Jan Mohammad Baloch vaguely remembers his parents being worried about his elder brother Karim, an energetic 16-year-old bespectacled schoolboy. Karim was fond of writing, his musings often finding expression in rambling articles, which no one read. Excerpts of his last article on unidentified dead bodies being found near construction sites, defaced and limbs bearing marks of torture, had somehow found their way into a local rag. His parent’s worry was understandable. This was Balochistan, after all. People had been killed for far less.
It was a lazy Sunday morning when a platoon of the Frontier Force Regiment of the Pakistan Army came for his brother, Karim Mohammad Baloch. They tied his hands and dumped him in the back of a Toyota pick up truck, and drove away. That was 7 years ago. 7 years of his parents running from army posts to police stations, just wanting a conformation, even if that conformation said, “Your son is dead”.
It seems that amongst the many things you are not allowed to have as a Baloch, closure is premium.
International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, a non-profit organization, says that till 2014 more than 18,000 persons have been missing. 2000 of these have found that ‘elusive’ closure; their dead bodies discovered by the roadside or at remote construction sites. Some were shot at close range at the back of the skull, carbon residue telling their story. A few bodies had interesting telltale signs; underneath the broken nails, there were wooden splinters and grains of cement. Apparently these people were beaten to death and in their last, dying moments they clawed in pain at walls and windows to which they were chained.
The Pakistan Army, in military operations or reprisals, has killed more than 95,000 Balochis. Mass graves bear testimony to the fact that entire villages have been wiped out on suspicion of being pro-freedom. “Teaching them a lesson” is a favorite Pakistan Army sport. In societies where armed forces operate without oversight, such things are not unheard of.
Over 2.8 million Baloch have been displaced, pushed from their villages into various sub-urban hellholes across Pakistan, especially Lyari, Orangi and Liaqatabad in and around Karachi. The Pakistan Army and the Balochistan Development Authority regularly hand out large tracts of lands to Punjabi and Pashtun ex-servicemen, incentivizing them to settle down and take young Baloch girls as wives. The plan is to change the demography of the sparsely populated Balochistan.
Balochistan has enormous reserves of gas, uranium, gold, copper and oil. It has borders touching Iran and Afghanistan. It has the now-famous Chinese built Gwadar, a deep-water port. Balochistan is the size of France, and constitutes of 44% of Pakistan’s landmass. 40% of Pakistan’s energy needs are supplied from the Sui gas fields in Balochistan, and yet 48% of Balochistan gets no electricity. These are some of the many reasons why blood flows so easily in Quetta.
In 1948, 1958-59, 1962-63 and 1973-77 the Baloch rose in revolt against their Pakistani oppressors, demanding nothing less than absolute independence. All these insurgencies were brutally suppressed by the Pakistan army, with hundreds of thousands of killings and enforced disappearances. The Baloch again rose in revolt in 2003, and that insurgency continues till today.
Every crushed revolt, every mass grave found, every disappearance and every dead body at a construction site has further firmed the belief in the Baloch that the solution to their problem cannot be political. Pakistan speaks the language of force, and by extension, this is the only language it will understand.
The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), the Lashkar-e-Balochistan (LeB) and the Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF) are some of the groups fighting against the Pakistan Army, an uphill battle that has seen more dead bodies and bloodshed than all of Pakistan’s ill-conceived wars with India, combined.
The BLA is the largest insurgent group and is led by Khair Baksh Marri and Hyrbyair Marri. Hyrbyair Marri took over the reigns of the group after his elder brother Balach Marri was assassinated by the ISI.
On 26 August 2006 the Pakistan Army under their redoubtable commando chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf killed the 79 year old, 19th Tumandar (chief) of the influential Bugti tribe. Nawab Akbar Shahbaz Khan Bugti should not have been killed. He was a political leader, had served as Minister of State for Interior and had been the Governor of Balochistan. He was a person Pakistan could have engaged with. Akbar Bugti had the personal capacity and the credibility to be the bridge between his people and the government of Pakistan. But the Pakistan Army never talks, when a helicopter gunship may suffice.
Akbar Bugti was pushing for greater autonomy for Balochistan. Sometimes he did that from the political stage, and sometimes, when the Pakistan Army turned on the heat, from caves deep inside the mountains of his homeland. It was in one such cave in Kohlu, approximately 150 miles east of Quetta, where the Pakistan Army murdered him. His killing sparked off a firestorm. Thousands of young Balochis joined the violent struggle for freedom.
With each such killing, the Baloch resentment against their Pakistani oppressors grows. More Baloch students sell their books to buy guns. And this cycle of hate feeds on the atrocities committed by the Pakistani state.
The mere mention of Balochistan is enough to unleash a killing frenzy by Pakistan’s deep state. Take this example. Mama Qadeer, a prominent Baloch human rights activist was invited by the Lahore University to speak on “Un –silencing Balochistan”. At the last moment, the “agencies” refused permission for the program to continue. Sabeen Mahmood, another Karachi based human rights activist and Director T2F Karachi invited Mama Qadeer. The event was hosted and went as planned. On her way back home, Sabeen was assassinated. The Pakistan “deep state” tolerates no deviation.
On 15 August, the Indian Prime Minister mentioned Balochistan from the ramparts of the majestic Red Fort in New Delhi. Reprisals started immediately. From 15 August to 31 August 2016, the Pakistan Army has arbitrarily executed more than 57 Baloch adults, for voicing support for the Indian PM’s speech.
The Balochi’s unending reservoir of strength is their history. Mehrgarh, in present day Balochistan, is the earliest evidence of farming and herding in South Asia. A Neolithic site dating back to 7000 BC, Mehrgarh is the steel in every Balochi’s spine. They know that they have been surviving for 9000 years. Pakistan took over Balochistan, an independent nation, by military force on 27 March 1948.
Tectonic shifts take place over centuries. The Baloch know that. What the Pakistanis should know is that when your adversary’s term of reference is 9000 years of civilization, bloodstains of a few generations are hardly enough to break its will.
Balochistan is more than just a counterweight to Kashmir. It is more than just Pakistan’s Achilles heel. Balochistan is where India’s moral compass must point. For too long, India has conducted foreign policy based on convenience and international pressure. It is time we stepped into the great unknown.
Balochistan deserves to be free. It is our sacred duty to help.