Recently the World Baloch Organisation (WBO) started an aggressive campaign with the slogan ‘#FreeBalochistan from human rights abuses by Pakistan,’ in Manchaster and New York. Public taxis and buses have been carrying the slogans and the campaign is expected to spread across Europe and other countries.
The purpose of this campaign is to bring to notice the plight of Baloch people to the world. WBO has accused the state of Pakistan of violating human rights of the Baloch people on a massive scale. Pakistan allegedly used enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary arrests to instill fear among the Baloch population and brutally silenced everyone who dared voicing dissent.
The World Baloch Organisation (WBO) is an international membership organisation, dedicated to defending Baloch nation’s political, social and cultural rights, to preserving their environments and to promoting their right to self-determination.
Balochistan, “the country of the Baloch” presently forms part of the three states of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is strategically situated at the eastern flank of the Middle East, linking the Central Asian states with the Indian subcontinent and the Indian Ocean.
The estimated population of Balochistan is around 7.9 million covering area of 347,190 km2 with Quetta as its capital city. The province is of mixed ethnicity, with Baloch being 54% and the rest being Pashtuns and Sindhis.
Why is this province in a state of turmoil?
As the Balochis are spread over Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, separatist groups in Pakistan want the Baloch areas unified. This is not acceptable to Pakistan. Balochistan has huge quantities of natural gas and unexplored oil reserves and is rich in natural resources like coal, copper, sulphur, fluoride and gold. It is the largest Pakistani province in terms of area, covering almost 48 per cent of the country. However it is the most underdeveloped province.
One of the prime forces that led to the uproar was the economic exploitation of the province through the extraction of natural resources by the government. Furthermore as the systematic economic, social and political exclusion of indigenous population became commonplace, the Baloch people started to develop a negative attitude towards the Pakistani Government.
The Baloch separatist movement gained momentum in the 1960s, following the introduction of a new constitution in 1956 which limited provincial autonomy and enacted the ‘One Unit’ concept of political organisation in Pakistan.
In addition to this, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and an escalating crackdown on freedom of expression, were used as covert tools to brutally repress the Baloch peoples’ struggle for justice, rights and equality.
The dormant insurgency became active once again after Baloch people were denied a voice regarding the implementation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project by being excluded from all decision-making processes. This large scale infrastructural project was expected to be China’s gateway to the Arabian Sea by making Balochistan’s deep-water Gwadar port operational. It was anticipated that the implementation of this project will bring employment opportunities for the local people but instead Chinese personnel were hired to do the job. This led to a lot of discontent in the local people and they felt betrayed once again.
The Pakistani government made abundant promises of development and employment for the indigenous population but failed to materialise them.
To establish stability in the region, the government of Pakistan continues to insist that industrial zones are planned along the new Gawadar-Karachi highway. In 2013, the government took steps by holding provincial elections and a Grand Alliance of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) and local parties were formed.
Although the Pakistani government is superficially taking all possible measures to try to win back the confidence of the people of Balochistan, its alleged atrocities on the Baloch people have been strongly condemned by the Human Rights Watch and other Human Rights groups.
About the Author: Himani Chauhan, Pune, India ( Independent Researcher)
- “Free Balochistan campaign comes to New York’s Times Square” Hindustan Times, Dec 29, 2017
- “Free Balochistan’ campaign on London buses has Pakistan crying foul”com, Nov 14, 2017
- “The tricky demographics of Balochistan“. Dawn. 5 April 2012.
- “Balochistan: Resource-rich and volatile”. BBC News. 25 June 2006
- Asia Report No. 119. Pakistan: The Worsening Conflict in Balochistan. International Crisis Group. 14 September 2006.
- William Ascher; Natalia Mirovitskaya (2013). “Development Strategies, Identities, and Conflict in Asia.” Palgrave
- “Conflict in Balochistan“. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. January 2006
- “Pakistan: Balochistan Militants Killing Teachers“. Human Rights Watch 13 December 2010