The fact that former Afghan president Hamid Karzai quickly added his voice to Modi’s and signs that Bangladesh may soon officially declare support for the Baloch nationalists are being seen as direct results of India’s new stand on the issue.
Washington: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent intervention on Balochistan has Baloch activists enthralled and energised as they bring their plight from the outer fringes of world consciousness on human rights issues into the limelight.
At an event to commemorate Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti who was killed 10 years ago by the Pakistan army, his grandson Brahumdagh Bugti profusely thanked Modi and urged other “secular democracies,” especially the United States, to follow his lead.
The event on Friday was organised by American Friends of Balochistan (AFB) and attended by representatives of Jewish, Hindu and Christian organisations, apart from Indian and Pakistani journalists. American activists opposed to US aid to Pakistan were also present.
The rainbow coalition of support, observers noted, showed that some groundwork may have been done prior to Modi announcing a policy change on Balochistan. Reports from New Delhi say the government is weighing further options to bring Pakistan’s human rights record under sharper scrutiny.
Ahmar Mustikhan, founder of AFB, said he invited a wide variety of people from different faiths to highlight how the Baloch differ from Pakistan’s policy of oppression of religious minorities. He enthusiastically thanked Modi and “Mother India.”
Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, addressed the event as a “Pakistani friend of Balochistan,” and highlighted the atrocities and discrimination against Baloch people with facts and figures. It is “tragic” that Pakistan advocates talks with “globally recognised terrorists” but refuses to engage with the leaders and people of Balochistan, he said.
While staying clear of Modi’s remarks, Haqqani noted that if Pakistanis won’t speak up for Balochistan, others will.
Bugti, the keynote speaker, called Modi’s remarks “the most powerful development in seven decades” for the Baloch struggle for greater autonomy, development and rights over natural resources, which has now evolved into a full-blown separatist movement.
The fact that former Afghan president Hamid Karzai quickly added his voice to Modi’s and signs that Bangladesh may soon officially declare support for the Baloch nationalists are being seen as direct results of India’s new stand and an indication of possible coordination with neighbouring capitals.
Modi referred to the atrocities in Balochistan during an all-party meeting on Jammu and Kashmir on August 12. “Pakistan forgets that it bombs its own citizens using fighter planes. The time has come when Pakistan shall have to answer to the world for the atrocities committed by it against people in Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir,” he said.
Then on August 15, in his Independence Day address, he mentioned how Baloch people had expressed their gratitude to him for bringing attention to their plight. Modi’s references – the first ever by an Indian prime minister in public speeches – have raised the heat in the already hot zone of India-Pakistan relations.
Bugti, addressing the gathering via Skype from Geneva, said India should have spoken up “a long time ago” but “it’s better late than never.” “We are thoroughly indebted to the leader of the largest democracy and Modi has acted to fulfil his role.”
Bugti also referred to an international doctrine that at best makes India uncomfortable: Responsibility to Protect or R2P as it is commonly known. “States have a right to intervene when crimes against humanity are committed. Modi acted in the spirit of the R2P concept,” he said.
It is unclear how far Modi is willing to go, having raised the hopes of Baloch activists. What is clear is that parts of the Indian diaspora linked to the BJP have come forward to support Baloch organisations in various western capitals.
Also present at the Friday event was Michael Mendelsen, president of Israel’s Voice, a US-based group promoting Israeli causes, who said interest in Balochistan was rising in Israel. “Silence of the free world is condemnable. I appeal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to support a free Balochistan.”
A representative of the World Hindu Council of America, calling Mehrgarh in Balochistan one of the earliest remnants of the “Sindhu Saraswati civilisation,” said that Pakistan army has been attacking Baloch Hindus to force them to leave the province but they have “largely refused to leave.”
Interestingly, Bugti said China’s economic and strategic interest in Balochistan was nothing but an extension of its “string of pearls” policy and presented “the most serious threat” to the interests of Baloch people.
Bugti taunted US President Barack Obama for never raising the issue with Pakistan during eight years of his presidency while a “tsunami of crimes” was being committed in Balochistan with the help of US arms.
He also taunted US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, who is said to be deeply interested in human rights issues, for ignoring the “genocide” of Baloch people.
Estimates of Baloch killed by Pakistan security forces – and by various terrorist groups that Baloch nationalists say function as proxies of the Pakistani state – range anywhere from several hundred to 6,000 over the last six years. More than 20,000 individuals have gone “missing,” according to family members. Mass graves and a “kill and dump” policy by Pakistani security forces have been documented by various human rights groups.
According to Pakistani author Arif Jamal, who spoke at the Friday event, the Pakistan army is using the same strategy in Balochistan that it did in East Pakistan in 1971 – eliminating Baloch intelligentsia by “unleashing jihadis.”
While no journalist or NGO can enter Balochistan, hundreds of Lashkar-e-Taiba militants are allowed to go in and fight Baloch nationalists and recruit locals for terrorist attacks, said Jamal, author of Call For Transnational Jihad: Lashkar-e-Taiba, 1985-2014, published in 2014.
What Pakistan is doing in Balochistan is no longer an internal affair but a threat to peace and security of the region, he added.