Fears run high among people in Balochistan that Chinese President Xi Jinping China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project to link the strategically sexy Gwadar port on the Straits of Hormuz with road and rail to Kashgar in China will turn them into a minority in their homeland.
Brutal army operation continues to crush all Baloch resistance against the CPEC and more decisions were made Tuesday against the Baloch people when Premier Nawaz Sharif and army chief General Raheel Sharif were in Quetta for meetings. Since the soft coup last fall the army has assumed a preeminent position in the Pakistan politics and so General Sharif attended a political meeting called the All Parties Conference.
China is touting the CPEC as an important part of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road that would run through Asia, Europe and Africa; Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Sun Weidong in an interview with the official APP news agency described the CPEC as “a symphony performed by all relevant countries.” In addition to being a future commercial port, Gwadar is being developed as naval base to become part of China’s “string of pearls” bases on the rim of the Indian Ocean and will be connected to Kashgar with road and rail as part of President Xi Jinping’s vision of a Maritime Silk Route. The Chinese president signed 50 MoUs work $46 billion when he visited Islamabad in April.
But the Baloch, after whom France-sized Balochistan or “land of the Baloch” is named say they do not want to become part of the Chinese orchestrated symphony. These Baloch fear “ethnic flooding” of their homeland by the dominant Punjabis, mohajirs and even Afghan refugees if Xi’s ambition succeeds whereby it will no longer be the land of Baloch. Baloch leaders call the CPEC a deal between Punjab and China and accuse the Punjabi elite of being intent to rob Balochistan of its wealth, without giving anything to the Baloch people.
The Baloch nationalists have also expressed apprehensions army brutalities against them are likely to increase as they oppose the Chinese plans tooth and nail. Already, for quite some years now, human rights groups have accused Pakistan of carrying out a kill and dump policy and massive enforced disappearances of freedom activists in Balochistan. Extreme forms of torture like forced feeding of feces and sodomy have also been reported, while bodies of freedom activists were at times dumped with slogans like Pakistan zindabad, or “Long live Pakistan” incised on them. On the contrast, many astute observers of Pakistan politics say the more appropriate slogan in Pakistan for nearly two decades now has been Pakistan say zinda baagh or escape from Pakistan safely, as the law and order situation in the country is deteriorating day by day.
In a Press statement published Saturday, Dr Mannan Baloch, central general secretary of the Baloch National Movement, strongly condemned Pakistan-China collusion to snatch Baloch ports and resources from the Baloch people through grandiose imperial designs. He described the decisions being made at the All Parties Conference as day dreaming and said the Baloch are ready to fight for their rights at all levels. He said the CPEC and any other investments and agreements are unacceptable to the Baloch people. Vowing to foil the ongoing conspiracies through people’s power,” he said the Sino-Punjab pact on the CPEC was basically a strategy aimed at maintaining their military and economic supremacy at the expense of permanent national slavery of Baloch people. “Under no circumstances will the Baloch allow foreign investments in Pakistan until such time they become rulers of their free state,” Dr Baloch said.
According to former Balochistan fisheries minister Kachkol Ali, who lives in exile in Oslo, Norway, and is also a BNM leader, no benefit is going to accrue to the Baloch people from the CPEC. “If the Baloch cannot stop it, we can in the least die in the struggle to stop it,” he insists, meaning Baloch would not live to enjoy the fruits of the CPEC in any case. Kackol Ali recalls an incident from many years ago. “I remember a Chinese official came and visited with me in my office in 2004. At that time, I was leader of the opposition and a three Chinese engineers were killed by the BLF (Baloch Liberation Front) in Gwadar. He discussed with me the issue of Gwadar port. His line of argument was that the Chinese authorities had an agreement with the federal government in Islamabad and that the ports were a federal subject and so on and so forth,” Ali recalled. “But I categorically refuted his argument. I stressed without Baloch consent, we would not allow the port and its affiliated networks construction (roads and railway tracks).”
Last week, another provincial government minister, who is no less than a duke in Balochistan, was out on the streets of London, standing right across the UK Parliament to tell the woes of his suffering people. Hyrbyair Marri, former communications and works minister, was staging a protest on the 17th anniversary of Pakistan’s nuclear tests in Chagai, Balochistan. Islamabad may never had developed the “Islamic Bomb” without Chinese technical collaboration.
Marri said Pakistan has ganged up with the “big thief and robber” China and is trying to build roads in Balochistan to push the Baloch into extinction. Marri lost his elder brother Mir Balach Marri, a former provincial assembly member less than eight years ago, to Pakistan army operations. Just to weeks after his brother’s slaying he and his comrade Faiz Baluch were arrested in London on a false charge of terrorism on the bidding of the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf. They were kept at the maximum security Belmarsh prison, but exonerated 17 months later.
Moscow-based Dr Jumma Marri, whose father Mir Hazar Khan Ramkhani was one of the main guerrilla leaders in the 1973-77 uprising, says the Baloch need solid international support to thwart the Chinese ambitions. Dr Marri believes minus such support, the Baloch can at best hamper the CPEC project, but cannot derail it completely. He said the Pakistan authorities are already in contact with tribal leaders to bribe them to allow the building of CPEC road through their tribal territories. Despite lack of international support, Baloch are sticking to their guns, literally.
In April, guerrillas of the Baloch Liberation Front gunned down 20 workers from Punjab and Sindh, who were working on an army-run Frontier Works Organization bridge to augment the CPEC plans. The killings came barely a week ahead of Pakistan dispatching eight JF-17 Thunder fighter jets— using fighter jets symbolizes an unstable situation on the ground–, to welcome and send off Chinese President Xi Jinping’s when his plane entered and left Pakistani air space.
In contrast to Baloch opposition, Xi’s visit caused an adrenaline rush among generals and politicians in the Punjab province from where Pakistan draws most of its soldiers for her sixth largest army in the world. President Xi expressed concern over the safety of Chinese working on the project. To allay Chinese fears, the very next day Pakistan army announced a new 12,000-strong security force, which will be headed by a major general and composed of nine army battalions and six wings of civilian security forces.
However, Baloch do not seem to be browbeaten as they say they have a history of being resilient enough to thwart powerful foreign forays in the past. Five centuries ago the Baloch bravely fought to keep the Portuguese at bay from their coastline that forms the northern lip of the Straits of Hormuz. Out of reverence, the Portuguese built the statute of Mir Hammal Kalmati, ruler of coastal Makkuran region of Balochistan, that now stands at a museum in Goa, India.
The Portuguese arrived in the region soon after the departure of China’s Ming Dynasty, and their most famous maritime explorer and castrated Admiral Zheng He, who commandeered his 63 ships and over 28,000 men to the Straits of Hormuz.