'Pakistan has employed force to curb Baloch aspirations and rights. There have been charades of giving rights and concessions and packages, but all of them are hollow and meaningless and not even worth the paper these are written on.'
'Pakistan is appeasing China for the investments which will benefit them. The economic corridor with China will not only deprive the Baloch of their land and resources, but will turn them into a minority because of the influx of outsiders.'
Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has been associated with the Baloch national struggle in Pakistan since 1971. He has been keeping the movement alive on social media and through columns in various newspapers.
In an e-mail interview with A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com, Talpur, below, left, speaks about the Baloch struggle and the price the Baloch people have had to pay for it.
Could you tell us something about yourself?
I am from the Talpur family of Sindh. Talpurs are Baloch who came to Sindh some 300 years back. My family has been associated with the Baloch national struggle since long.
How long have you been fighting for self-determination in Balochistan?
I have been associated with the Baloch struggle since 1971 when I quit my education in Karachi and went to the mountains to assist the Baloch struggle.
What do you have to say about the allegations that the Indian government is backing the movement with arms, training and money?
Allegations regarding involvement of foreign hands including that of India abound, but have never been substantiated and are simply used to justify atrocities on the Balochs by terming them as agents of this or that foreign power.
The Baloch fought against the British in the 1800s. Then there were no Indian or other agencies to finance and instigate them.
How has the Pakistan government dealt with the movement in Balochistan?
Since the forced annexation of Balochistan on March 27, 1948 -- after it had remained independent for 227 days -- Pakistan has employed force to curb the Baloch aspirations and rights.
There have been charades of giving rights and concessions and packages, but all of them are hollow and meaningless and not even worth the paper these are written on.
The Ataullah Mengal government in May 1972 was the only real step forward, but it was only allowed only for nine months and illegally and unjustifiably terminated. That resulted in the four-year long struggle from 1973 to 1977.
How does the situation in Balochistan compare with the situation in Kashmir?
In both places people have aspirations for a life of freedom and dignity and they continue to sacrifice for that.
The ruling classes's unfounded fears of Balkanisation and obsessions with monoliths hinders them from understanding that not all people want to be reasonably well to do slaves and that they prefer a hard life in freedom.
The approach of both governments has been similar in Balochistan and Kashmir.
Unfortunately, States are more concerned with their so-called integrity and not about people who do not want to be a part of that integrity. This is the case with Balochistan in Pakistan and Iran, Kashmir in India, Tibet and Xinjiang in China and the Kurds in Turkey.
Temporary suppression of struggles does not necessarily mean victory. You may win the Battle of Algiers, but will lose the War for Algeria.
What human rights violations have you seen in Balochistan?
Human rights violations are never committed selectively; these are invariably across the entire spectrum for those who resent dissent and diversity are never a civilized lot; cruelty is synonymous with ignorance.
The scale and depth of human rights abuses are appalling. There are abductions, torture, mutilated bodies, targeted killings and everything that comes to mind. It is easily overlooked that denial of economic rights and social rights too are grave human rights violations that accompany the physical human rights violations.
Why do you say the China Pakistan Economic Corridor will destroy the life of the Balochs? An economic corridor normally benefits the people living in the surrounding areas.
All economic corridors or grand schemes which have the sole intent of exploiting the resources of one people for benefits of others can never help the people whose resources and land are being exploited.
The CPEC too is inherently exploitative and certainly doesn't have Baloch interests as its aim.
Pakistan is appeasing China for the investments which will benefit them. This corridor will not only deprive the Baloch of their land and resources, but will turn them into a minority because of the influx of outsiders that will be bought in and those who will come seeking money which comes a plenty when lands and people are exploited.
What do the Baloch think of the CPEC?
The Baloch do not view the CPEC favourably because they see it as an instrument to deny Baloch their rights under excuse of development.
When the government takes over land for development, doesn't it pay for it?
Compensation for land, if any, is minimal, but the real issue is land rights. In Balochistan tribes own lands since centuries and they cannot be disinherited just because someone sitting in Islamabad decides to make a law, in which the disinherited have had no say, that all land belongs to the State in which those who are being disinherited haven't any stake.
Land should belong to those who inhabit it, not those who have the money and force to buy or take it.
Don't you think this corridor will provide employment to the Balochs?
The Balochs want to be masters, not slaves and hired labour in their own land. Dr Abdul Malik Baloch (the chief minister of Balochistan) may get us some meager jobs. But there is a saying that freedom in poverty is better than prosperous slavery.
This is not an issue of jobs. The Baloch say it is our land. It was ours when it was desolate. Now that they have discovered gold, silver and copper, it is ours.
Why has the development of Gwadar port not benefited the Baloch people?
Development anywhere requires consent and participation of the inhabitants and Gwadar is devoid of both these because the people there view it as an attempt to exploit their coast and land for benefit of others.
A few ships of grain that have berthed there since its so-called being operational have been unloaded by labour brought from Karachi as people do not want to be a part of a scheme to exploit their resources.
Moreover, instead of benefitting the people there they saw the ugliest form of land grab and so much so that the Pakistani supreme court was forced to cancel the allotments.
This land grab also prompted influx of outsiders and it only eased when people physically resisted the injustices.
What do the Baloch people think of the Chinese?
The Baloch people naturally view with suspicion all those who help Pakistan either militarily or economically vis a vis Baloch people and this suspicion and resentment extends towards both China and the US for their roles in Balochistan.
As China has become an increasingly active investor in Balochistan, the resentment has risen and the CPEC has made people equate and identify China with the brutalities that are being committed by Pakistan in the name of development.
What do the Baloch people think of the US which has close ties with Pakistan?
The Baloch people resent the military and financial aid which the US provides because they are at the receiving end of the military hardware and that is provided to Pakistan. People having no other means of presenting their views make use of social media to remind the US of its folly in buffering Pakistan with military hardware and money.
The Baloch understand that countries and powers do not have friends or enemies; they have interests.
You mention Chinese involvement in the Saindak copper and gold mines. Are your people not working there? What have you got in return for your resources?
The Saindak project, in the Chagai district of Balochistan 670 km west of Quetta, was based on estimated ore reserves of 412 million tons containing on average 0.5 gram of gold per ton and 1.5 grams of silver per ton. It was expected to generate about $65 million annually.
The project was revived by Pakistan and China on March 22, 2002, with $350 million earmarked for development. The terms are exceptionally unfavourable for Balochistan and its people.
MRDL, a subsidiary of the Metallurgical Construction Company of China, runs it in return for 50 per cent of the total revenue from mineral sale and also pay $500,000 monthly to Pakistan for the 10 year lease period.
Balochistan will receive only $0.7 million/year as royalty. These figures expose the total disregard of Baloch rights by the Pakistani government.
The lease which was to end in 2012 was arbitrarily extended until 2017. The Saindak project is an environmental disaster. The people employed are for hard labour as qualified Baloch are overlooked in favour of others.
Have you made your views known to the government of Pakistan? What has been their response?
The only way that views can be heard is through the media, but the media here (in Pakistan) doesn't give much coverage to Baloch issues and only a couple of national dailies do give the coverage. Social media is used, but in spite of its wide coverage its effectiveness remains very limited.
How important is Gwadar to the Baloch people?
Gwadar can never be more important to anyone the way it is to the Baloch people. China may have strategic and economic interests in Gwadar, but for the Baloch it is their motherland and an important part of their beloved motherland.
They feel and understand that Gwadar is inextricably connected to their future prosperity and for that reason they have resisted encroachments on it in past and are resisting now too.
What are your future plans for the Baloch people?
The Baloch people will decide what they want, but one thing is certain that they want a free democratic Balochistan. They desire a land free of religious bigotry and ethnic discrimination with economic and social justice for all.
Image: Policemen stand guard at Quetta's central mosque. Photograph: Jerry Lampen/Reuters