Pakistan-The Balochistan Conundrum, a book by Tilak Devasher

Written by Arooj Saghir 3:02 pm Book Reviews, Published Content

Pakistan—The Balochistan Conundrum by Tilak Devasher

In “Pakistan-The Balochistan Conundrum,” Tilak Devasher analyzes the Balochistan issue and emphasizes the shortcomings of the Pakistani government. He paints a twisted portrait of pain and exclusion that the Baloch have allegedly suffered at the hands of Pakistan’s armed forces. Arooj Saghir provides a counter-narrative by highlighting the biased statements and lack of evidence from the far-right nationalist author.
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About the Author(s)
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Ms. Arooj Saghir is a Media Strategy Specialist at Sunbeams School System, Islamabad. She is an International Relations graduate from National Defence University, Islamabad. Her area of research is South Asian Security. 

About the Author

Tilak Devasher is an Indian graduate who has penned several articles and four books on Pakistan, including “Pakistan—The Balochistan Conundrum.” He has shown special interest in his next-door neighbor, specifically during his post-retirement period.

In October 2014, Tilak retired as a special secretary from the Indian cabinet secretariat. Given his specialization in security issues, he currently serves as a National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) member and consultant for the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF). Tilak was motivated to write a book on Balochistan by the anguished cry of a Baloch father whose son was abducted extrajudicially and by the unheard voices of young students residing there.

“Pakistan—The Balochistan Conundrum” has sketched a picture of the historical background, ethnicities, militant intricacies, and sectarianism in Balochistan. The title reflects the author’s view of the province, portraying it as an entangled and confusing problem, more like a riddle that is not being understood by the ruling elite of Pakistan. Therefore, their solutions make the problem more complex rather than providing any way out. 

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The book analyzes an Indian perspective regarding Balochistan, which frames it as a new East Pakistan in the becoming. It was intentionally or coincidently launched in 2019, right after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, when the entire world was looking forward to this region’s future.

Apart from the introduction and conclusion, “Pakistan—The Balochistan Conundrum” is divided into six parts comprising eighteen chapters addressing almost all aspects of the Balochistan issue. It starts with an overview of Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan, which occupies around 44% of the land and has had a constantly increasing population in the last 20 years. 

However, when it comes to the facilities that the province has, they are extremely lacking, as only 25% of the females are literate. In comparison, the overall literacy in the province is around 42%. Tilak sees the province as a complex region possessing options not only for future explorations but also for future conflicts.

An Ancient Civilization

In the first section, Tilak chronologically moves through the history of the Baloch people, discussing their land, religion, and language. Demography and geography are the two gems of Balochistan that make this region important for Pakistan to control. Demographically, it comprises almost half of Pakistan’s total land. Still, the population of Balochistan makes up just 6% of the country. The strategic importance of Balochistan lies in its Achilles heel, which is its asymmetrical land-to-population ratio. 

Geographically, it acts as a bridge between the Mesopotamian and Indian civilizations. This very feature of Balochistan has commonalities with Middle Eastern deserts, Iranian plateaus, and Afghan highlands. The prime focus should lay on these two sectors which can make way for social and economic progress. 

When Russia entered Afghanistan to access the Persian Gulf, Britain, ruling Delhi and Punjab in the mid-nineteenth century, traced its path to Afghanistan through Balochistan. “The Great Game” enhanced the strategic importance of Balochistan, especially when the British won the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80), securing their rule on Afghanistan’s North West Frontier, including many Baloch areas.

They developed a military set-up in Quetta with railroad links to the North West Frontier while being considerate of the independent Baloch political identity under the 1876 treaty with Sardars and Khanates. This initiated the British hegemony in Balochistan, which later resulted in the Britishers giving one-fourth of Balochistan to Iran and some other areas to Afghanistan as a consequence of winning the Great Game.

This made Balochistan a buffer state, whose people were divided amongst three other states, with the largest portion residing in British India. Sardars and Khanates remained Baloch rulers, making it a garrison state that occupied 44% of Pakistan’s land and was home to more than half of its natural resources. 

Times Gone By

The author posed questions about the legitimacy of Kalat’s accession to Pakistan in this section. After the partition of the subcontinent, the Baloch tribes and the Khan of Kalat asked for independence. Still, despite their link to the sea, Congress seemed unhelpful and unwilling to include these areas in India. Nehru precluded Kalat’s independent status, and Maulana Azad thought that the Baloch restoration was impractical. So, a sham referendum brought the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan to Pakistan.

Violating the “Standstill agreement,” Pakistan sent its army to conquer Kalat and Kashmir as the Britishers had pre-planned. On 30th March 1948, the Khan of Kalat signed an instrument of accession. The Baloch commonly believed that this accession was illegal because the Khan of Kalat was forced to accede to Pakistan. They feel themselves to be in a state formed through cheating and betrayal.

Tilak blamed Jinnah, who was fighting the British to free Kalat, for this infidelity. The author states that as soon as Britain’s forces left, Jinnah stabbed Khan in the back and became Pakistan’s first governor-general, forcing Kalat’s accession to Pakistan. This served the strategic interests of the West; otherwise, there would have been an independent Pashtunistan. The unwanted accession, further alienation, and ethnolinguistic differences that were born from this act led to the beginning of the Baloch insurgency in 1948.

The Roots of Alienation

In the third section, the author examines the roots of Baloch alienation, which he traces to the social, economic, political, legal, and administrative exploitation of the people living in the province. He stated that the Pakistan Army hardly has a few hundred Baloch in its ranks, as evident from the fact that there is no Baloch national in the Baloch Regiment. Likewise, the Baloch are underrepresented in politics and bureaucracy, which adds to the passivity of this strategic and economic hub.

Soon after the separation of India and Pakistan, natural gas was discovered in Balochistan and supplied to different parts of the country except for Balochistan itself. The province remained deprived for another forty years, similar to East Pakistan, when gas was supplied to some selective parts of the province, like Dera Bugti, in the 1990s. Tilak reflected on Pakistan’s governance and concluded that it has been marginalizing the Baloch while feeding Punjabi fascists, acting as a colonial extractive state involved in a gross violation of human rights.

Chinese Gambit

In the fourth section, the author expressed his discontent over the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) being a positive game changer for Pakistan. He believes it is just trying to convert Pakistan into another “Chinatown,” where the locals are not reaping any benefits; rather, they are being exploited while their resources are being taken away. So, he foresees the situation as a “game over” for Balochistan.

He believes that the success of the Gwadar Port as an important trade route depends on the development of Pakistan if it can save itself from becoming a failed state. Balochistan’s dream of prosperity can only come true if most of the control of Gwadar Port is handed over to the locals. However, since the Baloch are not given any opportunities in CPEC or Gwadar Port, they are threatened by the outcomes of this mega project. That is why they manipulate security threats for Chinese workers, killing them with suicide bombs, car bombs, serial blasts, headshots, homemade bombs, rocket attacks, and more.

Chinese presence in Balochistan is crucial for Pakistan to maintain its occupation of the province and to gather enough Chinese support to deal with the issues of Kashmir and Afghanistan. Through this, China gets direct access to the Persian Gulf. It is present in the Baloch region and can use Gwadar Port as a gateway to the Arabian Sea, which will, in turn, help keep an eye on American and Indian naval activities.

The author says that China wants to develop Gwadar on the model of Shenzhen rather than Dubai to convert this fishing community into a modern industrial city. In addition to being an integral component of the “String of Pearls” strategy, the strategic location of Gwadar is also beneficial for China as it is just 250 nautical miles from the Strait of Hormuz, which is responsible for a fifth of the global oil consumption daily. It is an alternative port to Karachi, eliminating the congestion and direct blockade from India. 

Tilak perceived the Baloch perspective of Chinese presence as one of agitation because it led to complete exclusion from decision-making in projects, under-representation, denial of employment opportunities, and a fear of turning into a minority due to settlers or due to Pakistan’s colonizers as the naval forces have already snatched 11,000 acres of land (passed down the generations without any official documentation) by scams to construct a “combined defense complex.”

Balochistan fears its fate will be like the Hambantota port, which was taken over by China when Sri Lanka was unable to pay its debt. The other issue that Baloch natives face is water scarcity, now that the fuel supply to Gwadar has made it polluted and unfit for drinking. Tilak sees CPEC as a “China-Punjab Economic Corridor,” specifically because, in the original proposal, the route was through Balochistan. KPK was neglected, and the eastern route through Punjab and Sindh was prioritized.

Relentless Persecution

In this section, the author talks about human rights abuses and mass murders in which the media and judiciary are playing a significant role. This situation has divided Pakistan into two parts: Balochistan and the rest of Pakistan dominated by Punjabis, causing a civil war called “Pakistan’s dirty little war.” To crush the insurgency in Balochistan, the Pakistan Army is committing human rights violations that are inaccessible and poorly documented.

These crimes have distorted and varying statistics, due to which they lack international attention. Over time, this slow-motion genocide has escalated. This includes forced disappearances as well. The families of missing persons formed the “Voice of Baloch Missing Persons” (VBMP) and attracted international attention, but Punjab restrained it. Its vice chairperson, Mama Qadeer, was put on the exit control list (ECL).

As far as the judiciary is concerned, it only took verbal action. The judiciary has been warning the intelligence agencies to stop fanning the fires of hatred in the province. The military has refused to obey such commands. Media coverage in Balochistan also suffers from human rights violations as the journalists who try to cover the ongoing situations are killed brutally.

Neither state media nor free media can openly broadcast the situation of the Baloch suppression without getting threatened. Tilak sees media as a regional entity in Balochistan rather than a national, as Quetta’s version of events is not published elsewhere in the country. 

Enduring Insurrection

Tilak Devasher concludes his book by shedding light on the current separatist challenge in Balochistan and discussing the government and army’s response to it. He views the beginning of this separatism in the 1970s as a hit-and-run scenario; back then, it was just limited to the tribes. In the 1990s, it established itself as a nationalist movement with massive participation from middle-class, educated Baloch who were suffering from a fear of Punjab’s colonization, continuous economic deprivation, administrative marginalization, and the refutation of democratic rights.

The Baloch Nationalist Movement is divided into moderates, which includes political parties like the Balochistan National Party (BNP), National Party (NP), Jamhoori Wattan Party (JWP), and Baloch Students Organization (BSO), and separatists such as the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), Baloch Republican Army (BRA), and United Baloch Army (UBA), demanding political solutions in the form of increased provincial autonomy and independence by militant means, respectively.

Mass participation of the natives, including women and children, was a result of the repressive response from the state government and army that made the Baloch believe that guns were their last resort. Tilak sees the provincial government of Quetta as helpless, being unable to stop the militants as it does not have enough capacity to do so; it leaves a mess for the federal government, which decides the economic and political fate of the Baloch people.

The provincial government does not have enough authority to take action against the army’s kill-and-dump policy. However, even where it does have the authority, it has failed to carry out effective actions. For example, the education budget is extremely low, and the police forces are ineffective in properly monitoring the province. The federal government is equally as ineffective in the province as clashes continue. This is due to a lack of trust in the natives regarding developmental projects.

Tilak has blamed the army for using excessive force, enforcing disappearances, nationalizing, downplaying insurgency, countering nationalism, and blaming foreign powers countered by frontier corps.


Analytically, the book appears to be a part of Indian propaganda against Pakistan as Tilak Devasher is a member of NSAB serving under a far-right nationalist political party responsible for saffron terrorism in the wake of Hindu nationalism.

It is based on a biased narrative against the Pakistan Army and government, accusing them of failing to address the grievances and aspirations of the Baloch people, leading to a long-standing insurgency in the province and instability in the region. The author suggests that the military-led approach overlooks Balochistan’s political roots, equating it to a butcher handling a patient rather than a surgeon.

The book also gives an alternative perspective on CPEC’s dynamics. It is crisp with anti-Pakistan elements, downplaying all positive developments and the role of external factors in the region. He has criticized Punjab’s domination that is allegedly perpetuating economic exploitation and oppression in resource-rich Balochistan.

The writer was so engrossed in bashing Pakistan’s choices that he forgot to discuss Kulbhushan Yadav’s role and involvement. Tilak has tried to present a half-baked portrait of the Baloch dilemma without any valid evidence, tracing it from ancient civilizations to contemporary unrest marked by insurgency, terrorism, and human rights abuses.

The author is concerned about the Baloch fate and human rights abuses but has no answers to the violence perpetuated by the Indian government, such as the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), murder of Indian minorities in the name of love jihad, demolition of Babri mosque, the Gujrat riots, and more.

Overall, the book offers an account of desolation and resentment regarding Pakistan’s handling of Balochistan, catering to anti-Pakistan sentiments without providing hope for a better future or balanced perspectives. 

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The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift

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