The Iranian and Pakistani governments have responded to the Balochs’ natural aspirations with brutal crackdowns. There have been Baloch uprisings in 1948, 1958, ’63, ’73, and 2004.
Balochistan, Captive Nation
Balochs deserve support for the same reason Tibetans and Kurds do.
By Josh Gelernter
Tibet’s desire for self-determination is one of the worthier causes-célèbres. On the other side of Asia, the Kurds are fighting Turkey and Iran for control of Kurdistan; since they’re also fighting ISIS “on behalf of the free world” – as a Kurdish diplomat put it – the Kurds’ cause is on its way to being as célèbre’d as Tibet’s. More power to them. Halfway between Tibet and Kurdistan, another people is fighting for self-determination. At the moment, it’s getting little attention and less help. The United States should support a free Balochistan.
Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan, in Pakistan’s southwest, on the Indian Ocean; it accounts for about four-tenths of Pakistan’s total area and one-tenth of its people. It’s roughly half of historical Balochistan, which includes southeastern Iran and a small slice of Afghanistan; all three parts are populated mostly by ethnic Balochs. The once-nomadic Baloch people settled in Balochistan in the 14th century; from the 16th century to the 20th, the Balochs had varying degrees of autonomy within the varying South and West Asian empires that had conquered them. Western Balochistan was conquered, for the last time, by Persia, in the 19th century. Now it’s part of Iran. Eastern Balochistan was part of British India until 1947. When the British left, east Balochistan became an independent country, called the State of Kalat (named for its capital city). Eight months later, it was annexed by Pakistan.
Balochistan is resource-rich but deeply impoverished; it’s the poorest and least educated region of Pakistan, even though it contains Pakistan’s most valuable copper, iron, and oil deposits. Islamabad treats it, more or less, like a colonial possession. It’s a similar story on the Iranian side of the border: There were Baloch integration and economic-development projects launched under the Shah in the Seventies, but they died off after the Islamic revolution. Now Iran’s Balochs are second-class citizens, separated from the ruling Persians by Iran’s mostly empty center and by their Baloch ethnicity.
Like the Tibetans – and the Jews and the Irish, the Basques, the Catalans, and so on – the Balochs desire to be their own masters in their own homeland. The Iranian and Pakistani governments have responded to the Balochs’ natural aspirations with brutal crackdowns. There have been Baloch uprisings in 1948, 1958, ’63, ’73, and 2004. The 2004 uprising is ongoing. Various human-rights groups estimate that thousands or tens of thousands of Balochs have been imprisoned, tortured, or murdered. Genocide Watch has issued a “genocide alert,” which warns of the “repression and abuse of Baloch citizens.”
Like the Kurds, the Balochs are Muslims who, reportedly, have a strong pro-West and pro-democracy bent. According to the president of the Baloch Society of North America, the “Balochs are secular, pro-peace and democratic people. We believe that every nation, including the Jewish people, has the right to defend itself.”
(Pro-Jewish sentiments are even rarer in Pakistan than pro-Western ones: Pakistani passports are stamped: “This passport is valid for all countries of the world except Israel.”)
The Baloch Society president continues: “[Balochs] are an occupied nation and are the victims of Pakistani and Iranian State terrorism that has been going on for a long time . . . A free, united, secular, democratic, independent Balochistan . . . will help to build peace and stability in the entire region.” And he points out that, sitting at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, a free Balochistan would be a strategic asset to the United States and a check on Iran.
The United States should, as a rule, support the democratic aspirations of oppressed peoples. And balkanizing Iran would help distract Iran from extra-territorial trouble-making. But, obviously, there are other concerns. For one thing, Pakistan is – at least nominally – our ally in the war on terror, and Balochistan accounts for more than 40 percent of Pakistan’s total territory (though remember, we recognize East Pakistan as Bangladesh). For another thing, Balochistan has a deep-water port, Gwadar, that’s run by the Communist Chinese government. Gwadar is central both to the PRC’s developing economic ties with Pakistan and the Middle East, and to its dream of projecting force into the western Indian Ocean. If we were to aid Balochistan, we would have to expect some sort of response from Beijing.
Nonetheless, what’s right is right; the Balochs deserve self-determination. We should at least start by saying so. And at least one congressman has said so: In 2012, California Republican Dana Rohrabacher introduced a resolution calling for the House to recognize that “the people of Baluchistan [sic], currently divided between Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country” and that “they should be afforded the opportunity to choose their own status among the community of nations, living in peace and harmony, without external coercion.”
Rohrabacher’s resolution was never voted on – but it was a good start. The next step is reviving it. And sending more aid to the Kurds, showing our support for Tibet during Xi Jinping’s imminent state visit, supporting any friend and opposing any foe in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
Write your congressman.
– Josh Gelernter writes weekly for NRO and is a regular contributor to The Weekly Standard. He’s a founder of the tech startup Dittach (Dittach.com)