In his infamous reply to Edmund Burke’s essay on the how he believed the English had no right to overthrow a Monarchy – based on Parliament passing an Act in 1688 that insisted the English submit themselves to the Monarch ‘forever’ – Thomas Paine argued that no one generation has the right to tie any other generation to its laws and declarations, and that:
“Every age and every generation must be free to act for itself in all cases, as the ages and generations that preceded it.”
– It is important when considering the dream of freedom of a community in south west Pakistan, who never wished and never submitted to Pakistan rule, nor to a religious order that wishes to control it, to remember the words of Thomas Paine.
On August 14th Pakistan comes alive with celebrations of their national Independence Day. Parties are held, streets are filled with revellers, pride in the National flag and the struggle for independence is something to behold and echoes in Pakistani communities across the World. But on the same day, on August 14th every year, the Baloch people of south western Pakistan mourn “Black Day”; a day they consider the be the moment their region was occupied by an unwelcome colonial Pakistan.
On August 4th, 1947, ten days before the creation of Pakistan, an agreement was signed between Britain, Balochistan leaders, and Pakistan, that declared Balochistan a sovereign state. On the 12th, Balochistan was declared independent, two days before Pakistan. It was recognised that its people were culturally very different from their Pakistani neighbours to the east and Iranian neighbours to the west, and so a natural right to independence and self determination was carved out
After the creation of Pakistan on August 14th, 1947, the independent Baloch people – who speak their own language, have their own customs, are incredibly pluralist and secular, and are the oldest settlers in that particular region – were suddenly given a choice progressed by Lord Mountbatten and influenced by Jawaharlal Nehru the first Prime Minister of India; either join Pakistan, or India. No independence. This, despite the fact that the Parliament of Balochistan of the time voted against a merger and for their own declaration of independence. That vote was disregarded, and Balochistan soon – on the insistence of the Khan – became a province of Pakistan. And just like that, every future Baloch generation had their right to independence and self determination signed away to a colonial Pakistan. Predictably, the region has been unstable ever since, and recently has become the centre of a violent Pakistan backlash against independence movements, and Islamists seeking to gain an advantage.
In 2006, The New York Times noted:
“One visit makes it clear that, despite official denials, the government is waging a full-scale military campaign here.”
– And they’re not wrong. Independence movements have been violently crushed by Pakistan over the decades following the occupation. In 1973, President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan ordered the dismissal of the entire provincial governments of Balochistan and soon after, martial law was imposed. What followed was a Baloch uprising against the Pakistani regime resulting in the deaths 5000 Baloch fighters and countless civilians. Very little has changed since the 1970s. But the rise of Islamist groups in the area makes the situation more dangerous than ever.
But it is the Pakistan security forces that are the most violent in the region. The Daily Tawar – a newspaper in Balochistan – has reported receiving threats from the security forces for the paper’s pro-independence stance, and several of its reporters have been murdered.
Haji Mohammad Anwar Baloch, a senior member of the Baloch Republican Party, fled Pakistan for Switzerland after his office was raided, and his son – who worked as a volunteer teacher – kidnapped by security forces. His son’s body was later found in Karachi, having shown wounds consistent with being tortured with an electric drill. Countless bodies with similar wounds, have been discovered at the same location in Karachi.
In the last decade, anyone suspected of being a part of Baloch independence movements have been rounded up, thrown into white vans, only to be discovered viciously tortured, murdered, and dumped by the side of roads. Pakistani security forces are relentless and often conduct raids out in the open; they kidnap students, lawyers, doctors, or anyone suspected of ties to Baloch Nationalist movements, and those people seldom turn up alive. One 22 year old student told the Guardian:
“We provide moral and political support to the fighters. We are making people aware. When they are aware, they act.”
– Students make up about one-third of all kidnap, torture, murder, dump victims of the Pakistani armed forces. The unbearable torture is designed to break any resistance to Pakistan’s control over the region. In the past ten years, thousands have disappeared this way.
Similarly, rebel groups are accused of campaigns of murder, with civilian settlers from Punjab murdered in an attempt to deter them from settling in the region. In 2011, the militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (one of whom’s main leader is an ethnic Balochi named Dawood Badini – the nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad) claimed responsibility for the Mastung bus shooting in which 26 innocent people were gunned down. Their desire is a 7th Century-style Caliphate enforced on a secular, and pluralist people. This is imperialism, and cannot be described as anything else.
Balochistan is an economic and strategic goldmine for Pakistan. And so freedom for Balochistan isn’t likely to come about without active resistance to the regime in Pakistan. The people matter little. The copper, oil and natural gas is their main concern, this is evident because despite the region being rich in natural resources, it remains deep in poverty. In 2005, a report into areas of Pakistan with populations living in a high degree of deprivation shows Punjab region 28% living in a high degree of deprivation, Sindh on 35% and Balochistan on 91%. It is held in poverty whilst its natural wealth is exploited, and its people lacking basic welfare, as well as basic rights. The Pakistan security forces do this, whilst – according to the London School of Economics among others – providing funds and training to a Balochistan-based military group; Quetta Shura… the Taliban.
Amidst the chaotic nature of the conflict, is an independence movement that desires not only independence for Balochistan, but secular, democratic citizenship rights for all who live there. It is a beacon of hope in a region torn apart by dreams of violent imperialism. It is a movement engaged in conflict not just against the Pakistani government, but against a rising violent Islamist movement within the region. The Baloch people are not religious conservatives by nature, and have long been secular and very pluralistic in their cultural structure. It is a distinctive culture – though split into many tribes – that has survived for centuries, with even the dress sense traced back hundreds of years. The fight for independence and the preserving of their ancient cultural heritage and way of life is fought by both Baloch men and women. The Pakistan Development Fund interviewed the ‘Women of Balochistan’ group fighting for their independence. The group said:
“Women are part of Baloch society, so their demands are no different than demands of the rest of the Baloch people. Baloch women in the past have also taken part in the liberation struggle in one way or other. This time as the struggle is more organised and expanded in all four corners of Balochistan…the involvement of women is also more obvious. Baloch women demands have always been education for women, equal rights and status in society.”
“Baloch are quite tolerant and secular. We believe that religion should be separated and kept personal. It should not be mixed with politics.”
– A feminist movement, dedicated to secularism, and equal rights, is a movement that should have the full support of nations across the World that enjoy similar protections and standards. Especially given that women in Balochistan are increasingly falling victim to acid attacks by Islamic extremists who seek to impose a tough Theocratic, Patriarchal system upon the female population they consider to be inferior. At the moment it seems the plight of those pursuing liberty in Balochistan goes largely unnoticed throughout the rest of the World.
The Chief Minister of Balochistan, Abdul Malik Baloch – of the National Party – is spearheading the fight for a secular, democrat, liberal Balochistan. He echoes the thoughts and sentiments of the majority of Baloch people whose wish is for a secular Balochistan, and who fear the rise of Islamism in the region, as much as they disapprove of Pakistan. Christian Congress leader in Pakistan, Dr. Nazir Bhatti said of the radical Islamist group:
“Baloch political giants like the late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the late Mir Ghous Bakhsh Bizenjo, Sardar Ataullah Mengal and Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, through their secular politics had kept the religious extremists out of the Baloch political landscape. The Jama’at-ud-Da’wah will destroy the politics and history of Balochistan.”
– There is a real fear that Islamism could pose the biggest threat to the Baloch way of life and culture that has endured happily for centuries.
The promise – and the fundamental issue – is that of a historically secular and democratic population that has managed to remain so, despite attempts by Pakistan to destroy their heritage and all resistance, and attacks by Islamists to impose a radical religious agenda. For a secular democratic state to ever emerge as an independent Balochistan, would of course prove to be a counter in a region that is increasingly, and dangerously Theocratic & oppressive. There is no justifiable reason for Balochistan to be any part of a Pakistan that the people do not feel their culture and heritage belong to, nor overpowered and subdued by an Islamist onslaught that bears little resemblance to the lives of the Baloch people.
Liberty for Balochistan can only be secured by insisting upon a secular, and democratic framework. The ethnically Baloch people are not the only people in Balochistan, and those from other ethnic groups should be afforded equal political and social rights under the law. Liberty for Balochistan also requires control of its own resources. And so to my mind, I see no reason why the Baloch people in 2013 are under any obligation to respect the annexation of their homes 65 years ago to a state power that none of them wanted to submit to. The Baloch people have a far stronger claim to the right of independence, self determination and fundamental political and social rights than Pakistan has to controlling the region for itself.
On the 4th July 2006, a blogger for freedom in Balochistan wrote:
When Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death”, he wanted independence and liberty of a country that did not yet exist. Your Founding Fathers tried to do something that no colonial people had ever achieved before – to break away from the mother country and create their own country. They were willing to risk everything to achieve it. They were not concerned with what was going to happen in the long haul.
But, in our case, Balochistan was a sovereign country until Iran and Pakistan took away our freedom. Through brute force, the Iranian and Pakistani governments suppressed the aspirations of the Baloch people to liberate Balochistan. Our sense of nationhood was systematically crushed. But, the seed of freedom remained in our hearts. Today, that seed has sprouted and we have risen again to challenge the occupation of Balochistan by Iran and Pakistan. We want liberty or give us death, and we are willing to risk everything to achieve the independence of Balochistan.
– I find it increasingly difficult to argue with his point. We in the UK, Europe, and the US enjoy the protections of laws and constitutional frameworks that our ancestors fought centuries ago for the same liberty and rights that the people of Balochistan now wish for themselves. Principle, and consistency dictate that they must have our support in that fight for the victory and implementation of shared values and goals that we know to be the height of human brilliance.