Umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming, 2016.01.22 | 11 Rabiul Aakhir 1437H
Balochistan, is one Pakistan’s four provinces involved in a bloody civil uprising. We’ve heard little about the Balochistan conflict because the Pakistani military does not allow any foreign journalists into Balochistan, and the locals are too afraid to report on the conflict. Umm Abdillah runs through a basic outline of what’s been called “The Bloodiest War, You’ve Never Heard Of” - a guerilla war being waged by Baloch nationalists against the governments of Pakistan and Iran for economic autonomy and independence. The death rate is alleged to be over 11, 000.
The Baloch are a Muslim ethnic minority with their own language, traditions and culture. Bolochistan is Pakistan’s largest but least populous province, covering forty-four percent of the country’s territory. It is home to about 13 million of Pakistan's estimated 182 million people. The capital city is Quetta. Part of its natural resources provides vast grazing land for cattle and other livestock. Its southern border makes up about two-thirds of the national coastline, giving access to a large pool of fishery resources. The province is ideally situated for trade with Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Persian Gulf countries. Over the last four decades, the province supplied cheap natural gas to Pakistan's economic centres, supporting the country's industrialisation.
Despite this pool of resources, the province has the country's lowest growth record and worst infrastructure, along with its highest rates of poverty, lowest social indicators for health and education and lowest levels of satisfaction with government service delivery. [World Bank study]
Baloch nationalists have fought for independence since the year after the 1947 partition. Reasons for insurgency in Pakistan have been cited as economic, cultural, and involving immigration and human rights. The Bolochi’s also live in Iran and Afghanistan and feel strongly deprived and alienated by their governments there too. The intensity of the conflict has been ebbing and flowing for decades. It broke out anew in Pakistan in 2005 after a Baloch doctor was raped, allegedly, by a military officer.
In Iran, the Shia revolution perceived the predominantly the ‘Sunni’ Baloch as a threat. Sistan-e-Balochistan, the province where Baloch have traditionally lived in Iran, has the country's worst rates for life expectancy, adult literacy, primary school enrollment, access to improved water sources and sanitation, infant mortality rate, of any province in Iran. Despite its important natural resources (gas, gold, copper, oil and uranium), the province has the lowest per capita income in Iran. Iran has cracked down on Baloch-language newspapers, and public schools throughout the country must teach only in Farsi. This means native Balochi speakers fall behind their Farsi speaking peers.
Balochis in Sistan-Balucistan move between the three countries for work and the cross-border channels are also considered key smuggling routes. Some Balochis turn to smuggling drugs. Iran has more than two million drug addicts, and drug-related charges account for 74% of executions. Balochis, who are 2% of Iran’s population, have accounted for at least 20% of executions since 2006, according to figures gathered by a Washington D.C.-based group which tracks human rights abuses in Iran.
Abductions and Torture
According to Human Rights Watch in the period from 2003 to 2012, it is estimated that 8000 people were abducted by Pakistani security forces in Balochistan. 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 roadsides as the result of a "kill and dump" campaign conducted by Pakistani security forces. No one has been held responsible for the crimes.
Future of Balochistan conflict
The future looks bleak. According to Amnesty International, Baloch activists, politicians and student leaders are among those that are being targeted in forced disappearances, abductions, arbitrary arrests and cases of torture and other ill treatment.
Pakistan has repeatedly accused India, and occasionally the U.S. of supporting Baloch rebels in a bid to keep Pakistan unstable. British intelligence officials are convinced of India's covert support for insurgents in Balochistan. Pakistani newspaper reports have also routinely accused Israel of being one of the main sponsors of terrorism in Balochistan.
On the other side, the Pakistani government denies it is depriving Baloch of either their rights or their natural resources without fair recompense.
According to the federal government, the Balochistan provincial government's budget is subsidised by the state, with expenditure outstripping revenue by an incredible 97 percent, $1.62bn, in the last fiscal year.
At an impasse, nationalist leaders, consider that figure to be flawed.
The government and security services deny involvement in kidnappings, and allege it is Baloch separatist groups that are responsible in order to justify escalating their own violence.
Some academics believe that to counter the socially segmented, politically excluded, and economically marginalised, a people-centred development policy is required.
“Countering all past uprisings with the underlying causes of the discontent have not been addressed by the state of Pakistan.”
They further believe Balochistan requires significant resource allocation to bring meaningful changes in living standards due to its vast geography and dispersed population. Also, a disproportionate investment in terms of infrastructural development is required compared to other high-density compact provinces like Punjab and Sindh to make any impact on the socio-economic life of people.
In the meantime, terror attacks and kidnappings continue largely under the radar.
Umm Abdillah is part of development and strategy at Radio Islam's Programming department. Catch her on air hosting The Reminders Programme on Wednesdays between 10-11 am. She can be contacted at email@example.com or @zanah_za on Twitter.