Baloch groups are knocking the doors of the UN for long recently they set up a pavilion outside the UN Office at Geneva adjacent to iconic broken chair named as Save the Baloch. But still, their voices are not being heard. The global community has to understand that the Baloch struggle for independence differs significantly from other conflicts in the greater west-Asia, which are defined by religious intolerance and sectarian divisions
Baloch people protesting for their human rights in front of UN headquarters Geneva
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province in terms of the area though it has a population of just over 12 million. If we put this in numbers, Balochistan is approximately 44% of the country’s total landmass and home to less than 6% of the country’s population. It’s very thinly populated, and the terrain is mostly barren and consists of deserts and mountains. But Balochistan is not a wasteland it’s a goldmine for Pakistan with its vast mineral and natural resources. The province contains plentiful supplies of oil, coal, gas, gold, silver, uranium, and copper. It provides Islamabad direct access to the strategically significant Indian Ocean, with a thousand kilometres of coastline near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz from where most essential shipping lanes pass through. Despite having such a vast natural wealth, much of the population of the province lives below the poverty line. Balochistan is limited with or no access to education, jobs, electricity, roads and clean water. Barely 41% of the population is literate (the national average is 59%), the unemployment rate is around 30%, and just 7% have access to running water. And while Balochistan provides one-third of Pakistan’s natural gas supply only a handful of towns are hooked up to the supply grid. For example, gas reserves were discovered in Sui which lies in the district of Dera Bughti in 1952, but the locals are still using wood as fuel. Other social indicators, such as infant mortality rate and life expectancy, are also low compared to the national average. Let’s talk about Balochistan’s history and how it merged with Pakistan.
Following the end of British rule and the partition of India in 1947. The Khanate of Kalat, most prominent princely state that existed from 1666-1955 in the centre of modern-day Pakistani Balochistan, was promised autonomy and briefly gained independence from August 1947 to March 1948. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father and the country’s first Governor-General, proposed a merger of Kalat with the newly created Islamic Republic of Pakistan. But both houses of the Baloch parliament outrightly rejected the incorporation. Then Pakistan decided to use military means to occupy this rebellious territory. So, less than a year later, Jinnah ordered the invasion of Balochistan and annexed it. The Pakistani state deposed the traditional tribal leadership, and the historic Khanate of Kalat ceased to exist in the year 1955. Since then Islamabad has fought the number of insurgencies in the province. Pakistani deep state has always labelled these insurgencies as the handiwork of foreign intelligence agencies. But the truth is that forceful occupation and looting of vast natural resources has fuelled the call of Baloch nationalism as an ordinary Baloch fails to understand why he is forced to live in abject poverty while other provinces of Pakistan are benefitting from the natural resources of his homeland. Now Baloch nationalism has taken a full-fledged shape of a freedom struggle.
Moreover, targeted killings of Baloch leaders and tribal chiefs have acted as a stimulant for separatists’ movement. Especially in August 2006 killing of 79-year-old Baloch veteran leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti who was widely respected in Balochistan across all the tribe. Pakistan military establishment is trying to deal with it through a hefty hand. Hence authorities have launched a new campaign of forced disappearance a decade ago in which anyone who is even remotely connected to Baloch nationalist movement is targeted. This has resulted in the removal of a large number of separatist activists, students, suspected militants, protest leaders, and intellectuals. Amnesty International has described this campaign as a “Kill and Dump” policy. Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency ISI, military intelligence, and the Frontier Corps (a federal paramilitary force) are running this campaign. They use the “Kill and Dump” policy as an instrument of state terror to break the morale of Balochis. According to Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), an association was representing family members of missing Baloch people. Over 20,000 Baloch have disappeared in the last decade.
Even women, children and the elderly are not spared. The Baloch activists are targeted overseas as well the best example is of Rashid Baloch. Pakistan requested his deportation to UAE. Pakistan claimed he is wanted in connection with charges of terrorism. UAE in June 2019 handed over Rashid Baloch to Pakistan. But since then there are no whereabouts of Rashid no one in Pakistani establishment can explain that what happened to Rashid Baloch. Even his family don’t know that whether Rashid was produced in the court of law, rotting in a torture cell or has been killed and dumped. But despite this terror campaign of mighty Pakistan army. This struggle seems to have spread deeper into Baloch society than ever before. Anti-Pakistani sentiments have gripped the entire province. Baloch schoolchildren refuse to sing the national anthem or fly its flag, women, traditionally confined to home, have joined the struggle. Universities have become hotbeds of nationalist sentiment. International community and institutions like the United Nations can’t be mute spectators of this brutality in which the state is targeting the whole race.
The Baloch are certainly not religious extremists. They are some of the most secular people in the region. At the heart of their struggle is the demand for national self-determination, not the desire to impose a rule of one religious sect. Hence it becomes a moral duty of the civilised world to lend their support to Baloch people.
(The writer is a columnist for West-Asia and Af-Pak region and Editor of geo-political news agency)