The 1970s operation in Balochistan was a five-year military conflict in Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan, between the Pakistan Army and Baloch separatists and tribesmen that lasted from 1973 to 1978.
The operation began in 1973 shortly after then-Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto dismissed the elected provincial government of Balochistan, on the pretext that arms had been discovered in the Iraqi Embassy ostensibly for Baloch rebels. The ensuing protest against the dismissal of the duly elected government also led to calls for Balochistan's secession, met by Bhutto's ordering the Pakistan Army into the province. Akbar Khan Bugti, who would be killed in a later operation in 2006, served as provincial governor during the early stages of the conflict. The operation itself was led by General Tikka Khan and provided military support by Iran, against the resistance of some 50,000 Baloch fighters coordinated by Baloch sardars, or tribal chiefs, that most notably included Khair Bakhsh Marri and Ataullah Mengal.
Sporadic clashes were intermittent throughout the conflict, with hostilities climaxing in 1974 with drawn-out battles. The Bhutto regime was overthrown by General Zia-ul-Haq on 5 July 1977, and martial law was imposed. A general amnesty was declared by military governor Rahimuddin Khan. All army action was ceased by 1978, and development and educational policies were refocused on to assuage the province.
The conflict took the lives of 3,300 Pakistani troops, 5,300 Baloch, and thousands of civilians. This period forms a pivotal chapter in the longstanding Balochistan conflict, and is often cited as creating deep divisions between Balochistan and Islamabad that persist to the current day.
The 1971 Indo-Pakistani War had ended with the defeat of Pakistan at the hands of India. East Pakistan declared itself to be independent. It became a new sovereign state called Bangladesh, to be ruled by Bengali leader Shaikh Mujibur Rahman. Mujib had been a major personality in the events that had led to the war, having called for greater provincial autonomy and rights for what was then East Pakistan, only to be met with utter disapproval by the then military ruler Yahya Khan and his West Pakistan-based political opponent Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Despite Mujib's having won the federal elections of 1970, both Yahya and Bhutto refused to let Mujib form the central government. The ensuing unrest gradually deteriorated into civil war, and ultimately the secession of Bangladesh after the India-Pakistan War of 1971. India also played a large part in the independence of Bangladesh by arming and financing the separatist group Mukti Bahini which rebelled against the Pakistani State after the injustice done to the then East Pakistan. Most importantly, India sent its troops into East Pakistan to aid the Bengali separatists in suppressing the Pakistan army.
This greatly influenced Balochistan's leading political party, the National Awami Party. Led by ethnic nationalists and feudal leaders such as Sardar Ataullah Mengal and Khan Wali Khan, the party dominated the province due to the large amount of individual political influence its leaders held. Emboldened by the secession of Bangladesh, the party demanded greater autonomy from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had become the new President of Pakistan following his predecessor Yahya Khan's resignation in December 1971, in return for a consensual agreement on Bhutto's Pakistan Constitution of 1973. Bhutto, however, refused to negotiate on any terms that might have involved a reduction in his powers, with chief minister Ataullah Mengal in Quetta and Mufti Mahmud in Peshawar. The already significant civil unrest now turned volatile as tensions between the NAP and Bhutto erupted.
The ethno-separatist rebellion of Balochistan of the 1970s, the most threatening civil disorder to Pakistan since Bangladesh's secession, now began. Surveying the political instability, Bhutto's central government sacked two provincial governments within six months, arrested the two chief ministers, two governors and forty-four MNAs and MPAs, obtained an order from the Supreme Court banning the NAP and charged everyone with high treason to be tried by a specially constituted Hyderabad Tribunal of handpicked judges. Following the alleged discovery of Iraqi arms in Islamabad in February 1973, Bhutto dissolved the Balochistan Provincial Assembly and infuriated Balochistan's political oligarchs.
In time, the nationalist insurgency, which had been steadily gathering steam, now exploded into action, with widespread civil disobedience and armed uprisings. Bhutto now sent in the army to maintain order and crush the insurgency. This essentially pitted the ethno-separatists against the central government, and army. As casualties rose, the insurgency became a full-fledged armed struggle against the Pakistan Army. The sporadic fighting between the insurgency and the army started in 1973 with the largest confrontation taking place in September 1974 when around 15,000 ethno-separatists fought the Pakistani Army and the Air Force. Sensing the seriousness of the conflict, Pakistan Navy dispatched its logistic units under the command of Vice-Admiral Patrick Simpson—Commander of the Southern Naval Command—provided its logistic and intelligence support to Army and Air Force from the Sea. The Navy had applied an effective naval blockade in Balochistan's water and stopped the illegal arm trade and aid to Baloch rebel groups. In a separate naval operations led by navy, the navy had seized and destroyed vessels that were trying to aid the Baloch rebel groups. The army suffered more than 3,000 casualties in the fight while the rebels lost 5,000 people as of 1977.
It was after visiting Iran in 1973 that President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto dissolved Balochistan's provincial government. When the operation was begun, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran and Bhutto ally, feared a spread of the greater ethnic resistance in Iran. The Imperial Iranian Army began providing Pakistan with military hardware and financial support. Among Iran's contribution were 30 Huey cobra attack helicopters and $200 million in aid. The Pakistan government declared its belief in covert Indian intervention just like the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. However, India claimed that it was fearful of further balkanisation of the subcontinent after Bangladesh and stated it had not interfered. After three years of fighting the separatists were running out of ammunition and so withdrew by 1976.
Although major fighting had broken down, ideological schisms caused splinter groups to form and steadily gain momentum. On 5 July 1977, the Bhutto government was overthrown by General Zia-ul-Haq and martial law was imposed. With the civil disobedience in Balochistan remaining widespread, the military brought in Lieutenant General Rahimuddin Khan as governor under martial law. Rahimuddin declared a general amnesty for belligerents willing to give up arms and oversaw military withdrawal. Ataullah Mengal and Khair Bakhsh Marri, sardars that had been active in the conflict, were isolated by Rahimuddin from provincial affairs, and left the province for foreign countries. Marri later said the Baloch independence movement was 'at a virtual standstill', and Marri tribesmen granted amnesty laid down their arms. Akbar Bugti, having sided with Tikka Khan and now being marginalised by Rahimuddin Khan, went into self-imposed seclusion. Civil disobedience movements and anti-government protests died down.
Rahimuddin's tenure also ushered in sustained development. Following the Soviet invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan in 1979, Rahimuddin used the resultant foreign attention on Balochistan by introducing an externally financed development programme for the area. Forty million dollars (USD) were committed to the programme by the end of 1987, by which time Rahimuddin had resigned. He expedited the regulation of Pakistan Petroleum Limited, the exploration company charged with the Sui gas field. He consolidated the then-contentious integration of Gwadar into Balochistan, which had earlier been notified as a district in 1977. Addressing the province's literacy rate, the lowest in the country for both males and females, he administered the freeing up of resources towards education, created girls' incentive programs, and had several girls' schools built in the Dera Bugti District. As part of his infrastructure schemes, he also forced his way in extending electricity to vast areas with subsoil water.
Tensions have resurfaced in the province with the Pakistan Army being involved in attacks against an organisation known as the Balochistan Liberation Army. Attempted uprisings have taken place as recently as 2006.