Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to Balochistan during his Independence Day address will be long remembered. He stated that in recent days, the people of Balochistan, Gilgit and PoK had thanked him for his earlier reference to the violations of their human rights. Modi added that by honouring him, they were honouring the 1.25 billion people of India. Modi was responding to sentiments voiced in Balochistan, because unlike in the past, a number of Baloch activists were permitted to visit India in recent months. They thanked him and the people of India for being able to recount the horrors of the persecution and violence they faced in Balochistan from the Pakistan army.
Balochistan is the largest and mineral-rich province in Pakistan. The Balochs have always maintained that they never acceded to Pakistan and that Mohammed Ali Jinnah had assured them that the Kingdom of Kalat (Balochistan) was an independent entity from Pakistan. Ten days before Pak’s independence, Jinnah proclaimed that Kalat would be independent. The agreement said: “Kalat will be independent on August 5, 1947, enjoying the same status it originally held in 1838, having friendly relations with its neighbours.” Moreover on August 11, 1947, the communiqué issued after the meeting between Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, Jinnah and Khan (ruler) of Kalat stated: “The Government of Pakistan recognises Kalat as an independent sovereign state in treaty relations with the British government, with a status different from that of other Indian states.” Jinnah never kept his word and Kalat was taken over by force in 1948, sparking bloody conflicts between the Baloch people and Pakistan, which continue even today.
General Tikka Khan, who was called the “Butcher of Balochistan” after being described as the “Butcher of Bangladesh” in 1971, crushed two armed struggles waged by them in the 1950s and 1970s. The Baloch revolts spearheaded by the three major tribes—the Bugtis, Marris and Mengals—led to the freedom fighters taking refuge in Afghanistan. While there was cooperation in the 1970s between Pakistan and Iran, which has a substantial Baloch population in its Sistan Balochistan Province, the latter turned hostile to the Pakistan army under Musharraf, which was using a Sunni extremist group, the Jundallah, to promote terrorism in Iran. Such support was provided to Baloch rebels in Iran earlier, by Syria, Iraq and the Soviet Union. Thus, earlier inhibitions that India had in associating with the Baloch cause because of its good relations with Iran no longer exist. The Pakistani Baloch are welcome in Afghanistan and not seen as a threat by Iran. Pakistan, in fact, accuses Afghanistan of working together with India, on Balochistan.
In these circumstances, it is imperative that India should continue its diplomatic support to expose the human rights violations in Balochistan. This would involve mobilising civil society groups and the media worldwide, in consultation with Baloch freedom fighters that have managed to
escape from Pakistan and seek refuge abroad. Brahamdagh Bugti, whose grandfather Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed in 2006, lives in Switzerland, while the scion of the leadership of the Marri tribe, Hyrbyair Marri, lives in London, as does the present Khan of Kalat. These are persons who yearn for freedom from the repression let loose by the Pakistan army. Uniting these diverse groups for common endeavour is important. Balochistan is the key to attempts being made by Pakistan and China to link the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor with the Indian Ocean at the strategically located Balochistan port of Gwadar.
The writer is a former diplomat