Baloch vs Pakistan: Global Terror Tag a Death Knell for Rebels?

So, it is official. According to the United States, a State genocide against a population – the Baloch – does not deserve to be sanctioned, punished or even, acknowledged. Mass graves, enforced disappearances and bombing of civilians by the Army – that in theory is supposed to protect their citizens – are legal and not even remotely objectionable.

On the contrary, if and when that same population takes up guns and tries to resist the systematic exploitation of their lives and their resources, it is labelled 'terrorist' and added to a blacklist. The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), one of the Baloch militant organisations fighting in the region, has been classified as a global terrorist group by the US State Department – all of this, without taking any notice of the situation, despite repeated reminders by international humanitarian organisations and by the Balochi people themselves.

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Also Read: If Pakistan Wants Peace in Balochistan, It Must Look Inward

Terror Tag Abroad, Re-organisation Back at Home?

Jiyand Baloch, Spokesperson for the militant organisation BLA, said the US’s move is “beyond comprehension and unjustified”. Faiz Baloch, an activist based in London, went a step further and said:

"“I think USA has been either mislead and blackmailed by Pakistan against the Baloch struggle for freedom. America has issued Pakistan a license to kill and disappear more Baloch in the name of counterinsurgency. Under international laws, Baloch have a right to self-defence and to resist illegal occupation of their country. Like the Kurds, the world will need the support of Baloch people. It’s only a matter of time. It is a big mistake to antagonise Baloch at a time when America needs allies against Iran. Baloch are a stakeholder in that region, they must not be ignored to appease China and Pakistan.”" - Faiz Baloch, Balochi activist

From displaying signboards on public transportation in UK to flying banners on the London stadium during Pakistan's cricket match to sending speakers to the UN, Balochis living abroad have recently become more active in their protests, much toPakistan’s dismay.

Meanwhile, in ground-zero Balochistan, increasingly vicious crackdowns on those protesting gross abuse of human rights by the State have only led to the re-organisation of insurgent groups. This is sufficiently evident in the formation of a joint command, with the BLA being the most active member.

The contemporary wave of insurgency – the fourth since the forced annexation of Balochistan by Pakistan – was born at the beginning of the past decade. It is a revolt led by a new generation of educated youths from established families. Enraged at the systematic exploitation of local resources and ferocious repression, these young rebels are socially active and have taken up the cause of human rights.

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The Curious Role of China

In the past few months, there has been a form of resistance, mostly directed against Chinese presence – considered a ‘colonial’ invasion carried out in the name of CPEC. And China here might be the key word. China and, of course, Afghanistan. According to some analysts, the designation of BLA as a terrorist group could be China's pound of flesh for allowing the designation of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.

Despite its show of power, the US desperately needs Pakistan's help in the ongoing so-called peace talks with Taliban. It is no secret that Pakistan today is poised to play a key role in manoeuvring the Taliban and other terrorist groups. Some kind of backdoor diplomacy must have been at work and some form of exchange might have taken place.

Curiously, a day after the US State Department made the statement, Pakistan announced a major financial crackdown on LeT, JuD and other terrorist groups – not for the first time, as it probably is the same formal ‘crackdown’ already done in the past, – but the timing, at least, is peculiar.

Perhaps it is also a coincidence that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is due to visit US the next month. In a statement, the US State Department has said that the BLA “targets security forces” and makes clear reference to the attacks carried out by BLA against Chinese interests in Pakistan – in Karachi, November 2018 and in May in Gwadar.

Also Read: Life in Balochistan Like Nazi Labour Camps: Activist Naela Qadri

Will the BLA Come Out Unscathed?

Now, according to the US law, it will be impossible for US citizens to support or sustain BLA or its members and any financial asset or bank account belonging to the BLA will be frozen. It will also be increasingly difficult for human rights organisations speaking for the Baloch people to have space in international meetings and at UN.

It will be more difficult to highlight the Baloch genocide at the Human Rights Commission. But this, according to BLA, will not stop the fight because, as their leader declared, “Baloch are defending their motherland by resisting foreign invaders China and Pakistan according to the international law and covenants”.

Author and Journalist Mohammed Ali Talpur, who lost both his hands fighting in Balochistan during the revolt of the 70s, adds: “The USA labeling the BLA as a terrorist group will be of no consequence for this organisation has no assets in any foreign country or for that matter even in Pakistan.”

“Its assets are the Baloch people and despite punitive measures by Pakistan, it has not only survived but has in fact, become more effective. People cannot be either proscribed or rejected. Sandinistas as long as they were pro-people, they could and did defeat Samoza, despite the US backing he had in Nicaragua. So as long as an organisation represents aspirations of the people, this labeling and punitive measures cannot but fail”.

The USA should think about it.

(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. She tweets at @francescam63. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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