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Pakistan, China Rob Balochs Freedom to Live

Protests in Amsterdam, Berlin on ‘black day’ against forced occupation and annexation of Balochi land marks 76 years struggle for liberation

Rahul Pawa

Seventy-six years ago, on March 27, 1948, Pakistan’s occupation and forceful annexation of Balochistan ignited a bloody conflict that has simmered since decades and claimed innumerable lives. This annexation, far from being a justifiable integration, signalled start of a prolonged struggle for Baloch people, who have since endured relentless torment and despair. Despite passage of time, the spirit of resistance within Balochistan remains undiminished, as its people continue to assert their rejection of Pakistani illegal occupation. This struggle is not just a tale of contested territory but a profound testament to resilience of Baloch peoples’ steadfast in their pursuit of self-determination. 

Baloch account for roughly 15 million of Pakistan’s 240 million people, however, their province, largest in current day Pakistan, stands as the country’s most backward region despite its immense wealth in natural resources. This stark contrast is highlighted by its vast reserves of oil, coal, gold, copper, and gas which significantly contribute to Pakistan’s revenue. Result of, Balochistan has experienced a prolonged period of neglect and exploitation by the Pakistani state, which has primarily focused on exploiting its rich mineral resources without consideration for the people of Balochistan. This exploitation came to a head following Pakistan’s nuclear tests on May 28, 1998, at the Ras Koh mountains in Balochistan, which had devastating environmental and health impacts on the local population. The tests resulted in significant livestock losses and led to increased cancer rates among the Baloch people due to nuclear radiation exposure. These actions have fueled discontent and resistance against the state authorities. In addition to environmental degradation and a public health crisis, the region has been subjected to severe human rights abuses, including enforced disappearances and a notorious “kill and dump” policy of the Pakistan Army. This inhumane treatment has further exacerbated tensions in the occupied territory and fueled discontent leading to resistance against the Pakistani state and highlighted the urgent need for addressing severe human rights concerns in Balochistan. The dire situation in Balochistan, as unveiled in a 2016 United Nations Working Group’s assessment and corroborated by activist accounts, illustrates a severe human rights crisis that has not been adequately reported or acknowledged by the Pakistani state. The discrepancy between the provincial government’s admission of fewer than 100 missing persons and data from local sources of over 14,000 individuals missing underscores a profound transparency and accountability issue. Furthermore, while the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances documented 2,708 missing persons since 2011, activists report a staggering 504 extrajudicial killings within the province in just the previous year alone. These numbers, vastly divergent from official state reports, highlight a critical gap in the state’s acknowledgment and documentation of human rights abuses pointing to state complicity in the violations against the people of Balochistan.

In addition, banking on occupied territories, the province hosts Pakistan’s only deep-sea port at Gwadar. This port, pivotal to the US $65 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a project designed to connect southwestern China with the Arabian Sea via Pakistan, has added another layer of occupation of Baloch lands by the Communist Party of China (CPC) and its People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The strategic significance of Gwadar Port extends beyond economic interests, serving as a key maritime node in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This development aims to expand China’s influence through a vast network of trade routes and infrastructure projects across Asia, Africa, and Europe. However, the expansion of Gwadar Port and the broader CPEC initiative have raised concerns among the Baloch population regarding sovereignty and the fair distribution of resources. These massive infrastructure projects serve the interests of CPC and Pakistani federal stakeholders, compounding environmental impacts, the displacement of local populations, and the alteration of traditional livelihoods. The influx of foreign workers, particularly from China, and the prioritisation of their needs and security have created an environment where the rights and welfare of the local population are sidelined. Reports of forced marriages have sparked outrage, highlighting the exploitation and vulnerability of local communities amidst the sweeping changes brought by these Chinese projects. This scenario is further complicated by extreme instances of human rights violations, including the suppression of dissent, censorship, and the curtailing of freedoms. The Baloch population’s grievances are not limited to economic marginalisation but extend to a profound sense of cultural and societal invasion. The presence of PLA and Pakistani security forces, under the guise of protecting investments, has led to a militarisation of the region, contributing to a climate of occupation, fear and repression.

In the face of persistent human rights abuses and the forceful occupation of their homeland, the Baloch community worldwide observes March 27th as a ‘black day’, symbolising resistance against their land’s forced annexation. Spearheaded by the Baloch National Movement (BNM), significant protests across cities like Amsterdam and Berlin highlight Baloch struggle for freedom, denouncing Pakistan’s oppressive control, amplified by the complicating presence of China’s CPC and PLA through projects like the CPEC. This international outcry, marked by rallies and informative campaigns, not only exposes the dire situation in Balochistan but also calls for global intervention. The Baloch people’s defiance is a plea for recognition of their sovereignty and an end to external exploitations—a clear demand for justice and respect for human rights in the shadow of occupation and exploitation.

 (author is Director – Research at Centre for Integrated and Holistic Studies, a non-partisan think tank based in New Delhi)

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