Importance of Balochistan
This is a guest blog by Aneesh titled “Importance of Balochistan“.
PM Modi spoke about Balochistan in his Independence Day address to the nation. It makes it imperative that we analyze the subject. Balochistan conflict is a guerrilla war waged by Balochis against the governments of Pakistan and Iran in Balochistan region, which covers Balochistan Province in South-western Pakistan,Sistan and Balochistan Province in South-eastern Iran, and the Balochistan region of Southern Afghanistan.The Balochs want greater autonomy, increased royalties from the natural resources and provincial revenue, and an independent nation-state.
Balochistan holds significant reserves of oil, gas, uranium gold and copper. Balochistan is the largest region of Pakistan, comprising 44% of the country’s total area, but is the least inhabited, with only 5% of the total population. Sunni Islam is the predominant religion. The area continues to be poor and least developed owing to neglect. In our study we will focus only on the Pakistan controlled region.
Balochis Demand Independence
Formerly under British rule, Balochistan tasted independence, albeit briefly, on August 11, 1947. Later, Pakistan illegally occupied it on March 27, 1948. Since then Baloch nationalists have tried five times for independence from Pakistan:
- 1948: Kalat, (former name of Balochistan) withstood annexation by Pakistan, but was forcefully taken over in 1948.
- 1958: Ethnic leader Nawab Nauroz Khan launched a guerilla attack against Pakistan .He was arrested and imprisoned.
- 1966: Baloch leaders forced Pakistan to recognize it as the fourth province.
- 1973: In response to insurgent action martial law was imposed.
- 2004 till date: Widespread ‘Kill and Dump’ policy adopted by Pakistan Army has sparked the biggest conflict till date.
Human Rights Violations by Pakistan
The Balochi nationalists accuse Islamabad of deliberately keeping the mineral-rich province poor, while Pakistan’s rulers say the pace of development is slow due to insurgency. Pakistan is accused of large-scale human rights violations in the region by the Army. Even the Air Force was used against the civilian population many times.
From 2003 to 2012 it is estimated that 8000 people were abducted by Pakistani security forces. In 2008 alone, an estimated 1102 Baloch people disappeared. There have been reports of torture. No one has been held responsible for the crimes.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and other independent media, efforts of Pakistan in countering Baloch nationalism, as well as the activities of terrorist organizations such asLashkar-i-Jhangvi and Pakistan Taliban, have produced a surge in religious extremism in Balochistan. Hindus, Shias and Zikirs have been targeted, resulting in the migration of over 300,000 from Balochistan.
Insurgency and India’s Involvement
Brahmadgah Bugti, in a 2008 interview, stated that he would accept aid from India, Afghanistan, and Iran in defending Balochistan. Pakistan has repeatedly accused India of supporting Baloch rebels. Some Western observers also believe that India secretly funds the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). India has denied the allegations.
Wikileaks cables suggest that British intelligence officials are convinced of India’s covert support for insurgents in Balochistan. In Mar 2016, Pakistan claimed that it had apprehended a serving Indian naval officer, K Yadav, who was allegedly tasked by RAW to carry out terrorism in Balochistan, and bomb Chinese nationals in a hotel in Gwadar, who were there to work on the deep sea port construction project.
It is in India’s interest to reciprocate in Balochistan what Pakistan is doing in Kashmir to persuade Pakistan to mend her ways.
Significance of Balochistan
Balochistan provides strategic depth to Pakistan in the event of an attack by India. Its significance has risen because the proposed ‘China- Pakistan Economic Corridor’ includes the region linking the deep water port of Gwadar with the city of Kashgar in China. The much publicized Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is also planned to go through Balochistan. For the success of these and future endeavors it is imperative that Pakistan resolves the problem in the region.
Future of Balochistan
The conflict in Balochistan is a complex web. Balochis have not seen economic development despite being a resource rich region. Their aspirations have been crushed. The region has become more important with the proposed economic corridor and development of Gwadar Port. Indian ambitions of dominating the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean will be upset by China’s growing stakes in the Gwadar port. In light of this and considering India’s existing dispute with Pakistan over PoK and Pakistan’s proxy war in Kashmir one cannot entirely rule out India’s involvement in Balochistan. As for the Balochis, the main stake holders in the region, the future does not appear to be bright as long as Pakistan continues to control the region by force rather than negotiation.