Balochistan: Pakistan’s Hidden Shame. By Manish Rai

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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 land mass and home to less than 5% of the country's population. It’s very thinly populated and terrain is mostly barren and consists of deserts and mountains. But definitely Balochistan is not a waste land 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. It provides Islamabad 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. And while Balochistan provides one-third of Pakistan's natural gas supply only a handful of towns are hooked up to the supply grid. For example, gas reserves were discovered in Sui which lies in the district of Dera Bughti in 1952, but the locals are still using wood as fuel. Other social indicators such as infant mortality rate and life expectancy are also low compared to national average.

 Let’s talk about Balochistan’s history and how it merged with Pakistan. Following the end of British rule and the partition of India 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. But both houses of the Baloch parliament outrightly rejected the incorporation. Then Pakistan decided to use military means to occupy this rebellious territory. So, less than a year later, Jinnah ordered the invasion of Balochistan and annexed it. The Pakistani state deposed the traditional tribal leadership and the historic Khanate of Kalat ceased to exist in the year 1955. Since then Islamabad has fought number of insurgencies in the province. Pakistani deep state has always labelled these insurgencies as handiwork of foreign intelligence agencies. But the truth is that forceful occupation and looting of vast natural resources has fuelled the call of Baloch nationalism. As a common Baloch fails to understand that why he is forced to live in abject poverty. While other provinces of Pakistan are benefitting from the natural resources of his homeland.

 Now Baloch nationalism has taken a full fledge shape of a freedom struggle. Moreover, targeted killings of Baloch leaders and tribal chiefs has acted as a stimulant for separatists’ movement. Especially in August 2006 killing of 79-year-old Baloch veteran leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti who was widely respected in Balochistan across all the tribes. As violence has escalated in the province because of the new wave of insurgency which aims only for freedom. Pakistan military establishment is trying to deal with it through a very heavy hand.  Hence authorities have launched a new 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 notorious intelligence agency ISI, military intelligence, and the Frontier Corps (a federal paramilitary force) are running this campaign. They use the “Kill and Dump” policy as an instrument of state terror to break morale of Balochis. According to 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. Even Baloch activists are targeted overseas best example is of Rashid Baloch. His deportation was requested by Pakistan to UAE. Pakistan claimed he is wanted in connection with charges of terrorism. UAE in June, 2019 handed over Rashid Baloch to Pakistan. But since then there are no whereabouts of Rashid no one in Pakistani establishment is able to explain that what happened to Rashid Baloch. Even his family don’t know that weather Rashid was produced in court of law, rotting in a torture cell or has been killed and dumped.

 But despite of this terror campaign of mighty Pakistan army. This struggle seems to have spread deeper into Baloch society than ever before. Anti-Pakistani sentiments 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- United Nation can’t be mute spectators of this brutality in which whole race is being targeted by the state. Baloch groups are knocking the doors of UN for long recently they set up a pavilion outside the UN Office of Geneva adjacent to iconic broken chair named as Save the Baloch. But still their voices are not being 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 is the demand for national self-determination, not the 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.

(Author is a columnist for Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of geo-political news agency ViewsAround can be reached at manishraiva@gmail.com)

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