[ by Manish Rai ]
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province in terms of area, though it has a population of just around 12 million. If we put this in numbers Balochistan is approximately 44% of the country’s total landmass and home to less than 5% of the country’s population.
It’s very thinly populated. The terrain is mostly barren and consists of deserts and mountains. But definitely Balochistan is not a waste land. Instead, 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.
What’s more, it provides Islamabad a 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 important shipping lanes pass through.
Despite having such a vast natural wealth much of the population of the province lives below the poverty line, with limited or no access to education, jobs, electricity, roads and clean water.
Barely 41% of the population is literate (the national average is 57%), unemployment rate is around 30% and just 7% have access to running water.
What’s worse, although Balochistan provides one-third of Pakistan’s natural gas supply, only a handful of towns are hooked up to the supply grid. Despite the discovery of gas reserves in the Dera Bughti district’s Sui locality in 1952, 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.
It’s interesting how Balochistan had merged with Pakistan. Following the end of British rule and the infamous partition of the subcontinent 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.
However, both the houses of the Baloch parliament outright rejected the incorporation. Pakistan subsequently decided to use military means to occupy this rebellious territory. Withina year, Jinnah ordered the military presence in Balochistan to incorporate it completely with Pakistan.
Pakistan deposed the traditional tribal leadership. Consequently, the historic Khanate of Kalat ceased to exist in the year 1955.
Since then, Islamabad has fought a number of insurgencies in the province. Pakistan has always labelled these insurgencies as handiwork of foreign intelligence agencies. But the truth is that the forceful presence and the looting of vast natural resources has fueled the call of Baloch nationalism. Many common Balochis fail to understand that why they are forced to live in abject poverty, while other provinces of Pakistan are benefiting from the natural resources of their land.
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 stimulants for separatist movement. The killing of 79-year-old Baloch veteran leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, who was widely respected in Balochistan across the tribal lines, in August 2006 was one of such stimulants.
As violence escalated in the province with the courtesy to the a wave of insurgencies for freedom, the Pakistani military establishment had tried to deal with the situation heavy-handedly.
The authorities have allegedly launched a 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 disappearance 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 ISI,, the notorious military intelligence agency, and the Frontier Corps, a federal paramilitary force, are running this campaign.
They use the alleged “Kill and Dump” policy as an instrument of state terror to break morale of the Balochis. According to the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), an association 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.
Baloch activists are also targeted outside Pakistan. For example, Pakistani authorities requested the United Arab Emirates authorities to deport Rashid Baloch’s from the UAE to Pakistan.
Pakistan claimed that Rashid was a fugitive of law in connection with charges of terrorism. The UAE authorities finally handed over Rashid to Pakistan in June 2019. Since then, Pakistani establishment did not explain what happened to Rashid and his whereabouts is unknown as of yet. Even Rashid’s family is unaware about whether Rashid was produced in a court of law, rotting in a torture cell or has been killed and dumped.
Despite the mighty Pakistan army’s terror campaign, the Baloch struggle appears to have spread into the Baloch society deeper than ever before. The anti-Pakistani sentiment has gripped the entire province.
Baloch school children 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 Nation can’t be mute spectators of this brutality, in which an entire race is being targeted by the state.
Baloch groups are knocking the doors of the UN for long. Recently, they had set up a pavilion outside the UN Office of Geneva adjacent to the iconic broken chair named as ‘Save the Baloch’. Despite all these, their voices are not heard.
The global community has to understand that the Baloch struggle for independence differs significantly from other conflicts in the greater Middle East, which are defined by religious intolerance and sectarian divisions.
The Baloch are certainly not religious extremists. In fact, they are some of the most secular people in the region. At the heart of their struggle, there is the demand for national self-determination, and there’s no desire to impose a rule of one religious sect. Hence, it becomes a moral duty of civilized world to lend their support to Baloch people.
Manish Rai is a columnist for Middle East and Af-Pak region and Editor of geopolitical news agency Viewsaround.