H-Nationalism is proud to publish here the seventh post of its “Secessionism and Separatism Monthly Series”, which looks at issues of fragmentation, sovereignty, and self-determination in a multi-disciplinary perspective. Today’s contribution, by Professor Farhan Hanif Siddiqi (School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad), deals with Pakistan as the first in a series of case studies that we will propose in the coming months.
Pakistan’s encounter with secessionism is rooted in its history since 1947. In fact, August 14th and 15th, 1947, the dates on which Pakistan and India emerged as independent states, were also marked by a third entity proclaiming independence. This was the princely state of Kalat in Balochistan whose princely ruler, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, issued a declaration of independence on account of his independent relations with the British colonialists. Interestingly, the person fighting Kalat’s legal case for independence with the British was none other than the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah himself.
In the ensuing weeks and months, Jinnah and the Pakistani state pressurized the Khan of Kalat to integrate into the Pakistani state and the Khan acquiesced in March 1948. So, paradoxically, Pakistan contained an independent state in its geographical boundaries for a good eight months, that is, from August 1947 till March 1948. Furthermore, Pakistan was unique in the sense that territorial ‘dis-contiguity’ marked its boundaries, as opposed to the general norm of coherent borders. The two provinces of West and East Pakistan were separated by a 1,000 miles of Indian territory in which East Pakistan (ethnically homogenous, with Bengalis as the dominant ethnic group) was demographically dominant but undermined by the politically dominant West Pakistan (with five major ethnic groups: Punjabis, Pashtoons, Sindhis, Baloch and Urdu speakers). Ethnonationalist tendencies intensified in Pakistan owing to a centralized governance structure bequeathed by the British that, however, unlike the British political system, was characterized by lack of democracy and the military’s assertiveness in the political process.
East Pakistan became a hotbed of nationalist activities in the 1950s owing to the centre’s insistence on Urdu as the national language as opposed to Bengali. While Bengali ethnonationalism was not essentially separatist, it manifested itself as such owing to the repressive policies of the Pakistani state. With power denied, marginalized and alienated from political and economic processes of development, the Bengali ethnic elites demanded federal autonomy as the basis for a renegotiated formula of a Pakistani state consisting of distinct nationalities. The state’s denial and a consequent military action in March 1971 inflamed Bengali passions leading to the secession of East Pakistan in December 1971 and the consequent dismemberment of the Pakistani state. In the post-war era then, Pakistan became the first state to experience disintegration leading to assertions that the religious bond had failed to keep the state united and that ethnicity had trumped religion.
The theoretical lessons, in view of earlier posts, are the following: secession may not be an outright desire, goal or strategy of the ethnonationalists but more of a ‘spur of the moment’ thing, whereby state policies induce circumstances which make ‘secession’ inevitable. Second, movements with outright secessionist aims such as the Jeay Sindh Mahaz (in Pakistan’s Sindh province) might be highly committed to secession, but may not garner enough members to support their nationalist cause. The defeat of separatist referendums in Quebec and Scotland can be seen in a similar light. Third, the Bengali case study attests to the near dominance of one party, the Awami League, as the front bearer of Bengali nationalism. More often than not, however, culturally homogenous ethnic groups are marked by political heterogeneity, which makes secessionist aims and strategies problematic allowing for the state to indulge in divide and rule tactics.
In the recent ‘War on Terror’, the ethnic question has come to haunt the Pakistani state because of the violent activities carried out by the Baloch nationalists. Balochistan’s fifth insurgency is overtly separatist with the earlier insurgencies dilly-dallying between assertions for provincial autonomy and independence. At the core of the conflict is the Baloch demand for adequate financial compensation for Balochistan’s resources (including natural resources such as natural gas, gold and copper) usurped by the central government. While a state does not stand to tolerate secessionist movements and conventionally utilizes force to repress it, the Pakistani state has realized now the consequences of sticking to a centralized model of governance. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution passed in 2009 allows for provincial autonomy and the transferring of subjects such as health and education to the provinces. Also, the debate to create new provinces and for further administrative decentralization of power has taken roots in the political culture and featured prominently in the manifestoes of the major political parties contesting the 2013 general elections.
The Baloch secessionist movement now in its fifteenth year is showing signs of abatement. Recent developments indicate Baloch separatists’ willingness to negotiate with the central government and the government’s drive to co-opt the separatists through rehabilitation schemes. In Pakistan’s case, secession can be understood as a ‘remedial’ right whereby the right to unilateral secession comes as a denial and violation of other basic rights. However, secession in this sense comes out as a plan of action, a goal, which might not always be the initial case or goal of ethnonationalists, as the Bengali case study demonstrates. This also fits into the Baloch case study, which only in its recent phase has overtly expressed its secessionist tendencies as opposed to earlier nationalist episodes in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. In this context, then, can the argument relative to national self-determination be understood as a demand for rights short of independence? After all ‘remedial’ theories of secession see secessionist tendencies as a strategy of the last resort when basic rights are denied. This automatically leads to the argument that if basic rights are not violated and powers divided between the centre and ethnic groups, the desire for independence may well subside. But, can the comparatively resource and financially rich cases of Scotland, Catalonia or the Basque Country be understood this way? In these cases, granting provincial autonomy may in fact aggravate, as opposed to alleviate, the movement and desire towards independence.
 Farhan Hanif Siddiqi, The Politics of Ethnicity in Pakistan: The Baloch, Sindhi and Mohajir Ethnic Movements (London: Routledge, 2012)
 Pakistan’s geographical uniqueness is however also shared by other states, including the United States of America, where the state of Alaska borders Canada and not the American mainland.