The Baloch want to tell their story
In 2011, an innocent Baloch student, Nasir Baloch along with another student, was abducted by Pakistani security forces, interrogated, tortured and shot.
Both were left for dead but Nasir survived to tell his tale. David Whitney wrote Nasir’s story and produced and directed a short documentary film called The Line of Freedom. This is a harrowing tale of what seems to be a frequent occurrence in Balochistan. The film is available on the Internet.
Jalil Reki Baloch, another student was not so lucky. He was abducted, tortured and killed. His father, the 70-year old Mama Qadeer Baloch began his protest in August and later in October led a march from Quetta to Karachi, which came to be known as the The Voice of Baloch Missing Persons. Others like Farzana Majeed Baloch, whose brother had been abducted with others joining this 756-kilometre march reaching Karachi on November 23. Disregarding their blistered and bleeding feet, the protesters have now commenced their march to Islamabad.
The Pakistan Human Rights Commission report of August 2012 which said that at least 57 persons were missing since January and the situation was no different from the previous year. It also reflected increased incidents of Shia Hazara killings and other extrajudicial killings. The South Asia Terrorism Portal has given a figure of 690 Baloch civilians who were targeted in 2011 and these included students, teachers and journalists. This pattern remained unaltered in 2013.
These are symptomatic of a deep malaise that afflicts Balochistan and the silence of the two major political parties, the PPP and the PML (N), the civil society and the media indicates a padded cell approach with recourse to harsh measures. Classified US intelligence documents that were given by Edward Snowden to Washington Post revealed that senior Pakistani military and intelligence officers were resorting to extrajudicial killings of terrorism suspects and other militants. Surely these included Baloch nationalists.
The situation is Balochistan is no longer just that of nationalists versus the state. In the five years up to 2012, 758 Shias were killed by Sunni sectarian militants belonging to the Punjabi Sipaha Sahaba also known as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. About 570 bodies were found dumped in sacks. The Baloch are convinced that sectarian mafia have been let loose in the province deliberately by the army to coerce Baloch nationalists into submission. Curfews without a break are the usual response to any incident when all medical help is barred.
Balochistan has been a suspect province and the Baloch a suspect people from 1947. There were Baloch revolts and military operations against them in 1948, 1958 and 1974. The current uprising began in 2004 and picked up momentum after the murder of Akbar Khan Bugti in August 2006. Traditionally, the battles have been between the army aided by other elements of the ‘deep state’ and the Baloch nationalists.
The Baloch have been fighting from early days against political, economic and social discrimination and deprivation, as well as humanitarian excesses by a Punjabi dominated establishment.
Statistics speak for themselves. 92 per cent of the districts in Balochistan are classified as highly deprived as compared to 29 per cent in the Punjab and 88 per cent of Balochis live in these districts while in the Punjab the figure is 25 per cent. This is despite the fact that the province is resource rich in copper, gold, chromite, iron ore, coal and, of course, natural gas. Sui produces 45 per cent of the country’s natural gas but Balochistan gets only 3.4 per cent of the gas for consumption whereas Punjab gets 51 per cent of the gas. Child mortality owing to malnutrition is the highest in Balochistan.
Baloch nationalism was punished by brute force and deprivation. This only led to greater nationalism. Unfortunately removal of grievances and deprivation now may not lead to any lasting solution. Yet a political accommodation would be possible only if there were one Baloch voice. Whatever be the demands of the Baloch nationalists, the situation now is that of a growing humanitarian crisis that the rest of the world chooses to ignore. Continued indifference will not help the problem go away but will only exacerbate it further and make it more intractable.
The usual response of blaming the crisis on external powers (meaning India) evades the issue and reflects continued denial that there is a serious problem in Balochistan which successive regimes are not willing to or are unable to handle. There are many Baloch who try to tell their story on Twitter and Facebook, but there is no Baloch Spring for them because there is very little interest across the world.
The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)