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‘Untold story of Balochistan’: Repression in Pakistan and Chinese discrimination

Balochistan is the most western province of Pakistan, bordering Iran, Afghanistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the Arabian Sea. Balochs, who make up almost 50 percent of Balochistan’s population, arrived in the region in the 14th century CE. Since 1948 when Pakistan annexed the autonomous Baloch state of Kalat, insurgencies have been frequent in Balochistan, which is volatile and rife with historical tensions. Balochs complain about longstanding social and economic neglect, in addition to a deteriorating human rights situation. The deprivation and marginalization they have suffered from Pakistan and Iran have led to a strong desire for liberation among them.

Despite its natural resources, Baluchistan is Pakistan’s largest and poorest province. China’s China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a key part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, has fueled resentment as the money has flowed into the region. Many new jobs have gone to outsiders, locals complain. Throughout the conflict in Balochistan, the stakes have risen as China has increasingly become interested in the country’s copper, gold, gas, and coal deposits.

In different governments, the prospect of Pakistan’s most reliable ally pouring in money excited them while fueling Baloch resentment about how little they would receive in return. Gwadar, a port on the Balochistan coast, near the entrance to the strategic Gulf, is frequently targeted by separatist militants. In 2018, the Baluchistan Liberation Army attacked the Chinese consulate in Karachi, killing four Pakistani police and civilians.

A $46 billion trade route will link western China with Pakistan’s Arabian Sea via roads, railways, and pipelines. As ally China develops mining in Balochistan, militant separatists have waged a long-running insurgency against the state that has gained significant attention. Pakistani families say that men are picked up by the Pakistani security forces, disappear for years, and are sometimes found dead without explanation. One glaring example of this is the arrest of Akhtar Mengal, the Chief Minister of Balochistan, in 2006. While imprisoned, he was denied basic rights such as medical treatment or bedding. In addition, he was kept in a cage during subsequent court proceedings.

In 2019, a federal commission established nine years ago listed 6,506 cases of enforced disappearances. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is a northwestern province with the most migrants. Refugee Karima Mehrab, also known as Karima Baloch, went missing in Toronto’s downtown waterfront area. Her body was found later. Mehrab was a prominent student activist who fought to separate Balochistan from Pakistan, later fleeing to Canada due to threats. BBC named her one of its 100 most inspirational and influential women of 2016. Media reports previously noted the drowning of Sajid Hussain, an exiled Balochistan journalist and activist living in Sweden.

While living in the same region, the ethnic identity of the Baloch has remained in sharp contrast to the ultranationalism that defines the Pakistani state. The Baloch National Party (BNP) left Prime Minister Imran Khan’s parliamentary bloc in 2020, frustrated by unfulfilled promises to address Baloch grievances, including the disappearance issue. Consequently, Pakistani security forces, who see many Baloch nationalist groups as terrorists, have crushed any opposition or demand for reform. Using the military to quell any Baloch uprising has become a norm, and any attempts at protests have been crushed.

Gas was discovered in the province in the 1950s. However, it was largely used to supply Karachi and Punjab, with Quetta, which is the capital of Balochistan, receiving access to these local resources only in the 1980s. Islamabad has provided this natural gas only to army cantonments in Balochistan since then, and as of 2014, 59 percent of Baloch households did not have access to it. Sui Southern Gas Company, which supplies gas to Sindh and Balochistan, reported a shortfall of nearly 40 percent of the gas in January 2020. Combined with the oppression and blatant disregard for the Baloch people, this deprivation is held to be justification for the Baloch’s mounting resentment and growing aspiration for freedom.


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