Balochistan rejects deal and fights on for freedom

Baloch nationalist leaders have rejected the latest settlement package proposed by the Pakistani government, on the grounds that it is inadequate and coincides with increased military repression

The 'Rahe-i-Haqooq Balochistan' deal offers a cessation in military activities, a ban on the construction of new military camps (although existing ones would remain), the release of most (not all) political detainees and a payment of $1.4 billion in gas royalties over 12 years.

This sounds reasonable on paper but nationalists complain that the offer does not give the people of Balochistan control over their own natural resources or a fair price for them. Moreover, of the 4,000 Baloch people who have disappeared, only a handful have been released since the democratic government was elelected in 2008.

Peter Tatchell at UK anti-Musharraf protest, 2008

The torture of Baloch rights campaigners remains routine and widespread. Promises of de-militarisation are contradicted by the ongoing military operations, attacks on civilian targets and by the building of more police and military garrisons, including a 62 percent increase in police stations and a 100 percent increase in paramilitary checkpoints.

Baloch human rights groups report that the kidnapping and torture of peaceful, lawful Baloch activists continues unabated. Indeed, the Pakistani government itself has admited that this year alone at least 1,102 people have been disappeared in Balochistan. In recent years, an estimated 80,000 Baloch people have been displaced by Pakistan military attacks.

These attacks have been aided and abetted by military supplies from the UK, such as small arms, artillery, helicopter components and military communications equipment. The US has sold the Pakistani military billions in arms, including F-16 attack aircraft, and Bell and Cobra attack helicopters, which have been used against the people of Balochistan.

The head of the Marri clan, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, and Akhtar Mengal, leader of the Balochistan National Party, himself a former Chief Minister of Balochistan, have both condemned the package outright. Together with other nationalists, they argue that Islamabad’s proposals would not ensure genuine autonomy and self-rule, but continue Pakistani colonisation of their homeland.

They point out that the 1973 constitution promised complete provinical autonomy for Balochistan within 10 years. It never happened. Democratically elected Baloch chief ministers who have tried to defend the interests of the people of Balochistan have been dismissed from power by Islamabad. The current Chief Minister, Aslam Raisani, has limited authority and can easily be overruled by the federal government and the military top brass if the steps out of line.

If the government in Islamabad has a genuine intention to negotiate a settlement, why has it taken over 18 months to put forward these proposals and why are these proposals so inadequate and qualified? The truth is that whatever President Asif Ali Zadari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani want, they are in office but not in power. They are the front men, the fig leaves, of a Pakistani state that is controlled, behind the scenes, by more powerful, sinister forces – the Pakistani military and intelligence services. As well as the army, the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) are all implicated in disappearances, torture, detention without trial and extra-judicial killings.

The dictator and former general, Pervez Musharaff, may have been ousted from the presidency last year but his cronies still hold many of the key levers of power. They call the shots and pull the strings, regardless of what the democratic, civilian government says and wants.

A recent analysis by Asian Human Rights Commission concluded: “There had been hopes that following the ousting of Pervez Musharraf, the resulting democratic elections and the re-instatement of the judiciary, the human rights situation in the country would improve ... (instead we have seen) political wrangling, and the continuing weakening of Pakistan’s civilian institutions and mechanisms of its rule of law.

“The military operations in Balochistan and North West Frontier Province have been responsible for the extra-judicial killings of several hundred persons, including women and children. Disappearances have become a popular way for state intelligence agencies to curb voices of dissent. A vast civilian challenge is to find the courage to tackle the military-owned intelligence agencies.”

UK Balochistan demonstration, 2008

The failure of Gilani’s government to control the Pakistani military is evident from recent outrages committed by soldiers and the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary. In September 2009, Pakistani forces opened indiscriminate fire on a public gathering at Tump High School in Balochistan, killing 20 year old political activist Mukhtar Baloch, and wounding 27 others including four women and one six year old child. Watch this mobile phone footage of the attack. The shooting begins just over four minutes into the film. In addition, many Baloch nationalists, including five members of the Balochistan Student Organisation, were arrested and taken to unknown locations.

A similar Pakistani military assault on a peaceful Baloch rally took place in January this year in Turbat. A month later at Dashte Goran the army attacked a wedding party, killing 13 people including the bride, the groom, six other members of the family and the wedding officiator. A total of 21 people were injured – the majority of them women.

Rasool Bux Mengal, joint secretary of the Baloch National Movement (BNM), was abducted from Uthal in August. His tortured dead body, slashed and covered in cigarette burns, was found hanging by a tree near Qalandari Hotel Lasbela. The intention was clear: to terrorise and intimidate the Baloch people. Mengal was the second BMN leader murdered this year. In April, the body of Ghulam Mohammad, chair of the Baloch National Movement, was found partly decomposed in a vat of poisonous chemicals.

In October, medical students were beaten up and arrested by Pakistani forces in a raid on the Bolan Medical College. The same month, eleven innocent civilians, including women and children, were killed in the Dera Bugti district by Pakistan army bombardments.

Economic gain is a major driver of the war in Balochistan. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the region has vast natural resources - including coal, gas, oil, copper, cobalt, silver and gold – which generate huge wealth for the Pakistani federal government and the dominant provinces. But severe poverty and deprivation afflicts most Baloch people.

Samosa

The Commission’s 2009 report states: “88% of the population of Balochistan is under the poverty line. Balochistan has the lowest literacy rate, the lowest school enrolment ratio, educational attainment index and health index compared to the other provinces. 78% of the population has no access to electricity and 79% has no access to natural gas. The federal government’s presence is made apparent not through public welfare activities but through violence and aggression. A large number of military and paramilitary troops (above 37,000) have been stationed in different parts of the province. State-perpetrated violence has become a common feature of the political landscape of Balochistan.”

The savage violence of the Pakistani miltary and its intransigent opposition to Baloch self-rule are at least partly due to the fact the armed forces is a major land-owner in Balochistan and many of its most senior officers have extensive investments and business interests there. They are deeply implicated in the theft of resources and the consequent improverishment of the Baloch people.

Money and militarism is a fatal combination for Balochistan. Using the pretext of ‘fighting terrorism’ and ‘maintaining security’, the generals get their way militarily, economically and politically. They are the real power in Pakistan, not the elected government.

Undeterred, the Baloch people vow to continue their fight for freedom. Ever since Pakistan invaded and occupied their country in 1948, they have never given up the hope of once again being a free and independent nation. They have survived five wars of attempted annihilation in the last six decades. If tiny East Timor can win its freedom against the might of the Indonesian military, why can’t Balochistan triumph over Pakistan?

About the author

Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner