It was during August 2016, in his Independence Day speech, when the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has performed an unprecedented feat which Pakistan could never have imagined. He pronounced the ‘B’ word, which Pakistan always detests to talk about as Balochistan remains a touchy or an issue which Pakistan always want to hide from the rest of the world, as the issue can reveal its thousands sins.
Modi’s Independence Day speech can be the turning point in India-Pak relationship, perhaps it will have long term impacts on the future of Balochistan. Earlier, India has refrained from interfering in the internal matters of other countries. Hence, it never broached the Balochistan issue at any international platform, despite Pakistan bringing up the Kashmir issue repeatedly.
Balochistan – Big Ticket region for Pakistan
Balochistan or the ‘land of the Baloch’ is one of the four provinces of Pakistan; it is the largest province in the country, covering around 45% of the total area. However, population wise it represent merely 7% and is diminishing. Most of the inhabitants are Baloch; other communities include Pashtuns and Brahuis.
The province is considered rich in natural resources such as oil, gas, copper and gold; the economy is dominated by its natural gas fields. Gwadar Port in Balochistan is of immense importance to Pakistan, as it’s one of the important locations in the economic corridor China has proposed to build at an investment of $46 billion linking the deepwater port of Gwadar with the city of Kashgar, a trading hub in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang. The much publicized the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is also planned to go through Balochistan.
Despite being rich in natural resources, it is the most backward region in Pakistan. The level of literacy, access to sanitation, mortality rate, electrification, and access to safe drinking water is lowest in the region. Moreover, the Baloch people are considered ethnically, culturally and socially different from the rest of Pakistan and feel exploited at the hands of the dominant ‘Punjabis’. To implement these big-ticket projects successfully, Pakistan government has decided to curb down the dissatisfaction militarily.
The history of the conflict goes back to the inception of Pakistan
During partition time, or say at the time of formation of Pakistan, the province of Balochistan was divided into four princely states, which were forcefully acceded to Pakistan. So far, there were five major waves of insurgencies. After the 1948 rebellion was put down, crisis again erupted in 1958. In 1962-63 and 1973-77, there were violent campaigns by the Baloch nationalists for independence from Pakistan.
The political problem is that the Baloch wants greater autonomy, increased royalties from natural resources and provincial revenue, and an independent nation-state. BUT is this the entire crisis? No this is not the crisis, the crisis is humanitarian, courtesy the barbaric acts of Pakistan – curbing down the dissatisfaction militarily and brutally.
There has been ‘tsunami of crimes’ committed in Balochistan, from Pakistani security forces illegally detaining thousands of men, women and children, to raping and brutally torturing them. Cases of torture have been extensively reported. Bodies are found with physical evidence of torture such as burn marks, broken limbs, nails pulled out and drill holes in the head. Pakistan has even used its air force against the people of the province in an attempt to quell insurgency. The Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) and Frontier Corps have been identified as the perpetrators, by not less than an agency like Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Human Rights Watch, in 2011 only – but since then there has been no stopping to the unlawful killings.
Call to action – Balochs protest goes international
It took just a little bit of oxygen of sympathy from the Indian Prime Minister, and a simmering Balochistan flared up. There were protests from the Baloch people all around the globe from Melbourne in Australia, to Vancouver in Canada, to Netherland’s city of Hague, Berlin in Germany, even in South Korea and also in Karachi, Quetta in Pakistan. Recently, the Balochi activists in Quetta, Pakistan, have also protested against China intruding in Balochistan using the excuse of building the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Holding placards bearing slogans such as ‘Pakistan must face war crime trials’, ‘Stop Baloch genocide’, ‘Stop War Crimes in Balochistan’, ‘We are for Balochistan’, ‘Free Balochistan’, ‘Balochs reject Pak-China CPEC Agreement’, ‘Respect human Rights of Baloch’, ‘Down with Pakistan’, the pro-Azadi Baloch activists have taken to streets. One of the protesters said, “We have gathered here today to tell the world that Pakistan should be held accountable for the war crimes it is committing in Balochistan. We hope that the world finally recognises what these people are doing”.
Even the former Afghan president Hamid Karzai has added his voice to the Indian PM and Bangladesh is also reportedly to officially declare support for the Baloch nationalists. India’s new stand on the issue has been successful in bringing the Baloch’s plight from the outer fringes of world consciousness on human rights issues into the limelight. These protests were also assisted by the Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party (OFBJP), along with other pro-Balochistan groups. “This is something we have to do as Indians,” said Krishna Reddy Anugula, president of the OFBJP US chapter, speaking on the sidelines of the protest. “Pakistan is exporting terrorism throughout the world”.
But as the voices of protest against the Pakistans forcible occupation of the land have gone louder, and so have been the measures to suppress those voices by the Pak security forces — harsher. The Baloch Human Rights organisations have recently alleged that Pakistani army has taken in custody over 20,000 Baloch activists, including women and children. They disclosed that there are more than 5,000 of these “enforced-disappeared” people have been hacked to death in custody. Pakistan has even reportedly used its air force against the people of the province in an attempt to quell insurgency.
The conflict in Baluchistan is protracted and extremely complex. Basically, the root causes of the conflict are both historical and political. But as long as war crimes and crimes against humanity on Baloch people is conducted this longest civil war in Pakistan’s history will only create more casualties and break more records for longevity and heartbreak – or its second heartbreak for Pakistan, after Bangladesh in 1971. And even then also if Pakistan will not learn its lessons well, the third heartbreak will be extremely lethal for the country.
by Ashwani Srivastava