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Pakistan’s Baloch: Life on the Margins of Punjab

Posted in International Affairs, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2009 by Umer

On the 62nd Anniversary of Balochistan’s unsuccessful bid for independence.

Pakistan’s Baloch: Life on the Margins of Punjab

The Baloch have been living in a state of emergency ever since 1948, when their territory was incorporated into the nation of Pakistan. Under the thumb of Islamabad, their rights and autonomy have been deliberately ignored by the international community, which has its own agenda for the region. Balochistan declared its independence on August 11, 1947, three days before Pakistan.

By Karlos Zurutuza

Translated from the Spanish original by Daisann McLane

A woman walks slowly across the Dera Bugti desert, laden with wood for her cooking fire. She’s headed towards the town of Pir Koh. For several hundred meters, she follows the gas pipeline that extends north, towards the Punjab. She got lucky; it isn’t easy to find wood in the Dera Bugti desert. Islamabad also got lucky when it discovered natural gas beneath this rocky landscape. Thanks to the gas deposits, the Punjabis have been cooking, heating their houses in winter and producing electricity for half a century. But natural gas has yet to arrive in Pir Koh.

“What has Pakistan given us?” asks Ahktar Mengal, in his home in Quetta, Balochistan’s capital. “The Punjabis [Pakistan’s dominant ethnic group] have confiscated everthing: our property, our resources, and above all, our rights. Mengal is the tribal leader of the clan that bears his name, and also the president of the Baloch National Party (BNP). It’s difficult to find a house in Quetta that’s more under surveillance–and, as a consequence, more carefully guarded–than his.

“Why has the world forgotten us?,” exclaims the sardar (tribal leader) of the Mengal clan.

It’s possible that the world has, indeed, forgotten the Baloch people, but has anyone forgotten Balochistan? Let’s take a look. Obama needs it for his oil pipeline, TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India), Iran and India need it for the IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India), and so does Qatar. China’s constructing a gateway to the Persian Gulf at the port of Gwadar. Meanwhile Australia, Canada and Chile are extracting tons of gold and copper from Baluchistan’s enormous reserves, the second largest in Asia. The greedy scramble for Baluchistan’s treasures will probably heat up even more when the vast stores of petroleum and uranium hidden beneath its deserts are opened up.

“They didn’t even hire us to work on all these projects. The majority of the workers came from Punjab and other parts of Pakistan,” complains Bari, another unemployed 30-something from Quetta.

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