Just before imposing new sanctions on Iran, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the country’s “Cabinet is in disarray, and the Iranian people are raising their voices even louder against a corrupt and hypocritical regime”. While this is clearly true, it is also true that sanctions alone are unlikely to topple the government or force democratic reforms. For that to happen, foreign governments and domestic opposition leaders must take another critical step — to finally acknowledge the importance of the country’s ethnic minorities and develop policies to address their demands.
As Pompeo noted, Iran’s leaders have been facing significant pressure from within. A major driving force of the anti-government activity has been ethnic minority groups, in particular the Kurds, Azerbaijanis, Ahvaz Arabs and Baluch. Each has long engaged in protests, over issues ranging from the right to use native languages in schools and courts, to local health and environmental concerns, to broader calls for the end of the regime.
Baloch anger is not against the ethnic mix, it is rooted in poverty and the systematic denial of opportunities by the Pakistani establishment.
The November 23 attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi by Baloch separatists brought into global view, once more, the Baloch trauma. The Balochistan Liberation Army, which claimed responsibility for the attack, had warned the Chinese authorities against “exploitation of Balochistan’s mineral wealth and occupation of the Baloch territory”.
Regrettable as violence in any form is, this incident is an unfortunate reminder that Baloch complaints cannot forever be ignored. In fact, the constant refrain through Pakistan’s 70-year history is this: Balochistan appears to be on the boil again.