According to the Balochistan Liberation charter formulated under Hyrbyair Marri, the division of Balochistan into several parts is a legacy of the British Empire. The ultimate aim of the Baloch Liberation Struggle is to reunify the divided territories of Balochistan into one country and to grant full sovereignty to a single national Baloch state. Balochistan has for long been cheated out of its sovereignty and faced discrimination within Pakistan. Insurgencies against the Pakistani government started after Pakistan annexed the Baloch state of Kalat in 1948. This state is now divided between Iran and Pakistan. Along with continuous suppression of the Baloch in Iran by the government, Pakistan has been accused of committing genocide in the Balochistan region by Baloch Leaders such as Naela Qadri Baloch, a politician who fled Pakistan and in 2016 even asked India to intervene and free Balochistan.
Many, however, call the movement dead or dying and lack of media coverage in the region has shown a lack of detailing of the current Balochistan movement. This movement has not died down in actuality and there seems to be a spike in the number of attacks carried out around the region by its proponents, most of the recent ones centered around Quetta. A majority of these attacks have been aimed at either the military, paramilitary or police forces. Claims have appeared for most of the major attacks especially by the Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar, a coalition of the Balochistan Liberation Front, the Balochistan Liberation Army and the Balochistan revolutionary guards which have been designated as terror groups by the Pakistani Government. However, there have been no claims against the recent attacks in Quetta which are seemingly random in nature. The attacks may lack in intensity but definitely not in frequency.
This Liberation movement for Balochistan does not only occur in Pakistan but in the Iranian provinces of Sistani and Baluchestan as well. However, there are two different, distinct groups on either side. The Baloch on the Pakistan side find support in the BLA and BRAS and the Iranian side finds its support in Jaish Al-Adl. Their attacks are mostly in retaliation to the Suppression on either side. The Jaish Al-Adl was formed in 2012 by Salahuddin Farooqui and has carried out attacks in the Southeastern province of Iran in retaliation to the oppression of Sunni Muslims. According to reports the BRAS and the Jaish Al-Adl have their differences mostly in regards to Jaish Al-Adl’s religious motivations. The aims of both the groups concerning each other are unclear as there have been skirmishes on the border between them. An alliance between the two seems unlikely as the BLA are beneficiaries of Iran’s ignorance of the group, whereas the Jaish Al-Adl are active fighters against Iran.
On September 9th 2019, banners appeared in front of the venue for the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, highlighting the acute violation of human rights in Balochistan. There have been massive efforts to internationalize this movement in the past as well, but it has always been impeded by the lack of autonomy the people possess. Suppression and extensive military operations have been carried out against the “insurgents” by the Pakistani army in Balochistan, which has been justified on the same basis. However, as mentioned previously, after 30 years of suppression the Baloch still fight on which is apparent in the spike of their continuous efforts against the suppression. These attacks are highlighted in the table below.
|Death count and attack
|3 Chinese engineers injured
|Suicide attack by son of Baloch leader
|12 Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC)
|Kidnapped from border outpost
|In response to previous attack on 4 Sunni militants by IRGC
|4 people (Indian police and civilians)
|Hour long shoot out at the Chinese consulate
|Chinese Consulate, Karachi, Pakistan
|Against Chinese occupation and CPEC
|5 dead + 44 wounded
|Suicide car bomb
|6 Pakistani Soldiers + 14 wounded (Frontier Corps)
|Kech District, Pakistan
|3 police wounded
|9 Killed (5 police+ 4 civilians), 21 injured
|Bombing plus firing
|Office of deputy Inspector General, Loralai, Pakistan
|1 IRGC killed and 5 wounded
|Basij Base, Nik Shahr, Iran
|27 Iranian border guards killed
|Suicide vehicle attacks Bus
|Between Zahedan and Khash, Iran
|2 Frontier corps Killed
|4 Frontier corps Killed
|Panjgur district, Pakistan
|Several Chinese engineers and workers killed
|22 vehicle envoy attacked by remote controlled bomb
|Hamdard University, Karachi
|Seeking termination of CPEC- Coincides with Pakistani Prime ministers visit to Gwadar
|14 (10 navy, 3 air force, 1 coastguard)
|15 attackers stop bus
|Makran coastal highway, between Karachi and Gwadar, Pakistan
|5 killed (4 hotel workers and naval officer)
|Bomb on 5-star hotel
|Retaliation to Chinese projects in Balochistan
|1 policeman killed, 10 injured
|Double road, Quetta, Pakistan
|5 killed, 32 injured
|Bomb near Police station
|3 policemen wounded
|3 killed and almost a dozen injured
|1 police killed, 5 injured
|3 killed, 9 wounded
|Spinny road, Quetta
|1 policeman killed
|Suicide bomber on Motorbike
|(Source: Multiple news agencies based in Pakistan, Iran, India, Saudi and US) 16/11/2019
|3 paramilitary troops killed
Source: Multiple news agencies based in Pakistan, Iran, India, Saudi and US
The general increase in the attacks in the Balochistan region is pretty clear through the data on the aforementioned table. The attacks in Quetta consist of multiple unknown attacks where no groups claimed responsibility. The responsibility of such attacks is generally claimed within one week of the attack but the perpetrators of these attacks are yet to come to the forefront. Seeing that Quetta is the prime factor in Balochistan, being termed as its capital, these attacks must be motivated by the BLA and the BRAS, if not directly carried out by them.
2019 has also seen attacks by the Balochistan against Chinese sponsored enterprises which are part of the China Pakistan Economic corridor. Balochistan sentiments angle away from the investments citing it to be more detrimental to the Baloch rather than beneficial. Hyrbyair Marri, the leader of the Free Balochistan Movement, said that the allegiance of Pakistan to CPEC would be another step in turning Balochistan into a Military Garrison for China. The Baloch now don’t only have to deal with the Pakistanis that have destroyed their sovereignty but also the Chinese influx into the country as well.
The fight for international support has also been on the rise where advertisements have been released in certain prominent papers in the US. A particular advertisement placed by the World Baloch Organization and the Baloch Republican Party in July 2019 in the Washington Post sought support from President Donald Trump. This advertisement addressed to the President calls on the US support in addressing Human rights exploitation, economic deprivation and political exclusion in Balochistan. It also called on the US to bring restriction to the use of US-supplied weapons used on the Baloch nationalist group which were meant to help suppress religious extremist groups rather than them. However, the US government has not issued any official statement regarding the same and it doesn’t seem like it will. The US recently branded both the Jaish Al-Adl and the Baloch Liberation Army as terrorist organizations and seem to classify the entire movement as being motivated by these “terrorists”. Even an appeal from Members of the European Parliament regarding the deteriorating situation in Balochistan in a letter in July 2019 has not received a response from the US government.
On the Iranian side, the Jaish Al-Adl seem to be motivated more by the Sunni identity of the Population rather than the Baloch identity. And therefore, apparent cross border conflicts with the group and the BLA have emerged as well with reports of it being caused due to the over-emphasis on the religious identity. Especially with allegations that the Sunni militant group has support from the Pakistan government, it is unlikely to partake in a unified movement. At odds with Pakistani support, the BLA apparently enjoys covert support through the lack of Iranian attention whereas all the Jaish Al-Adl’s attacks are aimed at the Iranian government. These groups are on two opposing ends of the spectrum not only in terms of their allegiances but also on the basis of religion. The Balochistan Liberation movement in Pakistan aims at a secular Balochistan nation which is at complete odds with Jaish Al-Adl’s Sunni leanings.
The spike in attacks indicates the possibility of a mass resurgence of the Balochistan Liberation Movement. Leaders of the multiple movements have become even more active on twitter such as Hyrbyair Marri, Mehran Marri, Naela Quadri Baluch who have also shown support for the Kurdish cause and the Indian stance on Kashmir in defiance of Pakistan. There has also been a resurgence of protests outside the UN and across cities seeking a Free Balochistan. The Balochistan republican Party in London and the Balochistan Voice Association in other major cities including outside the UN in Geneva have actively protested for Balochistan.
Select active leaders of the Baloch Freedom movement
Hyrbyair Marri was born to the family of Baloch national leader Nawab Khair Baksh Marri in Quetta, capital of Balochistan. He completed his early education in Quetta and then moved to study journalism in Russia. In 1997, he was elected to the Balochistan Provincial assembly and became the Education minister of the province. In 1999, after his father was arrested and charged with the murder of Balochistan high court judge, Justice Nawaz Marri, he left Pakistan. He traveled to Europe and was granted political asylum in the UK in 2011. He is the leader of the Free Balochistan movement and Pakistan alleges he is the head of the Balochistan Liberation Army. He has accepted the invitation of, Bharatiya Janata Party’s senior leader and president of Delhi Study Group, Mr. Vijay Jolly to travel to India. On the 10th of December 2019, he will address a seminar on ‘Human Rights in Balochistan,’ in New Delhi.
Mehran marri is the sixth son of Baloch nationalist leader Khair Bakhsh Marri and is believed to be the current leader of the United Baloch Army (UBA). He is the brother of Hyrbyair Marri. The UBA was classified as a terrorist organization by Pakistan and also Switzerland. Since being banned in 2013 by the Pakistani government, the group has been largely inactive with no resurgent attacks on any news websites. Marri was arrested at Zurich Airport and put under a lifetime ban on entry to Switzerland on the 16th of November 2017. He was later deported from Switzerland and currently resides in the United Kingdom. Mehran Marri is active on Twitter and continues to show support for the Baloch insurgency in Eastern Pakistan.
Brahamdagh Khan Bugti or Brahumdagh Khan Bugti is the founder and leader of a Baloch nationalist political organization, the Baloch Republican Party which broke away from his uncle Talal Akbar Bugti’s Jamhoori Watan Party in 2008. After the assassination of his grandfather Akbar Bugti, a Baloch nationalist politician, he fled his hometown Dera Bugti in Balochistan in 2006. Initially, he lived as a state guest in Afghanistan and was then flown to Switzerland in October 2010 where he has been living in political asylum with his family. In 2018, India was in talks about granting him citizenship. India would have also given citizenship to Brahumdagh’s key lieutenants in Switzerland, including Sher Muhammad Bugti and Azizullah Bugti, his trusted aides. The BRP has held campaigns all over the UK under the banner of End Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan. The month of June saw an increase in campaigns all over London, resulting in newspaper advertisements, billboard signs and joint awareness campaigns with the World Balochistan Organization. These campaigns also included the flying of “Free Balochistan,” Banners during a Pakistan Afghanistan match at Headingley Stadium, London on June 29th this year. On the 27th of August 2019, Brahamdagh Bugti delivered an address during the martyrdom anniversary of Shaheed Nawab Akbar Bugti saying, “We do not mourn this day but rather celebrate it, for it reminds us, the Baloch in Balochistan and abroad, how Shaheed Nawab Akbar Bugti founded this movement with his blood.” The Baloch Republican Party held events across Balochistan and overseas in places like London, Switzerland, and Busan in South Korea, and his speech was broadcast in the same. He is also believed to be the head of the Baloch Republican Army by Pakistan.
Khalil Baloch is currently the chairman of the Balochistan National Movement (BNM). This party was one of the strongest in Balochistan during the 1990s. It still retains a stronghold and according to its manifesto will actively form a political coalition outside of Pakistan’s National Assembly. It has pledged its support to the Balochistan freedom fighters under this released manifesto. In an email interview, he stated, “The recent escalation in militant attacks is a direct reaction to Pakistan army’s growing atrocities in Balochistan and China’s relentless plunder of Baloch resources.” This interview was published on the 15th of July 2019, and since then there have been multiple attacks again as can be seen in the table above. He also stated in the same interview that the Baloch National Movement is no longer ready to negotiate autonomy in the Pakistani political system but in fact, will fight for a separate state altogether. Dil Murad Baloch, the cultural secretary of the BNM is also a key proponent against the Pakistani forces and atrocities carried out by them. He posts regularly on Twitter as well, condemning the Pakistani armed forces, recently calling out the kidnapping and continuing torture of BNM member, Rafiq Baloch.
Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch
Allah Nazar Baloch is the founder and the chief of the Balochistan Liberation Front. He was born in Mashkai, Awaran District in 1968 and has a premedical degree. He heads the BLF which was designated as a terror organization since being one of the prime fighting groups seeking Balochistan Liberation. In an interview published on 22nd July 2019, when asked about why democratic means have not been used to resolve grievances with Pakistan he said that there is no democracy in Pakistan and the Baloch are compelled to rebel against the oppression and slavery. In a statement, he said that the Baloch liberation movement was moving towards the right direction and every supporter of the Pakistani state are enemies of the envisioned Baloch nation.
Implications of a Resurgence
This resurgence of activity surrounding the Balochistan Freedom Movement can only signify a shift in the lull it had experienced for a while. Though many may call it dead, a united Balochistan may still be in the making. Details of any resurgent movements in Iran’s Sistan and Balochistan is lacking but it is clear that the movement in Pakistan has begun to regain traction. Coinciding with the increase of attacks in the Balochistan region, active protesting across the world in multiple organizations has emerged. The call for help from India has increased especially since Prime Minister Modi showed support in a speech indirectly instigating Baloch Activists to actively seek help.
Quetta has been termed as the home base of the Balochistan Liberation movement seeing that it is the apparent capital of Balochistan. The increase of attacks in this very city emphasizes the significance of the movement’s resurgence. Perhaps, not all attacks accounted for are carried out by either the BLA or the BRAS but the unrest in the city is apparent, further egged on by the heightened international movements surrounding the Balochistan freedom struggle. The Baloch are spread from Iran to Pakistan and even in southern Afghanistan and an integrated new Baloch nation would lead to an uproar in South Asia. Whether the fight for a unified Balochistan would materialize in success is yet to be seen and if so, how much of the region would actually fall to them is another cause for speculation. A proposed map of Balochistan (image 1.0) shows it to possess a landmass almost equaling that of current day Pakistan. It is very unlikely that any of the countries involved would give up their territory as has been clear in the failures of the previous resurgences in the 1970s and 1980s, but the fight for autonomy and sovereignty still persists. The success of a resurgence in Pakistan would depend greatly on successful movements across the border in Iran. Though the council of Independent Balochistan formed in 2009 under Mir Suleman Dawood the Khan of Kalat did not lay claim to the Baloch dominated region in Afghanistan, who is to predict what new demands may or may not be made.
A new country would not only ruffle a good many feathers of these three neighboring states but also of other countries who have vested interests in the current region, the most prominent of which is China. The China Pakistan economic corridor would be the worst affected which is clear in the Baloch hate for the country and its investment in the region. A unified Balochistan or even a radical resurgent movement would bring a complete halt to all the infrastructural under the CPEC. The total CPEC project was valued at about $62 Billion as of 2017, which has definitely been surpassed as of 2019. The Gwadar International Port along with its international airport and the East-Bay Expressway which fall under this CPEC project, all run through the Balochistan region and have been the site of multiple attacks. Interestingly, unified Balochistan will not only contain this port of Gwadar but also the Chabahar port on the Indian side.
Though this resurgence would be highly detrimental to the CPEC corridor and Chinese investments in the Larger One Belt One Road initiative, it is important to acknowledge an important outcome of the same which is the gains that another particular country would make. India has for long been accused of supporting the Balochistan cause in Pakistan and a resurgent Balochistan movement serves to bolster support for India in laying claim to an extra ally in the region. Whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to Balochistan in his speech was meant as anti-Pakistan rhetoric concerning the Kashmir issue or actual support for the movement is yet to be understood. However, it is clear that many vested interests in the region will serve to either bolster the fight or open increased fronts against the Balochistan Freedom Movement. Though the movement seems to be increasing in intensity one can still question the optimism that the Baloch and its supporters can afford to have in seeking their sovereignty.