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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Pakistani generals are Islamising secular Baloch society: Rights activist Qambar Malik Baloch

The Europe-based Baloch Human Rights Council (BHRC) is painstakingly documenting the Pakistani army’s helicopter and drone attacks on Baloch communities in the strife-torn province.

The BHRC has been diligently collating Pakistan’s excesses on women, students and men placing records before UN agencies and senior politicians in Europe.

India Narrative meets with Qambar Malik Baloch, General Secretary of the HRCB, who says that it is not easy to get information from a tightly-controlled province like Balochistan where only the Pakistani army has the last word.

A writer and human rights defender, he was “forcibly disappeared in February 2009” for leading a campaign for the educational rights of students in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan. Following his release, he felt unsafe and migrated to the UK.

In this exclusive interview, Qambar Malik Baloch tells us that the country is implementing a narrow agenda of Islamising the Baloch by imposing the culture, religion and thought of the ruling Pakistani Punjabi Muslims on their people.

IN: You mentioned that Pakistan is Islamising Balochistan. How does that help Pakistan achieve its goals in Balochistan?

QMB: Pakistan thought that to counter rising Baloch nationalism, it will use the tool of Islamisation. In a highly organised way, Pakistan has been imposing Islam on a secular Baloch society.

Pakistan introduced religious parties in Balochistan when Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri was in Afghanistan. Our other leader Sardar Menghal was in the UK at the same time. Because there was a political vacuum in the region, the Pakistani government got the opportunity.

As the nationalist sentiment was rising in Balochistan, General Zia as the country’s president used his Islamisation policies on our people. He tweaked the Pakistan constitution towards Sharia. In Balochistan, he created space for religious elements to come into society. The result was that money started flowing into Balochistan and there was large-scale construction of mosques.

The mullahs, who were earlier confined to mosques and strictly observed religious duties, now became political and social. The maulanas, backed by the Pakistani military, invaded our social space completely. With so many mosques around, they began to interfere in the social and political life of the Baloch people.

All these harmed the social and religious fabric of Baloch society as everything was looked at from an Islamist angle.

IN: How is the Islamisation of the Baloch society harming the people? After all most of the Baloch are Muslims.

QMB: Our society draws inspiration from our culture, language and identity which is distinct from mainstream Pakistani Muslim culture. Pakistan manipulated the social norms of the Baloch society.

The religious outsiders sowed the seeds of disharmony among the Baloch. They told us that we are Hindus, Zikris or Sunnis. These differences were not known among the Baloch. For example, the Zikris are a different sect of Islam who have separate places of worship. The maulanas from outside tried to correct their practices and convert the Zikris to mainstream Islamic practices.

Earlier, for the Baloch society, people from different faiths and sects were all Baloch. The practices of making us more Islamic affected us in other ways.

In Baloch society, Islam is not considered the main part of your identity.

IN: Did the army continue with General Zia’s practices later on?

QMB: Yes. General Pervez Musharraf as the president cemented Islamic policies that were introduced by General Zia. He was much more sophisticated as he seeded madrasas in Balochistan in an organised way.

In 2006, under General Musharraf the Ministry of Religious Affairs allotted Rs 1.2 billion for mosques, madrasas and mullahs only for in Balochistan. The same year the budget for the ministry of education was just Rs 200 million.

What was the result of this policy?

We got one mosque for every five-six houses. We also had 13,000 madrasas in Balochistan, which was the second-largest in number after Punjab province. But because of the sparse population in Balochistan, we had an extremely high ratio of madrasas with large numbers of students joining these and becoming radicalised.

Soon enough the madrasas became the centres of recruitment for many terror organisations. This served the Pakistani army well because these madrasas became centres for fighting Baloch nationalism.

Soon enough, the militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangwi was introduced in Balochistan.

Then an offshoot of the Lashkar-e-Taiba was allowed to come into the province during the 2013 earthquake. The interesting element is that international NGO, Doctors Without Borders was refused entry into Balochistan. Instead, we had the terror organisation distributing aid to people during the earthquake.

Religious groups began to work on behalf of the Pakistan government. They used religion as a tool to abduct, kill and kidnap for ransom during Musharaff’s time. For the first time extremist groups began to organise kidnappings for ransom of only Hindu businessmen in Balochistan.

Later, the Pakistani army created the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) – a political party for the Baloch overnight. The idea was to establish a party that would give the Baloch political rights but keep them away from nationalism. Centred around the mainstream Pakistani thought, the BAP is loyal to the Pakistani military.

IN: Balochistan also has the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) which made big news last year over its Gwadar ko haq do (give rights to Gwadar) protests. Many Baloch nationalists were suspicious of the JI’s sudden popularity. Have Pakistan’s Islamist policies have become successful in Balochistan?

QMB: You have to remember that the JI is that party which provided recruits to Al-Shams and Al-Badr in Bangladesh against the Mukti Bahini and the forces of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The JI is known to target intellectuals, activists and the cream of the society. This is exactly what it is doing in Balochistan now.

The Baloch people and their parties cannot hold apolitical rallies in their region. But the JI could organise large-scale protests in Gwadar. How did that happen? Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman organised daily protests and sit-ins. He even provided food and water to the people in an area where gathering of people is banned. It happened because the JI was helped and funded by the army in organising “the Gwadar ko Haq” do protests.

The Pakistani army has political, economic and other kinds of powers. Because it manages the check-points in Balochistan, it also controls the flow of drugs and weapons in the region.

IN: Pakistan has been advertising Gwadar as an investment destination through roadside hoardings and by spots on radio stations in the UK. How successful is this campaign? Is the Pakistani diaspora investing in projects in Balochistan or the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)?

QMB: These advertisements are a marketing tool aimed at the Pakistani diaspora which is earning in dollars and pounds in Western countries. Pakistan thinks that rich expat Pakistanis will invest in Balochistan, particularly Gwadar.

If the diaspora has to invest back home, they will be dealing with the military because the Pakistani military and its proxies traffickers and leaders of the Death Squads, have bought prime land in Balochistan. I don’t think there is much Pakistani diaspora investment in Gwadar.

The Baloch people think that the CPEC is anti-Baloch. It was a tool for China to achieve its military and economic ambitions in the region.

People who fell in the way of CPEC roads in Panjgur, Turbat and Gwadar were shifted out from their lands without being compensated. Even the Baloch fishermen have been stopped from fishing in their traditional areas because of the CPEC. No Baloch can tell you the benefits of the CPEC but almost everyone will narrate the adverse impacts of the project.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed)

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