By Arushi Sharma
The predicament that Pakistan finds itself in today is comprehensibly of its own making. It has several deep fault lines; worsened by its own faults; and with immensely far-reaching ramifications. The Baloch belt of Pakistan is in the throes of a militarised insurgency, and the cause for separation of the Baluch with Pakistan is almost complete. In Sindh, there are stirrings of an incipient insurgency. There is also a looming possibility of a Pashtun nationalist resurgence, as a result of the mass displacement and ill-treatment of people during military operations and because of the Taliban insurgency. These ethnic divisions are also reverberating in places like Karachi, interior Sindh and other parts of the country. Pakistan occupied Kashmir continues to be in a state of turmoil and a source of constant conflict to its people. What is common to all these regions are the blatant atrocities committed by the state against its own people; pushing them deeper into an infinite cycle of socio-economic regress relative to the rest of Pakistan. These deep fault lines have resulted in unintended consequences that threaten the very existence of the Pakistani state.
The longest civil war in the history of Pakistan has now reached a crossroads in international discourse as India made an aggressive change in its approach against Pakistan by slamming the neighbouring state for the blatant human rights violation committed by its government and its military in Balochistan at the 33rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, India articulated that Pakistan “is a nation that practices terrorism on its own people and the sufferings of the people of Balochistan are a telling testimony in this regard. In the last two decades, the most wanted terrorists of the world have found succour and sustenance in Pakistan. This tradition unfortunately continues even today, not surprising when its Government employs terrorism as an instrument of state policy”. On the 70th Indian Independence Day earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also made distinct references to Pakistan’s mistreatment of Balochistan and the atrocities meted out in the region and in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir.
Topographically, Baluchistan is in the south-western region of Pakistan, constituting 44% of Pakistan’s total area, making it the largest yet the most politically unstable province in the country. The region has seen five waves of insurgencies, in 1948, 1958-59, 1962-63 and 1973-77, with the last wave still ongoing. Baloch separatists are demanding greater autonomy, increased royalties from natural resources and provincial revenue, and an independent nation-state. The Baloch nation, time and again, has claimed that Balochistan should be open to international intervention as it is not an internal matter of Pakistan, given that no single document is available which proves Balochistan willingly joined Pakistan. In opposition, the Baloch have historic documents as evidence to show that Pakistan forcibly invaded Balochistan on March 27, 1948 and illegally annexed it.
Since then, there have been some appalling brutalities that the Pakistan army has gotten away with. According to some members of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP), Baloch people are persecuted, abducted and systematically killed by Pakistani security agencies and the Pakistani Army. The Pakistan army, The Frontier Corps, the anti-Shia group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Inter-Services Intelligence agency have been accused of allegedly adopting a “kill and dump” policy, under which “Baloch nationalists, militants or even innocent bystanders are picked up, disappeared, tortured, mutilated and then killed”; which has resulted in abductions of more than 20,000 Baloch since 2005. More recently, the Home Department of Balochistan issued figures stating that 13,575 people were arrested while 337 killed in around 2,825 operations in 2015-16 alone. According to journalist Malik Siraj Akbar, “dozens of people are losing their lives and being tortured every day” in “extra judicial killings committed by the Pakistani security forces” in Balochistan. The Balochs, after facing heavy socio-economic losses, military unrest, have been demanding autonomy from the rule of Pakistan.
India was the first country to take stock of this outrageous and almost systematic barbarism to international notice; when Prime Minister Modi mentioned it in his Independence Day speech, and India took strong political stands in Geneva and New York. Baloch separatists and their supporters have enthusiastically thanked PM Modi for highlighting the issue to the international community, as they have long vied for their voice to be heard. The message has also been supported by Bangladesh and Afghanistan, with Bangladesh’s information minister Hasanul Haq Inu stating that “Pakistan has a very bad track record as far as addressing aspiration of nationalities is concerned. They learnt nothing from the defeat of 1971 and continued to practice the same policy of repression and are now targeting the Baloch nationalists.” President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani said, “There is war in Pakistan which media doesn’t speak about, there are 207,000 Pak forces in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. This violence needs coverage and understanding and needs to be stopped.”
Brahumdagh Bugti of Balochistan Republican Party has expressed gratitude to PM Modi, saying that he hopes that “the Indian government and Indian media and whole nation will not only raise voices for the Baloch nation but also strive to help practically the Baloch independence movement”. In this vein, India has also taken steps as affirmative action for the people of Balochistan. The government recently asked All India Radio (AIR), the state-owned radio broadcaster, to include Balochi language among the 14 foreign languages that it currently broadcasts in. Interestingly, All India Radio was effectively used during the Bangladesh unrest ahead of the liberation war and in the early days in of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar. In another move to counter Pakistan, the Modi government also announced compensation for civilian victims of terror in the valley including the residents of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). Civilian victims of cross border firing along the Indo-Pak border will be given a compensation of Rs 5 lakh similar to those who die due to terrorism. Such impetus is key to Balochistan’s people, its leaders, and its martyrs, who have been fighting for its freedom since 12th August, 1947; symbolizing their refusal to bow down in spite of brutal assaults on their freedom.
The brutalities in Balochistan, while having a clear violation of law of order and complete breakdown of social justice, also highlight a more fundamental issue of hypocrisy by the Pakistani state. When a country that is using helicopter gunships on its own civilians, as one of the worst perpetrators of human rights violations, talks about human rights repeatedly in international conventions and fora, it is clearly a case of hypocrisy of the highest order. One argument that the Pakistani state takes refuge in is that Balochistan is an “internal” matter of the country; we vehemently argue that it is not. It has now transcended to becoming a human rights issue which needs the immediate and unwavering attention of the international community at large.
(Arushi is a Young India Fellow (2016-2017) at Ashoka University. Views expressed by the author are strictly personal)