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Baluchistan at the Crossroads

By Alex Bigham, Alex Bigham (Ed.).

Baluchistan Seminar Report

'BALUCHISTAN AT THE CROSSROADS'

27TH JUNE, COMITEE ROOM 16, HOUSE OF COMMONS, 6.00PM

Speakers include:

  • Hugh Barnes, Foreign Policy Centre (Chair)
  • Dr Naseer Dashti
  • Mr Mehran Baloch, Baluchistan Rights Movement
  • Senator Sanaullah Baloch, from Baluchistan
  • Frederic Grare, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Laku Luhana, World Sindhi Congress
  • Ryszard Czarnecki MEP

The seminar 'Baluchistan at the Crossroads' was organised by The Foreign policy Centre in collaboration with Baluchistan Rights Movement on 27th June in the House of Commons. The main objective of the seminar was to gather political analysts, academics, politicians, journalists and others to examine the Baluch issue and to produce, if possible, a policy framework for western governments to engage Pakistan on this issue of critical importance.

The seminar was held to cover issues of vital importance such as the tense relationship between the Baluch people and Pakistan's military government, violations of human rights, the use of natural resources, issues of security and terrorism, and the military operation in Baluchistan.

This report is an edited summary of the proceedings, and not intended to be a verbatim transcript. More details about the Foreign Policy Centre can be found at http://www.fpc.org.uk

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this report are not necessarily those of the Foreign Policy Centre.

Hugh Barnes introduced and chaired the event. He made clear the Foreign Policy Centre's (FPC) commitment as an independent think tank to holding events of this nature with speakers and audience members from each side of the debate. Baluchistan is not an issue that is at the forefront of debate in British politics, and the FPC felt it important to inform parliamentarians, journalists, academics and others of this timely issue.

Dr Naseer Dashti explained some of the historical context to the conflict in Baluchistan, including the role that world powers such as Britain and Russia had played, as well as the tense relationship with Afghanistan. He drew a parallel between the colonial powers, and the ideology of the ruling elite in Pakistan's ruling parties, which has been similar to that of a colonial power. He said that after the demise of colonial rule in Asia and Africa many new states were born with a multi-national and multi-ethnic character, where dominant nations pursued policies of subjugation of smaller nations. He said Pakistan is one such state where the dominating Punjabis have followed a policy of oppression and suppression to colonise other nations in Pakistan. He claimed there was no popular support for such policies in Baluchistan, and that there was a monolithic, absolutist Pakistani identity based on Punjabi nationalism. This ideology had suppressed minority languages and cultures. In addition, there have been many brutal incursions into the province since its incorporation in 1948 – these have been in 1948, 1958 and 1973. These have resulted in many human rights violations.

Baluchistan was founded in 1666, but was divided in the 19th Century by various arbitrary colonial borders, including the Durand line. The desire amongst Baluchs to protect their language, territory and lifestyle led to the armed resistance. They have been excluded from political power and dominated by the Punjabis and their fundamentalist ideology. The government has isolated and exclude the Baluch people in the name of Islamic brotherhood. They've imposed an imported and alien ideology. He concluded by saying that the only viable solution for the Baluch issue is allowing them the right of self determination.

Senator Sana Baloch explained some of the social and economic exploitation of the Baluchi people. He said that Baluchistan has enormous natural wealth which is looted by the central government in collaboration with China while the most of the Baluch people live below poverty line devoid of any basic facilities. He said that 80% of Baluch people lack access to safe water, and many children have no access to education.

At the same time, the Pakistani army has 69 Para-military cantonments, 6 heavy weapon cantonments, 6 naval bases and three nuclear, biological and chemical weapons testing facilities in Baluchistan. Islamabad has supported the 'Talibanisation' of Baluchistan, and sought to get rid of the secular identities that are organic there.

He said that Baluch leaders have tried to engage in dialogue with the Pakistani rulers but they want to keep them as third class citizens and the Baluch nation won't accept this. He said that Pakistani army run media spreads misinformation that only a few sardars (tribal chiefs) are responsible for this problem hey claim that "tribal chiefs are responsible for the backwardness". He said that the sardars who have the worst records of human rights violations are sitting with the current government and those sardars that Pakistani army blame are the patriotic leaders of the Baluch nation who have strived hard and have given personal sacrifices for the progress of Baluch people.

The Pakistani army has approximately 700 checkpoints in the region, which is preventing the free movement of people and goods. He said that there are F-16 fighter jets being used, which have been provided by the US, and other weapons provided by the west. The international community should realise that "they are not using swords against us". He said that the current army presence is about 150,000 and they are conducting a ruthless operation against Baluch people and the international community should strive to stop it.

Mr. Mehran Baloch of the Baluchistan Rights Movement said that the fundamental basis of the problem is that Baluchistan was never a part of Pakistan but was assimilated into Pakistan at gunpoint. We still consider Baluchistan as an occupied country and the Baluch people have suffered the worst subjugation, oppression, and occupation in the past and are still suffering at the hand of Pakistan's Punjabi army.

Mr Baloch questioned what kind of Islamic army is it who killed millions of Bengalis who were Muslims, who raped more then 40,000 women in Bangladesh who were Muslims too? He claimed the Pakistani army killed more Muslims then Israel did. Now they are killing Baloch people in Baluchistan, and are Baluchs not Muslim?

He claimed that Baluch leaders are trying their best to hold the lantern of hope and emancipation for Baluch people. The media and internet sites are now beginning to report on this issue, and they have taken things to the UN, and created archives of all the rights abuses.

He said that Pakistani government has never made a serious move to develop Baluchistan and to understand or rectify the sufferings and root problems of the Baluch nation. Instead, they have strengthened their military yoke to further suppress the Baluch people. The Pakistani army has conducted four military offensives in Baluchistan and is conducting the fifth at this moment. Advanced weaponry including fighter planes, helicopter gunships, and other lethal weapons are being used to bombard the innocent Baluch people. He says that when accusations have been made that jets have bombed civilians, the government has responded by saying "no regular forces have been deployed" - but we don't believe that militias fly fighter jets.

Mehran Baloch said that the military is deliberately trying to support and patronise religious fundamentalism in Baluchistan so that they can use this force for their jihadi purposes and to quell the secular national struggle of Baluch people. He said that the Pakistani army is finding it difficult to keep their atrocities secret. The only amicable solution to this problem is the right of the Baluch people to self determination. He urged western countries in general, and the US and UK in particular to stop providing weapons and fighter planes to the Pakistani army unless the Baluchistan issue is resolved. Otherwise the support which Pakistan gets from the international community in the name of the war on terror is being used to kill Baluch civilians and to destroy Baluch villages.

He said he has sympathy with the plight of the Kashmiris, but he wished that the international community realised that Baluchistan is going through a similar occupation.

He strongly condemned the on going military operation and human rights violations in Baluchistan by the Pakistani army. He said the Army operation which started in Baluchistan on 17th of December 2005 has never stopped but is progressing day by day. Mehran said as recently as last week the Pakistani Army bombed many areas of Kohlu, Kahan and Dera Bugti killing several innocent people. Today no Baluch men, women, children or elderly people are safe from the Pakistani Army and ISI. They can enter any house and pick up anyone whenever they want. He said the worst kind of torture is taking palace in Pakistani Army's private dungeons. Mehran said Pakistan is violating all international human rights laws, but he is surprised that the international community is still not taking any action against the Pakistani army atrocities in Baluchistan.

He said the international community must take action against Pakistan before it's too late, because we don't want to see another Rwanda.

Frederic Grare, a political analyst and academic from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, summarised his paper on 'why Baluchistan matters'. He explained the international significance of Baluchistan in relation to other key regional states, such as Iran and Afghanistan.

He said Baluchistan is critically important for Pakistan due to its natural resources and due to its strategic location. He said that the international importance of Baluchistan includes factors such as US military operations, operations of the Taliban from Quetta and the strategic importance of Marri and Gwadar ports. Pakistan is increasingly becoming the nerve centre of the regional economy, and 20 countries, including western ones, China and India, need to use the Gwadar facilities. He said that the presence of China has also given an additional dimension to the problem. Some have claimed that the Chinese are using Gwadar as a listening post to monitor US military activities in the Persian Gulf region.

In terms of the international dimension to the conflict, it is difficult to establish what is fact and what is rumour. Foreign intervention has been discussed for months, but not by the UN but by the Pakistani government – who see Baluchs as being controlled by India and Afghanistan. Frederic Grare explained the changing approach of Pakistani army toward the BLA (Baluchistan Liberation Army). They have gone from saying that the BLA doesn't exist, to saying that they are run by the Indian intelligence service. Islamabad also suspect Iran of supporting the Baluch case, but this seems incredulous considering Iran is suppressing the Iranian Baluchs in Sistan e Baluchestan. Some suspect, however that Washington would like to use Baluchistan as a base to attack Iran and to get China out of the region – a 21st century version of the 'Great Game'. There is clearly a race to control the oil and gas supply from Central Asia.

He said that Pakistani army and their controlled media is writing about the foreign intervention with supporting theories from USA, India and Iran in the Baluch issue, however, none of these have yet been proven. He reiterated that the main root cause of the problem is the military presence and operations in Baluchistan.

Dr Lakhu Luhana, Secretary General of the World Sindhi Congress, said that Sindhi and Baluch people have historical ties and both the nations are suffering similar colonial suppression in Pakistan. He mentioned that the natural resources of Sindhis have been ruthlessly looted and hundreds of political activists who campaigned against this have been kidnapped. He said the Sindhis, like the Baluchs had never opted to join Pakistan, and there had not been a popular vote.

He said over 70% of the Pakistani budget goes to military expenses and about 3% goes to health and education, and as a result social progress has been minimal. He said that Pakistan is responsible for killing of millions of Bengalis, Baloch and Sindhis and it is a menace for the nations in Pakistan and for regional and global stability. He said the UN charter is not just a piece of paper, but was created around the experience of people during two world wars – it is important to show that humankind can live in peace.

He said that the nation's right of self determination is a basic human right and the only solution is to resort to it to achieve stability and peace in the region.

Ryszard Czarnecki, a member of European Parliament from Poland, said that Pakistan came into existence through restrictive voting and is being ruled by the Punjabi army. He said that the Baluchs are a distinct ethnic group and not part of Pakistan.

He said that the Pakistani army is pursuing a policy of Baluch genocide as described in the reports of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The Pakistani army should stop this operation and stop building military cantonments in Baluchistan for the purpose of subjugating Baluch people. He said that Baluch nationalists were fiercely opposed to the national assembly.

He said that currently gross violations of human rights are taking place in Baluchistan under the hands of Pakistan military. He gave an example of army attack on Dera Bugti where 85% killed were women and children. He said the international community condemn these human rights violations and demand from Pakistan to stop these immediately.

After the contributions from the panel, a heated Q&A session followed with a lively and vigorous debate on various aspects of Baluch conflict. Finally the chair, Hugh Barnes, thanked all the participants and said the presentations from the panel and contributions from the audience had produced a very useful debate on a very important problem of regional and global dimensions. He reiterated that the Foreign Policy Centre will continue with similar debates.