Naela Qadri Baloch, the Baloch liberation activist who is now living in exile in Canada after suffering imprisonment in Pakistan for her activities, recently visited India to tell the Indians about problems faced by the people of Balochistan.
The timing of her visit was crucial, as Naela arrived in India a couple of days after the Pakistani forces arrested former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav on the charges of espionage in Balochistan – one of the four Pakistani provinces located in the south-western part of the country. Her visit once again brought the troubled Pakistani region into focus.
In an interview with an Indian national daily, Naela said that India should understand the importance of Balochistan’s geographical location and help the troubled region “gain freedom from Islamabad”. According to the liberation activist, Balochistan can fulfil India’s economic and energy needs, if “oppressed” people of the region gain freedom.
Former President of Pakistan General (Retired) Pervez Musharraf had launched a fierce military operation against the Balochs in August 2006. Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and 32 of his comrades were martyred during the operation. Musharraf may have thought that the Baloch Nationalism movement would end after the death of Akbar Khan Bugti, but it was only the beginning.
Balochistan holds a much larger significance to Pakistan in comparison to Kashmir’s geo-political and economic importance to India. By geographical area of Pakistan, Balochistan is the largest province of the country and constitutes approximately 44% it. The region is rich in resources, including natural gas, gold, silver, copper and marble, and comprises almost all of Pakistan’s coastline. The region also has the strategically important port of Gwadar.
India has failed to raise Balochistan issue in international forums as strongly as Pakistan has managed to do in the case of the Kashmir issue. The cases of human rights violations are rampant in Balochistan. In 2013, thousands of Balochs, whose family members are missing, undertook a historical Long March from Quetta to the Pakistani capital city of Islamabad to protest against human rights violation in Balochistan.
Meanwhile, Naela admitted that it would be a tough job for India, which lacks the political will to liberate Balochistan, to get involved in Pakistan’s ‘internal’ issue. At the same time, she said that India could ‘correct’ its stance on Balochistan with the help of Baloch leaders. Naela further said that the reason for her India visit was to mould public opinion in the country and to raise general awareness about Balochistan. She believes that the Indian government cannot ignore a strong public opinion for long.
Naela rubbished Pakistan’s claim that India is meddling in Balochistan, saying it is unfortunate that the top political leadership in Islamabad has always consider common people of Balochistan as agents of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) – the primary foreign intelligence agency of India. She told the Indian daily: “India is our friend and we have absolutely no problem in being called RAW agents. RAW is our brother and sister, whatever. Pakistan tries to term our struggle as a RAW-inspired uprising to undermine it. However, the fact of the matter is that India is yet to come to our aid even though we openly say that you come and free us from the clutches of Pakistan. We want India to do something intelligently, to do something in a planned manner.” The successive Indian governments have been rather passive about the issue of Balochistan and a pro-active measure, at least diplomatically, could have put Pakistan under pressure in international forums.
Through the Indian daily, Naela tried to tell the international community that the Pakistani government has decided to prove that the freedom struggle of Baloch people is not legitimate and the struggle has been instigated by India. According to the liberation activist, Pakistan fears that India can intervene in Balochistan in the future because Islamabad is well aware of the fact that there will be an adverse impact of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) on Balochistan. She explained that Baloch people, like India, are against the proposed CPEC project because the corridor will allow China to loot the resources of south-western Pakistani province, including the gold reserves.
Naela once again urged the Indian people to stop the Pakistani government from committing genocide in Baloch by speaking up and taking a stand on the troubled region. The fact that Naela has managed to raise the Balochistan issue in the Indian media shows a better understanding of the political potential of the issue among the think-tank of Indian Ministry of External Affairs.