New Delhi, May 28, 2022- The Washington-based Baloch American Congress (BAC) has unfurled the campaign for the independence of Balochistan from Pakistan. The BAC is lobbying with American Congressmen as well as collecting petitions from the common people to pressurise Pakistan to stop extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances of the Baloch community.
India Narrative catches up with Dr Tara Chand, president of the BAC, who is raising awareness about the basic human rights of the Baloch nation amongst the people in the US. He says that because of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) both Pakistan and China are complicit in the ethnic cleansing of the Baloch people�which comprises less than 10 per cent of the Pakistani population with over 45 per cent of Pakistan’s landmass endowed with minerals.
Dr Tara Chand is amplifying the voice of the Baloch people in the US against human rights violations by Pakistan (Photo: Dr Tara Chand)
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: At one time you were a minister in Balochistan, so why is it that you are in exile in the US now?
Tara Chand: I was always active in Baloch politics. I had joined the Baloch Students Organisation in school and after completing my education joined the Balochistan National Party (BNP) led by chief of the influential Mengal tribe, Sardar Akhtar Mengal. I won the general elections in 1997 and became a minister under Chief minister Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s leadership.
One day while watching the news we came to know that the Pakistani army had conducted nuclear tests in Balochistan. The tests were conducted at a site near the Reqo Dik and Saindak gold and copper mines. Surprised, the chief minister rang up the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif said even he was not aware of the nuclear tests as the army had kept it a tightly guarded secret. Sharif also told Sardar Mengal that he was unaware of the location of the tests because the army had kept two possible sites�Chagai in Balochistan and Tharparkar in Sindh.
Our party was against the nuclear test in Balochistan. And, we were not even informed despite running the government there. We protested against the test. So, the army asked us why we were protesting because the nuclear tests were done in the security interests of Pakistan. We told the army that we were not informed despite being in government and nuclear tests harm the environment.
The Pakistani intelligence started a conspiracy. Our party lost the majority in the assembly and became the opposition. This is a daily occurrence in Pakistan where the governments are formed and pulled down by orders of the army. Soon after, there was a coup and General Pervez Musharraf took over the government in Pakistan. Even the provincial assemblies were dissolved.
I was asked to join Musharraf’s party which I refused. I was put on the Exit Control List (ECL). Then the intelligence agencies developed information that I was in touch with the Indian High Commission. When I came to know about this, I went underground for two months and came to the US. I was scared for my life as I was getting constant threats and would keep seeing my name in the newspapers.
Q: Do you still believe that the existence of the Baloch nation is in danger? Is the Pakistani military actually carrying out a genocide of the Baloch people?
Tara Chand: The Baloch people had to face four military operations before 2005. The fifth one, which is currently on, is the longest running operation against the Baloch nation. A racial, cultural and linguistic genocide of my people is actually taking place.
Pakistan takes away our resources. Sui and Dera Bugti provide natural gas to all of Punjab’s factories. We ask for returns for these natural resources because this is our wealth. Gold, gypsum, zinc, copper, coal and iron are all mined by Pakistan. If the country does not share this wealth with us, how do we build schools, hospitals and other facilities?
Earlier we would be arrested for showing our displeasure. But now Pakistan has formed Death Squads. The military can pick up people and our students from anywhere�homes, markets, hostels. They have disappeared 80,000 in the last 15 or so years. At least 2,000 were tortured to death and their bodies dumped. The fate of more than 5,000 is still unknown. This is a genocide that we are facing.
Q: In the human development index, Balochistan stands right next to some of the poorest countries in Africa. Why is there such a big difference in development between Punjab and Balochistan?
Tara Chand: Balochistan has been kept poor right from the start. Funds released for the province from Islamabad are used for security of the mines and similar other projects.
Secondly, the puppet governments in Balochistan siphon off the funds. The funds are used for making and breaking the governments. The money never comes to the people. It is never used for the welfare of the people.
Q: We have seen that since the start of this year, Baloch armed groups have launched a number of attacks inflicting severe casualties on the Pakistani army. What has ignited the rebels suddenly?
Tara Chand: The Baloch groups are carrying out a guerrilla war, so I can’t say much as I am not aware of their thinking. But I can vouch the more the Pakistani army retaliates, the more the Baloch rebels will resist.
Also, the Baloch nation is giving a message�that they support the rebels.
Q: How do you view Shari Baloch’s suicide bombing? Does it not go against the secular beliefs of the Baloch movement? What impact will Shari’s action have on the future of Baloch nationalism?
Tara Chand: Tens of thousands Baloch people have died over the decades in this war for Balochistan freedom. No Baloch fighter ever has said that they will go to heaven once they are martyred. It is the Pakistani army which says that its soldiers will go to heaven for conducting jihad. For us the fight is about our land, not heaven. Ours is a nationalist movement for our rights over homeland, seaports and natural resources.
Shari Baloch sacrificed her life. She came from a well-educated family. By her supreme sacrifice she has sent a message to the world � “we Baloch people can go to any length for our independence. Do not underestimate us.”
Baloch logon ko pata hai ki yeh koi chhoti jung nahi hai’. (The Baloch people know that this is not going to be a short battle).
Shari Baloch’s message is that we will not give up.
The Baloch are a secular progressive nation. The Baloch are running the movement not from a religious standpoint but for their national identity. Pakistan should accept that the Baloch people have lived in their homeland for centuries before Muslim invaders brought Islam came to Balochistan.
Q: China is shaken by the attacks on its people in Pakistan. There have been reports in the global media that Chinese nationals are leaving Pakistan out of fear. Do you actually think China will withdraw from the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)?
Tara Chand: The CPEC cannot succeed without Baloch support.
Pakistan is making a fool of a greedy China by dangling the carrot of trade before it. It has told China that it will control Baloch nationalism. They do not want to realise that the Baloch movement is an indigenous movement. How much security can they put in CPEC?
I think China is showing its stupidity by investing in Pakistan. Its projects will never become successful. China is making a big blunder by investing in CPEC. It should stop the project and cut down its losses. Baloch people know that if the CPEC becomes a success, it will lead to their national instinction. It is a nation fighting for its survival.
The sacrifice of Shari Baloch has not gone in vain. After her martyrdom, thousands of Chinese have reportedly fled Pakistan.
Q: Besides the natural resources, does China also pose a threat to the Baloch people, its culture and its way of living?
Tara Chand: Because of the CPEC, lots of people from outside Balochistan will settle down in the province. People from Punjab will settle here. It will be a massive ethnic flooding. Most of our bureaucracy is already Punjabi and they hope to gain from the CPEC project at the expense of the local population.
The money coming to Pakistan from China for the CPEC will clean up the Baloch people from their own land. Pakistan will do it so that it can achieve its economic goals. But we Baloch will overcome China also.
Q: Why is it that the Baloch cause has not been able to garner international support? The Baloch people have been fighting Pakistani military rule since March 27, 1948 – after the Pakistani military forcibly took over Balochistan, yet it has no international support.
Tara Chand: It is our misfortune that Pakistan was always needed by the United States.
Initially, because of Russia in Afghanistan. Pakistan was also used by the West to put pressure on India. Pakistan has used the Taliban card to hoodwink the world and gain international support.
It succeeded in fooling the U.S. by telling Washington that Islamabad was an ally in the war against terrorism. Once the U.S. located Osama bin Laden’s hideout just outside the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul, they sniffed him out without informing Pakistan military or the devilish I.S.I. about their operation. Things are clear now as to who stands where.
Now Pakistan is finding it difficult to survive. Its internal situation is such that it has no money to manage its own security. How long can a state keep borrowing monies from other countries?
Without Balochistan, Pakistan is nothing. Without Pakistan, Balochistan is everything.
Q: Towards the end, would you like to add something from your side?
Tara Chand: I would like to make a distinction between the Baloch and the Bengali struggles as many comparisons are drawn between the two nations. The Bengali leaders in India had initially supported the idea of East Pakistan on the basis of religion. However, when they were discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity and culture, they revolted against the Pakistani Punjabis.
In our case, we never supported Pakistan. Once Pakistan was carved out of India, we lost our independence. (Agency)