“Now we know we can become the next Bangladesh”

Balochistan freedom activist Mir Mazdak Dilshad Baloch talks about their independence struggle and more

aasha

Aasha Khosa | September 3, 2016 | New Delhi


#Mir Mazdak Dilshad Baloch   #Kashmir Issue   #Kashmir   #Pakistan   #Narendra Modi   #Bangladesh   #Balochistan   #FATA  



Mir Mazdak Dilshad Baloch is one of those who have been spearheading an independence movement in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province. The freedom movement received a shot in the arm when prime minister Narendra Modi referred to it during his Independence Day speech. Baloch spoke to Aasha Khosa about the aspirations of the region’s people and their intense struggle for independence.


Tell us about yourself and how you became a campaigner for an independent Balochistan?

I had to flee from Balochistan to Canada, where I am working to spread awareness about an independent Balochistan. I belong to a family of Baloch nationalists who have made sacrifices for freedom. One of my ancestors was martyred in the first war of independence for Balochistan in 1947. My grandfather Mir Abdul Karim was a silent founder of National Awami Party and Balochistan Liberation Organisation. My parents are freedom fighters and human rights activists. We belong to Quetta. My father was abducted by the Pakistan army in 2006 and for two years we had no news about him. That was the time when atrocities by the Pakistan army against Baloch people had reached its nadir. Following international pressure, my father was released and we found him in a very bad state of health. My mother was also arrested. Till 2010, the policy of the Pakistan army was torture and dump; now it’s catch and kill.

What are your memories of living in Quetta as a child?

When I was born, tribal infighting was going on in Balochistan, which was instigated by the ISI. So, I saw a lot of people dying. In school, I was taught about [Muhammad Ali] Jinnah and not about Miro Baloch, who was the founder of the Baloch Kingdom in 1410. They would never teach us about the 700-year history of Balochis, our heritage of Mehergarh which is one of the oldest urban civilisations in the region. For me, living in an abnormal situation was normal. In school, they would teach us Urdu and not our language. Pakistanis would try to turn us into Pakistanis.

Can you recall the day your father was picked up?

They came to pick [up] my father with 62 army vehicles and one helicopter hovering over our house as if he was Osama bin Laden. They also took away all our helpers and farm labourers. Even after he was released due to pressure of the Amnesty International, they had tried to book him in false cases. One day we learnt that the army was going to wipe out our family. We somehow managed to cross the border  and reached Afghanistan where we approached the UN authorities and finally reached Canada. But there are thousands who continue to face repression, arrest killings and disappearances while living in Balochistan and can’t think of escaping the way we did.

Under such suppression, how did you manage to keep your identity intact?

We have nothing in common with Pakistan – our history, culture, language – are different. But our mothers play a great role in carrying forward the legacy. While growing up as a Baloch child, our mothers repeatedly remind us of the glory of our land, our great warrior ancestors and also tell us that it is incumbent upon us to safeguard the land and the tradition. That is the reason that in spite of Pakistan, Baloch have remained a martial race. Pakistan has occupied our land by force but we have not accepted its authority.

How is Pakistan exploiting your resources?

Balochistan has huge deposits of oil, gas, coal, gold, copper, marble and onyx. It also has a 1,500 km coastline. Today the Chinese are extracting about 15 kg of gold and copper from Saindak-Rekodiq per day. In fact, CPEC [China-Pakistan economic corridor] has nothing to do with Baloch prosperity, as is being claimed by Pakistan. It’s aimed at looting our resources and this is one of the major reasons for the fresh uprising. Pakistan is regularly using gunships and jets to bombard the villages along the CPEC corridor as the Chinese are not able to use the Gwadar port because of the Baloch-Pashtun uprising. So far, 15,000 families have been displaced from this region to clear the road to Gwadar. Besides, Pakistan is also using our land for hosting and training international terrorist groups like ISIS and so many others.

How connected or otherwise you feel with the rest of Pakistan?


Living in Pakistan, I felt so alienated. The other Pakistanis can’t even pronounce our names properly. There is lack of information about us and about our land across Pakistan. They treat each Baloch as a potential terrorist. If you speak to them about our past, they would come up with the you-are-Muslims hashtag. They live in a different world and do not know that we are an occupied land. Actually the school syllabus in Pakistan is not factual. There is just one page on Balochistan in the history books, as if we are some distant country.

How has prime minister Narendra Modi’s pitch for Balochistan helped you?

I was in Delhi when prime minister Modi spoke about Balochistan. I can’t tell you how happy I was. Also I was happy for India that it has finally taken a step that was needed for its own security. Modiji’s words, as these came on an important occasion and from a historic place, were very exciting and uplifting for the people of Balochistan. Now, we have a voice to speak for us before the world. Today every nation knows about Pakistan engineered genocide in Balochistan, but nobody speaks about it. We are thankful to Modiji for his appreciation of our struggle. We know that the army’s atrocities against our people will now intensify. But this is the last phase of our struggle and, as they say, it always gets tougher before the victory.

This is seen as a dramatic change in New Delhi’s South Asia policy. Do you feel the same?

We wonder why India was sitting quiet all these years towards people who wanted to be India’s neighbour.  Agreed that India didn’t want to interfere in Balochistan but at least it could have talked about us. But today we trust Modiji. We know that we can become the next Bangladesh. Today, hopes for a free Balochistan have risen. Mind you, even China, which has pumped millions in Balochistan, has never spoken against us. Today, the US is also talking about the need to look at the human rights violations there.

Do you fear that India may be using Balochistan only to browbeat Pakistan on its Kashmir rant?

That is fine with us. In diplomacy, there is no place for emotions. We too understand India’s point of view. The Baloch are politically aware people. We know our strength – our land has strategic importance and is corridor to central Asia. Having better relations with India is in our interests too. And being Baloch, we always stand with our friends.

Tell us about your experience of campaigning in India?

Soon after his August 15 speech, I saw people everywhere talking of Modiji’s Balochistan remarks. About 70 percent people – in metro, autorickshaws, chai shops – were praising him. People in India should realise that support for free Balochistan is also good for India’s security. Mind you, we are happy with Modiji’s words and he hasn’t promised us anything. We are hoping India will raise the issue about atrocities and human rights abuse in the United Nations and thereby make other world leaders speak for us.

One gets to hear a lot about atrocities being committed by the army in Balochistan…

The Pakistan army kills anyone whom they suspect of being involved in the nationalistic movement. On an average we have been picking 10 to 12 bodies per day. There are mass graves in Balochistan and thousands of disappearances of people who had been picked up by the army. This is what we get from reliable sources via social media but the real extent of the army’s excesses can never come out. Pakistan has banned the foreign media from Balochistan, and the Pakistan media never dares to defy the military and speak the truth about us.

How do Baloch people see India?

As great friends. Though we love to play football we keenly follow Indo-Pak cricket matches and wait for Pakistan’s defeat and cheer for India!


aasha@governancenow.com


(The interview appears in the September 1-15, 2016 issue)


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