Why and How India must support Baluchistan

The Baloch were and remain till date a fiercely independent people fighting the Pakistani occupation

By Brig Anil Gupta

178201622115650By invoking Baluchistan, POJK and Gilgit-Baltistan from the ramparts of historic Red Fort during his Independence Day speech, PM Modi has signalled a titanic shift in India’s foreign policy. India is now asserting its role not only as a regional power but also as an emerging world power. It is a strategic move against Pakistan which has not only launched a proxy war against India backed by jihadi terror but also has been blatantly interfering in our domestic affairs ignoring the spirit of Shimla Agreement. What is common between Baluchistan, POJK and Gilgit-Baltistan? All three regions are victim of gross human right violations and economic deprivation through brutal use of military power by Pakistan.

Kalat (which includes most of modern Baluchistan) and J&K were both princely states that decided not to join either India or Pakistan when the British announced partition of India under the Independence of India Act 1947. Both the princely states signed a Standstill Agreement with Dominion of Pakistan and were victim of Pakistan’s treachery.

Pakistan invaded J&K in October 1947 as a consequence of which the Maharaja acceded to India on 27 October 1947 paving way for arrival of Indian forces in the state to contest the Pakistani invasion. The Indian forces fought valiantly and forced the invaders to vacate the captured territories when a UN sponsored cease fire was enforced on 1 January 1949. Pakistan remained in control of a portion of J&K which is referred to as Pak Occupied Jammu Kashmir (POJK). Gilgit-Baltistan, an integral part of the princely state of J&K ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh which acceded to India, was surreptitiously separated by Pakistan from POJK and a portion of it illegally acceded to China later. It was earlier known as Northern Areas and renamed later as Gilgit-Baltistan and is under direct federal control of Pakistan.

The area being predominantly Shia populated has also been a victim of religious persecution by Sunni-Pakistan and has undergone forced demographic changes. Baluchistan was militarily annexed by Pakistan in April 1948. While POJK including Gilgit-Baltistan is our integral part, India is well within its rights to demand its vacation from illegal occupation of Pakistan and support the ongoing freedom movement there. But many Indians are asking why should India support Baluchistan? The reason is simple because majority Indians are ignorant about Baluchistan, genesis of its freedom movement and its strategic importance.

Baluchistan is south-west region of Pakistan with a coastline of 771 kilometers (out of total coastline of 1100 km of Pakistan) to the south and shares land borders with Iran in the south-west , Afghanistan in north and north-west, Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to the north-east. It covers 44% of Pakistani land mass but has only 4% of its total population. The area is immensely rich in natural resources and minerals like copper and gold. It caters for the entire country’s requirement of natural gas. However, it is the poorest region of Pakistan lacking in basic facilities like electricity and drinking water.

Before partition Baluchistan consisted of four princely states of Kalat, Lasbela, Kharan and Makran. While Kharan and Lasbela were fiduciary states placed under the suzerainty of Khan of Kalat by the British Makran was nominated as a district of Kalat. On 11 August 1947, Kalat was declared an independent sovereign state with the concurrence of Viceroy as Crown’s Representative, Jinnah representing Pakistan and Khan of Kalat. As mentioned earlier a standstill agreement was signed between Pakistan and Kalat which was breached by Pakistan through military annexation on 1 April 1948. Since then it has witnessed a continuous freedom struggle by the valiant Baluchis who refuse to accept the forcible accession by Pakistan. They to this day celebrate 11 August as Independence Day of Baluchistan.

The Baloch were and remain till date a fiercely independent people fighting the Pakistani occupation. Pakistan on its part has committed the worst possible atrocities on the Baluchis as part of a horrific campaign to put down dissent and gag the voice for freedom. Incidentally, Pakistan army has a Baluch Regiment with less than 10% ethnic Baluchis joining its ranks. In India, we are not at all aware about the magnitude of brutality and atrocities being committed on the Baluchis by Pakistan Army, Frontier Corps troops, ISI including use of air power to bombard and destroy settlements and kill innocent civilians. The parallel to some extent can be drawn with the mass murders and massacre committed in erstwhile East Pakistan in 1971 that led to emergence of independent Bangladesh. Incidentally, Gen Tikka Khan known as ‘Butcher of Bangladesh’ has the dubious distinction of being called ‘Butcher of Baluchistan’ as well because of the bloody campaign he led there from 1973-77. Recently, there have been reports of genocide by Pakistan Army to facilitate the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project to which the Baloch are opposed and term it as ‘economic rape’ of the region by the Chinese. To counter the Baluch nationalism, Pakistan has also injected ‘Islamic Extremism’ in the region thus adding another dimension against the relentless freedom movement.

After the killing of Baloch leader Akbar Khan Bugti in an aerial attack in 2006, the movement has gained renewed momentum leading to even more brutal response by the Army. ‘Enforced disappearances’ or ‘Kill and Dump’ policy is the worst form of atrocity being committed on the Baloch. Discovery of mass graves and bullet ridden bodies dumped on the road side has become a common feature. About 2 lakh Baloch have been killed from 2000-2016 and more than 25000 have disappeared. Through use of terror, Pakistan has also resorted to ethnic cleansing. Most of the Baloch nationalist leaders have either been killed or disappeared. Most of them are now controlling the movement from exile. The Baloch are also suffering ‘economic exclusion’ and forced resettlement in order to facilitate the CPEC project which ironically denies jobs to local Baloch.

The Baloch freedom movement so far has remained unexposed to the world because of the lack of media presence in the area, India’s passivity and Pakistan’s ‘Iron-Fist’ policy to supress the movement. Emboldened Pakistan has accelerated the inhuman use of brutal force compelling India to plead for the just cause of Baloch as it has done in the past for Palestine and Bangladesh. Mehran Marri, Baloch representative at European Union, has said, “As India intervened in Bangladesh to stop the genocide on the people of Bangladesh, we are hopeful the same will happen with us because we are suffering genocide at the hands of Pakistan military and Pakistan.” The question is to what extent government of India is willing to involve itself in the Baloch freedom movement?

Baluchistan is important for India due to its strategic location, strategic minerals and energy resources. Abhinav Pandya, an international research scholar, terms Baluchistan as “Pakistan’s soft underbelly,” where Pakistan’s nukes are hidden. As an important regional power, its India’s obligation to internationally expose Pakistan for its grim Human Rights record in the region. India also has to carefully examine the implications of a ‘disintegrated Pakistan’ versus a ‘unified Pakistan’ for peace and stability in South Asia because if Baluchistan secedes Sindh will follow soon followed by the Pushtoons. The likelihood of its nuclear arsenal being misused is another issue that would bother Indian planners. India also has to take into account the sensitivities of other stakeholders in the region namely, Iran, Afghanistan, China and US and ensure that it does not become the epicentre of a new ‘great game’ in the region. A confluence of interests between India, Afghanistan and USA is likely while China will vehemently oppose any move to liberate Baluchistan due to the fear of losing Gwadar, a serious blow to its economic and military ambition. Iran’s fears of the Baloch national movement spilling over to its Sistan province need to be discussed with the former and taken on board.

To my mind, India’s involvement in Baluchistan should be graduated. To begin with, Indian media has to play a major role in exposing Pakistan’s atrocities on the hapless Baluchis through a sustained media campaign to build a favourable international opinion against Pakistan and isolate Pakistan not only as an epicentre of jihadi terror but also as a perpetrator of inhuman atrocities on its people and gross violator of human rights. India must forcefully raise the issue in forthcoming UN General Assembly meet to draw international attention to the genocide in Baluchistan and the ongoing freedom movement therein. Last but not the least India must provide unequivocal moral and political support to the Baloch freedom movement while seeking a peaceful resolution of the problem.

Courtesy: Scoop News

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