The tragedy of Balochistan

With the recent resolution passed in the US Congress, it seems that finally, the world is sitting up to take notice of events in Balochistan, the biggest province in Pakistan, which lies alongside the Arabian Sea and is one of the poorest places on earth with gross human rights violations.Pakistanhas always treated Balochistan as its backyard and its people as ‘outsiders’. SinceIndependence, countless military operations had been launched against the hapless Baloch people, killing citizens with unbridled brutality.

The tragedy of the Baloch people and their land stems from their fiercely independent nature and their refusal to be part of a ‘nation for Muslims’. The Baloch have always wanted an independent identity and existence, and when the subcontinent was divided on religious lines, they refused to be part of either side and sought out a separate way of life. They considered themselves a distinct ethnic community, a nation, and had no cultural or social linkage with the Punjabi Muslims who wanted to be part ofPakistan.

Sadly, the Pakistani leadership never forgot that episode and did not forgive the Baloch for seeking independence as a nation. The Baloch were forced to acceptPakistan’s sovereignty at gunpoint, and successive Pakistani leaders ensured that Balochistan remained impoverished. WhilePunjaband Sindh prospered, Balochistan remained marginalized. Its people were kept out of thePakistanstory.

And when gas was found in Balochistan and the Chinese wanted a warm port,Pakistansaw the region as a gold mine and its people as subversives. They set up the Sui gas fields and other supporting paraphernalia by promising the Baloch people a fair share in the profits as well as development. But it was a promiseIslamabadhad no intention of keeping. So while the Punjabi and Sindhi leaders took Baloch gas to their homes and offices, the Baloch people were deprived of any of it, and of a share in the proceeds to which they were entitled.

When they raised their voices against these accumulated injustices, they faced bullets and torture. Both the civilian and military leadership chose to come down heavily on the Baloch people. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto launched a military campaign against the Baloch with a ferocity normally used only against an enemy country – hundreds were brutally gunned down and thousands were locked up and tortured. The Baloch were subjugated with force while the rest ofPakistanenjoyed relative stability and prosperity. It is another matter that the Baloch people remained defiant despite the military offensive.

Years down the line, the military dictator Pervez Musharraf, hosted and feted in Western capitals as a trusted ally, launched another ferocious military operation against the Baloch, bombing their homes, killing hundreds of civilians – men, women and children – and torturing and killing scores of youngsters. Musharraf used jets to bomb Baloch homes and strongholds and to kill some of the top leaders. The Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was hunted down like a criminal; his fort was bombed and he was killed in the strafing by Pakistani Air Force jets. Rarely has there been such military brutality rained down on a country’s own people.

Not content with the brutal slaying of Bugti in August 2006, the Pakistani Army continued to harass, torture and kill innocent Baloch people in order to terrorise them into submission. Hundreds, most of them young, have disappeared since 2006, many of them never to be found, while others have resurfaced as corpses dumped outside homes and streets. And when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court decided to examine the allegations a bit more deeply, he was humiliated and sacked by the Generals.

The other side of the Baloch story is the callous indifference other communities inPakistanhave shown towards the plight of the Baloch people since 1947. The sacking of the Chief Justice in March 2007 moved the elite Punjabis to form groups and launch a street agitation which finally overthrew Musharraf and his hated military regime. But no one came out on to the streets or raised their voices when the Baloch leader was brutally, and in a most inhumane manner, gunned down by air force jets. Nor was there a street protest when hundreds of young Baloch men were abducted by the ISI and killed. No one spoke about the Baloch people and their plight on television channels or at seminars. No one has written a book on Balochistan’s tragedy inPakistan. No think tank, no national media organ or civil society group has taken up the cause of the Baloch people. There is certainly the fear of the army’s violent reprisal if any one even dared to do so but there is also an overwhelmingly visible indifference to the Baloch people’s travails. In many ways, this is the real tragedy ofPakistan.

There are many who are sceptical about the US resolution on Balochistan and the rationale behind it. But whatever the motivation, any attention drawn to the Baloch issue must surely be a positive step for the people of this beleaguered region.