Pakistan: New rise of the Baloch national movement

Interview with Nazar Mengal, Central Chairman of the Pakistan Trade Union Defense Campaign (PTUDC) and leader of The Struggle in Balochistan.

Tell us about the Balochi national movement

In 1947, when Pakistan was created by the British imperialists, Balochistan was an independent state. But the following year, the new Pakistani state orchestrated its first military operation in Balochistan. And, although they had initially declared it an independent state, they then forcefully annexed it into the Federation through oppression. When the military operations started in Balochistan, Abdul Karim Khan, launched the resistance movement against the occupation. The second military uprising and resistance movement was under Noroz Khan in the 1960s. Later, in the 1970s, there was another rebellion, after Bhutto forcefully dismantled the National Awami Party’s government in Balochistan. Later in 2008, after the murder of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti by the military, there was another rebellion and armed struggle that has continued over the last 16 years.

Nazar Mengal

What are the motives of the movement?

The main reason for all this resistance and rebellion movements is that Balochistan is a mineral and resource rich and strategically important region. And for the last 75 years, the people of Balochistan have been deprived of basic rights and any control over those resources. For example, gas that was discovered in Sui, a district in Balochistan, in the 1950s, but the people of Sui still do not have access to that gas, their own gas. Similarly, there is the Sindak region, which is rich in copper and gold and has been given to China recently. And all the income that comes from these resources do not go to the people of Balochistan.

More than 80% of the people are poor in Balochistan although it is very rich. There is no infrastructure in Balochistan. There is no industry in Balochistan. There is no employment in Balochistan. There is massive unemployment right now. Although the Pakistani government has claimed that after the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) there would be many more opportunities for young Balochis. Gwadar Port was given to China and there were claims that a lot of students would be taken to China with university scholarships. But it was all a hoax. The ground reality is that there is still rampant unemployment in Balochistan.

So, although there is some infrastructure development in other parts of the country, for example, Punjab, the main highway that connects Balochistan to Karachi is still an old torn up road that produces 5 to 10 accidents every day, killing thousands each year. Although they have declared two of the districts of Balochistan as industrial zones (one is Boistan and the other is Hub), even after all those dollars came in from China in the name of development, still those industrial zones were not established.

Similarly, educational infrastructure is also very poor. There is only one university in Balochistan, the University of Balochistan, but even that is suffering from from insufficient funds. The professors and the employees frequently go on strike for their wages. The health infrastructure is also deteriorating and it’s practically non-existent, so much so that you cannot even have a minor operation, like an appendix removal, in Balochistan. You have to travel all the way to Karachi to get it. There is a huge problem with drinking water, which is not available in Balochistan, and there is an electricity problem. The peripheral districts of Balochistan only get three hours of electricity per day.

Agriculture has been completely destroyed. There are no government subsidies for it, which is one of the reasons there is so much unemployment here. The only source of income of the people of Balochistan is smuggling through the borders with Afghanistan and Iran. And even there, most of the revenue goes to the military that controls those borders.

What sparked the current rise in the movment?

Whenever there are people who raise their voice against state oppression or try to protest against this oppression, the state increases the intensity of that oppression. The war between the military and the guerrilla fighters creates an environment where the Pakistani state forcefully abducts young activists who are trying to develop the political movement, torture them and leave their mutilated bodies to be found afterwards.

Recently, a young boy called Balach Baloch was illegally abducted and murdered in a fake encounter that the State declared took place. When his mutilated body was found, the current movement erupted. The Baloch Yakjehti Committee (Baloch Solidarity Committee) Mahrung Baloch, started a sit-in, in Gwadar, and then a long march started from Gwadar to Quetta and then later from Quetta to Islamabad. In this long march, the family of Balach Baloch was present, along with other families of forcefully disappeared people. Their demand is that if somebody has committed any crime, or the state thinks that somebody has committed a crime, then it should be presented in a court of law, but these extrajudicial killings must stop now.

One element of the movement, which is unprecedented, historical, is that a woman is leading the protest. And there is a massive participation of women in this movement. This is not only having a positive impact on Balochistan, but in the larger region as well. We are seeing many women radicalizing politically and coming forward. People are naming their daughters after Mahrung. After the 30 days’ sit-in, they went back to Quetta and they had a huge protest there with thousands of people.

Mahrung Baloch

How is The Struggle intervening?

Our organization was present and intervened with our class position. We are observing the situation closely and working to develop the movement. Our task, and what we are proposing to the Baloch Yakjehti Committee and this movement is to connect it with the other movements in other parts of the world, especially in Pakistan, like the PTM or in Kashmir, and the general class movement. 

The numerous delegation of comrades from Balochistan who participated in the Congress of The Struggle, including many new young activists, gives us strength advance in developing the movement and building a revolutionary class alternative in Balochistan.