemingly anxious to normalize relations with Pakistan. India was fearful of further balkanization of the subcontinent after Bangladesh, and the Soviet Union did not wish to jeopardize the leverage it was gaining with Pakistan. However, during the Bhutto regime hostilities in Balochistan were protracted. The succeeding Zia ul-Haq government took a more moderate approach, relying more on economic development to placate the Baloch.

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A long-dormant crisis erupted in Balochistan in 1973 into an insurgency that lasted four years and became increasingly bitter. The insurgency was put down by the Pakistan Army, which employed brutal methods and equipment, including Huey-Cobra helicopter gunships, provided by Iran and flown by Iranian pilots. The deep-seated Baloch nationalism based on tribal identity had international as well as domestic aspects. Divided in the nineteenth century among Iran, Afghanistan, and British India, the Baloch found their aspirations and traditional nomadic life frustrated by the presence of national boundaries and the extension of central administration over their lands. Moreover, many of the most militant Baloch nationalists were also vaguely Marxist-Leninist and willing to risk Soviet protection for an autonomous Balochistan. As the insurgency wore on, the influence of a relatively small but disciplined liberation front seemed to increase.

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