Some Background Information on Baloch
Balochistan is a huge territory occupied by Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. As a result of the “great game”, Balochistan was divided between those countries in the 19th century by the British. Despite the size of its territory and relatively large population, the Baloch do not enjoy even limited cultural freedom. The governments of the countries where the Baloch live are not interested in allowing the Baloch economical, culture and language to develop.
In Pakistan, Balochistan is geographically the largest province, however it is the most exploited province, and the least developed. The illiteracy rate is catastrophically high and there is no infrastructure. There are gas reserves, which supply most of Pakistan with its energy, and a sparse enough population to make it a viable location for nuclear tests, neither of which the local population receive any benefit from.
For example, in the whole of Iran there is not one academic institution where Balochi can be studied. There is not one single newspaper or magazine in Balochi. Baloch children are told by their teachers that their mother tongue is Persian. Balochi music has never been heard in the Iranian capital, Teheran. You are likely to get in trouble with the authorities if you speak even about cultural rights, let alone political. Iran is made up of many different non-Persian ethnic groups, such as the Baloch, Kurds, Turkmen, and Arabs. Although Iran calls itself an Islamic state, much of its internal repression and discrimination is directed against its Muslim minorities. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic states that “the official religion of Iran is Islam and the Twelver Ja’fari school” whereas other schools within Islam do not hold any official position, but are simply “to be accorded full respect”. Almost all Baloch, Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs follow schools other than Shi’ite (or Twelver Ja’fari).
In Afghanistan the situation is the same as for others who do not support the Taliban’s ideology, and the Baloch population there suffers the same repression and deprivation of basic human rights as other ethnic groups such as the Hazaras, Tajiks, Uzbeks and others. In all parts of Balochistan, opium and heroin use is extremely high, even among children. Such drugs are cheaper than good imported cigarettes, and the authorities largely turn a blind eye to the problem of use and trafficking. Because the governments which control Balochistan have not developed any plan for its future, there is no hope of employment for most Baloch people, and smuggling becomes a very profitable and stable prospect. Those who choose to lead a less dangerous lifestyle are forced to leave their wives and children to seek work in the Arab gulf states, where they are treated as second- class citizens.
Despite greeting them as their “Islamic brothers”, these countries accord little respect to their Muslim migrant workers. Those among the Baloch who are educated and have attempted to change something to help their people are now either in gaol, executed, or have fled to various countries in Europe, North America and Australia. In the 1970s in Pakistan there was a strong movement among the Baloch for more rights. Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto cracked down on those involved, thousands died, and still more were forced to flee to Afghanistan and other countries. After the Islamic revolution in Iran, before Khomeini had fully consolidated power, a democratic atmosphere emerged in the country. The Baloch took advantage of this climate to organise political movements and parties. This regime too cracked down on this attempt at achieving basic rights, and again many were either executed, were thrown into gaol (where some still languish), or again fled to any country that would take them in.
The Iranian regime does not even stop at assassinating Baloch leaders within its own territory – there are many reports of agents being sent to “deal with” those who fled to neighbouring countries such as Pakistan. Balochistan is a bridge between two civilisations – the Persian and the Indian. The Baloch share much in common culturally and historically with the ethnic groups among which the Baloch live – Persians, Afghans and various Indian peoples. The Baloch in their struggle forgotten by the rest of the world are not seeking something extraordinary, they are simply seeking that which so many others have – the right to be able to speak their own language, be educated in that language, practice their religion and develop their musical and other cultural activities, and above all, to live peacefully with those with whom they share their land and have equal rights as all other Nations like the Punjabis and Persians.
It is sad to see that the world community knowing about the problems of the Baloch people being denied their basic rights do nothing. The Iranian, Pakistani and Afghan governments must recognise the basic rights of minorities such as the Baloch, or risk creating a second Soviet Union or Yugoslavia. People cannot be deprived of their rights forever – sooner or later the problem will erupt and it will be too late to do any thing to stop it.