While India and Pakistan prepare to celebrate their respective independence days in the next few days, a region in Pakistan is actually celebrating their Independence Day today. Not many are aware that August 11 marks the Independence Day of Balochistan, the southwestern region of the country which has been fighting to regain its independence.
According to a section of Baloch people, they got independence from the British on 11th August 1947, but the independence was extremely short-lived. On 27th March 1948, Pakistan occupied Balochistan and continues to occupy it till today.
According to reports, a Standstill Agreement was signed between Kalat and Pakistan on August 11, 1947, under British supervision, recognising Kalat as an independent state. Kalat was the name given to what is now known as Balochistan, a province of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan and Iran. Pakistan, however, acquired the province in 1948.
According to media accounts, Pakistan wanted Balochistan to be merged into its federation. Pakistan’s first Governor-General and Muslim League leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah presented this proposal to the Khan of Kalat and offered him to join their federation.
The Khan of Kalat established the House of Commons and the House of Lords in Balochistan within 24 hours after the country’s proclamation of independence in 1947. The conference of Balochistan’s two houses was convened by Khan of Kalat on December 16th, 1947, to examine the prospect of joining Pakistan. The lawmakers of both Houses opposed joining Pakistan. The Khan of Kalat and his family were then imprisoned within the palace while Pakistan invaded Balochistan and seized power.
The Pakistani establishment however disputes this assertion, claiming that Balochistan consisted of four provinces of Makran, LasBela, Kharan and Kalat. It said that among the provinces, all were willing to join Pakistan except Kalat, but due to a past treaty, it was incorporated into the country.
The Baloch nation has, however, been opposing Pakistani rule in Balochistan since March 27, 1948, and is still struggling for the restoration of their lost freedom. From Prince Abdul Karim to Nawab Khair Buksh Marri several veteran Baloch leaders have termed the annexation of Balochistan with Pakistan “a forceful occupation”. On the other hand, Pakistan terms this annexation as a merger of Islamic brotherhood.
Since 1948, many cycles of violence had been erupting, each growing in scope and intensity. From 1948 till the present, there have been five distinct insurgencies in Balochistan. Following the initial insurgency in 1948, the Baloch launched a rebellion against the state three times in 1958, 1963–69, 1973–77 respectively.
At the end of the 1990s, the fifth phase of the Baloch insurgency against the Pakistan state began. Under the direction of the late Nawab Khair Buksh Marri, the current battle for a free Baloch state got underway. Beginning in the year 2000, the Baloch Liberation Army fought a conflict in Balochistan with Pakistani forces. After the assassination of senior Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan.
Bugti in August 2006, the violence eventually swept throughout Balochistan. Following Bugti’s death, there was a surge in support for an independent state.
Baloch Student Organisation Azad (BSO-Azad), Baloch National Movement and Baloch Republican Party became the faces of the political front against the state atrocities, they were advocating for the freedom of Balochistan and campaigning against the human rights violations in Balochistan.
The demand for Balochistan to become an autonomous state is motivated by a number of historical, social, political, and economic factors. The first and the primary factor is its history of marginalisation following its forced integration into Pakistan. Despite being Pakistan’s largest province, Balochistan has virtually little influence over the military and political decisions made in Islamabad. The second reason concerns its economic and social underdevelopment.
For years the people of Baloch have continued to feel a deep sense of insecurity and disgruntlement against the Pakistani regime. Various human rights organisations have, over the years, brought forward a number of charges of human rights violations. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) believes that the atrocities on the people of Baloch have reached “epidemic proportions” with the Pakistani government doing little to curtail these violations, which range from torture, extrajudicial executions and the inexplicable disappearance of those who disagree with the Pakistan military.
According to reports, in 2009, the Pakistani government implemented the “Kill and Dump” policy. Numerous political and student activists have been extrajudicially killed since 2009. By the end of 2014, political and student participation in Balochistan had become impossible since anybody who tried to criticise the government’s atrocities was hunted down by the Pakistani soldiers.
Enforced disappearances on the rise and extra-judicial killings in Balochistan
According to the Human Rights Council of Balochistan, 177 people were slain and 480 people forcefully disappeared in the province in 2020. In Balochistan, there has been an upsurge in false encounters, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, target killings, torture, collective punishment, and the murdering of women for honour, according to the Human Rights Commission of Balochistan’s annual report for 2021. According to the study, the Police’s Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) conducted 47 fake encounters. According to the HRC of Balochistan, 366 people were killed and 442 went missing in only 2021. One hundred and seventy of them, supposedly, were freed after being tortured, but 272 were still missing.
According to the report, not only in Balochistan but also in other regions of Pakistan, the military and its shadow groups continue to target students as their main target. During military operations, entire villages are bulldozed. Families from rural regions have vanished in large numbers, leaving no traces behind. Figures from the Human Rights Council of Balochistan show that only in the month of December 2021, 37 individuals were slain and more than 63 went missing in various locations around the troubled and unstable province. By 2022, there were allegedly 22,600 names on the list of Balochistan residents who had vanished.
Atrocities against Baloch women and children
According to a recent police report from the Punjab province, over 41,000 women were reported missing from the area in the previous five years, with a startling 3,571 of them still unaccounted for. According to the HRW’s Annual World Report 2022, Pakistan, which is ranked 167 out of 170 nations on Georgetown University’s Global Women, Peace and Security Index, has committed serious rights violations against women and children.
“Violence against women and girls, including rape, murder, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriage, is endemic throughout Balochistan. Human rights defenders estimate that roughly 1,000 women are killed in so-called honour killings every year,” the HRW report stated.
Women suffer from a variety of forms of social abuse and brutality, such as forced marriages, forced conversions, imposed seclusion, and being used as property to resolve tribal conflicts.
According to a study published by the Aurat Foundation Balochistan, there were 129 occurrences of violence against women in total in 2021. According to the research, Quetta, the province capital, is at the top of the list since there were the most instances (129) there. In 2021, there were 33 violent occurrences, including 12 cases of torture, three rape, and two honour killings.
In several industries across the nation, the use of forced and bonded labour was pervasive and ubiquitous. According to an NGO that focuses on bonded labour, 4.5 million employees across the country are forced into this type of job, especially in Sindh and Punjab but also in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
According to a survey from the UN Development Program, minors made up more than 70% of bonded labourers. Balochistan has about 15,000 underage workers in the coal mines, car shops, building sites, and waste collection.
The Silence of International Organisations on Balochistan
The Human Rights activists in Balochistan have time and again emphasised the need for international organisations such as the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, European Council, Human Rights Without Frontiers, etc. to take cognisance of the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan. Besides requesting them to set up their offices in Balochistan, they have demanded reports on the deaths of civilians at the hands of the Pakistani army.
They have demanded trial against guilty army personnel and high-ranking officers for crimes against humanity. Owing to the atrocities perpetrated on the people of Balochistan, they have demanded freedom from the Punjabi-dominated army. Several people are forced to pick up arms and resist the tyrannical army. Locals say, “This vicious circle of exploitation and Human Rights abuse will end only when they get freedom. Till then their freedom struggle will continue.”