October 27, 2011

Balochistan, the forgotten province

By: Vikram Sood


http://www.mid-day.com/opinion/2011/oct/271011-Balochistan-the-forgotten-province.htm


Abductions of Baloch nationals and their disappearances are now routine. In a matter of three days in October, nine mutilated bodies of Baloch missing persons were found from different parts of Balochistan like Khuzdar and Gwadar.

This list is endless. The rest of the world is, however, far too involved with what is happening in the Arab world or Afghanistan- Pakistan.

The Baloch have had a long list of economic, political and social discrimination against Islamabad. There are a few courageous writers, and the diaspora that feeds the websites and Twitter
.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report, 'We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years: Enforced Disappearances by Pakistan Security Forces in Balochistan,' says hundreds of people have disappeared since 2005 in Balochistan.

The HRW has documented 45 cases of enforced disappearances and torture by Pakistani security forces in 2009 and 2010. No one really gets to hear of what is happening in the padded cell.

The largely forgotten and ignored Baloch however keep reminding the world that they are in the midst of their fifth war of independence against their Punjabi oppressor. Here in India too the Baloch issue is hardly noticed mostly because the western press has not commented on it for months.

This is despite the fact that we are routinely accused of interference in Balochistan and we even admitted to discussing this allegation. (Anyone remember the inglorious communiqu © at Sharm el Sheikh two years ago?) Balochistan has suffered not only from neglect by its own governments but also by the rest of the world.


Baloch nationalism has been suppressed by extremist forces
like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi


The nationalists among them insist that Balochistan had declared its independence on August 11, 1947 and want a reversal of that.

Their problem is that they are divided, the political structures are weak and that traditional leadership of the Mengals, Marris, Bizenjos and Bugtis has weakened, dispersed or been eliminated. Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the leader of the Bugti tribe was killed in August 2006.

Akbar Bugti's grandson escaped to Switzerland while Khair Bux's other sons Hyrbair, Mehran and Ghezen live overseas. Balaach Marri, the son of Nawab Khair Bux Marri who himself has campaigned for Baloch independence, was killed in Afghanistan in November 2007.

The Baloch believe that both Akbar Bugti and Balaach Marri were killed under orders from General Musharraf. Added to this have been the killings of Shias, carried out in recent times by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

These Sunni extremists, are possibly in league with the Taliban's Quetta Shura, adding to the confusion about what is happening in the province. Baloch nationalism is, as before, sought to be suppressed through the use of religious forces.

Balochistan always had a strategic relevance for the West. After Germany surrendered in May 1945, a reappraisal of the long term policy of interests of the British empire argued that Britain must retain its military connection with the subcontinent and that, if necessary, Balochistan should be detached from India.

As it turned out, all of Pakistan came under Anglo-American influence after independence. When the massive Baloch insurrection of 1974 broke out Zulfiqar Bhutto had to resort to the use of the Air Force. Peace was restored after General Zia assumed power in 1977. Since then, till today, the struggle has been intermittent but has never died down.

Balochistan has enormous reserves of gas, gold and copper, as well as untapped sources of oil and uranium. Its strategic importance is also as a prospective energy transit route. It adjoins the Arabian Sea and the Straits of Hormuz, through which 40 per cent of the world's oil resources pass annually.

The exploitation of these natural resources in combination with repressive and discriminatory state-run policies have led to armed uprisings in the province.

Logistic supplies to US and NATO forces in Afghanistan which land in Karachi are also routed through Balochistan. This explains why the US/NATO prefer to ignore events in Balochistan. This could, however, change once the US dependency on routes through Pakistan changes to the Northern routes.

The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)

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