By B. Raman
Against great odds, the Baloch freedom-fighters, who started their second war of independence in 2005, have managed to keep up their valiant struggle for the independence of their homeland.
Despite repression and torture by the Pakistani Army, its Frontier Corps and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the freedom-fighters, operating in different groups under different names, have managed to steadily weaken the hold of the Pakistani security forces and intelligence in their homeland and challenge the attempts of the Pakistani authorities to deprive the Balochs of their natural resources such as the Sui gas which were being diverted for the benefit of the Punjabis.
Despite repeated expressions of their interest in finding a political solution to the grievances of the Balochs ranging from greater and genuine autonomy to independence, the mainstream political parties of Pakistan such as the Pakistan People’s Party of President Asif Ali Zardari and the two factions of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) led by Mr.Nawaz Sharif and Chaudhury Shujat Hussain have not taken any action to withdraw the security forces from Balochistan, release all political prisoners and put an end to the obnoxious practice of missing persons.
Under this practice, Baloch youth perceived as hostile to the Army and the ISI are kidnapped by the intelligence agencies for illegal detention. They are projected by the police as having joined the militancy and hence missing from their homes. Weeks and months later, their mutilated bodies are found thrown in remote areas of the province.
The Pakistani Supreme Court as well as Pakistani human rights organisations and activists have increasingly drawn attention to the serious violations of the human rights of the Balochs and to the continuing obnoxious practice of missing persons. The Baloch grievances now receive greater attention from enlightened sections of the Pakistani society as well as political elements and human rights activists in the US and the European Union countries. In recent months, there was greater sympathy for Baloch rights in some sections of the US Congress.
The Baloch freedom-fighters operating from Balochistan and Baloch political activists in the Baloch diaspora in the US and Europe have for the first time succeeded in creating a growing understanding of the Baloch cause and the Baloch political and economic grievances.
The deterioration in the relations between Washington DC and Islamabad after the Abbottabad raid of May 2 last year by the US Navy Seals to kill Osama bin Laden also created for the first time greater empathy for the Baloch cause in sections of the US political circles. There was greater interest in what was happening in Balochistan and a greater dissemination of correct information regarding the real state of affairs in Balochistan. This was a positive gain for the Baloch freedom-struggle and a significant strategic step forward. From a war of tactics, the freedom-struggle seemed to be moving towards a strategic war with greater thinking and debate on a Baloch vision of the future.
No country in the world was officially prepared to support the Baloch freedom struggle. No State could have supported the freedom struggle and the objective of an independent Balochistan. That could have been projected by Islamabad as amounting to interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan. But there was growing sympathy for the Baloch cause and vision in sections of the civil societies of different countries.
Despite these strategic gains of recent months, the Baloch freedom-fighters are still far from their ultimate objective of an independent Balochistan. Lack of unity among different organisations in Balochistan itself and among different diaspora groups abroad continue to stand in the way of unity of action to give a final decisive push forward to the independence struggle. Unless the persisting factionalism and ego clashes among different Baloch leaders is put an end to and a unified leadership starts guiding the movement, the enormous sacrifices being made by Balochistan’s GenNext may prove to be in vain. This is an issue that needs attention from all Baloch leaders and activists.
They don’t have the luxury of time. They already seem to have missed the window of opportunity provided by the intense distrust of the Pakistani Army and Intelligence in the US political and administrative circles after the Abbottabad raid and the US discovery that the Pakistan Army and its ISI, while pretending to fight against Al Qaeda and its associates, have actually been acting in collusion with them.
As the US Presidential elections approach in November next, the US itself as well as other NATO countries seem to be in a hurry to start the process of disengagement from Afghanistan. The recent decision by the US to mend fences with Pakistan at least tactically if not strategically to facilitate the on-coming process of disengagement is likely to have unfortunate consequences for the Baloch freedom struggle. Those in the US, who had started evincing increasing interest in the Baloch cause and struggle, may start developing second thoughts about the wisdom of continuing to show empathy for the Balochs at a time when the US might need the co-operation of the Pakistani State to disengage from Afghanistan. At this time, when greater Baloch unity is needed, if the different groups continue to indulge in ego clashes, the State of Pakistan might be the beneficiary.
Since the beginning of this year, the Pakistani Army and ISI have been following an insidious new policy in Balochistan in an attempt to discredit the Baloch freedom-fighters in the eyes of Western public opinion as terrorists. There has been a wave of massacres of Shias in Balochistan—some settlers from Punjab and many members of the Hazara tribal community. Over 80 Shia fatalities have been reported in the last six months as a result of the targeted attacks on the Shias.
The Sunni extremist Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) of Pakistan, which had helped the Afghan Taliban in carrying out massacres of the Hazara Shias of Afghanistan before the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, has claimed responsibility for some of these massacres in Balochistan. The Pakistan Army and ISI have not taken any action against the LEJ and to protect the Shias. Instead, one could discern the beginning of an insidious campaign by the ISI to project these massacres as carried out by sections of the Baloch freedom fighters because many of the Shias had migrated from Punjab. This insidious campaign needs to be effectively countered by the Baloch activists.
As the NATO powers start the process of disengaging from Afghanistan and seek the co-operation of the Pakistan Army and ISI for this purpose, support for the Baloch cause in sections of Western societies may freeze and even start declining. How to prevent this is a question that needs the serious attention of the strategists of the Baloch freedom struggle. The Baloch vision will remain the same, but there is going to be a need for a new Baloch strategy to give shape to this vision at a time of unpredictable transition in Afghanistan.
The previous Baloch freedom struggle petered out after the Soviet disengagement from Afghanistan post-1988.History could repeat itself after the forthcoming NATO disengagement, unless the Baloch leaders unite and evolve a new strategy to meet the newly-developing situation. It has to be an indigenous strategy and not one spoon-fed from outside.