Making a case for Balochistan
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s concluding remarks at a recent all-party meet where he mentioned the atrocities meted out by the Pakistani state in POK and Balochistan against its own people comes at a crucial juncture. These remarks couldn’t have been timed better, with Indo-Pak relations touching rock bottom in recent weeks. All efforts at purposeful dialogue have gone in vain. Pakistan’s blatant support of jihadi terror outfits from across the border has emboldened the Kashmiri separatists who have taken the Kashmir Valley for ransom. The current unrest in the Valley, following the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, has encouraged Pakistan to exceed its previous position of painting Kashmir as a disputed territory and pushing for a plebiscite. A desperate Nawaz Sharif went a step ahead and spelled out Pakistan’s long-cherished desire of occupying Kashmir as a whole. India was not surprised, but we expected a befitting response from the government.
With the connivance of the Pakistani state, propagators of terror like Hafiz Sayeed, Syed Salahudeen, and their ilk are busy organizing open anti-India demonstration along the border and elsewhere, collecting donations to wage jihad in Kashmir. It’s in this backdrop that we need to understand the relevance of Prime Minister Modi’s remarks. Of course, it seems to be a departure from India’s long-standing policy of non-interference in the internal matters of its neighbouring nations. No wonder if it has evoked a quick response in aggrieved India, belligerent Pakistan and struggling Balochistan. Supporters of the Baloch movement felt reassured by Modi’s remarks. “Pakistan forgets that it bombs its own citizens using fighter planes. The time has come when Pakistan shall have to answer to the world for the atrocities committed by it against people in Balochistan and PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir),” Modi said last week. India’s official stand on Balochistan and PoK may now change the narrative of South-Asia’s geopolitics. Moreover, it could also present a strong case for the legitimacy of Balochistan’s decades-long freedom struggle. It is little wonder that Pakistan has hurriedly offered to reinitiate talks on Kashmir.
By way of raising the Balochistan issue, India has now indicated its sympathy for the Baloch cause. The British, Americans and Iranians may also follow the suit as they have their own strategic interests in the region. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had convinced the Americans that an independent Balochistan will give America the strategic depth into Afghanistan by solving its overland route problem. An independent Balochistan may help Iran extend its influence among the Shia population in the region. As per an estimate by the Home Department of Balochistan the Shia Hazara population in the capital city Quetta is somewhere around 500,000. They have been frequently and indiscriminately targeted by Sunni militant groups in Pakistan. From 2008 to 2012, 758 Shias were killed by Deobandi militants (Sipah Sahaba Taliban) in a total of 478 incidents. This banned organization keeps targeting Shias throughout Balochistan. The Hazaras are an easy target due to their distinct ethnic features. The sectarian divide among the Muslims of the so-called Islamic Ummah is beyond comprehension.
In a modern political system, the idea of nationalism doesn’t only emanate from the desire of a large group of people sharing a common culture, history, faith and language to form an independent nation of their own. It also depends on the share of each one of them receives in the power structure.
Pakistan has deprived the Balochis of their constitutional rights. Balochistan, which covers 42 percent of Pakistan’s total area, has only 14 seats out of 340 in the National Assembly. The Baloch representation in the armed forces does not even cross 1 percent though there is a full regiment named after it. But it is predominantly represented by Punjabis, not ethnic Baloch. It is the same situation in Pakistan’s administrative structure. Forget the federal government, even the provincial services are dominated by non-Balochis.
The pathetic socio-economic indices indicate years of exploitation and deliberate neglect of Balochistan and its people by the Punjabi dominated Pakistani establishment. The Balochis have benefited little from the natural resources that have flown out of their lands. The region produces much more natural gas than it consumes. It contributes nearly $1.4 billion per year through gas revenues, but the royalty it receives from the federal government is only $116 million. As per the UNDP report on Pakistan, almost half of the bottom 30 districts in terms of human development were located in Balochistan.
Besides all these grievances, what is agitating the Balochis most is the rising incidences of state-led killing and disappearances of the people. The Baloch intelligentsia, professors, advocates are being annihilated through targeted killings. Pakistan receives huge economic and weapons support from the US in the name of its so-called war on terror. But a great deal of it is being diverted to curb the Baloch national struggle for independence, killing innocent people.
The global community should not be oblivious of such facts. Years of oppression and neglect have given legitimacy to the Baloch freedom struggle. Among them, the most fundamental is the manner in which Balochistan acceded to the dominion of Pakistan. Balochis strongly believe their accession to Pakistan on March 27, 1948, was under duress. They always wanted to remain independent. But today Balochistan has become a victim of colonization, with their resources exploited, environment destroyed and demography altered. The people have been left impoverished and powerless. A nation cannot be created and held together in the name of religion alone. Bangladesh and Baloch nationalism have attested to that fact. Pakistan was created out of this tragic illusion. Now it must pay the price. The liberal, secular, democratic aspirations of the Balochis must be supported, even if it comes at the cost of antagonizing a belligerent, eternally hostile and rogue neighbour.
(Author is a Senior Faculty at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. The views expressed are