“Pakistan is involved in the genocide of around 100 innocent Baloch civilians every day. Women are raped, young people are abducted, their organs are sold and whole villages are burnt. Our struggle is for independence and we want Pakistan to stop genocide and quit Balochistan.” Naela Quadri Baloch, President, World Baloch Women’s Forum
“Our childhood was spent waiting for the worse to happen. We would fear that the men in our family will disappear and some day we will find their mutilated bodies. We have lived with that fear ever since and seen people around us lose loved ones.” Amjad Baloch, engineering student
“In the heart of Quetta, 70 people died in a suicide attack but the government of Pakistan was celebrating Independence Day as if nothing happened. Balochistan in itself is a separate country already.” Saleha Khan, university student
“For Pakistan army and its government, our land is only to be used for financial gains like the China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor. They are least concerned about the rights of the people here, instead they have sold our land to the highest bidder China.” Tanveer Haq, lawyer
The stories of these Baloch nationals are shared by many in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by area which has experienced insurgency by Baloch separatists, targeted killings, and disappearance of Balochs by security forces for more than a decade now, along with the sectarian violence against minority Hazara Shia Muslims by fundamentalists. The ongoing government action against insurgency and terrorist organisations has resulted in a surge in religious extremism in the region. Hindus, Shias (including Hazaras) and Zikris have been targeted, causing massive migration from Balochistan.
Strategically located, the province shares borders with Punjab, Sindh, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Afghanistan and Iran. It is rich in natural resources such as oil, gas, gold and copper. Balochistan’s economy is dominated by its natural gas fields.
“In Pakistan, there are two parallel governments that is, the civilian and the military. The civilian government, both at the national and provincial level, has no authority and decision-making powers on Balochistan even after the passage of the 18th Amendment a few years ago. The army directly deals with Balochistan and it does not look at Balochistan as a political and economic issue,” says Malik Siraj Akbar, President and CEO of the Balochistan Institute and Editor-in-Chief of BalochHal.
He adds that for the army, it is solely an issue of national security as it believes that India is supporting an insurgency in Balochistan to break up Pakistan. Thus, there is an unwritten rule that the civilian government and the media should step back and the army will take care of the situation.
“The military does not have experience of handling political dissent. It believes the problem can be fixed by carrying out operations and by arresting and torturing ‘bad guys’, but this policy has not worked. Instead, the army has applied various violent methods, such as extrajudicial arrests, torture and murder to silence opposition, which has backfired and generated more public support for the Baloch insurgents.Unless the army is aboard the civilian government’s outreach to the pro-independence Baloch leaders, no dialogue will start, forget about demands and solutions,” says Akbar. According to the Voice for Missing Baloch Persons (VMBP), 463 individuals went missing across the province in 2015. VMBP chairperson Nasarullah Baloch says tortured bodies of 157 people were found while more than 9,000 people were arrested in 2015. The current provincial government claims that the ratio has gone down. Official sources say, “164 bodies were found in 2014 from the province.” Rejecting official claims, VMBP says 435 went missing and 455 bodies were found during the year.
According to Baloch activist Mama Qadeer, around 21,000 people have gone missing in the province, and that they have received 6,000 mutilated bodies till date. In January 2014, Qadeer led a march from Quetta to Islamabad to highlight the issue of missing persons and other atrocities by the security forces against the Baloch people.
Only last month, a human rights activist and the editor of a newspaper, Abdul Wahid Baloch, was taken away allegedly by the Pakistan security forces and his daughter says his whereabouts are still unknown.
Activists accuse the military of bombing entire villages in its attempt to hunt down alleged Baloch militant leaders. One such military operation was conducted in Awaran district on July 18, 2015, on Eid. The target for the aerial bombing was Dr Allah Nazar, the chief of the Balochistan Liberation Front group. The military believes he was killed in the attack. The operation was unannounced and indiscriminate. Many, including women and children, were killed and thousands left the area. For over a month people were not allowed to pick up the bodies. “The Balochs have resisted the Pak invasion militarily and politically, which is going on till today. Our demand is independence,” says Naela Quadri.
Baloch separatists have been desperate to get international recognition. They want the world to know that they exist and are not a part of Pakistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statements have precisely helped the Baloch separatists attain that goal. People are now talking about India, Pakistan, Kashmir and Balochistan. This was unimaginable for the Baloch nationalists a few years ago. Not many people within Pakistan talk about the Balochistan conflict.
Modi’s statements have flashed Balochistan as a key regional subject and everyone is talking and researching about it. The Baloch goal was to be recognised as a separate entity instead of being looked at as a disillusioned segment of Pakistan’s domestic politics. The army and the civilian government both seem to be on the same page. The former government of the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League have shown little interest in pursuing talks with the Baloch leadership.
The PML-N government will follow whatever strategy the army chooses to deal with the situation. Unfortunately, the Pakistan army responds with brutality whenever Balochistan is mentioned at an international conference or a human rights group issues a report on the province. “My concern is that the army will respond to Modi’s statements with more violent actions,” says Akbar.
Naela believes that Modi’s open support for Balochs is a turning point in modern history. It also changed the situation on ground zero. Selected chief minister of Pakistan-occupied Balochistan (PoB) announced an open offer to Baloch leadership in exile to come back. “The state of Pakistan is very wicked and they will act in a dual way; carrot and stick for both Indian government and Baloch freedom activists. They will offer some deals that they do not mean to act upon, just to cool down the situation. They will also step forward through their strategic assets—Daesh, Taliban and civil death squads,” she says.
When asked about the recent shift in the government policy, Vikram Sood, former Research and Analysis Wing chief says, “We have made a beginning.
It will be a strategy if we can sustain it. We have let a cat among pigeons, let us see how it develops. If you can put your adversary on a back foot, it is a gain.”
Modi has opened the Balochistan front as a counter to Pakistan’s incessant Kashmir litany. Last week, LeT founder Hafiz Saeed called for Pak military intervention in Kashmir to provoke agitating separatists in the Valley. Pakistan watchers in South Block say the generals are using him to respond to the Indian fusillade on Balochistan. It is obvious that Modi’s Look Balochward Policy has rattled them. Though fears of Indian military intervention in PoK and Balochistan are exaggerated, say foreign policy experts, Pakistan is haunted by the ghosts of 1971—when India created Bangladesh by defeating Pakistan in a 13-day war.
Pakistan is also worried that the Sunnis, who are suppressed by religious militia, will be emboldened by Modi’s accusations. Sunni militants have also been fighting Iran, as old ally of India. However, by highlighting the Pak military’s brutality against the Balochs, India has scored a moral victory. The Congress party, which had so far turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s atrocities in Balochistan, has waded into the controversy by accusing the NDA’s Baloch policy as a novice’s. The grim prognosis of a destabilised AfPak by the established Indian foreign policy apparatus apart, Narendra Modi has achieved more than mentioning the elephant in the room. He has exposed Pakistan’s genocide. The message to the world is Pakistan should mend its own backyard before ratcheting up tensions in and over Kashmir.