Why the world shouldn't ignore Balochistan

Last Updated: Mon, Mar 03, 2014 06:32 hrs

Seventy-two-year-old Mama Qadeer Baloch led a number of Baloch activists including women and children through a 105-day long nonviolent march from Quetta to Karachi, the largest city of Pakistan, and from there to Islamabad.

The activists after covering over 2000 km arrived in Islamabad on 28 February to present a petition to UN officials and meet foreign diplomats to spread awareness about the Baloch cause. Most of those participating in the march were the relatives of 'missing' Baloch youth and included women, elderly and children as young as 10.  

The march was aimed at highlighting the dismal state of affairs in Balochistan, where thousands are missing after having been picked up by the ubiquitous 'agencies' of the state.

The villages in interiors of Balochistan are being bombed with amazing regularity. Every alternate day mutilated bodies of Baloch youth are discovered from different parts of the state, many of them had allegedly been picked by the security forces earlier. Several mass graves have been unearthed in different parts of the province as well.

However, despite such grave human rights violations and complete alienation of the population from Pakistan, the happenings in the largest, resource-rich, but impoverished province of Pakistan have neither made the headlines at home nor abroad. Even the attempts by Pakistan's judiciary to hold the security forces and their notorious agencies accountable have not borne fruits.

The international media is just too concerned with rising 'Talibanisation' in Pakistan and its impact on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. They are far too concerned with the future of Afghanistan and the safety of Pakistan's nukes to bother about the tribals in Pakistan's remote south-west. Various acts of violence by Baloch nationalists have failed to draw the media attention too. State sponsored agencies have succeeded in triggering sectarian violence by unleashing in Balochistan some dreaded sectarian Sunni militants captured in other parts of Pakistan.

Consequent sectarian violence, seen in the light of widening sectarian schism within the Islamic world, has attracted far more media attention than the long pending grievances of the Baloch nationalists.

Balochistan, which comprises 43 per cent of Pakistan's land mass, but is inhabited by only about five per cent of population, has had a chequered history.

Right from 1947, when the predominant Baloch princely state of Kalat refused to accede to Pakistan, Balochs have periodically risen in revolt against the Pakistani state. The years 1948, 1958, decades of 60s and 70s have seen armed Baloch insurgencies, all of which were brutally crushed by the military, but the scars left by them have not gone as yet.

Each successive insurgency was more intense than the previous and the organizational capabilities and the popular support for the insurgents have increased over time. In 1973, at the height of insurgency, 55,000 insurgents faced 80,000 Pakistani troops supported by the Pakistan Air Force as well as the Iranian Air force. More than 5000 insurgents and over 3300 soldiers were killed in the strife that lingered on till 1977.

Pakistani Armed Forces used brute force to crush insurgency as they had to redeem their honour after their dismal rout in Bangladesh.

The recent insurgency started in 2004 and despite various ups and downs, has continued unabated for a decade. Not only has this been the longest insurgency in Balochistan's history, it has drawn support from all major tribes cutting across tribal faultlines.

However, the most significant change has been the widespread support that this insurgency has received from educated youth and the Baloch diaspora both in the West and in the Middle East.  

Coming at a time when Pakistan's armed forces are overstretched in trying to counter the Taliban and its affiliates, the economy is on external life support systems and the society has been fractured along ethnic and sectarian faultlines, the insurgency could be catastrophic for Pakistan.

However, media and populace both within Pakistan and internationally have exhibited complete ignorance about the developments in the troubled province. As a result, the Baloch nationalists have started moving out of Balochistan to areas where their actions would draw the attention of national and international media.

Consequently, on 4 February, the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), one of the three main Baloch rebel groups, targeted the Shalimar Express, a Lahore-bound train on the outskirts of Karachi by detonating two bombs on the track. The blasts overturned three carriages of the train and derailed seven others, killing one and injuring over 20 passengers. It took more than two days to restore traffic on the track.

Five days later, the BRA blew up all the three large pipelines supplying gas to Punjab at Rahim Yar Khan 300 km south of Multan. Three pipelines of 36, 18 and 16 inches diameter were blown up creating deep craters on the spot. The inferno that erupted was so huge that it could be seen from miles and necessitated evacuation of citizens from nearby localities. The blast drastically reduced the gas supply to the parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, the most populous province of Pakistan, grounding many CNG-run vehicles and extinguishing kitchen fires in many homes.

It took Pakistani authorities over 72 hours to repair the pipelines. This was followed by another blast by BRA on the railway track in interior Sindh on 16 February. The blast at the Unnar Canal area in Thul town of Kashmore district derailed four bogies of the Peshawar-bound Khushal Khan Khattak Express, coming from Karachi, killing eight passengers and injuring 32 others.

As the militant outfits from Balochistan indulged in violence outside the province to highlight their grievances, a number of relatives of those Baloch youth, who had 'disappeared' after having been picked up the security agencies, started a peace march, a la Gandhi, from Quetta to Karachi. Women, children and elderly led by Mama Qadeer, a former banker, carried pictures of their missing youth on hand trolleys from Quetta to Karachi.

According to Human Rights Watch, since 2011 more than 300 people have been killed and dumped in Balochistan. The long march reached Karachi in end November, but failed to stir the Pakistani populace into raising its voice against the suffering of the Baloch. The rally thereafter headed to the federal capital of Islamabad, with the aim of sensitising the international community so that it could put pressure on the government.

Despite various road blocks put on their path by the authorities, the marchers did manage to reach Islamabad on 28 February.

According to the Baloch activists over 18,000 Baloch have either been killed or are missing and they want international organisations to take cognisance of these harsh realities.  They believe that the solution to their problems does not lie within Pakistan and therefore want the United Nations to send troops to Balochistan.

Unfortunately, it seems that the arduous journey undertaken by these hapless activists from Balochistan is still not having any impact on either the Pakistani law makers or the international community. Barring some notable exceptions like US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, the international community, has by and large ignored the sufferings of the Baloch populace.

This strengthens the hands of those who believe that only violence can make their voices heard. It is therefore essential that the international organisations should pay more attention to the sufferings of the Balochs as that might stem the unending tide of violence emanating from Balochistan.

(The author is a Senior Fellow at Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, Honorary Executive Director of South Asian Institute for Strategic Affairs (SAISA) and the author of book Balochistan in Turmoil: Pakistan at Cross Roads.)

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