By Mihir Bholey
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s concluding remarks at the recent all-party meeting where he mentioned atrocities meted out by the Pakistani state in POK and Balochistan against its own people comes at a crucial juncture. Perhaps, there couldn’t have been a better timing as Indo-Pak relations are touching rock bottom in years. All efforts of bilateral dialogues have gone into vain.
Instigation and open blatant support of the jihadi terror outfits from across the border have emboldened the Kashmiri separatists who have taken the valley for ransom. The situation in the valley following the encounter of Burhan Vani encouraged Pakistan far exceed its previous position. Previously, it rested on painting Kashmir as a disputed territory and pushing for a plebiscite. Now, a desperate Nawaz Sharif went a step ahead and spelt out the long-cherished desire of occupying Kashmir as a whole. India was not surprised, but we expected a befitting response from the government.
The Valley’s Other Wound
With the connivance of the Pakistani state, leaders of the terror outfit Hafiz Sayeed, Syed Salahudeen and their ilk are busy organizing open anti-India demonstrations. These have been seen along the border and elsewhere, collecting donations to wage jihad in Kashmir.
It’s in this backdrop that we need to see the relevance of Prime Minister Modi’s remarks. Of course, it seems to be a departure from India’s long-standing policy of non-interference and restrained reaction vis-a-vis the internal matters of its neighboring nations. No wonder it has evoked a quick response in an aggrieved India, belligerent Pakistan and struggling Balochistan.
Supporters of Baloch movement felt reassured by Modi’s remarks that Pakistan is bombing its own citizens. Reports even confirm usage of fighter planes in committing atrocities against the people in Balochistan and PoK.
India’s official stand on Balochistan and PoK may now change the narrative of South-Asia’s geopolitics and make a strong case for the legitimacy of Balochistan’s decades-long freedom struggle. No wonder Pakistan hurriedly offered to reinitiate talks on Kashmir.
Region or Religion: What Will Lead the Fight?
By way of raising the issue of Balochistan, India has now indicated its sympathy for the Baloch cause. The British, Americans and Iranians may also follow suit as they have their own strategic interest in the region. The then British Prime Minister Tony Blair had convinced the Americans that an independent Balochistan will give America the strategic depth into Afghanistan by solving its overland route problem. An independent Balochistan may help Iran extend its influence among the Shia population in the region.
As per an estimate by the Home Department of Balochistan, the Shia Hazara population in the capital city Quetta is somewhere around 500,000. They have been frequently and indiscriminately targeted by the Sunni militant groups of Pakistan. 758 Shias were killed by the Deobandi militants (Sipah Sahaba Taliban) during 2008-2012 in a total 478 incidents. This banned organization keeps targeting the Shias throughout Balochistan. Hazaras become the easy target due to their distinct ethnic features. The sectarian divide among the Muslims of the so-called Islamic Ummah is beyond comprehension.
A Minored Majority
In the modern political system, the idea of nationalism doesn’t only emanate from the desire of a large group of people sharing a common culture, history, faith and language to form an independent nation of their own. It also depends on the share of each one of them in the power structure.
Pakistan has deprived the Balochs of their constitutional rights. Balochistan which covers 134,0154 square miles, equivalent to 42 percent of Pakistan’s area, has only 14 seats out of 340 in the National Assembly in Pakistan. The Baloch representation in the armed forces is not even 1 percent. Though there is a full regiment named after them, it is predominantly represented by Punjabis, not ethnic Baloch. A similar situation is seen in the Pakistani administrative structure which rarely has a Baloch civil servant of the level of Secretary in the federal government. Even the provincial services are dominated by non-Balochs.
The pathetic socio-economic indices indicate years of exploitation and deliberate neglect of Balochistan and its people by the Punjabi dominated Pakistani establishment. Balochs have benefited little from the natural resources that have flown out of their lands. The region produces much more natural gas than it consumes. It contributes nearly $1.4 billion per year through gas revenues, but the royalty it receives from the federal government is only $116 million. As per the UNDP report on Pakistan, almost half of the bottom 30 districts in terms of human development were located in Balochistan. As against that, 60 percent of the top 31 districts in human development were located in Punjab.
The Unspoken Struggle
Besides these, what is agitating the Balochs most is the rising incidences of state-led killing and disappearances of the people. The Baloch intelligentsia, professors, advocates are being annihilated through targeted killings. Pakistan receives huge economic and weaponry support from the US in the name of its so-called war on terror. But a great deal of it is being diverted to curb the Baloch national struggle for independence, killing innocent people.
The world community should not be oblivious of such facts. There is a long list of oppression which the Baloch are facing and which give legitimacy to their demand for independence. Among them, the most fundamental is the manner in which Pakistan acceded Balochistan.
Balochis strongly believe their accession to Pakistan on March 27, 1948, was under duress. They always wanted to remain independent. But today Balochistan has become a victim of internal colonization.
Its resources are being mercilessly exploited, environment being destroyed, demography being altered and people being left impoverished and powerless.
A nation cannot be created and held together in the name of religion alone. Bangladesh and Baloch nationalism have amply vindicated it. Pakistan was created out of this tragic illusion. Now it must pay the price. The liberal, secular, democratic aspirations of the Balochs must be supported, even if it comes at the cost of antagonizing a belligerent, eternally hostile, rogue neighbor.
(Views are personal)
Dr. Mihir Bholey is a Senior Faculty of Interdisciplinary Design Studies and Head, Design Research at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.
Featured Image Credits: Times of Pakistan