It is just a matter of time before Balochistan, which has been forcibly kept with Pakistan against the wishes of the Balochis, becomes an independent nation
With Pakistan facing an existential crisis due to the collapse of its financial system and an escalation of violence across the nation, the big question is how long Pakistan can continue to forcibly occupy Balochistan. Would Balochistan secede from Pakistan? The answers to these questions are important as the secession of Balochistan would mean an end to Pakistan. The latter would be relegated to the pages of history as the secession of Balochistan constitutes 44 per cent of the geographical expanse of Pakistan. In 1971, the eastern part of Pakistan seceded and emerged as Bangladesh. The latter is doing much better than Pakistan in terms of economic growth and development. Eastern Pakistan was also exploited and colonised by Pakistan rulers as they have done with Balochistan.
Exploitation of Balochistan: Pakistani-Chinese nexus
Pakistan’s exploitation of Balochistan’s resources is a well-documented fact. But just to recall, it has some of the world’s largest copper and gold deposits. It also has rich stores of coal, oil, and natural gas. In May 2020, the state-owned Pakistan Petroleum Corporation announced the discovery of huge gas reserves of one trillion cubic feet in the Kalat block of this province. However, the natural resources have been exploited by the Pakistani establishment largely to benefit the province of Punjab and sections of the ruling elite. Balochistan remains at the bottom of the human development index. As per available data, 85 per cent of the population has no access to safe drinking water, around 75 per cent is deprived of access to electricity, 70 per cent do not have access to education and 63 per cent are living below the poverty line.
In addition, the Chinese have been given a freeway to exploit not only resources but colonise Balochistan in the garb of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It may be recalled that both Gwadar and Jiwani ports are in Balochistan. The Chinese have a heavy presence there and these ports are an important part of China’s naval strategy based on the theory of creating a ‘string of pearls’ to dominate the oceans, especially the Indo-Pacific region.
A classic example of how the Pakistani-Chinese nexus is colonising Balochistan came to the fore when the Pakistani government made learning the Chinese language mandatory in schools in Gwadar. The Balochi language, on the other hand, is hardly taught in any of the schools in Balochistan. The idea behind teaching only Urdu and Chinese in schools in Balochistan is to destroy the identity of Balochis and prepare cheap labour for the Chinese and the Pakistani establishment.
As in many other countries, the Chinese have been trying to make deep inroads into Balochistan. A recent example is the setting up of the China Study Centre which now runs several courses in the Chinese language. It also arranges ‘visits’ of Balochi students to China on scholarships.
Interestingly the Director of the China Study Centre says on the official website of the university, “The China Study Centre at University of Balochistan is to promote China as the most significant geopolitical and economic partner of Pakistan.” This Centre was established with the financial help of the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan.
Balochis have been resisting this economic, military and cultural onslaught both politically and through armed struggle.
Balochis’ struggle for independence
The Balochis struggle for independence which started around seven and a half decades ago when it was illegally occupied by Pakistan, has now reached a new crescendo. There has been an unprecedented escalation in the violence in the province as Balochi armed revolutionaries are targeting an increasing number of Chinese and Pakistani officials in response to the loot, killings, rapes of Balochi people by the Pakistani military.
On 16 March, 2023, the Baloch Human rights council (BHRC) apprised the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk about the gravity and scale of human rights violations and abuses committed by Pakistan in Balochistan.
According to the memoranda submitted by BHRC, data obtained from different sources and verified by the BHRC from the victims’ relatives, from January 2022 to December 2022, 367 persons went missing, and 79 bodies of extrajudicially killed missing persons were identified. Moreover, the recovered bodies of another 58 were unrecognizable, believed to be the victims of enforced disappearances. In addition, memoranda noted that Pakistan is waging war in Balochistan without witnesses as Balochistan has been an undeclared no-go area for international media and human rights organisations. Even the diplomats of donor countries, on whose donations Pakistan has sustained itself, cannot go to the interior of Balochistan. As a result, there has been a total blackout of what is happening in Balochistan.
Baloch Freedom Movement
In response to the brutal colonisation of Balochistan by the Pakistan-China nexus, there has been a strong response from various local political parties and the local armed ethnonationalist group known as Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). A series of attacks on Pak military as well as the Chinese interests. According to a report by Newslines Institute for Strategy and Policy titled Pakistan Faces Rising Insurgency in Pakistan (by Hari Prasad, Wil Sahar Patrick), “Baloch militants recently have had increased access to a wider range of armaments and have escalated their tactics. Three incidents in 2022 point to this trend. The most recent occurred on Christmas Day, when the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) coordinated five bomb attacks in the cities of Turbat, Kahan, Gwadar, and Quetta, killing at least six Pakistani security personnel. On Aug. 1, a Pakistani military helicopter crashed in southwestern Balochistan, killing six senior officers, including a major general and lieutenant general. The Pakistani military attributed the crash to adverse weather conditions; however, the next day, the Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar (Baloch National Freedom Front, or BRAS), posted a statement that claimed they used anti-aircraft weaponry to down the helicopter, which the Pakistani government denies.”
“A similar, unprecedented escalation involving Baloch separatists took place on April 26, 2022. Shari Baloch went to the Confucius Institute at the University of Karachi and killed three Chinese teachers and a Pakistani driver in a suicide bombing. Shari Baloch was the first female Baloch suicide bomber, affiliated with the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). This suggests a serious increase in the capabilities of Baloch militants, which has led to greater crackdown on the part of Pakistani security forces.”
In March 2023, Naseem Baloch, chairman of the Baloch National Movement, while speaking on the sidelines of 2nd regular session of the Human Rights Council of the United Nation highlighted the growing resentment against Pakistan-China nexus, “Now China has also joined hands to accelerate this suppression and implement a so-called developmental scheme, a part of the One Belt One Road initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The forced implementation of this project has resulted in the displacement and enforced disappearance of thousands of native people along its route in Balochistan.”
“Numerous villages have been burnt to pave the way for CPEC, and several army camps and checkpoints have been established in the name of security for Chinese interests, when in fact, these army personnel are responsible for the brutal human rights violations. The Chinese-Pakistan alliance not only threatens Western interests but also directly attacks the basic human rights of the Baloch people,” he added.
Pakistan is a fledgling nation-state already suffering an economic collapse. Its national security apparatus is also jeopardised as the security forces have repeatedly been targeted by various armed groups at will. With a worn-out State whose nexus with China has become its undoing and a weak Pak military, it is just a matter of time before Balochistan, which has been forcibly kept with Pakistan against the wishes of the Balochis, becomes an independent nation. The next breakaway state could be Sindh. And this would also mark the end of ‘Pakistan’. However, these developments would have significant global implications and could trigger the restructuring of a new geopolitical framework. The possibility of these estimations becoming a reality are probably much nearer than it looks.
The writer, an author and columnist, has written several books. He tweets @ArunAnandLive. Views expressed are personal.