This is the first part of a series of articles in which Jahanzeb Hussain interviews important figures from Balochistan. The story of Balochistan is one of the most underreported in the world. We are pleased to publish these all-too-rare and wide-ranging interviews in hope that the narrative from Balochistan reaches a wider audience.
Mama Qadeer, Farzana Majeed, Karima Baloch, Khalil Baloch, and Allah Nazar are names unfamiliar to most people in Pakistan, let alone the rest of the world.
Even for educated Pakistanis, Balochistan is mostly out of sight – mere rocks, sand, and the Chaghi Mountains, where Pakistan tested its nuclear bomb.
For the external world, fed on clichés about cloistered Pakistani women, it is hard to imagine that young women in the country’s most economically backward province are braving threats, intimidation and danger from spy agencies, army and paramilitary forces to raise their voices against the war of extermination that the Pakistani state has waged for more than a decade against the people of Balochistan.
Focused on the War on Terror, the international community largely ignores Balochistan, giving the Pakistani state the liberty to carry out massacres against the Baloch people.
Pakistan's importance as an ally to the United States buys it the political and diplomatic protection it needs for its plans in Balochistan. China, with its own regional geopolitical goals and one of Pakistan’s closest allies, is willing to turn a blind eye to the violence in Balochistan. Neighbouring Iran, whose territory contains a major portion of historic Balochistan, has always been a willing collaborator with Pakistan in its suppression of Baloch nationalism.
For many in the so-called Left, especially internationally, Jihadi terrorism is solely a result of American imperialism.
In reality, however, the Pakistani state uses Jihadi proxies to pursue internal and external policies. Pakistan has done so since its birth. The first time tribal militias were mobilized on the basis of religion was in 1947, against India in Kashmir.
Since then, religion and religious militias have been a bedrock of Pakistan’s state-building and security policy. In a country with competing cultures, contested boundaries, and historically established nations, religion has been used by the state to suppress regional nationalism and centrifugal tendencies.
The state of Pakistan, dominated by the central province of Punjab, theologizes the provinces in order to de-politicize and de-nationalize them.
Years before the USSR invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan had started instigating religious movements inside Afghanistan to counter the Afghan nationalist government, since the latter refused to accept the British-imposed Durand Line as a legitimate border dividing the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. During its civil war with East Pakistan – now Bangladesh – in the early 1970s, Pakistan used Jihadi proxies in its genocide against Bengali nationalists. This, too, was long before the US entered Afghanistan.
Religion has also been used in the Pashtun area of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa to counter Pashtun nationalism. Today in the southern province of Sindh, religious seminaries spring up at record pace. In Balochistan, it is no different. As Allah Nazar, Khalil Baloch, and Karima Baloch point out, Pakistan is deploying religious propaganda to dupe the Baloch youth and outsourcing its fight against Baloch nationalists through use of religious militias.
Even though much of Balochistan is under the sway of a tribal system, the Baloch resistance is not a tribal rebellion. It is the uprising of emancipated youth against a colonial system whereby the Pakistani state, after having fraudulently and illegally annexed the territory right after the country's creation, has laid hands on Balochistan’s vast natural resources.
In one interview, Khalil Baloch discusses Pakistan’s colonial plans for Balochistan, along with Chinese regional expansion that affects the Baloch people. Both Khalil Baloch and Allah Nazar help us understand the nationalist character of the uprising. The Baloch people have risen up many times against the Pakistani state. They are now engaged in their fourth uprising since the creation of Pakistan.
The present uprising differs from the previous ones, as Allah Nazar points out. It is not a mere rebellion. It is an organized and determined struggle for independence and freedom. The movement has outgrown its previous tribal limitations, enveloping all the regions of Balochistan. The concept of a common Baloch nationhood outweighs tribal loyalties.
Allah Nazar is right in emphasizing that demography and geopolitical disadvantages are not decisive factors when the dynamics of the struggle confer an inner strength to it. The struggle itself is a unifying factor – it helps forge a nation, especially when a common psychology, high sense of honour and integrity are present, and the collective subconscious is shaped by a history of resistance against occupants and invaders. This explains the depth, the resilience and the capacity of the present struggle to withstand the unprecedented repression.
As has been the case in many different liberation struggles, women rise to the occasion when the right to exist is denied. They are the ultimate depositories of a people’s dignity, survival instinct and will to overcome. The rise of the Baloch women and the prominent role they are now playing in the national resistance is a refutation to those who want to dismiss the Baloch national movement as a case of tribal resistance against modernization.
Figures such as Farzana Majeed and Karima Baloch, who talk in depth about the involvement of women in the freedom struggle, do not emerge in dormant and moribund societies. Pitched against the likes of these women, and people like Mama Qadeer who can march 2000 km at the age of 70 – in comparison, Gandhi walked only 250 miles for his famous Salt March – who are driven by rage over the cruelty and barbarism to which the Baloch are being subjected, the Pakistani state has found more than its match. It is bound to be held accountable sooner than later for its brazen war of extermination against the people of Balochistan.
To say that the people of Balochistan are denied the most basic human rights is an understatement. What they are going through is the systematic killing of the most educated, dynamic and enlightened part of the population: students, intellectuals, professionals, political workers and leaders. It is a clear case of genocide against a poor and downtrodden nation.
More than an option, resistance is an imperative, a condition of survival for the people of Balochistan.
What else do you do when every day the flower of your nation is weeded out – when the youth are brazenly abducted and killed and their mutilated bodies are dumped on roadsides, in ditches and in deserted places?
Submission is not an option when all your enemies want is to deprive you of your very right to exist.