Pakistan & Oppression of Baloch Population
Prominent Baloch leaders believe that Balochistan or the Khanate of Kalat, was never an element of British India and cannot be treated as a part of Pakistan. Treaty of 1876 between Governor General, Lord Lytton, and Khan of Kalat, Mir Khudadad Khab, which mentioned that the British government would respect the independence of Kalat as long as it would act in “subordinate coordination”. In accordance with this, the Baloch observe that the Kalat state had a direct relationship with the British government that was separate from the British Raj in India. The forceful accession of Kalat to Pakistan ended the brief period of national sovereignty for the Baloch and, thus, immediately caused anti-Pakistan protests.
Baloch resistance leaders are convinced with the fact that Pakistan has illegally occupied their land, against their will of freedom & it’s their right to fight against repression and for self-determination. Residing within the same region, the ethnic identity of the Baloch has remained in sharp contrast to xenophobia that defines and justify the creation of state of Pakistan, this is the very reason that, the Pakistani Army, sees Baloch nationalist groups as terrorists & has crushed any demand for autonomy or freedom. Appalling human rights record of the government of Pakistan in Balochistan has further added fuel to Baloch will to have an independent Baloch nation. World has ignored the undercurrents, leaving the Baloch without any support and an increased feeling of uncertainty. Recent attacks on Frontier Corps have shown that the tensions within the region are on the rise.
One study shows that out of 15 districts with the lowest Human Development Indexes(HDI) in Pakistan, 11 are from Balochistan. According to a United Nations Development Programme report, nearly 47 percent of the 31 districts with the lowest HDI indicators were in Balochistan. Today there has possibly been increased development in the region due to the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). However, this merely serves greater strategic aspirations and isn’t to be understood as beneficial to the Baloch in any way. The neglect administered by the Pakistani state to the region of Balochistan has always been a sticking point, it is a clear indication of the lack of attachment Pakistan shares for a people and land it sought to possess rather than assimilate.
Pakistan’s Repression on Baloch
Pakistan has continuously suppressed and ignored the will of Baloch people, time and again Pak has worked against the interest of so called by Pak it’s own Baloch population, infuriating them and yet reducing their capabilities of protest with repressive policies. Out of fear of a resurgence and possibility of a united Balochistan, the government in Islamabad has only sought to consolidate more power and maintain complete control of the region through Pakistan’s security forces. This policy adopted by the federal govt has not benefited and has backfired, resulting in a deplorable human rights situation with more and more human life losses in Balochistan. The general approach adopted by the Pakistani state toward any dissent in the region has been that of force, often disproportionate to the threat, use of military to deal with the Baloch issue has become a norm for various Pak governments. To counter this approach adopted by the government, the Baloch have adopted tactics of guerrilla warfare, which has given rise to groups like the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and the Balochistan Republican Army (BRA). In dealing with these groups as well, the Pakistani government has not sought methods of mediation or resolution but instead once more delegated the task to the military. To this end, activists and politicians like Naela Qadri Baloch, have accused the Pakistani government of committing genocide in the region. Even though such accusations are plentiful, the international community has largely ignored the Baloch cause. There are two primary methods of repression adopted by the Pakistani state: bribes and all-out bludgeoning of the Baloch. The military has thus been accused of destroying and depopulating Baloch also as being responsible for a multitude of forced disappearances in urban and rural Balochistan. Any person considered a supporter or sympathizer of the Baloch freedom movement is considered a threat and kidnapped, tortured, or killed. This has not only affected the common people but also high-ranking officials. The arrest of Akhtar Mengal, the Chief Minister of Balochistan, is a glaring example. He was arrested and denied basic rights of medical treatment or bedding while being imprisoned.
Atrocities in the region are far worse. The number of cases of disappearing Baloch being attributed to either Pakistan’s security forces or Inter-Services Intelligence agency has slowly been on the rise. Many political activists, members of the Baloch Students Organization, and journalists are abducted in broad daylight by pro-Pakistani gunmen and security forces. For instance , Hamid Mir, a senior Pakistani journalist, hosting a program on Balochistan, was shot in a suspected assassination attempt by ISI gunmen, the case highlights Islamabad’s extreme attempts to censor media coverage of tensions in Balochistan. A year later, a famous human rights activist, Sabeen Mahmud, was killed by gunmen in Karachi for hosting an incident called “Take 2 of Unsilenced Balochistan.” While the attack was pinned on random Pakistanis who felt threatened by a woman talking about human rights issues in a province of Pakistan, fellow activists have accused Pakistan’s powerful ISI of playing a role. These are just two during a number of other cases that have plagued both Baloch and other activists fighting for their rights. This has continued to such an extent, that with hundreds of bodies being uncovered every year, Balochistan is now being viewed as Pakistan’s land of mass graves. Thus, it’s evident that Naela Baloch’s accusations of genocide are perhaps not too far from the truth.
Pakistani repression does not stop there. Not only have the Baloch people been ignored and repressed but the Pakistani state has also exploited the resource rich region for oil and mining—with no benefits to the people of the province. The gas was discovered in the province in the 1950s, it was largely used to supply Karachi and Punjab, with Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, only receiving access to these local resources in the 1980s. Since then, Islamabad has provided this natural gas only to supply the army cantonments in Balochistan, and as of now, 69 percent of the urban population of Balochistan did not have access to the resource. The Sui Southern Gas Company, which supplies gas to Sindh and Balochistan, reported the shortfall of gas at nearly 40percent. The federal government’s continued marginalization of the province stands as the cause of this problem.
The increased chances of protest and uprisings in Balochistan have not only destabilized the region but also affected the interests of a number of external actors. While undoubtedly compromising for some, it has also been used as a strategic tool by others. Attacks by the Baloch on Chinese infrastructural projects in Pakistan are detrimental to Iranian interests also, with Iran discussing the possibility of a liquefied natural gas pipeline being connected with the CPEC as well as greater cooperation between the ports of Gwadar and Chabahar, tensions in India have been stoked, as the latter port was developed with Indian investment. For New Delhi, Chabahar was meant to be a means in circumventing Pakistan and solidifying India’s access to Central Asia. The project was also part of New Delhi’s larger aspirations of countering Chinese influence in the region through the development of India’s own counter port. Supposed intervention by India in the region has thus been repeatedly used by the Pakistanis as a tool to link India with the Balochistan freedom struggle. A separate, friendly, united Balochistan would undoubtedly serve India’s greater strategic interests of containing Pakistan’s ambitions. However, the question of whether the Indian government has truly intervened in the region is up for debate. Nonetheless, Pakistan has accused India of supporting militant groups in Balochistan, since the very first uprising in 1948. The relation to Balochistan in Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s speech in 2016 was also viewed by Islamabad as an intrusion into Pakistan’s affairs. However, with no references to Balochistan since then, it can be understood that the reference was merely meant as anti-Pakistan rhetoric related to the Kashmir issue rather than any actual support for the freedom movement. On the other hand, for the Baloch, the largest external threat comes from China. The Baloch approach toward Chinese investment, which was initially accusatory of Islamabad and Beijing’s exploitation of Balochistan’s resources, has gradually turned violent. Within the last two years, militants have carried out a number of shootings and bombings against Chinese infrastructural projects and Chinese workers.
What the Baloch see as exploitation, Islamabad sees as development and Beijing sees as strategic influence. As part of the BRI, the CPEC has been touted as one of its biggest and most controversial projects yet. Initially valued at 46 billion USD, the whole cost had risen to 62 billion USD as of 2017, which has undoubtedly increased even more by now. With infrastructural projects spanning the length and breadth of Pakistan, it is perhaps the biggest project undertaken under the BRI. However, a majority of these projects are found in the province of Balochistan. The Gwadar International Port further as its airport, along with a vast array of pipelines, railways, and highways all run through this region. These projects are meant merely to facilitate trade and mining for Pakistan and grant China access to the Arabian Sea. For the Baloch, however, there is not much to gain. Not only are their resources being exploited but also their land. Gwadar, which constituted the crux of China’s strategic plans for the region, has seen a complete special economic zone leased to China for a total of 40 years. As is the case with other Chinese projects around the world, projects and investment under the BRI, including the CPEC, bring with them an influx of Chinese workers. it’s believed that China plans to settle nearly half a million Chinese in Gwadar port as part of the CPEC, which will have serious repercussions on the national, economic, and historic rights of the Baloch. With numerous Chinese set to enter Balochistan, the Baloch fear irreversible demographic changes and increased marginalization. While the Baloch have begun a series of attacks against CPEC projects within the region, their leaders are unsuccessfully attempting to draw in support from external stakeholders, terming the CPEC as “threatening to the interests of both India and therefore the US. Nonetheless, while such appeals are directed at the US government time and again, Washington has largely turned a deaf ear. While other issues within Asia have gained significant attention, the Balochs’ freedom struggle has been largely unreported or ignored. The conflict over Kashmir, for example, has featured widely in the international media as well as international government statements for decades, the international media has often castigated the Indian soldiers for perceived abuses in Kashmir, while largely ignoring the atrocities committed by the Pakistanis in Balochistan. The international community’s contrasting approach to both these issues is quite questionable, lending itself to the politicization of strategic interests. In this scenario, the Baloch have another time left to fend for themselves.
The future of the Baloch and their freedom movement is embedded in uncertainty. While there are many that see the possibility of a resurgence as likely, the odds are stacked strongly against the Baloch. Lacking both military prowess and economic financing, the Baloch have only been able to sustain their movement for this long due to sheer determination. Thus, the Baloch freedom struggle has suffered a shortage of numbers which will never be a match for the Pakistani military. However, this is not the only obstacle to a united state of Balochistan, the lack of international support and internal unity have also had similar effects. Most of the current leaders of Balochistan are subsumed by their own self-interests and internal political tensions and lack the motivation to form a common front against the Pakistani state. Not only have some sought to fight their own fight, causing the movement to splinter, but many leaders have also been wooed by the government in Islamabad and have thus turned against their own. The insufficiency of support from the international community for the movement has become superficial. With the military becoming more repressive, the cases of enforced disappearances mounting daily, and the insurgency failing, it has become evident that the Baloch are running out of time.