Punjabis or collaborators?

November 2, 2014

Punjabi settlers have faced mass migrations and killings in Balochistan in the last ten years. Here’s the context to the recent murder of eight labourers

Punjabis or collaborators?

The killing of eight Punjabi poultry farm labourers in the Sakran area of Hub tehsil in Lasbela district of Balochistan on October 19, 2014 is another reminder of how tough it has become for settlers to live and work in Balochistan; apart from drawing attention to the fact that not all is well in the province.

Human Right Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in one of its fact finding missions in 2011 found out that the so-called settlers, ethnic Punjabis, Sindhis and Urdu-speaking, who have lived in Balochistan for generations, and some for centuries, have been hounded out of Baloch-majority areas by threats and violence by insurgents. At times they have been ousted by opportunistic property mafia keen to capture land and buildings of the settlers. The more intimidated the settlers the more likely they were to accept any price for their property as they seek shelter elsewhere.

"From some schools in Quetta around 2,000 settler children have left. From interior Balochistan all settlers have left. Only those who cannot go anywhere else and say they have roots here and nowhere else have not moved away," found the mission.

A senior Baloch journalist based in Quetta seconds the findings of the mission. "In majority of Baloch-dominated districts of the province, Punjabi settlers have been almost wiped out. In Nushki district, there were almost 20 Punjabi barbers in 2006. Today there is not even a single barber; they were either killed or moved out of the district."

He says the Punjabis are considered as ‘collaborators’ or ‘spies’ of Pakistan army and FC.

A Punjabi barber based in Quetta says, of the more than 800 barbers in the city, majority are Punjabis. "We are under attack. More than 15 Punjabi barbers in the city have been killed during the last few years. Baloch militants believe that since barbers have strong penetration among the local communities, they may have been spying for the military and FC," he says, adding that majority of those who killed were innocent.

"It is also true that some of them were too involved in politics whereas I always try to stay away from politics," he says.

More than 1000 settlers are estimated to have been killed across Balochistan, according to human rights organisations. According to HRCP, some 800 settlers who were ethnically Punjabis, including schoolteachers, barbers and professors, have been murdered in Balochistan, apparently by separatists, between 2006-2012.

"The number would be near 1000 as there is surge in violence against settlers during the last two years," says Tahir Hussain Khan, president Balochistan chapter of HRCP. "The rebels have killed scores of fellow Baloch terming them spies."

He says that during the last ten years at least 90,000 settlers majority Punjabis have migrated from Quetta.

 "Many government officials from Punjab come to Balochistan for a tenure of three years but get local domicile certificate for their children who then enjoy the quotas and facilities meant for students of Balochistan." 

Government officials accept that various groups have been leaving the province but say the present government of Dr Malik was trying to get in touch with Baloch militant groups to bring them back from mountains. "So far, there is no success but we have been trying," Dr Ishaq Baloch, advisor of CM Balochistan tells TNS.

Other members of Ishaq Baloch’s party (National Party) say that it would take a lot of time for the government to convince Baloch militants to come back. "We have been told since our childhood that Punjab has exploited us. Youth in the province hold Punjab responsible for its present situation. It would take a lot of time to change their minds," says a young leader of the party.

In an interview published in August 2014 with Viewpoint Online, Dr Allah Nazar said that Baloch fighters have been attacking only the Punjabi collaborators. "Let me clarify one thing: it is Punjabi collaborators and not Punjabi settlers that are targeted. Those who are working as informants for the Military Intelligence or the ISI in the guise of workers are being killed. In a war of liberation, collaborators cannot be spared. However, no Punjabi settler has been hit," he is reported to have said.

Dr Abdul Hayee, veteran Baloch nationalist leader, says that an overwhelming majority of Punjabi settlers migrated to Quetta after the ‘Punjabi establishment’ created the West Pakistan One Unit. "It was an effort to weaken the identity of smaller nations and to colonise the smaller provinces especially Balochistan. A good number of Punjabis migrated to Quetta and other areas of Balochistan during the same period," he says, adding that natural resources of the provinces and coast line have already been under the control of establishment.

"Most areas of coast line of Balochistan have turned into cantonments. In the Hub industrial area, Urdu speaking people from Karachi dominate. You would find Lucknow, Allahabad and Delhi towns in Hub. This is ridiculous. It created a sense of anger and deprivation among the Baloch, especially the youth and they reacted to this colonisation," he says.

Tahir Hussain says there are some genuine concerns of Baloch. Many government officials from Punjab come to Balochistan for a tenure of three years but a majority of them get local domicile certificate for their children. "Their children enjoy the quotas and facilities meant for students of Balochistan. They do get jobs as per these domiciles as well," he says, adding that forced disappearances and mutilated bodies are the real problems in Balochistan.

According to government of Balochistan figures, over 800 bodies were found in Balochistan during the last three-and-a-half years, with most of them found from Quetta, Khuzdar and Makran belt. The Baloch are convinced they are being exploited to death by the Punjabi establishment. There is also a sense among the Baloch population that Punjabi settlers most of the time remain apolitical when it comes to problems of Balochistan. "They do not own the political situation and issues of Balochistan. This angers the locals. They consider them as agents of the establishment and FC," says a Baloch government official based in Quetta. "Majority of the educated youth have joined the BLF. Pakistan anthem is not played even in a single school in the area; no shopkeeper would sell Pakistani flags and anybody who has been working with a state institution is considered a traitor and collaborator of Punjabi establishment."

But even the most vocal supporter of Baloch cause find it difficult to justify the killing of innocent people belonging to any ethnicity by the Baloch fighters. "During the last few months or so, there has been significant surge in the activity of Pakistani security forces against the Baloch fighters. I do not want to justify the acts of Baloch fighters but they say they only attacks spies and collaborators," says veteran journalist Mir Muhammad Ali Talpur.

Abid Mir, a Quetta based journalist and teacher, tells TNS it is not possible for people like him -- who condemn security organisations for attacking innocent Balochs in their operations -- to stay silent on the killing of innocent Punjabis. "Like killing of innocent Baloch creates a wave of sympathy for the Baloch cause in the whole country, the dead bodies of innocent people result in loss of support for the Baloch cause. No one can justify this act."

On the next page: Ethnic profile of the province


Ethnic profile of the province

‘Settler’ is a label used for ethnic Punjabi, Sindhis and Urdu speaking people living in different parts of Balochistan by Baloch militant organisations and is more or less accepted among the masses in the province.

Punjabis constitute an overwhelming majority of the settlers in Balochistan and according to senior leader of National Party, senator Hasil Bizenjo, the first batch of Punjabis migrated to Quetta in 1901. A good number of them shifted to different parts of Balochistan after 1947 partition. Majority of them do their business, a good number of them are in teaching and medical professions.

A working paper "Buffer Zone, Colonial Enclave or Urban Hub? Quetta: Between Four Regions and Two Wars" co-authored by leading economist Haris Gazdar states that in 1911, the settlers used to form 52.1 per cent of the population of the city as compared to 1.8 per cent of Baloch population. In 1998, settlers were 25 per cent of total population of Quetta while the Baloch were 27 per cent.

Before 2006, more than 80 per cent barbers, dry cleaners and tailor masters in the province belonged to Punjabi ethnicity. In the wake of the Bugti killing, Baloch militant organisations began to paint slogans such as "down with Punjabis", and started targeting settlers especially Punjabis, Urdu speaking people and Hindko-speaking settlers from the Hazara division of KP.

Punjabi speaking population makes a good portion of Balochistan’s population. According to the 1998 national census, total population of Balochistan was nearly eight million people. The first language of 55 per cent population in the province is Balochi, Pashto is 30 per cent, Sindhi 5.6 per cent, Seraki 2.6 per cent, Punjabi 2.5 per cent, and Urdu 1 per cent.


Punjabis or collaborators?