Pakistan’s secret, dirty war in Balochistan
Double whammy of military occupation & religious fundamentalism
Pakistan tolerates the Taliban as a proxy force to crush the Baloch people
London & Islamabad – 2 August 2016
Peter Tatchell, Director, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, writes:
The former British Protectorate of Balochistan was granted independence in 1947 but invaded and annexed by Pakistan the following year. Ever since, it has been under military occupation and subjected to a terror campaign of kidnappings, disappearances, detention without trial, torture and extrajudicial killings and assassinations.
Widespread human rights abuses have been independently corroborated by reports from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Asian Human Rights Commission. They confirm that the Pakistani military and intelligence services are implicated at the highest level.
Subsumed as a province of Pakistan against its people’s wishes and denied the right to self-determination, Balochistan is engulfed by a dirty war, waged mostly in secret, by the Pakistani armed forces. This war is almost unreported in Pakistan, let alone the rest of the world. The whole region is under military lock-down. Most journalists and human rights defenders are barred from travelling there, in order to cover up Pakistan’s crimes against humanity.
The Baloch people are now caught in the cross-fire of Pakistani subjugation, Talibanisation and the West’s so-called ‘war on terror’.
Western responses to the plight of the Baloch people have been shameful. Because Britain and the United States want Pakistan as an ally in the fight against terrorism, they have armed Pakistan and acquiesced with its deployment of these weapons to suppress the Baloch people. US-supplied F-16 fighter jets and Cobra attack helicopters have been used to bomb and strafe Baloch villages, killing many civilians and destroying houses, crops and livestock.
Western collusion was also evidenced in 2008 when two London-based Baloch human rights campaigners, Hyrbyair Marri and Faiz Baluch, were charged with terrorism at the alleged insistence of the then military dictator of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf. He wanted the two men silenced to curb their exposure of Pakistani atrocities in Balochistan. Marri and Baluch were detained for months in London’s top security Belmarsh prison, before eventually being acquitted of all charges. The prosecution of these innocent men on false accusations and baseless evidence shows the willingness of the British government to connive with Pakistani military chiefs and their suppression of the Baloch freedom struggle.
One of the lesser known facets of Pakistan’s war against Balochistan is the strengthening of the Taliban, who have exploited the unstable, strife-ridden situation to establish bases and influence in the region. From these bases, the Taliban terrorise the often more liberal, secular Baloch people and enforce the Talibanisation of parts of northern Balochistan, including the imposition of extreme versions of religious law.
The Pakistani military frequently tolerates the Taliban, on the grounds that its presence acts as a second force to crush the Baloch people and weaken their struggle for independence. The Taliban is, in effect, a de facto proxy force that acts in the interests of Islamabad’s grand plan to suppress Baloch nationalism.
The Taliban bases in Balochistan are also hide-outs from where their fighters mount military operations to overthrow the government of Afghanistan. This campaign to usurp power in Kabul and re-impose a fundamentalist regime seems to be taking place with the tacit collusion of sections of the Pakistani military and intelligence services. They are talking no serious action to stop the Taliban using Balochistan as a base for their Islamist war against democracy and human rights. It looks like complicity.
The international community should stand in solidarity with the Baloch people against the Taliban fundamentalists. It ought to oppose Pakistan’s repression in Balochistan and support the Baloch people’s right to self-determination. Baloch secular nationalism could act as a powerful bulwark against the Talibanisation of the country, which ultimately threatens all the people of Pakistan and Afghanisatan – and the wider region.
Whether self-determination means the restoration of independence or full regional autonomy within a federal Pakistan is a matter for the Baloch people. The best way to resolve this issue would be for the government of Pakistan to authorise a UN supervised and monitored referendum to allow the people of Balochistan to freely and democratically determine their own future. The Baloch people, like all people everywhere, have a right to self-determination, democracy, human rights and social justice.
Background: Economic exploitation and cultural subjugation
Balochistan comprises half the land mass of Pakistan. It is the region with greatest natural resources, including oil, gas, coal, gold and copper. This huge wealth is extracted and exported, to the benefit of the elite in Islamabad. Meanwhile, much of the Baloch population is left malnourished, illiterate and semi-destitute; living in squalid housing with no electricity, gas or clean drinking water.
Islamabad has a sinister scheme to colonise Balochistan with Punjabis (the largest and dominant ethnic group in Pakistan). The aim is to make the Baloch people a minority in their own homeland, as happened to the Native Americans in the US. This goal has already been achieved in major cities like Quetta, where colonist settlers now predominate.
The tactic of colonisation is partly based on a lust for the resources and wealth of Balochistan and partly on the supremacist mindset of Pakistan’s ruling establishment, which believes that it has a duty to ‘civilise’ and ‘modernise’ the ‘backward’ Balochs. They have imposed an alien language, Urdu, on the Balochi-speaking people. Borrowing from the methods of the apartheid regime in South Africa, which forced black children to be schooled in Afrikaans, Islamabad has dictated that Urdu is the compulsory language of instruction in Baloch educational institutions.
The cultural conquest of Balochistan also involves the Islamification of the traditionally more secular Baloch nation. A large number of religious schools have been funded by the Pakistani state, with a view to imposing Pakistan’s harsher, more narrow-minded interpretation of Islam. This is fuelling fundamentalism, and transforming Balochistan’s religious and cultural mores in ways that undermine human rights.
* For more information on the Baloch freedom struggle: www.balochwarna.com
Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation