The issues plaguing Balochistan gained prominence in the public discourse following Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech on Independence Day, in which he empathised with the people there and vowed to extend support to the troubled country.
Modi's words have resonated as various leaders of the Balochistan independence struggle have found a prospective ally in India. One such leader, Naela Qadri Baloch, now views the struggle with renewed hope.
Naela is a writer, filmmaker and president of the World Baroch Women Forum. However, she maintains that her struggle for liberation is not limited to women but extends to all quarters of Balochistan. She began her activism by leading the Baloch student organisation during Benazir Bhutto's campaign to liberalise Balochistan. However, she went on to escape the country and has been living in political asylum in Canada since 2012.
Naela recently participated in a panel discussion titled 'Balochistan: Strategic Importance in Regional Security' in Mumbai. Excerpts from her comments on stage and an exclusive interview with Firstpost before the event:
Naela Qadri Baloch
Could you give us a glimpse of the ground reality in Balochistan?
Balochistan is one big concentration camp. Just like how the Nazis were wiped out by killing and torturing them, Balochistan is also suffering the same fate at the hands of the Pakistan army. Balochs are tortured, their body organs are snatched out of their bodies and they are left to die a slow death.
To what extent is the Pakistani establishment - military and civilian government - involved in the situation there?
The pain that is being inflicted on the Balochs are not at the hands of some terrorist organization like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. What does ISIS have to do with Balochistan? Is Syria and Iraq not enough for them? It is the Pakistani army which is carrying out these brutal activities in Balochistan. Yes, it is the army. Can you imagine the army of your country coming down to hunt you? The army protects all the projects that China is executing in Balochistan. Balochs are forbidden from even loitering around these projects. During the launch of one of such projects, everyone including the Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was present. But Balochistan did not have even a single representative. We have no role to play in 'our development' as they just want to exploit Balochistan for its gold, oil and marine life. We are done with the drama that the Pakistan government indulges in after every terror attack. The fact is that they fund each and every terrorist group on earth. You name it and they are there! Pakistan creates terror, sells it and then plays the victim card.
As far as China is concerned, it is the Chinese who trained the Pakistan army to torture us. No Baloch freedom fighter has managed to return since 2008. But prior to that, those who did, including my husband, remember distinctly that the Chinese were also present in the Pakistan army camps, where they were held.
What are the chief demands of the Balochis?
Our only demand is independence. Pakistan is not made as a peace-loving country. They just know how to inflict torture. The only choice we are left with is to fight. Either we will embrace death or make our country independent. There are animals who have become extinct without knowledge of the fact that they are endangered. The world knows that we are endangered. Yet, it is silent. So we will fight till the last Baloch lives. We have never accepted slavery. We saved Gwada from Vasco da Gama twice. We still have the canons and guns of the Portugese as souvenirs with us. Even the British could never conquer us. But they managed to divide us by bribing the tribal community. The tribal sardars are the cheapest commodity of Balochistan.
What sort of assistance do Balochis seek from India, particularly its government?
It is time that India stands by Balochistan. It should serve a litmus test of nationalism for everyone, particularly the youth. If someone claims to be a nationalist in India, they should stand by Balochistan. The Indian government, media, think tanks and youth must come out in support of Balochistan. This is the time to isolate Pakistan. I am glad that Narendra Modi brought up the issue in his speech. But speaking is not enough. We need more planned surgical strikes in Pakistan.
Why do you think it took until this year's 15 August speech by Modi to raise the issue of Balochistan?
Balochistan was always under a black cloth. People in India did not even know the gravity of the tension here. When Pakistan occupied us in 1948, we even turned to then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for help. But at that time, even India was dealing with its own issues as it had just attained freedom. But even years later, when I came to India after 2000, they refused to grant any aid as they did not want to interfere in the internal issue of Pakistan. But the fact remains that it was Pakistan which interfered in our internal issue. When I sought support in India, everyone in Pakistan laughed at us. They even tortured our men dubbing them as R&AW agents. This is the first time that India has responded to our call. We are so humbled that one of our men even offered to donate his kidney to Sushma Swaraj, the minister of External Affairs.
What are your biggest concerns vis-a-vis the impact of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor on Balochistan and its people?
China and Pakistan have carried out five nuclear tests in the gold mines of Balochistan. We are not allowed to go near those sites. Similarly, even the China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a strategic project. It is not a development project. China just wants to encircle India from all sides – from the north-east through Arunachal Pradesh, from the south through the South China Sea and now from the north-west through Rajasthan, Gujarat and nearby areas. Balochistan is just a victim in China's efforts to contain India.
Have the Balochs received support from groups within Pakistan?
The Balochs had a support system in certain sections of the Pakistani media, particularly the newspaper Dawn. But the Pakistan establishment silenced them. In fact, Dawn published its newspaper without advertisements for several days. Instead of the advertisements, they had a note printed on the front page which stated: `There are no advertisements because the Pakistani government has ensured that we do not get any.' Eventually, even they had to give in. Now, Pakistani media is not allowed to seek information on the sea pact, the road construction or any 'development project' for that matter, in the name of threat to national security. But what about our security?