Balochistan Bleeds

A country that cannot today provide electricity even to its urban residents, celebrates the May 28 nuclear test at Chagai in Balochistan with illumination. The symbolism of the celebration and the irony of it, one supposes, is not lost on the many discerning people in Pakistan or on Baloch nationalists.

New Delhi, May 28 (ANI): What a country can do to itself, no other country can do better. Asked the other day, a former Indian intelligence official remarked that India does not have to do anything in Pakistan because they are doing a much better job of committing harakiri.

A country that cannot today provide electricity even to its urban residents, celebrates the May 28 nuclear test at Chagai in Balochistan with illumination. The symbolism of the celebration and the irony of it, one supposes, is not lost on the many discerning people in Pakistan or on Baloch nationalists.

The social media is full of daily stories of abductions, killings and tortured bodies that surface in Balochistan much in the manner The Guardian correspondent Declan Walsh had described it nearly two years ago when he said: “The bodies surface quietly like corks bobbing in the dark. They come in twos and threes, a few times a week, dumped in desolate mountains or empty city roads, bearing the scars of great cruelty.”

His report Pakistan’s Secret Dirty War of March 29, 2011 is worth a careful read. There has, however, been very little interest in the fate of the Baloch in western capitals, absorbed as they are with extricating themselves from Afghanistan. This is the tragedy of the Baloch people with their cry in the wilderness.

More recently, Frederic Grare at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace analysed the Baloch problem in his essay “Balochistan – The State versus the Nation” (April 2013).

Grare points out that since 2005, Pakistani security forces have brutally suppressed the Baloch nationalist movement, “fueling ethnic and sectarian violence in the province”, which was slowly descending into anarchy.

His finding was that as the bloodshed continued, social structures capable of containing the rise of radicalism had weakened because of repression and a power vacuum had emerged creating a “potentially explosive situation that abuts the most vulnerable provinces of Afghanistan.”

Significantly, the report points out that many Pakistanis feel that it is the security forces and not the separatists who are biggest obstacle to national unity and stability.

It is interesting and should be a matter of concern in Pakistan that Grare also dwells at some length on the issue of rising sectarianism and Islamisation of Balochistan.

Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, one of Pakistan’s foremost political military analysts had also discussed rising militancy and radicalism in her paper in February this year.

Her main argument was that “radicalisation is a greater issue in Punjab than militancy, primarily because militants tend to groom people for battles outside the country or the province. Thus, there is violence in the province, but that these figures are not commensurate with the actual amount of radicalisation that takes place in Punjab.”

She adds that while poverty is a contributory factor, it was the new capitalist and middle class that plays an important role, “who bankroll and support the militant forces,” just as it happened in Iran.

After discussing in detail the rise of radicalisation in the Potohar (northern Punjab), Central (Punjabi as she calls it) and Seraiki (southern) Punjab, one of Dr Siddiqa’s observations is that “Currently, radicalism, which can be tapped for violence at any stage, is flowing from Punjab into Sindh and into Balochistan as well.”

She is sceptical of attempts by policy makers in Pakistan to mainstream jihadi outfits without analysing or assessing its impact when the society radicalises.

Women polio workers are once again being targeted in KhyberPakhtunkhwa, while Sunni radicals continue to kill Shias in Karachi.

Today, KhyberPakhtunkhwa is violently radicalised with a Taliban-friendly government in charge. Punjab is taking the same route and spreading radical thought into Sindh and Balochistan.

There is going to be a new Islam-passand government in Islamabad, and the anticipated change of situation in Afghanistan means that policy makers in New Delhi would undoubtedly be re-evaluating options.

The trend in Pakistan is markedly towards the hard right.

Those among us, who hope that elections in Pakistan will open new vistas, need to wait a while to see how the new government challenges its new internal threats – will it seek to defeat these forces or co-opt them.

Meanwhile, in Balochistan multiple religious and ethnic conflicts rage amidst desires to control the massive natural resources of gold, oil, gas and copper, with a number of international powers involved.

The Chinese have more or less established themselves at the Gwadar Port with plans to establish rail road networks all the way to the Karakorum Highway, eventually linking with Xinjiang through Kashgar.

A Canadian-Chilean company has struck gold, literally and in huge amounts at Reko Diq, and has copper interests as well, although the company may have run into some legal tangles.

The Iranians want to push their gas pipeline through Balochistan, the Americans have a secret air base for drones at Shamsi, the Afghan Quetta Shura carefully nurtured by the Pakistan military, and drugs smuggled in from Afghanistan are some of the other interests in the province.

Resource rich, abutting the Northern Arabian Sea, close the Persian Gulf, on the eastern flank of Shia Iran, and on the route to Central Asia, should Afghanistan ever become stable, makes Balochistan a very valuable piece of real estate.

Instead of main streaming the province and its people, successive governments in Islamabad have kept Balochistan backward and deprived its people the benefits of its resources.

In response, the motley groups of Baloch nationalists have carried on their fight against what they call Punjabi domination and the Punjabis seem to have responded by unleashing sectarian groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi on the Hazara Shia population of Balochistan.

A nationalist movement whose origins lie in the discrimination of the Baloch and the denial of benefits to its people of its own resources is sought to be suppressed through sectarian and religious forces.

The world has remained silent about Balochistan and its missing young. It has been unwilling to abide by its own principles of human rights for fear of upsetting a dubious ally in Afghanistan.

So, the Baloch will continue to bleed, express their anguish on the social media networks, the world will take notice of their plight only when it is convenient to do so.

The time for a settlement of the problem through addressing socio economic grievances may be over as the security establishment seeks to suppress and Islamise the province. As a result, those willing to negotiate within a united Pakistan have been forced to join the hardcore nationalists.

Therein lies the tragedy of Balochistan.

Attn: News Editors/News Desks: The views expressed in the above are that of Mr. Vikram Sood, Vice President, Centre for International Relations, Observer Research Foundation. By Vikram Sood(ANI)

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