By Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha
New Delhi, Aug 16 (IANS): "Free Balochistan", "Balochistan is not Pakistan", "Pakistan Quit Balochistan" are some of the hashtags which have been going viral on social media almost every day. More than just popular trends, they express the deep anguish of the people of Balochistan who are facing genocidal incarceration by Pakistan. Social media has emerged as an eminently potent platform for protest chosen by the Balochs to express their misery and torture. This is also one of the last few planks left for them to show their resentment and exasperation against Pakistan's abomination.
Four years ago, in his Independence Day speech, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had accused Pakistan of human rights violations and atrocities in the Balochistan province and the Gilgit-Baltistan region. "People of Balochistan, Gilgit and PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) have thanked me a lot in the past few days, I am grateful to them," Modi had said.
Baloch people have been expressing their solidarity with India and stated that they need India's support to free their land from the domination of Pakistan and its military establishment. Pakistan has been accusing India of being behind the Balochistan insurgencies, an allegation described as nothing but "absurd" by New Delhi. It is the longest-running insurgency which spouted in 1947 and is still simmering. It poses difficult problems of reconciliation, which have been conveniently shrugged off by stoking the canard of the ubiquitous "India Hand".
Like every year, this year too, Baloch nationalists celebrated their Independence Day on August 11. "Entire Balochistan is celebrating the Independence Day of the motherland and we urge the United Nations to help Baloch people to get their due support. The international community should take note of Pakistan's atrocities in Balochistan," Free Balochistan Movement said in a statement.
Pakistan has systematically engaged severe human rights violations to constrict Baloch people's struggle. The Pakistan government has also been committing cultural, linguistic, economic and sectarian genocide of Baloch people. Balochistan's seven-decade-old grievances with Pakistan range from being denied a fair share in the province's own resources to a continuum of military operations. Baloch nationalists maintain that the province was militarily usurped in March 1948 against the will of the locals. The growing ethnonationalism in Balochistan saw insurgencies in the late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
The ongoing "Dirty War" in Balochistan exploded under Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf with the killing of nationalist leader Akbar Bugti in 2006, sparking the most gruesome wave of Baloch insurgency. The Pakistani Army and its "death squads" (Pakistan army's hired mercenaries) and groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and the Islamic State's (IS) South Asia factions have targeted religious minorities in Balochistan, especially the local Shia Hazara and Christian populations. These groups have killed tens of thousands of Balochs. Bodies have been routinely disposed of in the deep ravines of this rugged and mountainous area. Many atrocities on Balochis, like rape of their women, are a common occurrence. The Baloch independence struggle is ongoing, the latest incident being the attack on the Karachi Stock Exchange on June 29, earlier this year.
On June 20, Balochistan National Party (BNP-M) Chief Akhtar Mengal quit the coalition government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. He said that the province that he represents be declared "occupied Balochistan" if the state wants to continue its abuses in what is currently a "no-go area" spearheaded by "death squads". Mengal castigated the crackdown in Balochistan and the growing number of missing persons which has reduced the locals to mere "bloody civilians". Over the past decade and a half, thousands of Balochs have gone missing, the exact numbers are still unknown owing to the suffocating information control exercised by the Pakistani state.
On June 22, two journalists became the latest victims to disappear in Balochistan. In April, the dead body of Sajid Hussain Baloch, editor-in-chief of Balochistan Times, was found near Uppsala, Sweden. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) maintain that his death is linked to his work. Between 2007-2015, 29 journalists were killed in Balochistan. Mama Qadeer, the activist who initiated Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) and launched a 2,800 km march from Quetta to Islamabad in 2013, leads regular protests in front of the local press club at Quetta. Qadeer says that at least 47,000 Balochs have gone missing since 2000, and the figure also quoted by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in its latest report.
Balochistan province accounts for nearly half of the landmass of Pakistan. It is immensely rich in natural resources, including chromite, fluorite, marble, oil, gas, copper and gold. Despite these huge deposits of mineral wealth, the area is one of the poorest regions of Pakistan.
Resource nationalism in Balochistan has got its second wind after Beijing and Islamabad jointly launched the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). When the CPEC agreement was announced in 2015, Baloch nationalists accused Islamabad of sidelining their interests in favour of Chinese investment and selling out Balochistan's immense natural wealth without consulting them.
Since then, BLA attacks have largely been focused on Chinese interests. Several deadly attacks on Chinese labourers have taken place since May 2017, which according to BLA spokesman Jeeyand Baloch, are part of the "BLA's policy of not allowing any force, including China, to plunder the Baloch wealth in Balochistan".
Other significant attacks include a November 2018 attack on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi and the May 2019 attack on the luxury Pearl Continental Hotel in Gwadar.
In retaliation, Islamabad has severely tightened its security apparatus in the region. According to journalist Akber Notezai, many Balochs, particularly Zikris, are afraid of being displaced along the CPEC-dominated M8 route that runs from Turbat to Hoshab — an action that could push an already alienated population toward the BLA for protection.
In a recent interview, Karima Baloch, a former chairperson of Baloch Students Organisation—Azad said: "Pakistan always talks about acquiring the land. They don't want the Baloch people but want the resources there. It has been its policy of exploiting the resources to make use of its geostrategic importance since a pro-freedom struggle is ongoing in Balochistan."
Revolutionary Baloch poet Habib Jalib, who was shot dead outside his home in Quetta 10 years ago, wrote: "Mujhe jung ka maza maloom hai, Baluchon par zulm ki inteha maloom hai, mujhe zindagi bhar Pakistan mein jeene ki dua na do, mujhe Pakistan mein saath (60) saal jeene ki saza maloom hai (I know the thrills of fighting a battle, I know the extremes of atrocities on Balochs, do not pray that I live forever in Pakistan for I know what a punishment living for 60 years in Pakistan has been for me)