A brief history of Balochistan

Balochistan was only independent for nearly seven and a half months until Pakistani military forcefully occupied it on March 27, 1948. There was no annexation agreement between Balochistan and Pakistan. Right from the days of partition, the people of Balochistan have resisted the Pakistan Army’s bid to subjugate them by force. As a mineral-rich area with invaluable resources ranging from copper to natural gas, Balochistan remains a prized possession for the Pakistan state, one that Pakistan has tried to keep under tight control. Beginning with the passing of a resolution for independence in the Kalat National Assembly on August 15, 1947, the aspirations of the Baloch people have oscillated between autonomy and independence. The Pakistan Army has unsuccessfully tried to silence the Baloch voice through the use of overwhelming force, while the ongoing fifth wave of resistance (earlier ones were in 1948, 1958, 1962, and 1973) continues to rage on.

The Pakistan military’s practice of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention in illegally established military and paramilitary cantonments in and around Balochistan, and innovative methods of torture and torture-killing has continued unabated. Baloch activists, innocent women, children, students, journalists, researchers, and social workers have been put to death indiscriminately. While the world is busy fighting its war on terror in the region, the state terror unleashed on the Baloch people has largely gone unnoticed.

Dismal living condition of locals

Resource-rich Balochistan, Pakistan‚Äôs largest province by area but the least populated, has been gripped by Pak sponsored insurgency for more than 15 years.¬†Islamabad has had a testy relationship with Baloch nationalists who complain that locals haven’t benefitted from the resources of the province.¬†For years, natural gas from Sui region in Balochistan fuelled power plants, factories and stoves in homes across Pakistan. But the federal government gave the province a miniscule share of the national budget.¬†Around 90 percent of the settlements in the province don‚Äôt have access to even clean drinking water and people there earn less than the national average.

Targeting of Media Persons

Media personalities taking up this issue have been coerced into silence; the attack on Hamid Mir in 2014, a well-known Pakistani journalist, is a case in point. The Government of Pakistan has always treated Balochistan as a conflict zone‚ÄĚ from where truth does not see the light of the day. The approach of mainstream media towards the province has been abysmal as they refrain from reporting massive human rights violation for fear of reprisal.

The Case of Missing Persons

Over the years the number of enforced disappearances continued to mount. The latest figures point to more than 3000 unresolved cases by Jun 2019. However, in actuals approx. 47,000 Baloch who have gone missing or disappeared. According to the Hakkpan organisation, a Baloch human rights organisation, 568 persons disappeared and 241 were killed by the Pakistan security forces in 2019 alone. A 2019 report of the group read that ‚Äústudents remained a main target of military and military-backed death squads during the year 2019. Since year 2016 to June 2019, a total of 718 civilians have been killed and around 2703 are abducted by Pakistan security forces. The year 2016 witnessed 292 civilian killings and 776 abductions. Similar figures for 2017 are 190 and 1091, for 2018 are 144 and 485 and for 2019 till June are 92 and 351. The Pakistan army has used robust power to create atrocities against the civilians and supress any form of uprising or protests.

Human right violations: A casual norm

In Balochistan, human rights violations have become the norm. The Pakistan state and its security agencies have habitually trampled on the human rights of the Baloch people in the name of security and territorial integrity. The Pakistan state has been extremely sensitive to all expressions of ethnic autonomy and resistance, and more so in the case of Baloch leaders championing their rights. They are often charged with treason, branded as terrorists, and killed in encounters or picked up by security forces at will only to be added to the ever-expanding list of missing persons. In many cases, their dead bodies are either found in a badly mutilated condition by the roadside or their skeletal remains are discovered in mass graves.

In recent months, going by the reports in social media and online portals run by the Baloch diaspora, there has been a spike in military operations in Baloch areas like Kech, Panjgur, and Awaran districts. These areas were reportedly shelled by helicopter gunships and massive raids were carried out afterwards. This is all happening amidst the COVID-19 lockdown. In April alone, in the military raids, 16 Baloch were killed and as many as 73 people were picked up by the Pakistani forces, including students, women, children and infants.

The Baloch have never felt safe inside Balochistan and now they do not feel safe even outside Pakistan. The case of the disappearance of Rashid Hussain Baloch from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in December 2018, and the recent discovery of the dead body of Sajid Hussain Baloch in Sweden after he went missing in March 2020, only serves to demonstrate that the Baloch rights activists are being trailed even when they have quit Pakistan and are meeting the same fate as their ethnic cousins back home. According to Baloch forums worldwide, Pakistan’s intelligence agencies are extending their influence and operations even in distant shores, especially in countries where the Baloch diaspora is actively propounding the case of Baloch marginalisation in Pakistan.

Nationalist Sentiment in Balochistan

Balochistan, almost the size of Germany, constitutes 44 per cent of the total area of Pakistan; however, it is sparsely populated and accounts for only 2.4 per cent of the total population of Pakistan. The Baloch see the dominance and exploitation of the resources from the province as a form of ‚Äúinternal colonialism.‚ÄĚ For example, roughly 5.81 per cent of the total gas produced in Balochistan is consumed by it and the rest goes to other provinces, leaving the majority of the province without gas. According to the official data, Balochistan contributed gas and oil royalty to the tune of Rs 23.8 billion but it received only Rs 0.09 billion from the year 2013-14 to 2017-18.

Internal Colonialism: Impact of CPEC

The Baloch fear that the activation of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and development of Gwadar Port will lead to further colonisation of the state by the Punjabis. The Baloch are targeting the Chinese workers as they think that China is colluding with their tormentors to colonise them and exploit their resources. They argue that the Baloch people were not consulted when the decision to build the port was taken, and that a major part of the revenue from it will fill the coffers of the central government while the province will receive only a minor share of it. During the implementation of the CPEC project, the Baloch alleged that the locals were hardly recruited.

CPEC is not being built to benefit the Baloch but is for the benefit of China and Punjab. China wants a stronghold in Central and Southwest Asia and Punjab wants money; so both are feeding their greed in Balochistan. China also has strategic interests; it wants to build two naval bases along Balochistan‚Äôs coast and ‚Äėa Chinese city‚Äô for 500,000 Chinese nationals, at a cost of $150 million, in Gwadar as part of the CPEC. The Baloch people have been seeking global help to stop joint Chinese and Pakistani atrocities in Balochistan. The truth is that China is burdening Pakistan  in debt trap while they are already suffering from intense balance-of-payments crises. China will slowly blackmail Pakistan and other poor economies by creating extreme shortages of foreign-exchange reserves. In the end, these countries will have to accept the invasion of their political and economic systems by China and become puppets in their hands.

Conclusion

The world at large has turned a blind eye to the gross human rights violations perpetrated by Pakistan on the innocent Baloch people for the last 73 years, and especially since 2001-02. Pakistan has unleashed a well-crafted plan to crush the people of Balochistan in its brazen quest for the resources of the region. Despite fledgling democratic rule in Pakistan since 2008, there has been hardly any change in the approach of the Pakistan state towards the Baloch people as cases of politically motivated detention and killing and disappearance of Baloch people have increased manifold. Nevertheless, the movement of the Baloch people to safeguard their rights is likely to continue because of the strong undercurrent of popular disaffection in the province against the Pakistan state, and the sustained enthusiasm of the people to fight for their freedom, autonomy and their rights.

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