The Baloch people have been subjected to torture, massacre, disappearance, rape and annihilation policies by the Pakistani state. Leading figures of the Baloch people are assassinated, people kidnapped, women raped, children disappeared…
Yeni Özgür Politika daily talked to Baloch politician and human rights activist Yousuf Murad Baloch about the latest situation on the ground.
Dr. Baloch is one of the numerous people who have personally experienced the repression policies of the Pakistani state. As a student at the Faculty of Medicine, he was forcibly arrested by Pakistani state forces and survived attempts of disappearance. Having suffered heavy torture, he was released only after growing public reaction, but he faced with political bans. Forced to leave his country where he was born and raised, Dr. Baloch talked about the repression of the Pakistani state and the problems and demands of the Baloch people.
Mr. Yousuf Murad Baloch, you are a Baloch political and human rights activist and we know that you sometimes write on the issues of the Baloch people. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
Yeah, I have been active in the Baloch political scene. I have also participated in human rights campaigns for the Baloch people. Currently, I live in Germany after being forced out of Balochistan by the Pakistani state. I was one of the initial victims of the Pakistani enforced disappearance policy back in 2005 when I was a Medicine student. So, I am one person who has himself experienced the Pakistani tortures and the brutal policies of curtailing political activism.
Pakistan is a conflict centre with its multi-ethnic structure. We know that different ethnic groups have difficulty in resolving their political, economic and conflicts under the umbrella of the state whose founding ideology is Islam. In this context, what are the main demands of the Baloch people?
Yes, you are right. It is indeed a conflict centre. In fact, with its creation, it was pre-programmed to be an area of complex and intense conflicts. The creation of Pakistan traces its roots to the Islamic movement from 1919-1924 that protested for the revival of the Ottoman Empire. It was known as the Khilafat Movement in India. The movement also adopted the Ottoman flag but only in a green colour instead of the red one. It collapsed after some time but before its collapse, it had already managed to radicalize a large chunk of the Indian Muslim population who dreamed of an Islamic State in India.
It was after the Second World War in 1947 when the British wanted to leave their colonies that they got a chance to realize their dreams of an Islamic state. On the other hand, the British, a participant of the Great Game, wanted an active vassal country that could keep a check on the Soviet Union. Congress leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawahar Lal Nehru belonging to the socialist school of thought were opposed to the idea of India acting as a check against the Soviet Union. The best bet left for the collapsing British Empire was to make a deal with the Islamic radicals and let create a country for them that could serve British purposes. So was Pakistan created, a marriage between a declining empire, its residual army and Islamic radicalism. They chose the name of Pakistan which, ironically, translates as “land of the pure people”. Quite a fascist name to today’s standards.
The people on both sides of the newly divided India’s border had to pay with their lives. The British’s inconsiderate decision of drawing the borderline was not just an administrative job, it was a matter of life and death. More than one million had to die in that year as a result of the communal conflicts between the Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs caused by the division of India. Another 15 million had to leave their homes. This could perhaps be history’s largest forced migration.
Whereas on the other hand Balochistan being a formerly independent country with its largely secular population got its independence from the British 4 days before the creation of Pakistan. Pakistan also inherited a large chunk of the battled hardened British Indian Army with state-of-the-art weapons. The army was led by the British officers for a long time even after the so-called Pakistani Independence.
Nearly 7 months after Balochistan’s Independence, Pakistan with its superior army and under British led officers invaded Balochistan and annexed it into Pakistan. Since the main role of Pakistan in Balochistan has been to replace the leaving British colonists, Pakistan continued with its colonial tactics of brutalism, economic deprivation, racism, marginalization and eradication of indigenous Baloch communities. Balochi language was replaced with the Urdu language which, like the former colonial language English, is not the mother tongue of any of the nations that had inhabited the current geographical area of Pakistan. Systematic steps were taken to disenfranchise the Baloch society and its culture and bring its growth to a halt.
Balochistan, today has one of the worst health, education and socio-economic conditions. Despite its enormous mineral, oil and gas wealth it is one of the poorest places and its people poorest on earth. The economic colonial apparatus is so extreme and complete that 99% of consumer goods are either imported from Pakistan or smuggled in from Iran and Afghanistan and finance sector is 100% controlled by the Pakistanis.
The vast number of Baloch people demand the restoration of an independent and liberated Balochistan. Even those political parties of Balochistan who do not struggle for the liberation of Balochistan, see the occupation of Balochistan as a continuation of British colonialism and want some kind of independence from Pakistan, be it in the shape of Autonomy or greater powers to the Province.
Can you tell us about the language and culture of the Baloch people?
The Baloch people speak two main languages Balochi and Brahvi. Balochi is the only other major north-western Iranian language other than Kurdish and thus it is nearest relative to the Kurdish language. It has three main dialects. The sense of common identity in the Baloch people which traces its roots to more than 2,000 years is cemented by this common language. Astonishingly, the Baloch also trace their brotherhood with the Kurds to more than two thousand years, perhaps to the times of the Mede Empire. Mr. Akhund Saleh, a minister in the court of Mir Ahmad Khan I, the ruler of Balochistan, in his book Kurd-Gal-Namak, written in 1659 postulates that the Brahvi language of the Baloch people has its origin in the Kurdish language.
The Kurds in Balochistan are in the shape of a tribe of the Baloch people and they number from around 600,000 to a million. They speak both the Balochi and Brahvi languages and are mainly concentrated in the Bolan and Mastung areas of Balochistan. The Balochi language has been fighting the Pakistani policies of assimilation and Urdu language’s imperialism on it and despite the lack of modem publications and meagre circulation and heavy influences of neighbours such as Persian, Sindhi, Panjabi and Pashto, has preserved some sort of purity and the Balochi vocabulary, although under threat, is still in daily circulation. Brahvi language spoken by a smaller number of Balochs is under immense threat and is considered an endangered language by international bodies.
The myths and legends, of the Baloch people like respect for fire, sun, Yalda, Noroz and other Iranian festive although heavily influenced by Islamization in Pakistan show that they had common historical experiences with other Indo-Iranian ethnic groups, particularly with the Persians and Kurds. Nevertheless, the harsh environment of Balochistan has played a higher role to shape the mores, and character of the Baloch nation. It has a major influence on its culture, socio-economic structure, institutions and its political psychology. The Baloch's own peculiar collective character or psychological are manifested in the Baloch Mayar (the Baloch code of honour), traditions, and habits.
The Baloch Mayar is a set of rules upon which the Baloch society and way of life guide itself. Thus, the Baloch’s collective character differentiates them from their neighbours in Pakistan and Persia significantly. The traditional Balochi music and the dances are homogeneous and significantly different from its neighbours and are part of the significant character of the Baloch nation.
Especially the conflicts between the Bengali people living in East Pakistan and the central government intensified since 1947. After the elections in 1970, the Bengali people declared their independence under the name of Bangladesh, with the help of India. Pakistan is the first country that has divided after the Second World War. But what are the main obstacles to the independence of other peoples? (like Punjabi, Sindhi, Muhajir, Pakhtun and Balochi).
Yeah, you are right. Pakistan is the first country that got divided after the Second World War. It is also the first country after the Second World war that conducted genocide of Bengalis of a magnitude similar to the Holocaust of the Jews and with help from the West got away with it. Had India not intervened in time, the genocide would have been greater; perhaps unmatched in history. Despite the Indian intervention, Bengali authorities claim around 3 million Bengali civilians were killed by the Pakistani army in the short duration of the war from March 1971 to 16 December 1971.
Since we now know Pakistan’s colonial and religious fundamentals and its brutality, it would be easier for us to guess why it is difficult for some of the independence-seeking people to obtain their own independence. Punjabi people, who constitute almost the entirety of the Pakistani army, in no way want independence from Pakistan, rather they are the real drivers of the brutal Pakistani Military-Mulla-Bureaucracy apparatus, which many people also call as the establishment. The rest of the people are in a minority.
While, the decisive factor that helped the Bengalis earn their independence was their numerical superiority over the Panjabis, the other nations do not have the numbers to gather enough democratic power through the ballots nor they have enough military power and hardware to challenge the mighty army of the State. The oppressed people only have the moral superiority in their quest for freedom, justice and equality. Additionally, Pakistan being a client State of the west enjoys their unconditional support when it comes the question of the nationalities in Pakistan.
New liberal economic policies under the guidance of IMF, Pakistan’s geography and weapons trade play a major role in the West's relations with Pakistan. Hence, the West had every reason to sweep the Pakistani occupation of Balochistan and subsequent human rights violations under the rug and accept them as “necessary for Nation building.” In fact, it was the West who instead of punishing Pakistan for its crimes against humanity and genocide of the Bengali people rather came to aid Pakistan after Bangladesh’s war of Independence in 1971.
Recently, Pakistan is cosying towards China and has turned into a major partner in its One Belt One Road (OBOR) project. This project is basically intended to undermine the West’s Global hegemony and exert Chinese control on the events of the world. Pakistan’s shift towards China as a partner can alienate it from the West and in the process can open new windows of opportunity, for the marginalized nations in Pakistan, to gain help from the West. But for that to happen the nations would have to be politically strong. No one would bet on a lame horse.
Why did the Balochis join the central government after Pakistan's declaration of independence in 1947? Why did or could they not declare independence like the Bengali did, at that time?
As I tried to explain earlier and as a matter of fact, the Balochs had gained independence on 11 August 1947 but a few months later Pakistan invaded and annexed the Baloch State. And even up to its annexation in 1948, the Baloch State was not only building for itself a parliament, taxation and financial system, but it was at the same time also demanding its lands (Jacobabad and Dera Gazi Khan) from Pakistan which were handed over to Pakistan by the British.
On your question of why did they not declare Independence along with the Bengalis. I guess, “it might have been due to lack of leadership and political decision making in the Baloch liberation movement”. Other than that, a survey of the existing Baloch literature of that era does not provide any grounds for this failure. Not anything that I am aware of.
The only advantage that the Baloch took from those turbulent Pakistani circumstances was that they managed to form their first and last nationalist government in Balochistan on 1st May 1972 but even that was not tolerated and it was removed from power within a year on 13th February 1973. This resulted in the fourth insurgency against Pakistan which continued until 1977. Then it weakened as some of the leaders were imprisoned and others forced out of Balochistan. It is estimated that around 5000 Baloch militants and another 3500 Pakistani military personnel died as a result of this insurgency.
How are the relations between the Balochi people and the current government in recent years?
They are extremely strained. Particularly, after the killing of Nawab Akber Bugti things took a turn that can never be reversed. The fifth Baloch insurgency has spread across Balochistan. This time the casualties are far more on both sides. And as a result of this war, the only relation that now exists between the Pakistani state and the Baloch people is of submission and resistance. Pakistan wants to force them into submission, with an eventual aim of complete assimilation into Pakistan as second-class citizens. This intended Pakistani solution of the Baloch problem has limited freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and any other type of socio-economic freedom. All sectors of the society including the health sector, education sector and normal life in Balochistan are under the army control. While on the other hand, in efforts to disenfranchise the Baloch society, Balochistan has been turned into a breeding ground and free zone for the extremist Islamic forces like that of ISIS and Taliban. Sometimes, even teaching or writing the Balochi language can result in enforced disappearances. These are the reasons that some of the Baloch have opted to resist and are increasingly joining armed organizations with daily clashes occurring between these armed organizations and the State forces.
What is the exact number of disappeared and abducted detainees?
There isn’t an exact figure on the disappearances. But Human rights organizations have often quoted a figure of more than 40000 disappeared Balochs. The figures are much higher than what the human rights organizations have quoted, particularly for the reason that not all forced disappearances are recorded. The climate of fear makes it impossible to ascertain the exact numbers of enforced disappearances. This can only be achieved if an international peacekeeping force implements a cease-fire and conducts an impartial investigation into the disappearances.
Why can’t we see/read much news about the issue in the world press and public opinion?
Pakistan is often ranked as one of the worst performers in the Press Freedom Index. While in other countries media might be related as the fourth pillar of democracy, in Pakistan it is highly controlled by the army and can effectively be termed as the fourth wing of the army. Hence, it had been easy for Pakistan to enforce a complete Pakistani media blackout. Baloch media is systematically banned and its journalists are targeted by security forces and their proxies, which seems to indicate that the security establishment may fear their influence inside and outside Balochistan. Journalists from Daily Tawar and Asaap were enforced disappeared and killed, the newspapers were later banned in Balochistan. Balochi online newspapers are also banned and censored. In many districts of Balochistan for example in Kech and Panjgur mobile internet data has been blocked for a few years to stop people from accessing social media platforms or online news outlets.
On the international front, Pakistan has managed to portray the Baloch insurgency as an internal affair and a Nation Building procedure. The Baloch political parties and leaders have never been able to effectively challenge the Pakistani narrative on international forums. Despite having noble goals of freedom, anti-occupation and equality the Balochs lacked a public diplomacy policy. While the international media plays a major role in both shaping public opinion they also avoid strategies of political delegitimization of so-called sovereign countries. The international media also cannot sell something to the public that does not sell. Hence, the job of delegitimizing the occupation of Balochistan in international forums falls on the shoulders of Baloch political parties and it is for them to engage with the international media through public diplomacy, build their own narrative and the legitimacy of their struggle. I give you your own example; the example of the Kurds.
International media coverage has on occasions facilitated formations of empathy and understanding of the global audience for the Kurds and this has also in some instances resulted in formations of new alliances between Kurds and similar movements in other parts of the world but the bulk of the propaganda, representation and public diplomacy was done by the Kurdish diaspora itself, and not by the International media.
Karima Baloch, one of the leaders of the Baloch Women's Movement and the first chairperson of the Baloch Students Organization, has been found dead in Canada. Can we get the latest developments about her death from you? Is this a murder? If yes, who is behind this murder?
Although the investigations are ongoing in Canada, but I, like many of the Baloch people, am convinced that it is a murder carried out by a professional. And it is also not difficult to assume that Pakistan wanted her dead and could be behind the murder. Earlier this year, Sajid Hussain, a friend of mine and a journalist was also found drowned in similar conditions. The similarity between the murders and the choice of targets and the impacts of these deaths on the Baloch struggle only suggest that it can be carried out by Pakistan. Furthermore, Pakistani army officers have never shied away from declaring their intentions to carry out the targeting of Baloch activists in the West.
Is it possible to say that the Pakistani government is particularly restless because of the women's struggle?
Indeed. Not only the Government is irked by the women’s struggle and their empowerment, but many sectors of the Baloch society have also been slow to accommodate the women’s struggle in their ranks. It was only the left-leaning parties and the pro-Independence parties that were less irked by the idea of women’s empowerment and hence these parties have greater women’s participation but I think there is still a long long way to go before true gender equality is achieved.
You are someone who closely follows the Kurdish struggle. At this point, is it possible to compare the struggle of the Baloch people with the Kurdish struggle?
Yeah, I am particularly close to the Kurdish struggle as my late brother-in-law Ali Sher Kurd was from the Kurd tribe in Balochistan. He was later killed by the Pakistani army. But, it is not only me who follows the Kurdish struggle, almost every Baloch is aware of their struggle and also feel their pain of being divided and oppressed by the colonial forces. For the pains and struggles of the oppressed, no matter from which part of the world they are, are predominately similar.
I feel there are a lot more similarities than differences between the two struggles. The Baloch struggle is divided into different factions and then again despite the various divisions in the struggle, the Baloch people cross lines of tribalism, ideologies and dialects and form a unified picture of a people yearning for Independence and justice and I believe it is the same case with the Kurds. Another similar characteristic of the Baloch and the Kurdish struggle is that both are predominately left-leaning and adhere to a secular school of thought.
What is the biggest threat that the Baloch people are facing right now? What is your call to the public?
In my view, the biggest threat that the Baloch face in Pakistan is to their existence as a people. They are facing forced cultural assimilation into Pakistan but on the other hand being excluded from education, normal life, and development. Larger proportions of those Baloch who refuse to assimilate are already being demonized and ghettoized in the major cities of Balochistan. Nearly all towns on the coastal belt have been turned into ghettos by a combination of brutal force, economic and property laws. The port city of Gwadar has already been fenced and the ghettoed population will have only two gates as access points which are controlled by settlers from the new town of settlers being currently built. I fear it is only the initial step towards a more elaborate system of putting the Baloch people in reservations and occupation of their useful land. This system has already started, albeit, slowly. They want to proceed slowly, taking any part of Balochistan, be it agricultural land or city areas, anything that can be of value to them. They would bring in outside populations and create settlements on these lands. This is being done in steps, without sending shock waves to the common people. Pakistan being a colonial force knows no other option other than this in coming to terms with the indigenous people of Balochistan.