Opinion » Lead

Updated: May 18, 2013 17:37 IST

A festering wound in Pakistan

Anita Joshua
Comment (18)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

The conspiracy of silence over Balochistan is finally breaking but the alienation of the province runs too deep for any easy solutions.

If Pakistan manages to weather the crisis it is facing with the demand for an independent Balochistan gathering steam, the nation may have to thank an American for it. An American who is presently a dartboard for the political class and opinion makers of a country that has mostly turned a Nelson's eye to this festering province.

What Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has succeeded in doing with his two interventions on Balochistan in the U.S. Congress is break the conspiracy of silence in Pakistan on its resource-rich but most backward, sparsely populated and largest province which makes up for 44 per cent of the country's land mass.

Despite the perennial violence, disappearances and the ‘kill-and-dump' phenomenon of mutilated bodies of the missing turning up along roadsides frequently, Balochistan has seldom been more than a footnote in mainstream discourse — in politics, the media and elsewhere. The Internet, which gave the Baloch a chance to tell the world what's going on in their land, has a limited reach in Pakistan because many of these websites and blogs have been blocked here.

Similar to 1971

In fact, the collective silence on Balochistan and the bid to paper over the sense of alienation felt by the Baloch have been likened to the narrative that prevailed in West Pakistan about its eastern flank ahead of the 1971 War. Through the war, people were told via mainstream media that Pakistan's victory over India was certain. Not just the media, even diplomats serving overseas were fed these lies by the Yahya Khan dispensation, according to retired diplomat Tariq Fatemi.

“A lot of media outlets are compelled to opt for a blackout of news from the conflict-stricken province because of pressure from the ‘higher authorities' who cite the ‘sensitivity' of the conflict vis-à-vis the national security paradigm as a serious concern,” maintains Malik Siraj Akbar, editor of The Baloch Hal, Balochistan's first online English newspaper. Mr. Akbar was recently granted asylum in the U.S. after threats to his life. Needless to say, The Baloch Hal is blocked in Pakistan.

Earlier this month, a section of the media was shamed into breaking this orchestrated silence after a shutdown of all Urdu channels by cable operators across the province. Sindhi, Pashto, Baloch and Brahui channels were spared by the boycott call given by a faction of the Baloch Students Organisation.

The floodgates opened a week later, first with the exclusive hearing held by the Rohrabacher-chaired U.S. House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Oversight and Investigations on human rights violations in Balochistan; and then, the resolution he introduced in Congress seeking the right of self-determination for the Baloch.

An incensed nation immediately saw Mr. Rohrabacher's twin moves as interference in its internal affairs and wondered why the U.S. was silent on the Kashmiris' demand for self-determination and human rights violations in the ‘Indian Held Kashmir.'

Suddenly Balochistan was trending — to use a social networking term — all over Pakistan's media. Now not a day goes by without at least a couple of talk shows on Balochistan. Newspapers seem incomplete without a few articles on the province. This may stop in the electronic media as the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority has threatened action against the channels airing programmes featuring Baloch separatists.

How many withstand this diktat remains to be seen but anger over the American intervention has subsequently given way to some introspection as Baloch separatists living in exile made it clear that the time for sops was long gone and they would settle for nothing less than independence.

“What you read in the Pakistani newspapers and see on the television channels is barely the reflection of anti-Pakistan public sentiments prevailing in Balochistan. Pakistan has failed as a state to resolve issues which matter a lot more to the elite, such as the power crisis. No one is truly interested in Balochistan among the rulers. The politicians can't fix it and the soldiers can only worsen it.

“The real thing that merits attention is the issue of demands. Many Pakistanis still do not want to hear the real Baloch demands but the Baloch movement is not meant for provincial autonomy. There is a full fledged movement for Balochistan's independence taking place in the province. No matter what Pakistan provides them this time, it is not going to help.'' With these words, Mr. Akbar sums up what is being articulated by Baloch leaders from various locations. Such is their anger now that they don't mind being labelled Indian/American agents. In one television programme, Baloch Republican Party chief Barhamdagh Bugti's retort to a question on whether he would take India's help was: “Why only India? If satan offers help, we will take it.”

His is one of the many voices for separation being raised in the province. Although there is no data on how widespread the demand is, the separatists with their guns dominate the narrative as the ordinary Baloch is caught in the crossfire between them and the security forces. Given the frequency with which people are picked up, tortured and killed — the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan report of June 2011 said tortured bodies of 140 missing persons turned up between July 2010 and May 2011 — more families were getting affected by this kill-and-dump practice.

Embittered Bugtis

Though the Bugtis were once pro-Pakistan, the murder of Akbar Bugti in 2006 and the public celebration of the killing by the Musharraf regime embittered them. As opposed to greater autonomy within the federation, the demand for independence began gaining traction and several Baloch parties withdrew from the parliamentary process. Conscious that the strategic location of the province will remain the bane of their existence even if they get independence, so bitter are they now that an uncertain future is preferred to remaining within the federation.

Most of them have refused to participate in the All Parties Conference (APC) that the Prime Minister is planning, and rejected the Interior Minister's offer to withdraw cases if they return from exile or their mountain hideouts as “hogwash.” When the government cannot get Frontier Corps — a military-headed paramilitary force — to remove one checkpost from the province, asked Federal Minister Israrullah Zehri, how can they withdraw cases?

Stating that the government's offer [to drop cases against Baloch leaders] was good, Mehmal Sarfraz wrote in The Daily Times: “But who is going to ensure the safety of Barhamdagh Bugti and Hyrbyair Marri once they are back? The problem is the government cannot save the Baloch leaders from the military. Let's not forget what happened to the Baloch leader Nawab Nauroz Khan. An oath taken on the Quran was violated by our military in his case.”

While mainstream political parties of the province are not for independence, Asad Rahman — who participated in the Baloch resistance movement in the 1970s — maintains that they have been silenced by repeated betrayals, atrocities and continued denial of rights to their resources.

A classic case is that of gas which was discovered at Sui in Dera Bugti in 1952. It was piped to all of Pakistan — foremost Punjab — from 1954 but Balochistan's capital Quetta got connected to the pipeline only in 1985, points out Mr. Rahman.

According to him, the genesis of the present resistance goes back to 2002 when Pervez Musharraf handed over the Saindak project in the Chagai desert — with a projected annual yield of 1,44,000 tonnes copper, 1.47 tonnes gold and 27.6 tonnes of silver for 80 years — to a Chinese company. While the company was allowed to keep 75 per cent of the profit, the federal government got the remaining 25 per cent, of which just two per cent went to the province.

The development of the Gawadar port near the Straits of Hormuz by the Chinese cemented the fear among the Baloch that through this, the Punjab-centric establishment would try to change the demographics of the province and turn them into a minority in their own land.

Now the charge against the Baloch is that they are targeting settlers from other parts of Pakistan but the natives counter that proxies of the security establishment are involved in these killings to justify their presence in the province. As proof, they cite instances when killers of settlers have been caught and handed over to the police only to be whisked away by intelligence agencies who have viewed the Baloch with suspicion from the very beginning for their reluctance to join Pakistan, resulting in four earlier rounds of insurgency.

But none of them lasted this long. And those resistance movements were not for independence but rights. Demand for secession is a bitter pill to swallow for any country, more so for a nation that has been seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan at phenomenal costs to itself to counter the Indian behemoth.

‘Foreign hands'

As always, “foreign hands” are being accused of destabilising Balochistan with the aim to Balkanise Pakistan. Challenging this, Alia Amirali, a researcher on the Baloch National Movement, wrote in The News: “Rhetoric of ‘foreign hands' has allowed for further militarization of Balochistan and given the military a licence to seal the province and make it a no-go zone where it can abduct, torture, kill and display bodies with impunity, extract Balochistan's resources under the barrel of a gun, use Balochistan territory to conduct nuclear tests … There is one thing, however, that the military in Balochistan does not control: the spirit of the Baloch people.”

More In: Lead | Opinion

Baluchistan, very good example of what happend when the local people are not taken in to the confidence or not given the chancce to lead. Becouse of this the actual problem arises like not able to cater local problem, etc. But the articel is very informative about the baluchistan overall problem.

from:  Tushar Bhamare
Posted on: Mar 1, 2012 at 21:31 IST

Balochistan, Kashmir, Nagaland, Chhattisgarh are all classic examples of what
happens when national governments ignore the interests of people in far-flung
provinces and busy themselves with filling their own coffers. Sooner or later, these
people lose patience and protest, first moderately and then violently. Military
repression only hardens them. As quoted above, then they are willing to seek help
from anyone, allowing foreign powers to wield influence in destabilizing the

While one can surely not expect a failed state like Pakistan to handle this problem,
one hopes that the Indian government and more importantly the public are willing
to learn from such cases that nationhood cannot be enforced on one's own people
by force but rather by persuasion, development and empowerment, by giving
people opportunities to better their lot rather than just patriotic rhetoric. Are we
willing to make peace in Kashmir? Time will tell.

from:  Vivek
Posted on: Mar 1, 2012 at 16:56 IST

Balochistan,seems a land quite similar to indian occupied kashmir. pakistani leaders seem to be tanatamount on balochi as india are on kashmir. Now,the thing to see is whether baloch will turn into a new kashmir and will india help the separatists among bugtis to avenge kashmir.

from:  owais dar
Posted on: Mar 1, 2012 at 13:20 IST

Balochistan is a classic example of what happens when nationhood is taken for granted. The British, in their wisdom, arbitrarily carved out Nations by joining different ethnic and cultural peoples and in every case,there is a clamour for independence and separation. Balochis have been badly treated and pakistan has been unwilling and unable to deal with diversity. Unlike India, where no single Group controls the agenda and Tamils in the South feel as much a part of India as the man in UP, in Pakistan the Punjabis have ruled with scant respect for others. Nationhood is not something that can be taken for granted. People must want to be part of the Nation and the Government must earn the respect of its people. Pakistan has displayed all elements of a failed State by entrusting such delicate balancing to its Military and the consequences are clear in Bangladesh and perhaps now in Balochistan!

from:  gita
Posted on: Feb 29, 2012 at 22:39 IST

Let not India involve in any thing that Balkanises Pakistan. A
prosperous Pakistani (like Wasim Akram) will be helpful to India.
India has done a grave crime by involving itself with Srilankan Tamils
and providing support to LTTE in early days, only to reap the death of
Rajiv Gandhi. Let us not do something stupid.

from:  H. Prasad
Posted on: Feb 29, 2012 at 22:13 IST

India- its people and its government, have the primary responsibility to focus first on doing every thing to positively cure and heal the wounds of the insurgent regions of India.That is all that truly matters, IMHO-a progressively stronger and stronger India to its very core.

from:  Varsha T.
Posted on: Feb 29, 2012 at 21:47 IST

It is truly heartening to know that the Truth is coming out despite all the extremely murderous attempts by the Pakistani military and others. Hatsoff to the Balochis for keeping the faith in times of murder.
The fact is that the ones who really pull the strings in Pakistan are the fanatics in the Army and elsewhere -- this could be seen from the memogate episode where a determined Prime Minister was targetted by military in hand with the Judiciary -- the Pakistani state as a whole is a military ruled state with a lot of fanatics in it. All the democratic and progressive people are harassed into submission by this military and even the PM is virtually powerless in Pakistan. The progressive forces all over the world need to recognize the issue and must take action -- India must not get overzealous, infact India must stay away or else the Balochis can suffer even more in the hands of the tyrants and the entire objective of the Balochis for a free Balochistan can get muddied.

from:  Yashwanth P
Posted on: Feb 29, 2012 at 20:04 IST

@Khan Jan Thank you for the comment, it was more informative than the
article. Like Bangladesh India should stand with Baloch. Even the
right wingers of India will agree to this. Like you mentioned these
regions have been in sync with each other since ancient times.

from:  Vijay
Posted on: Feb 29, 2012 at 19:00 IST

The entire pakistan idea was based on extremism which primarily basein punjab. During the partition most of killings happened in punjab province rather than other. In Sindh there was no enmity between hindus & muslims and in Balochistan, baloch were protecting hindus. The entire machinary of Pakistan whethere it is military, beurocracy or politics are heavily dominated by punjabis. They have denied the rights to others. India should play a role of giving baloch their rights apart from freedom because independence is not possible in today context.

from:  kuldip kumar vishvakarma
Posted on: Feb 29, 2012 at 17:18 IST

The World is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of
those who look at it without doing anything.
Indian Government should support the Balochs in their quest for
Freedom and Liberty because for those who expect to reap the blessings
of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to
do nothing." -- Edmund Burke

from:  Ryan
Posted on: Feb 29, 2012 at 17:12 IST

Baluchis are victims of the international conspiracy, cold war, and strategic locality. They are in Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, though they are largest land in Pakistan.They are fighting for honor, dignity, and fair share. They are forced to join Pakistan.
Religion is no reason to be with Pakistan unless they are treated equally.
Unfortunately, America supplied arms to fight terrorists are used against Baluchis. The Congressman Dana Rohrabacher should insist that American arms are not abused.

from:  nirode mohanty
Posted on: Feb 29, 2012 at 16:43 IST

Double standards from pakistan. They want self-determination for Muslim Kashmiris but want to crush the self-determination aspirations of the Baluchis. They have tortured and killed thousands of Balochis in their quest to keep Balochistan a part of Pakistani terrirtory.
The International criminal court needs to indict Musharraf, the Pak army and ISI for war crimes. Also India and the UN need to speak up for the Balochis.

from:  Vipul Dave
Posted on: Feb 29, 2012 at 16:21 IST

Instances where human rights are repressed should be condemned in full voice. The world in general and the US in particular was not vocal about the atrocities faced by the populace of Balochistan. India should approach the issue in the terms of suppression of human rights than treating it as a geopolitical issue. US should also be more forthcoming for protecting the civilian rights rather than being a blind eye to the atrocities of Pakistanis.

from:  Shiva Mudgil
Posted on: Feb 29, 2012 at 11:40 IST

@Khan Jan Baloch - I didnt know there were this many Balochs in India. Thank you for enlightening me. My sincere wishes and prayers that you gain your independence soon.

from:  Arvind
Posted on: Feb 29, 2012 at 10:45 IST

Baluchistan has been another Bangla Desh in the making for a long time.
The only difference being that it is not a separate land mass unlike what was erstwhile East Pakistan !

from:  avinash
Posted on: Feb 29, 2012 at 08:57 IST

Wave of immigration of Balochs from Turkemanista,Iran,Afghanistan and Central Asia to India continued for hundred of years before and after the advent of Islam. After the 40 year of war between Lashar & Rind tribes of Balochs, Lashars emigrated and settled on the banks of Ravi, Panjab. Some analyists say that these Lasharis became Sikhs later. Today there are more than 40 million Balochs in India who have adapted Indian culture and religion. If Indian Government hesitates to confront Pakistan, then these 40 million Indian Balochs should stand for the freedom of Balochistan

from:  Khan Jan Baloch
Posted on: Feb 29, 2012 at 04:05 IST

Pakistan and its deep state has not been able to provide any evidence of foreign involvement in baluchestan. It seems this is a ruse used to justify the abduction and brutal killing of baluch people opposed to the atrocities by the paramilitary and agencies of pakistan. In retaliation it seems the settler population( punjabis ) and the hazaras (Shia) are targeted by the baluch. The hazaras are also being murdered by the Sunni outfits aka Lashkar i Jhangvi with close ties to the military.

from:  Sohail Zahid
Posted on: Feb 29, 2012 at 01:33 IST

There are dark forebodings of "Bangladesh, Act-2" inexorably unfolding in the South West regions of Pakistan, only now there is going to be no part to be palyed by the hated and reviled Big Brother neighbor to the East. The US did not learn its lessons well from Vietnam and sadly ploughed on in its old ways, invading Iraque. So be it with Pakistani leaders in the North, who have treated the South alternately with contempt, disdain and paternalistic spanking. Balochistan unrest is not going away any time soon; may be Balochistan itself may be gone first.

Posted on: Feb 29, 2012 at 01:22 IST
Show all comments
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor



Recent Article in Lead

K. C. Sivaramakrishnan

Eye on capital, loss in vision

The Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014 gives ample time for N. Chandrababu Naidu to concentrate on the larger issues that confront Andhra Pradesh rather than be bogged down by the issue of land for the capital, which seems to be the case now. »