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Is Britain complicit in human rights violations in Balochistan?

Balochistan, bordering Iran to the West and Afghanistan to the North, was an independent country before the British attacked and invaded it in 1839. The Baloch ruler, at the time, Mir Mehrab Khan along with hundreds of Baloch fighters died while defending Balochistan.

Later the British draw two artificial lines (borders), the Goldsmith Line (1871) and the Durand Line (1895), dividing Balochistan into three pieces. Northern Balochistan and Western Balochistan were given to Persia and Afghanistan respectively, and Eastern Balochistan (Pakistan occupied Balochistan) remained independent and maintained treaty relations with the British.  

One of the treaties the British government signed with Balochistan in 1854 and later amended in 1876 reads as follows: Article 3:Whilst on his part, Meer Khodadad Khan, Khan of Kalat, binds himself, his heirs, successors and sardars to observe faithfully the provisions of Article 3 of the treaty of 1854, the British Government on its part engages to respect the independence of Kalat, and to aid the Khan, in case of need, in the maintenance of a just authority and the protection of his territories from external attack, by such means as the British Government may at the moment deem expedient.”

The British remained in Eastern part of Balochistan until 1947 and at the time of their departure they recognised Balochistan as an independent state. Three days prior to Pakistan’s separation from India, a tripartite agreement was signed between the British, the ruler of Balochistan and the upcoming Pakistan administration accepting the sovereignty of the Baloch people. On 11 August, 1947, Eastern Balochistan declared full independence.

On 27 March, 1948, however, Pakistan invaded Balochistan and coerced the Baloch ruler to sign a so-called accession treaty at gun point after the Baloch parliament rejected the notion of joining Pakistan on the basis of shared religion. This is when Britain should have prepared itself to protect Balochistan from any external attack, but it chose not to comply with its 1876 treaty and remained silent over Pakistan’s naked aggression against the sovereign state of Balochistan.

The Baloch people started resisting the illegal occupation of their country. The first armed rebellion was led by Prince Abdul Karim Baloch, the younger brother of ruler of Balochistan, in 1948. On four occasions (1948, 1952, 1963, 1973-1977) the Baloch tried to break free of Pakistani slavery, but each time Pakistan defeated the Baloch attempts to win their independence. When it seemed Pakistan was losing ground in the 1973-77 war of independence, the Shah of Iran send cobra helicopters and Iranian pilots to support Pakistani forces against the Baloch freedom fighters.

During each military operation thousands of Baloch men, women and children were killed due to the indiscriminate bombardment of Baloch villages. Countless livestock were also killed and properties damaged. Hundreds of thousands of Baloch families, along with their children and women, disappeared. Their whereabouts remain unknown to this day.

The latest phase of the Baloch freedom struggle started in late 1999 when Musharraf took power through a military coup in Pakistan and declared war on Balochistan soon after. In early 2000 he began regular military offensives in different areas of Balochistan. In 2006 the Federal Interior Minister of Pakistan, Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, accepted in a press conference that Pakistani forces had abducted at least 4,000 Baloch activists. On 26th August, 2006, the Pakistan military killed one of the prominent leaders of Balochistan – Nawab Akbar Bugti. His murder worked to fuel the fire and the situation further deteriorated.

The Baloch insurgency accelerated and became more furious while the Pakistani military intensified their offensives and aggressions. The number of enforced-disappeared persons had reached more than twelve thousand by late 2007. Some of the people were eventually released from military prisons and described the torture, mistreatment and humiliation of political prisoners as horrendous. Prisoners had been deprived of food and sleep; they were made to sleep on ice slabs in cold winter night; they were tied upside down and hanged in stress positions from the ceilings, etc.

On 3rd April, 2009, Pakistani forces attacked a lawyer’s office in the Turbat area of Balochistan and abducted three of his clients before his eyes. The lawyer was tied, blindfolded and beaten up badly. A week later, on the night of 9th April, the bulleted-riddled bodies of the three men named Ghulam Mohammad, chairman of Baloch National Movement, Lala Munir, Baloch deputy chairman of BNM, and Sher Mohammad Baloch, a senior leader of the Baloch Republican Party, were found in the Deparak region near Turbat, Balochistan.

The policy of ‘abducted, kill and dump’ intensified from July 2010 onward and almost every day, or every other day, a dead body would be found in Balochistan revealing signs of brutal torture and bullets wounds to the upper torso of his body. Many bodies have been found with amputated limbs or other with other body parts removed. This inhumane practice continues to-date and families of enforced-disappeared Baloch report that more than 18,000 Baloch have been disappeared since Musharraf took power in 1999. The bodies of at least 1,600 of them have been found dumped in various areas across Balochistan and in Karachi.

In January 2014 three mass graves were discovered in the Tootak area of Khuzdar district in Balochistan. The graves contained at least 169 bodies. Only three of the persons have been identified as previously abducted persons who were picked up from their homes by Pakistani Para-military forces. The rest of the bodies could not be identified because they were mutilated beyond recognition and the military quickly cut off all access to the graves and took control of the remaining bodies so no further forensic identification work was possible.

The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons chairman Mr. Nasrullah Baloch in his January 2015 Press Release has revealed that 455 tortured bodies were found in 2014 from Balochistan, among which 107 of them were identified. 348 bodies could not be identified due to disfigurement. He also said that it was difficult to ascertain the identity of bodies because recently the captors have started to mutilate the faces of their victims with acid and other substances.

These gross human rights violations in Balochistan are taking place at a time when Britain and USA are still supporting Pakistan financially and militarily. Under the 1876 treaty with Balochistan, Britain should have helped protect the sovereignty of Balochistan in 1948 when Pakistan attacked it, just as the British government honoured a similar treaty with Belgium and the Netherlands – the ‘London Treaty.’ Under this treaty Britain declared war on Germany when the later attacked France through Belgium in 1914. In the case of Balochistan, not only did Britain not abide by the treaty it signed to protect Balochistan, but rather appeared to assist Pakistan against the Baloch people.

In 2007 Blair and Gordon Brown’s government arrested two Baloch activists at the request of ex-Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharraf’s government. According to some reports the British and Pakistani governments had agreed to a possible swap deal to exchange Baloch activists for Rashif Rauf who was wanted in Britain as he was the alleged mastermind behind the plot to blow up transatlantic airline.  In the end, the two were tried and found innocent by a jury.  

In 2008 newspapers reported Britain was building a camp in Balochistan to deploy 24 British army trainers for three years to train Pakistani paramilitary forces. The Frontier Corps (FC) is a Pakistani paramilitary force engaged in counter insurgency in Balochistan and they along with Military Intelligence and the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) are allegedly involved in the disappearances, torture and under-custody killings of Baloch activists.

On 14 January, 2015, the current Army chief of Pakistan Mr Raheel Sharif visited London to meet with the British PM and other officials. He once again demanded that Britain take action against Baloch political activists, including Baloch leader Hyrbyair Marri, living in the UK. If the British government takes action against Baloch political activists, most of whom have requested political asylum in the country, based on the demands of an Army chief, then it clearly reveals that Britain is willing to collude with Pakistan and may be complicit in ongoing human rights violations against the Baloch people.

Faiz M Baluch is a BA Journalism student at London Metropolitan University and a human rights activist associated with International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons. He tweets at @FaizMBaluch

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