The Boiling Baloch Pot: A Continued Saga of Baloch Resistance
Tejusvi Shukla

A suicide bombing that killed three Chinese nationals in the Pakistani city of Karachi on April 26, 2022, has sent shock waves throughout the region. Notably, this incident rests on two problematically linked facts. One, this attack took place at the entrance of the University of Karachi’s Confucius Institute. Therefore, this was a targeted attack against Chinese nationals. Two, the suicide bomber was a Baloch by ethnicity. The Baloch National Army has already owned up the responsibility for the attack through a viral video claiming local opposition to the constantly increasing Chinese presence in the province due to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The group has repeatedly warned against the exploitation of resources, mineral wealth, and strategic location of the province by the incoming Chinese in collusion with the Pakistani establishment at the cost of the local impoverished population.

While this appears to be a classic case of a deprived population demanding a legitimate share of the developmental benefits from their land, in reality, the situation seem much more nuanced. Examining the security situation in the province, two things become evident. One, this resistance is not new and dates back to even before 2013. Two, the trend of recorded human rights violations has been on a continuous rise in the province since 2013 with the commencement of the CPEC. These alleged violations, including forceful eviction and most importantly enforced disappearances, appear to be linked to ensuring the successful operation of various CPEC projects by the Pakistani establishment as well as the Chinese private security companies. In terms of the series of instances, the most prominent ones include the murder of three Chinese engineers in Gwadar way back in 2004, followed by an attack on four Chinese fuel trucks in 2013, on tankers carrying fuel for the Chinese in the Chagi district in 2015, rockets fired at a military convoy guarding construction activity on the Gwadar-Kashgar route in the same year, an attempted attack on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi in 2018, six engineers killed in a blast in Gwadar in 2021, and another one in Quetta in a luxury hotel hosting the Chinese Ambassador in Quetta the same year.

The April 26 attack is only an addition to the above list. Apart from this, various popular movements against eviction are frequent occurrences – the most recent one being of the locals in Gwadar against the use of fishing trawlers by the Chinese. However, the most concerning issue has been the upward trend of human rights violations in the province, as aforementioned. Forceful evictions of the Baloch population from their land for making way for CPEC infrastructure have long been criticized. In terms of Enforced Disappearances in the province, if the database by Voice of Missing Baloch is considered, a visible geographical shift can be noticed in these occurrences. A majority of these incidents are concentrated in Baloch-speaking districts that fall on the CPEC route, namely, Awaran, Khuzdar, Kech, Panjgur, and Gwadar. This is notable, since other districts in northern Balochistan (Zhob, etc.) that are essentially non-Baloch speaking districts, also part of the CPEC infrastructure belt, do not record similar instances. A probable explanation for this could be the increased local opposition against CPEC projects that resulted in harder state suppression in the form of enforced disappearances. Worse, along the same time, incidents of unearthed mass graves found in Khuzdar with over 100 buried bodies in three mass graves in 2014 have emerged. While there might not necessarily be a link between the two, the geographical overlap of increased disappearances in districts hosting Chinese presence raises obvious questions.

This is not to deny that the issue of enforced disappearances and other human rights violations have been a tool for suppressing a popular anti-state movement in Balochistan for over two decades now. However, the entangled economic and geopolitical interests brought about by the Chinese presence have worsened situations for the Baloch population. The accelerated CPEC infrastructure construction in the provincewhich used as a justification forthe forced demographic inversion by importing non-Baloch speaking population into the provinceis posing a critical threat to the Baloch population in general and the Baloch nationalist movement in particular. This has largely been cited as a response to the labour requirement of CPEC infrastructure construction projects. A recent report confirmed the visible fall in the Baloch-speaking population in the province, so also a continued poor performance of the region on all human development indicators. The recent surge in violent attacks against the Pakistani establishment and targeted attacks on the Chinese, even outside of Balochistan, is a testimony to the growing grievances against perpetual suppression.

This raises valid questions about the future of the Chinese investment in the region, so also regarding the Pakistani establishment’s response to the situation. The political instability has further worsened the situation. The progress of the projects had anyway slowed down, and the Gwadar port which was considered the most important part of the CPEC is still not fully operational. Apart from the security concerns, the inefficiencies of work by the CPEC Authority in Pakistan have further derailed the process, so much so that it is expected to be dissolved very soon. This has been preceded by the sacking of a previous CPEC Authority Chief, Lt Gen (Retd.) Aseem Bajwa for similar reasons. With the Baloch nationalist movement rising and becoming more visible, how the newly appointed government will deal with the issue shall be interesting to watch. Moreover, the state response shall be a deciding factor for the future course of action of the Baloch nationalists.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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