Images of Baloch slavery appear nonstop, but what are the options? By Ahmar Mustikhan

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It is heart wrenching to watch on the social media. Different images of Baloch slavery in Pakistan that keep on appearing, month after month, nonstop.

In January, there were pictures showing women walking towards the home of Banuk Karima Baloch in Tump, whose body was found drowned in a lake in Toronto. All kinds of hurdles were created right from literally hijacking Karima Baloch’s coffin after it arrived from Toronto at the Karachi airport, to thwarting funeral prayers in the Baloch stronghold of Lyari in Karachi, to even snatching Quran from the hands of women mourners at her graveside. This means the Baloch are stopped from exercising their religion as guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In February, the cries of Haseeba Qambrani and other Baloch mothers, sisters and daughters for freedom of victims of enforced disappearances, were seen and heard on the social media camping out next to bonfires on freezing nights in Islamabad. These families went to Islamabad after protesting on outside the press clubs in Quetta and Karachi for many years now. The entreaties of thousands of Baloch families have fallen on deaf ears: the camp for “missing persons,” the name given to victim of enforced disappearances, in front of the Quetta Press Club enters 4,300 days on May 1. Though the United Nations calls enforced disappearances a heinous crime, Pakistan’s policy of enforced disappearances continues unabated in Balochistan.

In March, fearless activist Mahrang Baloch, whose father was tortured to death, and intellectual Shah Mohammed Marri are seen squatting at a public park in the company of scores of Baloch youth to hold a talk on Baloch history and society after the Karachi Arts Council cancels the event at the last minute on the pressure of the Inter Services Intelligence. This was most shocking as the Karachi Arts Council is called the Hyde Park of Pakistan as it had enjoyed a reputation of being a haven for dissenting views. This meant the Baloch have no avenue anywhere in Pakistan to exercise their freedom of opinion and expression. The cancellation of the event at the Karachi Arts Council showed that despite being the rightful owners of more than 40 percent of the country’s  land, Baloch have no place on Pakistan’s table—not even at centers of liberal thought in the country’s most populous city Karachi, which they controlled at the time of the 1947 partition.

Or in April, the sight of thousands of mini-trucks and motorbikes, carrying oil, stranded on the borders with Iran— the artificial Goldsmith line drawn by the British in 1871–, in Mekran. Pakistan’s Frontier Corps closed the borders, forcing thousands to face hunger and thirst. Four drivers died. “Family members of one of the deceased drivers, identified as Fazal Ahmed, said that people with stranded vehicles were facing acute shortage of food and water due to closure of the border with Iran,” Dawn newspaper reported. The Pakistani action pushed thousands of Baloch families to the brink of famine and destitution in contravention of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

And again, in April, protesters blocking roads and holding the picture of a minor boy from Hoshab in Kech district, allegedly raped by a soldier of the Frontier Corps. According to the Office of the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, “Sexual violence against children during conflict is one of the six grave violations identified and condemned by the UN Security Council... Sexual violence is increasingly a characteristic of conflict and is often perpetrated against girls and boys in a rule of law vacuum. In some instances, sexual violence has been used as a tactic of war designed to humiliate a population.”

And yet again in April, video of police demolishing centuries old villages of Baloch and Sindhis in Kathore, Malir district of Karachi, to benefit Bahria Town developer Malik Riaz Husain, who openly boasts about his army links and corrupt practice. This is in clear violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People which says “States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources...”

Last year, one image that shook the world was from August 13, 2020. A brilliant student Hayat Baloch, 25, was shot dead by the Frontier Corps in Absor, Kech district. His grieving parents are seen weeping next to his blood-soaked body, with his mother’s hands raised towards the skies asking God for justice. The picture of the extrajudicial killing of the promising Baloch youth sent a chilling message: there is little hope for justice for the Baloch in Pakistan.

So what are the Baloch options? Exposing state atrocities and ending enforced disappearances are noble goals, but clearly more needs to be done for a better tomorrow.

Most importantly, the politics should be data driven featuring issues such as the infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, school enrollment, percentage of population living below the poverty line, Baloch share in their own resources and jobs.

On top of the laundry list is political organization: formation of a patriotic, united front, that could lead to a massive political mobilization of the Baloch people for their right to self-determination. While all forms of struggle must be carefully embraced, the political leadership should have a final say in matters of strategy and tactics and on deciding both short- and long-term goals.

Anti-democratic viewpoints parroted in the last more than 40 years, such as elections cannot solve Baloch issues, need to be consigned to the dustbin of history. Without proving mass support and thus political legitimacy by winning elections, there is no possible way to garner the support of the free world to the Baloch cause.

The next general elections in Pakistan are barely two years away and work should begin on a united front that should focus on isolating the cronies of the military and intelligence agencies, those known to be corrupt, tribal despots and the religious bigots.

At the national level, closer work is needed with the other nationalities, Sindhis, Pashtuns and Seraikis and persecuted minorities Hindus, Christians, Hazaras, Ahmadis and Shias.

At the international level, there is a need for bonding with the Uyghurs and Tibetans. After all in the final analysis, Baloch nemesis is not only the Rawalpindi  GHQ but also the Military Commission in Beijing.

(Ahmar Mustikhan is a senior Baloch journalist based in the Washington DC area. Twitter @mustikhan)

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