Dr. Zafar Jawaid
Balochistan is a vast underdeveloped region that comprises almost half of the land mass of Pakistan with 600 miles of coastline along the Arabian Sea. This region has a chronic history of not only being pushed to the margins of modernity but also of fierce resistance to foreign dominance and subjugation. The resource-rich Balochistan’s greatest drawback is the politically deprived people who have five percent representation in the National Assembly that has the budgetary powers and to cut deals with international players, deciding the fate of the indigenous Baloch populace.
The human rights abuses in Balochistan go beyond the state repressive measures of extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances and the mass graves – seven decades of Pakistani occupation has robbed the people of their historic identity, culture and dignity. The state and its institutions of power – civilian and military – have managed Balochistan as a colony of subjugated people depriving the inhabitants from developing economically and socially. The cost of human development denied to the Baloch nation for seventy years, has resulted in the loss of freedoms and modernization in society.
Since 1948, after the forced annexation with Pakistan, Balochistan and its people have never benefitted from the state exploits of natural resources that were plundered and funneled out to the rulers in Punjab, military cantonments and the industries in Karachi. In return, Balochistan was filled with more military personnel and bureaucracy from Islamabad.
The Pakistani rulers, military and civilian have inherited the “Balochistan policy” from their masters, the British Raj and the British Indian Army, designed during the colonial era of Anglo-Afghan wars to gain control of the frontier regions and secure it from Russian temptations at the time. Balochistan was designated a ‘security region’ by the British rulers and that status continued during the cold war period by Pakistan. Aside from constructing railway lines and tunnels, carrying troops to the war front, British had no interest to develop Balochistan.
A century later, China has replaced the British Raj as the new colonial master and is implicating the old “Balochistan policy” with a new twist of developing a naval base in Gwadar with an eye on mineral-extraction – a history that goes back to plundering the Saindak Copper-Gold Project since the 1970s. Reko Diq copper & gold deposit, the fifth largest in the world is another case in point where Islamabad now wants to invite Saudi investment with a possible partnership with China. Balochistan’s concerns and interests are again being brushed aside.
In the words of Kaiser Bengali, Ph.D., economist and author of “A Cry for Justice: Empirical Insights from Balochistan; “Balochistan is being discriminated against in a systematic way and on a large scale resources are being taken from the province and used in other provinces – there is a colonial pattern of control visible in Balochistan which has resulted in the largest province of Pakistan not only lagging behind, but falling further behind [in development].”
Dr. Bengali argues that natural gas was discovered in 1952 in Balochistan, near the town of Sui in the Bugti tribal area, and Balochistan was first supplied with gas in 1984. The gas taken from Balochistan was supplied to Karachi, Lahore, Gujranwala, Sialkot to develop industries benefitting Punjab and people from other provinces. He adds, “How can Balochistan be rich in natural resources yet abjectly poor? This is due to a saga of resource transfer on a massive scale, a saga of colonial-style political and economic management.”
Apart from the natural resources, Balochistan also is being deprived of its cultural assets and human potential. Academics, scholars, poets, teachers, students, journalists, doctors and lawyers are increasingly falling victim to the state’s repression and extrajudicial targeted killings in Balochistan. These are not just statistics describing the loss of a human being to be added to a long list of brutally tortured activists or a mutilated bullet-riddled body of a forcefully disappeared university student but each life lost is an embodiment of consciousness, a cultural icon and a role model for a just society. This loss is akin to a society without a future. Pakistani state policy toward Balochistan is a systematic annihilation of a people and their cultural identity.
China-Pakistan strategic alliance and their ambitious economic plans for Balochistan in the name of development are resulting in forced displacement of the local inhabitants and loss of their centuries-old traditional way of life and livelihood. Fishermen native to Gwadar are being forced to abandon their lands, boats and migrate to other parts of Balochistan. The grand Chinese design for Gwadar is to transform it into a settler’s colony for the millions of Chinese in the next ten years, resulting in catastrophic demographic change in population. Baloch people will soon become a minority on their own lands. The Pakistani land mafia is grabbing land in Gwadar and building townships that are being advertised to overseas Pakistanis in U.K., Canada, and Dubai. Baloch mass migration from Gwadar and the coastal towns will also manifest in the loss of Balochi language replaced by foreign tongues such as Chinese.
The cultural and environmental impact of CPEC projects, mineral-extraction and land grab by Pakistani armed forces is having a devastating effect on nature and society in Balochistan. Reportedly, 23,000 acres belonging to Hingol National Park was bought for pennies by Pakistan Air Force to be used as a firing range for their Chinese made JF-17 fighter jets. Total of 80,000 acres was taken over by the PAF in the Lasbela district of Balochistan.
The 1998 nuclear tests set off in the Ras Koh hills of Balochistan twenty-one years ago has forever changed the soil, environment and the lives of human beings belonging to that area. Overnight, locals were loaded in military trucks and cleared out of the ‘danger zone’ never to come back. Humans as well as their livestock suffer from radioactive contamination to this day without being reported in the media.
Human rights in Balochistan are not simply confined to political repression of activists – it is a national calamity destroying human habitat, culture and lives. The rapid militarization of the region by Pakistan in conjunction with the rise of imperial China has destabilized it into a zone of conflict worthy of international scrutiny. Human rights in Balochistan means saving the land, people, culture and environment from the destructive militarization by the China-Pakistan nexus of dominance.
About the Author:
Dr Zaffar Jawaid is a Toronto-based human rights activist with political experiences from diverse civil rights movements stemming from democratic struggles in the times of military dictatorships in Pakistan, student activism for secular education and support for political rights in Balochistan. For the last ten years, Mr. Jawaid has been actively voicing the plight of the ‘enforced disappeared’ in Balochistan and the gross human rights violations against the civilian populace perpetrated by the state security forces of Pakistan.