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Balochistan Liberation Front and the struggle for freedom
  • Balochistan Liberation Front
    Balochistan Liberation Front
The Balochistan Liberation Front is alive and kicking. Or, at least so it seems after the attack at the Chinese Consulate in Karachi. But this does not necessarily means that the armed insurgency really matters into the wider frame of the Baloch separatist cause or can have a real impact on it. Military actions alone, if they are not part of a broader political strategy, can gain very little in the long term. The group claimed responsibility for the attack, the biggest one after last August the same group claimed to have attacked a bus carrying Chinese engineers in Dalbandin, silencing all those who had started to think almost dead the armed insurgency in Balochistan. And the BLA seems to be, in fact, the last one left to fight a seventy years old revolt against the Government of Pakistan. The exact numerical strength of the BLA is not really known. According to some analysts the group comprises several hundred members who operate in the province of Balochistan as well as in Afghanistan. Pakistani Government mantains that the group is currently lead by Harbiyar Marri, son of the late Khan Bakhsh Marri, who lives in London since many years. Harbiyar always denied any involvement with BLA. Amongst the guerrilla groups once active in the region (Balochistan Republican Army, United Baloch Army, Lashkar-i-Balochistan, and the Balochistan Liberation United Front) only the BLA still carries military actions against institutional and military targets. The ongoing wave of insurgency was born at the beginning of the past decade and spiralled after the death of Nawab Bugti, killed by Musharraf’s troops in 2006. It was a ‘new’ kind of revolt, and marked a sort of turning point into the history of the Baloch insurgency. The older groups led by tribal leaders have been joined by new ones that acknowledge no authority, whether tribal or local. A new generation of educated youths from established families has appeared, socially active and concerned with human rights, enraged at the systematic exploitation of local resources and the ferocious repression to which the region has been subjected. These youths grew up in the time of ‘The Terror’, and their entire lives had been lived under the effects of the strategies of Musharraf implemented by his army. Their families were no longer only those of the great tribal chiefs. Some were middle class and had gone to school; some had even been to university. The sons of the old tribal leaders and the Khan of Khalat have been forced, in a way or the other, to escape and live abroad in exile. Once respected categories, customs, norms and values are no longer valid or at least are no longer valid for everybody. In Balochistan, as everywhere else in the world, Marxist ideology was dead; it has perished with the leaders who had been its main exponents in leading the revolution of the Seventies. There are no more ideologies or ideologists since the fathers of the revolution are either aged or dead. Priorities have changed. And at a point the revolt has spiralled out of control, even for those who should be guiding it. This ‘new’ armed revolt is now directed , since a couple of years, not only at the military but has also focused on the so-called ‘settlers’ from other regions. It is also a revolt against the Chinese presence, considered, literally, a ‘colonial’ invasion carried out in the name of the CPEC. Meanwhile, in Switzerland or in UK, the efforts of the new and some of the old generation of tribal leaders, Mehran and Harbiyar Marri, Brahumdagh Bugti or the Khan of Kalat, have been focussed, more than on leading a revolt, on raising awareness at international level, being UN or local government, about the human rights situation in Balochistan, about the genocide, both cultural and physical, committed by Pakistan in the region and about the systematic exploitation of natural resources in the area. An anonymous activist so describes the ongoing situation on the ground: “At the moment, we can divide the people who want a Free Balochistan in two parts: one are the activists and groups who are organising peaceful rallies and talking internationally about the Baloch plight. The second is a small part, these are little groups which believe that the pain they faced because of Pakistan’s atrocities could only be healed by violent means”. According to the same activist, Pakistan is trying to define the Baloch movement only in these terms, projecting the Baloch separatists as a group of terrorists ready to target not only military but also innocent people living in the region. According to another activist, many of the attacks against the ‘settlers’ or other ethnic groups were not the work of Baloch nationalists but an example of the old Roman ‘divide and rule’: setting the people of the region against one another. With everyone at each other’s throat the only winner is the Pakistani Army. And is an easy winner, because in fact the state of the ongoing armed insurgency reflects the state of the general situation of the Baloch separatism cause. The lack of coordination, the lack of a common strategy between the Baloch leadership and between those living abroad and the ones still on the ground has deeply affected, in many ways, the whole issue. The lack of a single leader, recognised at least by a wide majority as the official representative of Balochs, negatively impacts any kind of action at international level and so does it on the ground. It makes easy for Pakistan to maintain that there is no civil war in Balochistan, that the rebels battling against the government are merely a handful of troublemakers and that no people have ever disappeared or ‘killed and dumped’. Nobody can really predict what will happen in the coming years or even the coming months. In Balochistan, for a long time now, there have been too many players in the game: the State, the tribal leaders, the ‘enforcers’ employed by the intelligence services, the armed forces, the Chinese. Then, we have the Taliban brought into the region by the army, the Pashtun who are themselves revolting against Islamabad, and various local terrorist groups regarded as strategic assets by Pakistan. Balochistan is of fundamental strategic and geo-political importance not only to Islamabad and to the Chinese CPEC project but to the many other players in the region. Baloch leaders should keep in mind that for all the players dealing with a single referent, even an ugly one like Islamabad, is easier than dealing with an handful of tribal leaders or political parties.
Francesca Marino