The Baloch nation existed in the mid-17th century until November 13, 1839, when the British Empire attacked the capital of Balochistan, Kalat (also spelled Khelat). After the British colonization, Balochistan was systematically divided into three parts. Western parts were merged into Persia in 1871, and Northern parts into Afghanistan in 1893.
Report from the Sarlat Mountains, Afghanistan-Pakistan border, December 24 2014
Balochistan is the land of the Baloch, who today see their land divided by the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is a vast swathe of land the size of France which boasts enormous deposits of gas, gold and copper, untapped sources of oil and uranium, as well as a thousand-kilometre coastline near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz.
In August 1947, the Baloch from Pakistan declared independence, but nine months later the Pakistani army marched into Balochistan and annexed it, sparking an insurgency that has lasted, intermittently, to this day.
“Today we speak of seven Baloch armed movements fighting for freedom but all share a common goal: independence for Balochistan” – Baloch Khan, commander of the Balochistan Liberation Army
The fighters claimed to have marched for twelve hours from their camp to meet this IPS reporter.
They are four: Baloch Khan, commander of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), and Mama, Hayder and Mohamed, his three escorts, who do not want to disclose their full names.
“[The Sarlat Mountains] is an area of high Taliban presence but they use their own routes and we stick to ours so we hardly ever come across them,” explains commander Khan, adding that he wants to make it clear from the beginning that the Baloch liberation movement is “at the antipodes of fundamentalism”.
“Today we speak of seven Baloch armed movements fighting for freedom but all share a common goal: independence for Balochistan,” says Khan. At 41, he has spent half of his life as a guerrilla fighter. “I joined as a student,” he recalls.
The senior commander refuses to disclose the number of fighters in the BLA’s ranks but he does say that they are deployed in 25 camps throughout “East Balochistan [under the control of Pakistan]”.
Khan suggests parallelisms between his group and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), also a “secular group fighting for their national rights.”
“We feel very close to the Kurds. One could say they are our cousins, and their land is also stolen by their neighbors,” says the commander, referring to the common origin of Baloch and Kurds, and the division of the latter into four states: Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
Historically a nomadic people, the Baloch insurgent groups in Pakistan are secular and share a common agenda focusing on the independence of Balochistan.
“Until 2000 not a single Shia was killed in Balochistan. Today Pakistan is funnelling all sorts of fundamentalist groups, many of them linked to the Taliban, into Balochistan, to quell the Baloch liberation movement,” says the guerrilla fighter, adding that targeted killings and enforced disappearances are a common currency in his homeland.
The number of people disappeared from Balochistan since 2000 is more than 19,000.
The BLA has ben fighting back. In August 2013, the BLA took responsibility for the killing of 13 people after the two buses they were travelling in were stopped by fighters in Mach area, about 50km (31 miles) south-east of the provincial capital, Quetta.
“There were 40 people in two buses. We arrested and investigated 25 of them and we finally executed 13, all of whom belonged to the Pakistani Security Forces,” said Khan.
Balochistan and beyond
“Pakistan is breeding fundamentalists to counter the Baloch nationalist movement but it has entirely failed. Now they are trying to use the instrument of religion in order to distract attention from the Baloch freedom movement,” Allah Nazar, commander in chief of the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF).
According to the movement´s leader, such a threat could well transcend the boundaries of this inhospitable region. Commander Nazar gave the coordinates of “at least four training camps” where members of the Islamic State would reportedly be receiving instruction before being transferred to the Middle East:
“There´s one is in Makran, and another one in Wadh, 990 and 315 km south of Quetta respectively,” says the guerrilla fighter. “A third one is in the Mishk area of Zehri – 200 km south of Quetta – and there are more than 100 armed men there: Arabs, Pashtuns, Punjabis and others who are based there with the help of Sardar Sanaullah Zehri [a local tribal leader]. The fourth camp is near Chiltan, in Quetta.”
Nazar adds that Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) is “both activating and patronising the Islamic State. The Islamic State is overwhelmingly present among us. They even throw pamphlets in our streets to advocate their view of Islam and get new recruits,” said Nazar.
The Baloch in Iran In 2014 there were about two million ethnic Baloch in Iran. The province where Baloch have traditionally lived in Iran, has the country’s worst rates for life expectancy, adult literacy, primary school enrolment, access to improved water sources and sanitation, infant mortality rate, of any province in Iran. Despite its important natural resources (gas, gold, copper, oil and uranium), the province has the lowest per capita income in Iran. Almost 80% of the Baloch live under the poverty line.
In 2005, a rebellion by Baloch against the Islamic Republic of Iran began.