When Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned the human rights violation in Balochistan in his Independence Day speech, he was perceived to have done the unthinkable. Breaking the taboo of non-interference in internal affairs of other countries, India set the ball rolling, leaving Pakistan scurrying to save its face on the global stage. Here’s a breakdown of things you ought to know about the issue:
The Balochistan province -- home to the Baloch ethno-linguistic group found mostly in Pak, Iran and Afghanistan -- was divided into four princely states, which were forcefully acceded to Pakistan. Expectedly, the Balochs feel suppressed and exploited under the dominant Punjabis and therefore demand greater autonomy and an independent nation-state.
2. Ethnicity before religion
Baloch people are ethnically, culturally and socially different from the rest of Pakistan. The Balochistan nationalism movement propagates the view that Muslims are not a nation (the opposite of the concept behind the creation of Pakistan) and that ethnic loyalty must surpass religious loyalty, therefore demanding a distinct nation.
3. Repeated insurgencies
Insurgencies by Baloch nationalists have been fought by Pak in 1948, 1958–59, 1962–63 and 1973–77 – with an ongoing and reportedly stronger and broader insurgency beginning in 2003, owing to the growing instability at the federal level and neighbouring Afghanistan.
The Balochistan Liberation Army, designated as a terrorist organisation by Pakistan, is the most widely-known Baloch separatist group which has waged guerrilla war against Pakistan and Iran
4. Balochistan is half of Pakistan!
Balochistan covers about 44% of Pakistan -- leaving the country in half, should it split.
Being the largest of the 4 provinces in Pakistan, Balochistan houses 1.3 crore people – which is a mere 7% of the total population. Most of the inhabitants are Baloch; other communities include Pashtuns and Brahuis.
5. Rich, yet poor
The province is extremely strategic, sharing borders with Punjab, Sindh, Afghanistan and Iran. It is rich in oil, gas, copper and gold, making it economically significant to Pakistan. Despite being rich in natural resources, it is the most backward region in Pakistan.
6. Pakistani Atrocities
Pakistani security forces are accused of illegally detaining 19,000 men, women and children in Balochistan, many of whom have been raped and killed.
In 2008 alone, an estimated 1102 Baloch people disappeared. An increasing number of bodies with burn marks, broken limbs, nails pulled out, and sometimes with holes drilled in their heads are being found on roads as the result of a "kill and dump" campaign conducted by Pakistani security forces, particularly Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Frontier Corps (FC) – which, until the 9/11 Trade Centre attacks, had sided with the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda
7. Role of RAW
Pakistan has been accusing India of running terrorist activities as well as helping Baloch nationalists. Weeks back, when a terrorist attack killed over 50 people in Quetta, Balochistan, the Pakistani Chief Minister blamed RAW (Research and Analysis Wing), the foreign intelligence agency of India. Pakistan could never produce any substantial proof against India.
8. Balochistan welcomes India’s tough stand
Various Baloch nationalist organisations in Balochistan as well as those based in USA and Europe have welcomed Modi’s unexpected support. With not a single country coming forward to support, despite the community’s incessant plea for humanitarian help, he is the first Prime Minister in the world to have spoken of the Baloch and their sufferings. Thus, it is a great breakthrough.
9. Effect on Indo-Pak Ties
Modi’s talk on Balochistan was a new low to the bilateral ties. Pakistan is expectedly furious after India hit it where it hurts the most; with its media warning Baloch people not to take India’s support. It is of the view that India was trying to divert global attention from the alleged tragedies in Kashmir.
India stayed away from making comments on internal matters of Pakistan as it gave it a moral high ground at the international level, despite Pakistan repeatedly stoking the Kashmir issue. However, the high ground hasn’t been particularly beneficial.
10. Role of international actors
IRAQ: In February 1973, Pakistani raided the Iraqi embassy in Islamabad, seizing a large cache of small arms, ammunition and grenades believed to be destined for Baloch rebels. Pakistan blamed it on India, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Soviet Union in a letter to the then US President Nixon.
US: Both Pak and Iran have repeatedly claimed that US sided with and encouraged the Baloch nationalists. In 2011, the Balochistan conflict became the focus of dialogue on a new US South Asia strategy brought up by some US congressmen