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69 Years a Slave? Balochistan’s Struggle for Freedom : A Detailed Report

Baloch nationalists assert that theirs is a freedom struggle; they were occupied by Pakistan in 1948 and have been fighting since to free themselves.

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Balochistan
Baloch people address their protests as a freedom struggle to liberate and unify their people and land from control of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Wikimedia
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  • Even after 70 years of Pakistan’s creation, Balochistan refuses to associate itself as a part of the country
  • Pakistan’s military occupation of Balochistan began in 1948 before which the province had existed as an independent state
  • The insurgency in Balochistan traces its roots in ethnic nationalism along with feelings of political and economic exclusion

Balochistan, August 31, 2017 : Located in the South West of Pakistan, the Balochistan province of Pakistan constitutes nearly 45 per cent of the country’s territory. However, even after 70 years of Pakistan’s creation, the people of the province refuse to associate themselves with Pakistan or its framework of a nation state. They believe they have been Balochis for over three thousand years, who have now been invaded.

“It is freedom struggle,” believes activist Naela Quadri Baloch like many other Baloch nationalists. According to her, Balochistan had been occupied by Pakistan in 1948 and “ever since we have been fighting against Pakistan to free ourselves”, she believes.

In 2016 during an interview with The Times of India, the women’s leader and activist Naela Quadri Baloch had asserted that Pakistan is not interested in Kashmiris but specifically in the territory of Jammu and Kashmir for its desire to control the Indus river system. Similarly, it is also not interested in the Balochis, but the land of the state for its strategic location and mineral reserves.

Baloch nationalists assert that Pakistan’s economy is dependent on loans from the IMF, World Bank and the Western countries that are allegedly taken on the pretext of Balochistan’s rich mineral resources. They further claim that Pakistan’s strategic importance is also due to Balochistan coast. Pakistan would not be able to survive, which is why it does not want Balochistan to emerge as an independent state.

Balochistan
Balochistan comprises of about 45 per cent of Pakistan’s territory. Wikimedia

While the world views it as an insurgency movement, Balochis address their protests as a freedom struggle to liberate and unify their people and land from control of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.

They maintain that Balochistan was never a part of India or Pakistan and it had always been an independent country.

Balochistan At The Time Of Partition

Balochistan comprises of four erstwhile princely states – Kalat, Kharan, Lasbela and Makran, that had been unified by Naseer Khan, the Khan of Kalat.

During the British rule, the province was divided into British Balochistan (25 per cent) and Native Balochistan, occupying 75 per cent of the total territory with people pledging adherence to Naseer Khan.

Immediately following partition and the creation of Pakistan, Khan’s descendant, Mir Ahmed Yaar Khan was faced with three options – independence, or accession to either India or Pakistan. He decided upon independence, following which a communiqué was released on August 11, 1947 giving independent sovereign status to Kalat.

However, by October 1947, Mohammad Ali Jinnah mooted Kalat to formally join the state of Pakistan. The Khan of Kalat did not agree to the accession which was followed by a standstill between the two leaders upon the status of present-day Balochistan.

Becoming A Part Of Pakistan

By April 1948, the Pakistan army moved into the province and captured Kalat. The Khans’ attempts of an armed campaign against the Pakistan army went futile and the province was merged with Pakistan by June 1948.

At the center of Balochistan’s forced accession was Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who had previously been hired by the Khans for his legal services to negotiate Kalat’s independent status with the Britishers.

Before partition, Jinnah had successfully mooted an ‘Independent Status’ of Kalat for which he was graciously awarded with gold. But, Balochistan breathed as a free country only from August 1947 to March 1948, after which Jinnah breached trust and betrayed the Khan, forcing the Pakistani invasion and eventual accession of Kalat.

ALSO READ Violence surges yet again in Balochistan

Surprisingly, during the struggle and annexation of present-day Balochistan, the Indian Congressmen, Mahatma Gandhi or the then-Governor General Lord Mountbatten made no attempts to hinder in the remonstration. This indifference can be attributed to the Indian leaders’ failure to realize the strategic implication of a sovereign Balochistan at the time.

A Growing Ethnic Nationalism

Following the formation of Pakistan, distorted power relations existed among different Muslim ethnicities. Additionally, unchallenged power was exercised by Punjabis who comprised of about 56 per cent population of the state.

In 1954, the One Unit scheme was launched by the federal government of Pakistan to merge the four existing provinces of West Pakistan (Khyber-Pakhtunkawa, Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab) to form a homogeneous, united political entity in an attempt to,

  • Forge national unity on basis of Islam and geography
  • Reduce gross expenditure
  • Help eliminate ethnic prejudices.

The move triggered violence throughout the country and especially in Balochistan, wherein this was interpreted as a strategy to establish Punjabi domination.

Balochistan rose against the move, which came to an end in 1970 with the overthrow of the One Unit scheme.

However, following the rebellion, a strong sense of nationalism, propounding larger political autonomy and a separate state for Balochistan broke a full-fledged insurgency from 1973 to 1977; over 80,000 personnel were deployed to quell the rebellion.    

Armed struggle to achieve separation from Pakistan lasted throughout the 1970s, in which 3,300 army personnel and 5,300 Balochis were killed. However, the Pakistani government successfully compressed the movement.

Economic Alienation

Baloch nationalists have repeatedly argued that they are yet to receive any benefit from the development projects that have been initiated by the government in Balochistan.

  1. Reportedly, the Sui Gas Field in Balochistan caters to most urban households in the country. Despite producing about 45 per cent of gas for Pakistan, the province gets to consume a mere 17 per cent. Additionally, the Balochis get a nominal amount of Pakistani Rupees 6 for a 24-hour supply.
  2. The Pakistani government, in collaboration with China, initiated the development of the Gwadar port in the province, with an aim to better trade ties with Asia, Europe, and US. However, a large number of Punjabis and non-Baloch people were hired for the project, leaving an increasing population of Baloch engineers and technicians unemployed.
  3. Balochistan has one of the world’s richest reserves of copper and gold. However, as much as 16 kgs of gold is seized everyday by the Chinese under an arrangement with the government, which robs the Balochis of major economic benefits.
  4. Despite being one of the country’s key providing areas,
    • 80 per cent population of Balochistan continue to live in the absence of safe drinking water
    • 80 per cent people do not have access to electricity
    • 70 per cent children have never been to school
    • 63 per cent of Balochis live below the poverty line

While ethnic nationalist interests continue to worry Balochistan, a primary demand has also been about better control over the economic resources of the region.

However, the Pakistani government blames the nationalist struggle in the region for impeding the developmental process.

Political Subjugation By Islamabad

Balochistan makes up nearly 45 per cent of Pakistan’s territory but the Balochs comprise only 5 per cent of the total population, making them a minority in Pakistan.

Their representation in the National Assembly of Pakistan is also negligible (17 out of 342) which reveals that the Balochis have lost their say in policy formulations and are forced to adhere to laws that have been put in place for them by power honchos sitting in Islamabad.

Additionally, the Pakistan government centered in Islamabad has eradicated most of the Baloch activists and nationalists, calling them ‘foreign agents against the state’. This can be supplemented with the murder of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti who was an ex chief minister of Balochistan.

ALSO READ Akbar Bugti: Remembering the Balochistan Hero on his 11th Martyrdom Anniversary

Pakistan And Its inherent Demand of Balochistan

Ever since the creation of Pakistan, it has been evident that the Pakistan government is more concerned with occupying the physical territory of Balochistan, with meager interest in its indigenous population.

The Pakistan army, on command of the government has employed every possible armory against its own people of Balochistan, in an attempt to contain the province within its seizure. Furthermore, army cantonments have been established at Dera, Gwadar, Bugti and Kohlu to gauge activity and movement of the Baloch people.

Additionally, despite occupying 45 per cent of Pakistan’s territory, the budget allocated to Balochistan is minuscule in comparison to its vast landmass.

In 2002, General Pervez Musharraf had striked a deal with China over the Gwadar port development as part of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Baloch people condemned the allocation of land to the rich businessmen of Punjab and Karachi and further lamented the unemployment stemming from the project. The move also instigated further violence in the region.

Balochistan
Gwadar port in Balochistan. Wikimedia

As of now, according to report, all 22 districts of Balochistan continue to suffer at the hands of the enduring insurgency with the tally of displaced people now crossing over 2 lacs.

In more recent times, the Pakistan army took aid of suicide bombers to tackle the ongoing insurgency. On August 8, 2017, as many as 54 lawyers became victims of a suicide attack, which is being touted as a State-funded action as the group included several Baloch activists who had been vocal about Pakistan army’s interference in state affairs.

ALSO READ Balochistan Suicide Bombing: Provincial Government Falsely blames India for the Attack

According to a report published in Dawn,prince of the now redundant Kalat state, Prince Mohyuddin Baloch who is now the  Baloch Rabita Ittefaq Tehreek chief,  had said that Balochis are not looking to wage wars. Until now, Balochis have not once attacked Pakistan, but only defended themselves.

He said the objective of their protests has been to draw the government’s attention. However, regretfully, no one is paying any heed to their cries.

Dr. Aasim Sajjad Akhtar had rightly quoted in an article in the Economic and Political Weekly that the “ethnic difference remains the single biggest fault line in Pakistani politics.”

The Balochistan insurgency thus, traces its roots in a ripe ethnic nationalism along with feelings of political and economic exclusion. This animosity among the country will continue unless Pakistan accepts its non-Muslim history.


 

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Pakistan Fears Economic Turmoil, Re-thinks ‘Silk Road’ Project With China

In 2017, Pakistan turned down Chinese funding for a $14 billion mega-dam project in the Himalayas because of cost concerns.

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Pakistan
A man passes through a railing while others board a train as they make their way home at the Cantonment railway station in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

After lengthy delays, an $8.2 billion revamp of a colonial-era rail line snaking from the Arabian Sea to the foothills of the Hindu Kush has become a test of Pakistan ’s ability to rethink signature Chinese “Silk Road” projects because of debt concerns.

The rail megaproject linking the coastal metropolis of Karachi to the northwestern city of Peshawar is China’s biggest Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project in Pakistan, but Islamabad has balked at the cost and financing terms.

Resistance has stiffened under the new government of populist Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has voiced alarm about rising debt levels and says the country must wean itself off foreign loans.

“We are seeing how to develop a model so the government of Pakistan wouldn’t have all the risk,” Khusro Bakhtyar, minister in Pakistan’s planning ministry, told reporters recently.

Pakistan
Visitors read instruction material about land that was reclaimed from the Indian Ocean for the Colombo Port City project, on the Galle Face sea promenade in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 2, 2018. The Port City project was initiated as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. VOA

Unease elsewhere

The cooling of enthusiasm for China’s investments mirrors the unease of incoming governments in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Maldives, where new administrations have come to power wary of Chinese deals struck by their predecessors.

Pakistan’s new government had wanted to review all BRI contracts. Officials say there are concerns the deals were badly negotiated, too expensive or overly favored China.

But to Islamabad’s frustration, Beijing is only willing to review projects that have not yet begun, three senior government officials have told Reuters.

China’s Foreign Ministry said, in a statement in response to questions faxed by Reuters, that both sides were committed to pressing forward with BRI projects, “to ensure those projects that are already built operate as normal, and those which are being built proceed smoothly.”

Pakistani officials say they remain committed to Chinese investment but want to push harder on price and affordability, while re-orientating the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), for which Beijing has pledged about $60 billion in infrastructure funds, to focus on projects that deliver social development in line with Khan’s election platform.

Pakistan
China’s ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, Islamabad. VOA

‘Mutual consultation’

China’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, told Reuters that Beijing was open to changes proposed by the new government and “we will definitely follow their agenda” to work out a roadmap for BRI projects based on “mutual consultation.”

“It constitutes a process of discussion with each other about this kind of model, about this kind of roadmap for the future,” Yao said.

Beijing would only proceed with projects that Pakistan wanted, he added.

“This is Pakistan’s economy, this is their society,” Yao said.

IMF bailout likely

Islamabad’s efforts to recalibrate CPEC are made trickier by its dependence on Chinese loans to prop up its vulnerable economy.

Growing fissures in relations with the United States, Pakistan’s historic ally, have also weakened the country’s negotiating hand, as has a current account crisis likely to lead to a bailout by the International Monetary Fund, which may demand spending cuts.

“We have reservations, but no other country is investing in Pakistan. What can we do?” one Pakistani minister told Reuters.

Pakistan
Laborers dig the ground before replacing concrete sleepers along railway tracks in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Crumbling railways

The ML-1 rail line is the spine of country’s dilapidated rail network, which has in recent years been edging toward collapse as passenger numbers plunge, train lines close and the vital freight business nosedives.

Khan’s government has vowed to make the 1,872 km (1,163 mile) line a priority CPEC project, saying it will help the poor travel across the vast South Asian nation.

But Islamabad is exploring funding options for CPEC projects that depart from the traditional BRI lending model, whereby host nations take on Chinese debt to finance construction of infrastructure, and has invited Saudi Arabia and other countries to invest.

One option for ML-1, according to Pakistani officials, is the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model, which would see investors or companies finance and build the project and recoup their investment from cash flows generated mainly by the rail freight business, before returning it to Pakistan in a few decades time.

Yao, the Chinese envoy, said Beijing was open to BOT and would “encourage” its companies to invest.

Pakistan
A man waits to cross a portion of track once shared with the Karachi Circular Railway line in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Large rail projects, problems

Rail mega-projects under China’s BRI umbrella have run into problems elsewhere in Asia. A line linking Thailand and Laos has been beset by delays over financing, while Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad outright canceled the Chinese-funded $20 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL).

Beijing is happy to offer loans, but reticent to invest in the Pakistan venture as such projects are seldom profitable, according to Andrew Small, author of a book on China-Pakistan relations.

“The problem is that the Chinese don’t think they can make money on this project and are not keen on BOT,” Small said.

Off-books debt

During President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan in 2015, the ML-1 line was placed among a list of “early harvest” CPEC projects that would be prioritized, along with power plants urgently needed to end crippling electricity shortages.

But while many other projects from that list have now been completed, the rail scheme has been stuck.

Pakistan
. The difference between the two validate the investments made on the road, and give a hopeful image for the future.

Pakistani officials say they became wary of how early BRI contracts were awarded to Chinese firms, and are pushing for a public tender for ML-1.

Partly to help with price discovery, Pakistan asked the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to finance a chunk of the rail proje