The year began on a subdued note with the alleged assassination of journalist and activist Karima Baloch, one of Balochistan’s few, fiery and brilliant women freedom fighters.
Her dead body was found in a lake in Toronto, Canada. The death is strongly alleged to be that of the Pakistani deep state.
It, however, did not ignite international passions as the farmers’ protests in democratic India did, for example. Yet, this was not a one-off assassination, as alleged.
It was part of a broader pattern of continuous death, destruction and dispossession of an entire community by the very state that is meant to protect and ensure their rights. Just in September another Baloch female journalist was killed, her perpetrators went scot-free.
According to the Human Rights Council of Balochistan, 18 murders and 28 people were forcibly disappeared in Pakistan’s Balochistan province in September alone.
The Voice of Baloch Missing Persons states that between 2002 and September 2018, at least 6,428 persons were forcibly abducted by security agencies. Prominent Baloch tribal leaders have been assassinated, forcing yet others to seek asylum abroad.
Yet, Balochistan rarely makes it to the headlines in the international media. This is what makes Balochistan: In the CrossHairs of History by veteran journalist Sandhya Jain a timely intervention.
Jain, in great details, traces the history of Balochistan’s merger and inclusion in the state of Pakistan. Those who believe Jammu and Kashmir’s merger with India is disputed, will find Balochistan’s association with Pakistan even more tenuous.
The province is strategically located: at the crossroads of Afghanistan, Iran and the Gulf, at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz.
In a cloak and dagger game, machinations of the British (for whom securing the province was essential to controlling the Gulf), the Muslim League, and its leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah, together with Baloch tribes jostling for power, the Khan of Kalat finds himself outwitted, and the territories which comprise Balochistan province today ceded to Pakistan.
Thus, for instance, when Ahmed Yar Khan, the last Khan of Kalat, under tremendous pressure from Jinnah to sign the instrument of accession, when he only wanted to sign “an agreement on defence, foreign affairs and communications” summoned the Darul-Awam to deliberate on the matter, it “voted unanimously for independence”.
Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo made this impassioned speech: “We have a distinct civilization and a separate culture like that of Iran and Afghanistan. We are Muslims but it is not necessary that by virtue of being Muslims we should lose our freedom and merge with others.
If the mere fact that we are Muslims requires us to join Pakistan, then Afghanistan and Iran, both Muslim countries, should also amalgamate with Pakistan. We were never a part of India before the British rule. Pakistan’s unpleasant and loathsome desire that our national homeland, Balochistan, should merge with it is impossible to consider…”
From there follows a familiar pattern, seen in the earlier history of East Pakistan (and which ultimately decided it’s destiny as Bangladesh), in that of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, Northwest Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) — the steady depletion of the natural resources of these provinces, the dispossession of it’s populace, the erosion of local autonomy, the negligence of development, suppression of ethnic identity and culture, demographic changes and the brutal crushing of any dissent or opposition.
According to the UNDP, 71 per cent of the population in Balochistan live below the poverty line, second only to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the country’s poverty index. Balochistan is a resource rich province, with natural gas, and mineral deposits including coal, chromites, barytes, sulphur, marble, iron ore, quartzite, uranium, limestone and 95 per cent of the world’s asbestos.
Never having acquiesced to its merger with Pakistan, the Baloch have rebelled periodically, with the latest ongoing round of insurgency breaking out in 2004. The Pakistani state and army have used high handed measures to quell it, which includes among other things, death squads.
Unsurprisingly, the people of Balochistan have opposed Chinese and other foreign investments into the province to develop the strategic Gwadar port, part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Pakistan’s support for the US war on terror encouraged it’s war against the Baloch as it received both funds, arms, and silence from the US in return.
In fact, to Pakistan’s credit it has got silence from major quarters: Balochistan rarely figures on the radar of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation or the Arab world, or even the EU or the UN. Turkey and Malaysia so vocal about rights of Muslims elsewhere have not uttered a squeak for the Baloch, Iran’s suppression of it’s own Baloch dissidents makes it a partner for Pakistan.
India alone espouses the Baloch cause but with many limitations; Baloch insurgency is blamed on Indian collusion by Pakistan.
Rich in data culled from numerous sources with an extensive bibliography Jain has done a yeoman’s service. Given the paucity of literature on Balochistan and research on it being few and far inbetween this volume becomes a go-to book for a range of stakeholders and hopefully will further evoke interest in and awareness of such a critical a subject.