The parliamentary debate on Baluchistan went astray unfortunately. The Members did not do proper homework. The issue here is not the mention of the word Baluchistan in the Gilani-Manmohan Singh joint communiqué at Sharm el-Sheikh. In fact the reference to Balushistan, though wrongly worded, will go a long way in helping the Baluch people, old friends of India and fighters for freedom against British imperialism under the Baluch Gandhi, Khan Abdus Samad Khan. Therefore, India has a moral stake in Baluch freedom against Pakistani oppression, for the sake of human rights worldover.
Pakistani journalists indulge in homilies when they say India and Pakistan should end proxy wars in Baluchistan and Kashmir for the region’s development. They ignore the kernel of the issue and, like their country’s politicians, want to equate the two provinces geopolitically. It is historical fallacy and journalistic prevarication. Let us briefly recall facts from official Pakistani and Indian records about the two states and their accession. Kashmir joined the Indian Union after Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah consented and its ruler Maharaja Hari Singh (father of Congress MP Dr Karan Singh) signed the Instrument of Accession voluntarily with the Nehru government. The Indian Army moved in only to defend Kashmiri Muslim masses from Pakistani army regulars, disguised as tribal liberators.
In the case of Baluchistan it was a diametrically opposite fact. The rulers of Baluchistan principalities, led by the Nawab of Kalat Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, refused to join the new Islamic state of Pakistan. Governor-General Mohammad Ali Jinnah rushed the Pakistani Air Force to force (March 27, 1948) the rebels to yield. He in fact went to Quetta, Baluch capital town, but he had to rush back to Karachi as his health failed. Jinnah died a week later. India cannot forget here that at the time of Partition when Sind, Punjab and East Pakistan witnessed massacre of Hindus, the Nawab and leaders of Baluchistan protected the minorities who included, besides the Hindus, the Sikhs and Parsees also. Baluch people, led by the Baluch Gandhi Khan Abbus Samad Khan maintained a secular state, despite being in Islamic Pakistan. Even in December 1992 the Hindus and their places of worship were attacked in Pakistani and Bangladeshi towns. Baluchistan did not report any such desecration in the aftermath of the demolition of the so-called Babri structure, though the Baluch remember, like the Khudai Khidmatgars of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, frontier Gandhi, that the Indian leaders in their lust for power had thrown them “to the (Pakistani) wolves.” Baluchistan had wanted to be part of the Indian Union.
The Baluch admire Indira Gandhi for “liberating the Muslims of East Pakistan from the yoke of Punjabi-dominated West Pakistani regime”. No elected Kashmiri leaders in the state Assembly or in the Indian Parliament ever suggested secession of Kashmir from the Union. But in the Pakistani Senate (Rajya Sabha) deputy chairman Jan Mohammad Jamali threatened (June 18, 2008) that “if provincial autonomy is not granted, Baluchistan may secede from the Islamic Republic.”
A logical reaction to the Indo-Pakistani joint statement with a reference to Baluchistan was the fulsome praise from Baluch freedom fighters, exiled from their homeland. Suleiman Khan, the United Kingdom-based heir to the throne of the Khanate of Kalat, is among those who hope that the Indo-Pak Declaration will lead to international intervention in the conflict in his province. “We earnestly hope,” he said “that India will now act on its moral responsibility to raise the Balochistan issue with Pakistan and the world.
“In this century,” Khan said, “India has acquired great influence and power. With power come obligations. We are surprised that India, despite claiming that it is a democracy and a supporter of human rights, has so far chosen not to take a proactive role in Balochistan.”
Wahid Baloch, president of the Baloch Society of North America, agreed. “It is imperative,” he says, “for India to speak up now against the terrorism perpetrated by the Pakistan Army in Balochistan.”
For a variety of reasons,’ he argued, “India has been very hesitant to support the Baloch cause, even though among all nations it is the only one to have voiced some concern for our plight. But if Pakistan can provide support for groups in Jammu & Kashmir, and raise the issue on every available international forum, why is India hesitant to do the same for our people?”
Both leaders were insistent that India had no role in supporting Baloch insurgents-but both said New Delhi ought to offer Baloch insurgent military support. “As far as I know,” Khan said, “there is no Indian support for Baloch freedom fighters. If there were, I would welcome it”.
Let us revert to the plight of these two states. Both Baluchistan and Kashmir have different tale to tell. Financially Kashmir is a big drain on Indian resources. To maintain its troops and to develop roads, canals, power projects etc. India spends billions of rupees on Kashmir. There is hardly any revenue from the state worth the name. On the other hand Pakistan exploits Baluchistan which is rich in oil, gold, uranium and natural gas. Baluchistan has hardly any share in oil royalty. Its literacy rate is the lowest in Pakistan with women literacy just one per sent after 62 years. The only shade a traveller gets on the Baluch highway during sizzling heat is from the electric poles. The largest Pakistan province offers no employment opportunities forcing its people to migrate to neighbouring Iran or Sindh. Baluchi carpet-makers are famous world over like the silk sari-makers of old Dhaka. But they migrated to neighbouring (Soviet) Turkemenistan to eke out a living.
Now the issue before the human rights activists of India is should they not agitate on world fora the demand of Baluch people for basic rights, suppressed for long by the Military and civil governments of Pakistan? The Baluch saga resembles the Irish saga of fight for freedom from British imperialism. Both suffered untold human misery in the long annals of history. A secular India must take up the Baluch cause not as a retort to the fanatic Pakistani campaign for Kashmiri Muslims at every international forum. Indian troops in Kashmir are defenders against Pakistani marauders. But Pakistan Air Force and troops are in Baluchistan to enslave the people, who are sturdy freedom-lovers. It is here that Dr Manmohan Singh should be thanked by every defender of human rights for internationalising the Baluch issue, unwittingly, or in spite of himself.
(The writer can be contacted at [email protected])