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Washington Should End Pakistan’s Military Assistance: Dr. Tara Chand

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Dr. Tara Chand Baloch is the U.S. president of the Balochistan National Party. He formerly served as a Balochistan cabinet minister in Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s government in 1990s. Dr. Baloch, who moved to the United States in early 2000s soon after General Musharraf’s coup in 1999, began his political career as an activist of the Baloch Students Organization. Born in Nasirabad District in 1966, Dr. Baloch attained an M.B.B.S. Degree from Quetta’s Bolan Medical College. He spoke to the media for the first time in many years during an exclusive interview with the The Baloch Hal.

Q: What is the significance of the U.S. chapter of the B.N.P.?

A: The Balochistan issue dates back to the creation of Pakistan but there is very little awareness in the west, including the United States, about the plight and the aspirations of the Baloch people. It is very important in today’s globalized world to stay connected with foreign governments, policymakers, non-governmental organizations and the media. In order to achieve that fundamental goal, we have started the U.S. chapter of the B.N.P.

Q: What are some of the important burning issues related to Balochistan that the world should know?

A: I believe Balochistan, in spite of being the land of enormous natural resources and opportunities, has been transformed into a land of sorrow and miseries by Islamabad.

Enforced disappearances and dumping of mutilated dead bodies of Baloch people is currently a burning issue that has engulfed Balochistan. The Pakistani intelligence agencies and security forces, while abusing their constitutional authority, have subjected thousands of peaceful Baloch political activists, human rights defenders, students and other professionals. This is an issue of deep concern for us and we urge the international community to press Islamabad to immediately end the cycle of human rights abuse in Balochistan.

The B.N.P. believes in Baloch people’s right to self-determination. Since the U.N. Charter recognizes people’s right to self-determination, we want the world to also support the Baloch quest for self-determination because Balochistan was forcefully occupied by Pakistan and its mineral wealth has been exploited for decades. Pakistan has taken advantage of our strategic location, the coast and resources but deprived our people of their fundamental human rights and the dignity they are entitled to as human beings.

Q: How is your party’s struggle different from other entities’ struggle?

A: All political entities which support the Baloch right for self-determination are fighting for a common goal. However, we may have minor tactical differences. But that is the part and parcel of any national movement. I wish all these forces unite and share a collective strategy to achieve our national goal.

Q: How does your party plan to achieve its goal?

A: B.N.P.’s power rests with the public. Any political party depends and thrives on public support. Our party has offices and activists at grassroots level across the Baloch land. Many of our top leaders and activists have been martyred, imprisoned and tortured by Pakistani security forces because of their commitment to the Baloch movement. In spite of these challenges, we still remain committed to the people of Balochistan and fight for their national rights.

Q: Since you represent the B.N.P. in the United States, what can Washington do to help the Baloch?

A: The Balochs are a direct victim of American assistance that goes to the Pakistani army. Instead of fighting extremist groups, Pakistan uses American funding to fight Baloch political forces. If Washington stops Pakistan’s military assistance, most human rights abuses in Balochistan will hopefully end.

Dr. Tara ChandQ: Do you see a change in Islamabad’s policy toward Balochistan after the induction of a Baloch nationalist chief minister, Dr. Malik Baloch and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s promise to normalize Balochistan?

A: We do not see any changes on the ground in Balochistan even after the general elections. For example, the issue of disappeared people has still not been resolved by the central government. Enforced disappearance is a big crime against humanity. If Islamabad is truly sincere and committed to negotiations with the Baloch, it should, first of all, ensure the unconditional recovery of all the disappeared citizens.

Q: Balochistan also has a Pashtun population. How much do they support the Baloch demands?

A: Unfortunately, the Pashtuns have not stood with the Baloch at any level during the current struggle. We regret that they are even not playing their role as good neighbors at a time when Baloch youth is routinely subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and murder. Instead of standing beside us at this critical juncture, they only talk about Balochistan whenever it comes to the distribution of Baloch wealth.

Q: There have also been a number of deadly attacks on the Shia, Hazara in Balochistan. How does your party view these killings?

A: We strongly condemn every attack on the Shia Hazara living in Balochistan. We also fully share their grief because we are the victims of the same mastermind sitting in Islamabad. However, it is very important to know the context and the motives of growing radicalization in Balochistan. Actually, sectarian groups that are involved in these attacks do not belong to Balochistan. They originated from and are currently headquartered in South Punjab. Islamabad prepares and launches these groups in Balochistan to counter the Baloch nationalist movement. Furthermore, the purpose of these attacks is to divert attention from the larger Baloch movement. The Baloch society has historically been secular. The Baloch society does not discriminate anyone based on their faith. The sectarian attacks are sponsored by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and we have zero tolerance for such attacks.

Q: Do you agree with the new government’s decision to handover the Gwadar Port to the Chinese?

A: The Baloch people oppose the government’s decision because we were not taken into confidence in deciding the fate of the Baloch Port. Islamabad should know that only the Balochs can negotiate the fate of the Gwadar Port, the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline route and Reko Diq gold and copper project. Islamabad should not serve as a middleman to speak on behalf of the Baloch. If the province of Punjab can directly negotiate with India and China on trade and other issues, why can’t the Baloch have the same right?

In fact, Islamabad and China are partners in looting Baloch resources. We do not differentiate between anyone in what the Baloch view as the gang of these two robbers of our wealth. One classic example of Chinese plunder is the Saindik gold Project in which Balochistan only gets 2% of the share as compared to China’s 50% and Islamabad’s 48%.

Q: How do you see the future of Balochistan?

A: Well, if Islamabad does not review its current policy toward Balochistan, we will be compelled to take a more hardline position. The Baloch did not initiate the conflict. In fact, Islamabad imposed a war on us. Since then, we have received the bullet-riddled, mutilated bodies of Baloch people. Therefore, it is now Islamabad’s responsibility to stop its illegal operations on the Baloch land. We have suffered too much. We cannot take it anymore. Enough is enough.