The demand for a separate Baloch nation-state and armed struggles brings closure to politics -- it provides a policy pretext to the security apparatus to militarise and dehumanise the situation at the cost of democratic politics
The death of Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, the veteran of Baloch separatism and guerrilla war ideologue, demands some soul-searching about the quest of Baloch nationalism, some probing of the frontiers of possibility that the Baloch quest has set for itself.
To put it differently, it means approaching the Baloch quest and its conceptual limit.
It was philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who first articulated the question of the limit in human thought. According to him, we should be able to think the unthinkable -- to draw the limit to thought. But why do we need to know the limit to thought?
Wittgenstein’s answer is that the limit of our thinking determines the limit of our world and actions. What we cannot think, we cannot do. Therefore, we have to find both sides of the limit thinkable in order to enlarge the spectrum of our freedom. In other words, we should be able to think that which cannot be thought.
So what are the limits of the Baloch quest? What might be thought that has not yet been thought and so expand the realm of freedom to which the Baloch aspire to. For example, it is worth asking whether the central pursuit of having a separate Baloch nation-state is a kind of misrecognition of the ideal of freedom and hence self-defeating. Not only is the ideal a mockery of what the majority of Baloch are opposed to but it is against their history and politics as well.
Baloch have never been a nation-state in the specific sense of this term. The idea we now know as ‘nation-state’ was originally born in the modern West in the nineteenth century. The main antecedents of this new entity then included imperial nationalism, colonialism, the free market and the rule of law, etc. It is not possible to conceive of the Khanate of Kalat, the only precedent of state-building in Baloch history, as a nation-state.
The Baloch constitute a comparatively small national community, the majority of which lives in ecologically diverse and ethno-linguistically plural regions. This majority occupies large tracts of territories between the Iranian highlands and the Indus lowlands. As a result, it has to negotiate and adjust with vast cultural and linguistic diversity.
Such an extensive dispersal of the Baloch national community was mainly caused by two factors. One, Baloch nomads historically continued to move towards the Indus lowlands in the search of rich pastures as well as to maintain their economic interaction with the settled Indus communities. Two, ever since the Mir Chakar period in the fifteenth century, the Baloch have been intermittently participating in military conquests and empire building process on both sides of the frontier, namely India and Persia.
In consequence, a significant part of Baloch national community now lives in the poly-ethnic environment of the Indus floodplains. Moreover, the main Baloch hinterlands also share symbiotic borders with historically significant neighbours including Sindhi, Seraiki and Pakhtun ethno-linguistic groups.
The creation of a separate nation state would further split Baloch national community, inserting it into different international borders. It is most likely to give rise to new territorial hostilities with the neighboring communities and groups. Moreover, experience instructs that the borders of new nation states are not self-determined. Rather, they are most often the product of world imperial interests, particularly based on the energy resources and routes.
The demand for a separate Baloch nation-state and armed struggles brings closure to politics. Wittingly or unwittingly, it provides a policy pretext to the security apparatus to militarise and dehumanise the situation at the cost of democratic politics. Moreover, it hinders the Baloch politicians from entering into democratic political alliances with other oppressed ethno-linguistic groups for the purpose of desirable federal-consociational state design.
Last but not least, it is imperative to think what is the inside out of the limit to the Baloch quest. It primarily concerns with the strategic misrecognition of Punjab-dominated state elites towards the Baloch claims for autonomy and justice. Strategic misrecognition constitutes a deliberate blindness of a policy or practice predicated on the brute calculus of force-relationships.
Our state elites appear to adopt the view that the Baloch resistance is spineless which can be easily overwhelmed by imposing the conditions of physical subjugation. Hence, they are neither prepared to acknowledge their own historical wrongs nor have they any vested interest in the process of political reconciliation.
However, their deliberate misrecognition has its own limit. It can do what is the outside of their force calculation. Times are changing. States of geo-strategic significance like Iraq and Syria are on the verge of collapse. They face the prospects of new territorial mapping dictated by irreparable internal divisions and imperial interests.
If our state elites continue with their policy of misrecognising the Baloch claims, they will have to confront the limit of their own ultra-patriotism. To paraphrase, the absence of genuine political reconciliation in Balochistan combined with geo-strategic interests of the world powers can unleash the tragic process of Balkanisation in the region.