The 62nd Anniversary of Balochistan's unsuccessful bid for
independence (Part I)
Pakistan's Baloch: Life on the Margins of Punjab
The Baloch have been living in a state of siege ever
since 1948, when their territory was incorporated into the
nation of Pakistan. Under the thumb of Islamabad, their rights
and autonomy have been deliberately ignored by the international
community, which has its own agenda for the region. Balochistan
declared its independence on August 11, 1947, three days before Pakistan.
By Karlos Zurutuza
from the Spanish original by Daisann McLane
A woman walks
slowly across the Dera Bugti desert, laden with wood for
her cooking fire. She's headed towards the town of Pir
Koh. For several hundred meters, she follows the gas pipeline
that extends north, towards the Punjab. She got lucky;
it isn't easy to find wood in the Dera Bugti desert. Islamabad
also got lucky when it discovered natural gas beneath this
rocky landscape. Thanks to the gas deposits, the Punjabis
have been cooking, heating their houses in winter and producing
electricity for half a century. But natural gas has yet
to arrive in Pir Koh.
"What has Pakistan given us?" asks
Ahktar Mengal, in his home in Quetta, Balochistan's capital. "The
Punjabis [Pakistan's dominant ethnic group] have confiscated
everthing: our property, our resources, and above all, our
rights. Mengal is the tribal leader of the clan that bears
his name, and also the president of the Baloch National Party
(BNP). It's difficult to find a house in Quetta that's more
under surveillance--and, as a consequence, more carefully
"Why has the world forgotten us?," exclaims
the sardar (tribal leader) of the Mengal clan.
that the world has, indeed, forgotten the Baloch people,
but has anyone forgotten Balochistan? Let's take a look.
Obama needs it for his oil pipeline, TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India),
Iran and India need it for the IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India),
and so does Qatar. China's constructing a gateway to the
Persian Gulf at the port of Gwadar. Meanwhile Australia,
Canada and Chile are extracting tons of gold and copper
from Baluchistan's enormous reserves, the second largest
in Asia. The greedy scramble for Baluchistan's treasures
will probably heat up even more when the vast stores of petroleum
and uranium hidden beneath its deserts are opened up.
didn't even hire us to work on all these projects. The majority
of the workers came from Punjab and other parts of Pakistan," complains
Bari, another unemployed 30-something from Quetta.
says that we can't qualify for these jobs because we're illiterate,
because we don't have an education. Where are we going to
study if nobody builds schools here?" he
The rate of illiteracy among Pakistan's Baloch
is about 80%, a chilling statistic that Islamabad doesn't
hesitate to blame on the tribal leaders. The central government
accuses the sardars of complicity in keeping their people
uneducated, in order to hold onto their power: "If the
people learn to read, they'll become unhappy with tribal
Nevertheless, it's clear that the majority
of Baloch are not happy with the way things are. And they're
taking action. They've launched five armed uprisings against
Islamabad since East Balochistan was forcibly incorporated
into Pakistan in 1948, after the withdrawal of the British.
The last uprising began in 2003 and is still going on now.
However, instead of backing down, Islamabad has relentlessly
followed a policy of political repression and total supression
of the people. If somebody dares to speak out in protest,
they are jailed, or simply "disappeared."
from the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to the International
Crisis Group has condemned the disappearance of more than
7,000 social and political activists since 2005. One of
the most recent and well known cases happened this past April
in Quetta. Three political activists were grabbed at gunpoint
in their lawyer's office and then whisked away in a helicopter.
Kashkol Ali was their lawyer. "Justice doesn't exist
in Pakistan," he declares, sitting in the same chair
from which he witnessed the kidnapping. "The control
of the country is in the hands of the MI and the ISI, the
intelligence services. There's no judge, no politician, no
police officer who dares to stand up to them," he says.
The testimony from this witness of Pakistan's "summary
justice" is corroborated by the Kafka-esque testimony
of Imdad B., member of the central executive committee of
the Baloch Student Organization (BSO). After he was abducted
in Quetta with six comrades, and tortured for two months,
his captors released him to the police in Punjab province.
had our eyes blindfolded, always. We knew that we'd been
put in an airplane, but we didn't know where we were going," explains
this young man wearing a red kulla (traditional Baloch cap). "After
they released four of us to the police, somewhere in Punjab,
the journalists published this story the next day: Security
forces captured Baloch terrorists who were plotting to put
a bomb in Hyderabad airport.", he recounts.
says he has no idea the reasons why they were finally released
from custody. But afterwards, the second part of his Odyssey
began: seeking legal justice for what had happened to him
and his comrades.
The young activist says that the first
judge told him, "You
have been through a bad experience, but you're free now.
So why keep looking to make problems for both of us?" The
second judge told him the same thing. And then the third.
Four years later, Imdad is still looking for justice.
the thousands of "disappeared" Baloch,
the repression has displaced tens of thousands more from
their homes. In the last three years more than 80,000 Baloch
families have been forced to migrate to the outskirts of
Quetta, or to Sindh and Punjab provinces, after their villages
Zaki D. is also a member of the BSO. In the
group's headquarters in Karachi he plays a video showing
a small mud brick village being bombed by a helicopter.
It could be one of the Cobras that Teheran gave to Islamabad
in the 70s to fight the Baloch insurgency, which always
threatens to extend into Iranian-controlled territory. Or
it could be one of the helicopters that Washington gave to
Musharraf to fight the Taliban.
In his book, Descent Into
Chaos (Penguin, 2008), the Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid
says that of the 10 billion dollars in development aid
the U.S. government sent to Pakistan after 9-11, 90 percent
went to the military.
The generals defend themselves by pointing
to the fact that their country is the major provider of
troops to the UN--10,000 in 2007.
In Chagai, very few people can read, and fewer
still are untouched by the pain of hunger, unemployment,
But without a doubt the major worry in this mountainous region
on the Afghan frontier is water. Not the scarcity of it,
as is the case in so many other regions of Balochistan where
it seldom rains. Chagai is lucky to have a lot of underground
water. There's only one problem: it causes cancer. In order
to acheive a balance of power with India, Pakistan's arch-enemy,
Islamabad exploded five nuclear detonations here in 1998.
The villages close to Raspoh mountain, where the nuclear
tests were conducted, were evacuated. But,the last few years
have seen a spike in spontaneous abortions, foetal malformations,
and many cases of cancer.
Before moving away from Raspoh
village, Wazeer went to live with his brother in neighboring
Dalbandid. He says that the water came out yellow from
the taps, although for some time now Wazeer has forgotton
what colors are. Like many in the area, eye cancer has left
him blind. Nobody told him not to wash his face with this
"Punjab has treated us like animals for more
than 60 years. How could the British have left us in the
hands of these people?" laments this old man, his translucent
gaze fixed into the ether between daydreams and forgetting.
Life in Baluchistan
The Baloch are a people divided today
by the borders of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They
speak an indo-European language close to Kurdish and Farsi,
and the majority are Sunni Muslims. It's estimated that there
are a total of 15 million Baloch around the world, including
2 million living in Iran, 8 million in Pakistan and a little
less than a million in Afghanistan. The majority of the
Baloch diaspora lives in the Persian Gulf, Scandinavia and
Located at the crossroads of the energy highway
and with more than 1,000 kilometers of coastline on the
Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, Baluchistan occupies an
incredibly strategic position. It's also rich in mineral
and energy resources.
Baluchistan East is the largest province
of Pakistan in terms of land area (44% of the total area),
but it is the smallest in terms of population, and also
the most underdeveloped. Agriculture is the main source of
income, but only a third of the region is arable. Despite
its enormous gas and coal reserves, 40% of Balochistan's
energy needs are provided by wood and charcoal.
of the women and two thirds of the population over 10 years
old are illiterate. At the same time, more than half of
school-age children don't attend school for lack of financial
resources and appropriate infrastructure.