Baluchis of Pakistan are Muslims by birth and faith but are neglected and discriminated in the Islamic Republic. They have taken their case to the global human rights forum in Geneva, saying that extra judicial killings and the phenomenon of missing persons (people held by the secret services without due process of law) have reduced them to second class citizens.
A common sight on the avenue leading to the five-story Palais Wilson on the western side of Lake Geneva, which was once the headquarters of the short-lived League of Nations, are leaders of Baluch tribe from Pakistan. Their names and their demands are Abracadabra to the hordes of human rights campaigners camping in Geneva. So every time they meet a new interlocutor with a high sounding designation, they begin from the beginning reminding you of Cole Porter's hymn to the nature of human love, "Begin the Beguine".
"It is a frustrating experience", a Baluch youth, who invited me to meet their group, told me. "But what can we do when our resolve is to sensitize you people and draw the world's attention to our plight", he said asking me to identify him simply as Baloch One. His refusal to go on record with his details is probably, because of the fear that the Pakistan state will target his family back home in the Baluchistan province.
"Are you up in arms," I asked him remembering that South Asia is home to many insurgent groups. He did not duck the question but with a wry smile replied: "Well. Some of us. Not all of us".
What are your concerns, demands"?" I asked. Baluch One replied: "We, Baluchis, are simple, hardworking. We want to live with our head held high. Our land is rich. We are the largest province in Pakistan. But we are the most backward. We want development. We want jobs, roads, hospitals".."
"Do you know..." my friend, went on: "Our Pakistan constitution does not discriminate any one of us when it comes to the right to life or for that matter social justice, and economic well-being. What we experience every day, however, is discrimination. Take natural gas for instance. My province daily produces some 604 million cubic feet. All this gas goes to lighthouses, and run factories, not in Baluchistan but in Punjab and Sindh provinces. We are frustrated naturally. I can reel out a hundred thousand examples that show Pakistan leadership wants to keep us in the Stone Age?
As he turned emotional, other friends joined our table and chipped in with their stories. One of them explained the 'gas issue' thus; the gas fields are located at Sui, a town about nine km from Punjab and 10 km from Sindh. The nearest Baluch city is about 40 km away. The provincial capital, Quetta, is some 320 km away. Not only in gas, in terms of water as well, Baluchistan stands short-changed.
The Indus, the national river of Pakistan, flows 25 km to the east of Sui but the Baluch share of Indus waters is 'stolen' by Sindh and Punjab. A front-page report in The Nation, an English daily from Lahore, (capital of Punjab province), estimates the value of this water theft at around 100 billion Pakistani rupees. "Sindh is extracting more water than its allocation under the Water Apportionment Accord agreed among the provinces in 1991, leaving Baluchistan in a disadvantageous position. From 1991 to 2018, Baluchistan got almost 50 percent less water than its demand that resulted in losses of around Rupees 100 billion to the province", Fawad Yousafzai reported in his dispatch the day before the last Christmas.
My Baluch friends have reeled out two other indicators of backwardness and neglect. Bank credit flow is low. So are the jobs provided to youth. Official data and newspaper clippings show that their complaint was not without basis.
Pakistan's apex bank statistics say that Baluchistan mobilized 300 billion Rupees in deposits but got back just 16 billion as loans, which is 5.3 percent of deposits. The share of the country's largest province in terms of area was only 0.22 per cent in the total loans that banking disbursed by June last even though its share in total deposits was 2.4 percent, says a report (Dec 2, 2018) of Shahbaz Rana in the Express Tribune, a leading English daily, published in collaboration with The New York Times.
The statistics for employment generation are no less depressing since jobs promised to Baluchistan have remained unfulfilled for close to two decades. Dawn, a sedate English daily started by Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, reports that Baluchistan's job quota in federal government employment was enhanced from 3.5 percent to six percent from Feb 12, 2007, but its actual implementation started after Nov 2009. More than 31 percent of these jobs remain vacant.
"Only eight percent of 50 federal ministries and divisions filled all the posts allocated to Baluchistan under its six percent quota; most had less than 10 posts each for the province except for the Interior Division that had filled all the paramilitary posts of 274", Khaleeq Kiani reported in Dawn on Dec 22, 2018. A major culprit is the Water and Power Division. It gave only 29 percent that is 350 posts to Baluchistan even though 1139 jobs have been earmarked for the province.
The Baluch narrative is becoming depressing, to say the least. But is this enough justification for the Baluch youth to descend on the Mecca of human rights? There is no magic wand that can wish away backwardness whether in Pakistan or anywhere in Asia or Africa. Development should be a collective effort; it must be nurtured through the political process. My young Baluch friends nodded their heads in disagreement.
"Our frustration is with the political process. It is neither sensitive nor responsive. Sometimes we feel the British colonial masters were more considerate of tribals like us", said Baluch One and held the military, national parties and civilian bureaucracy responsible for making Baluchistan a festering wound.
The discussion turned to extrajudicial killings by the Pakistani State, and its penchant to make marked youth to disappear (detained by secret agencies with no record whatsoever). The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) has been protesting for nearly ten years against enforced disappearances. The Nation puts the number of missing Baluch persons at around 18,000.
Spurred by this phenomenon the Baluch insurgent groups have become increasingly violent towards 'outsiders' in the province. These outsiders are people from Punjab and Sindh; lately the Chinese are swelling the ranks of 'outsiders' amidst concerns that Baluchistan is becoming a colony where the Baluchis are a minority.
The much talked China Pakistan Economic Corridor, CPEC, connects Gwadar on Baluchistan's Arabian coast with Xinjiang province in Western China. It stands as an eyesore for the locals; the Baluchistan cabinet was told recently (Dec 10, 2018) that the province's share in the $ 62 bn plan was a minuscule nine percent, about US D 5.6 billion. Out of this committed outlay, less than US D One billion had been spent since May 22, 2013, when CPEC was launched. No surprise the rebels have been targeting people engaged in CPEC works; the death toll stands at around 80 since 2014.
From what the Baluch youth leaders told me it is clear that the Pakistan government has not come to grips with the issue which is no more than a self-inflicted wound. Pakistan was carved out of British India as the home for the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent, as a land for the pure. So much so, why Baluchis, who are no less Muslims, are made to hit the agitation button and slip into confrontation mode fretting and fuming. Who would like to be a second class citizen in one's own country?
management consultant by profession I live in Boston and frequent Asia and Far East on business trips. Like most of my ilk, I am also a blogger and hit the blogspace at irregular intervals though. My subjects of interest are wide ranging from China’s debt to Philippines’s maverick rulers and from Pakistan’s missed GDP goals to Sri Lanka’s wounds of civil war.
Like most Americans with expatriate roots, I take keen interest in what is happening in my erstwhile native lands, and also in India, which has given me numerous friends from Silicon Valley, and Babas and Yogis from Haridwar, the Hindu Holy city on the banks of river Ganga.