A recent escalation in violence underscores the pressing need for a human rights-based solution to the challenges, violations and brutality faced by the Baloch people. Vanessa Thevathasan and Monomita Raksit recently spoke with human rights and political activists, closely linked with the International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, on the case for Balochistan self-determination. For security reasons, the names of the activists have been withheld.
Why are you pushing for self-determination for Balochistan?
The Baloch nation is one of the most ancient in the region. Baloch lived in their homeland for thousands of years and had their own sovereign state until the arrival of the British in 1839. British colonialism and subsequent Persian and Punjabi Muslim occupations of Balochistan are illegal and immoral. Baloch has the same rights as any other free nation, to be free from subjugation and to determine its own affairs and future. Freedom is our most natural, inherent right. In its absence there will never be democracy, stability, security and prosperity in the region.
Do you believe the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is involved in the oppression of the Baloch people? Do you have any evidence to support it?
From the day Eastern Balochistan was illegally occupied in 1948 it has effectively been under the direct control of Punjabi army and security forces. After crushing the Baloch liberation movement in the 1970s, they have steadily increased their power. ISI works in Balochistan openly. To display their power they come in broad daylight, pick up whoever they wish to pick up, take them wherever they wish, and kill them whenever they want. For this reason, the state of Pakistan and army does not allow any independent media or researcher to investigate the crimes against humanity in Balochistan. The Pakistani high court has acknowledged the direct involvement of the ISI in the abduction and disappearance of Baloch political and human rights activists. But even the court could not do much about it.
In fact, many Pakistani spy agencies are involved in Balochistan, including Military Intelligence, ISI and the Intelligence Bureau, and all are involved in human rights violations. The fact that there are many spy agencies in occupied Balochistan was accepted by current Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in a parliamentary speech, when he said “if so many agencies, with so many resources, cannot handle the security situation what else can our government provide them?”
What is your opinion of the more violent Baloch separatist groups like the Baloch Liberation Army and the Baloch Republican Army? How connected are they to you? Do you feel they help or hinder your work with the International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons?
We would object to phrases such as “violent Baloch separatist groups.” First Baloch are not separatists. Baloch and Balochistan have been there for thousands of years. We had an independent state from 1666 to 1839 when the British Imperial army invaded Balochistan and subsequently divided it into three parts. Then Persian and Punjabi armies invaded our homeland in the 1920s and 1940s, respectively. Nobody called the French, the Dutch, the Czech and Polish resistance groups against the German fascist invaders violent separatists. There are many Baloch resistance groups in Balochistan who operate according to international law and Geneva conventions. Every human being and nationality has the right of self defense and self preservation. Nobody can deny these rights to us. We have no connection with the groups you cite but as long as they operate within the parameters of international law and humanity we will support them. Violence and exploitation have been imposed on Baloch by invading armies, security forces, and their fundamentalist jihadist proxies. We have the right to resist these invading forces and push them out of our homeland.
What do you seek from the international community?
We want the international community to recognize our inherent democratic rights. It should acknowledge that our homeland has been occupied by foreign forces and we have the right to determine our own destiny and future. We want the international community to send observers to Balochistan to investigate the crimes against humanity committed by the occupying states of Pakistan and Iran. They should put pressure on these states and stop assisting them, financially or otherwise. They should make their support conditional on human rights conventions and practices. We want all open and democratic nations to be on our side but particularly European democracies, the U.K., and the U.S.
How do you want to see the conflict in Balochistan ending, realistically speaking?
The most humane and democratic option for Balochistan is the Czechoslovakian solution. That is to let each nation go their own way and become independent. Only free nations cooperate on the principle of mutual interest and respect.
Is India supporting either you or the BLA/BRA groups?
No state is supporting the Baloch resistance movement. If we had some support we would be liberated by now.
Are you aware of any Chinese or Iranian involvement in this conflict?
Of course, as we said earlier Iran is directly involved and the Iranian and Pakistani states work very closely to crush the Baloch liberation movement. For example, Iranian forces arrested Mohammad Younus Baloch , an activist. He was then handed over to Pakistani security forces, who tortured and killed him. Pakistani forces arrested Abdul Hamid Regi (Abdolhamid Rigi) and handed him over to the Iranian government. He was tortured and hanged.
The Chinese are more interested in Balochistan’s natural resources and strategic location. As long as Pakistan and Iran can protect their interests they will support these regimes. Currently all of these undemocratic regimes are working together against the Baloch. Pakistan has signed many contracts with China for Balochistan natural resources. Nobody knows what the Chinese are doing in Balochistan. The contracts were signed in total secrecy between the Punjabi rulers and their Chinese counterpart. These Chinese interests are highly guarded. So the Baloch have no knowledge of the extent of exploitation of their natural resources and the revenue generated. China is involved in several exploitation projects in Balochistan, namely the Saindark Project and Kachchi Cabal Project.
Do you see many similarities between your struggle and that of the Kurds or the Kashmiris?
The Kurds are our closest cousins. The Baloch liberation movement is a secular democratic movement similar to that of the Kurdish liberation movement.
What are your concerns regarding the recent escalation in violence, which saw the death of journalist Irshad Mastoi and the attacks on schools?
There has always been state violence in Balochistan and Irshad Mastoi is not the first journalist to have been killed. Around 24 journalists from Balochistan have been killed by Pakistani security forces. Some have been abducted and killed in custody while others were assassinated. Our main concern as a nation is of course the occupation of our sovereign country by Pakistan and the human rights violations that followed. Attacks on schools are new. The Pakistanis are paranoid of Baloch children receiving an education, especially in English, because they know that the more educated the Baloch youth become the more they will be aware of their rights and the better they will expose Pakistan’s crimes against humanity. That is why they are trying to keep Baloch children away from education and knowledge.
Given what is taking place in Iraq with the takeover of ISIS in the north and eastern part of Iraq, do you fear a similar fate in Balochistan of it were to gain independence?
The short answer is no. The main threats to Balochistan independence are from Pakistan and Iran. After the disintegration of these colonial geopolitical structures, these establishments will be too weak and poor so they will find it practically impossible to manage their own affairs let alone muddle in the affairs of their neighbors. In contrast, the ISIS is a reflection of the unresolved question of Arab nationalism and the ideology of Islamic imperialism. For most Arabs, the division of their land into somewhat arbitrary states is unacceptable and several attempts have been made since the First World War to unify what they regard as their land. ISIS principles are the same as those who are currently in charge of Balochistan. But the Baloch way of life, culture, morals, and social values are in stark contrast to those of ISIS and the theocratic colonial states of Pakistan and Iran.
Do you think a response of fighting extremism will resonate with the international community, given that human rights issues in Balochistan rarely feature in international news?
The extremism mess is actually created by Pakistan for its own interests at the expense of other nationalities. We believe that Pakistan is using Islamic fundamentalism as a tool for regional hegemony, as in Afghanistan, Kashmir and other areas. Baloch culture is a strong frontier against this extremism, that’s why we can see Pakistan trying its best to radicalize our nation. The burning of schools and paving the way for state funded madrasas is Pakistan’s strategy for countering the Baloch democratic movement.
Follow Vanessa Thevathasan on Twitter @VThevathasan.