Balochistan (literally meaning Land of the Baloch) is a mountainous and arid desert region situated at the tri-juncture of the Middle East, South Asia and Central Asia. A resource rich province at the mouth of the Persian Gulf that was once an independent state, Balochistan now straddles across Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is the largest, but most backward, under-developed and strife-torn province of Pakistan.
The secular Baloch people have faced successive dismissals of elected democratic governments by Islamabad and repeated military operations by the Pakistan army, which is traditionally and predominantly Punjabi, in 1948-52, 1958-60, 1962-63, 1973-77, with the most recent military operation beginning in 2005. However, this time Pakistan misused US-supplied weapons meant to counter the Taliban and turned this arsenal on the Baloch. Once again a war is raging for the heart and soul of Balochistan, and its victims are usually innocent men, women and children.
The distinguishing feature of this fifth insurgency in Pakistan is its battlefield. It resembles none of the previous, for this time Pakistan's military and proxy forces wage their efforts quite literally on the bodies of Balochistan's youth and activists. Unable to quell the movement or capture or eliminate its leaders, armed forces and intelligence agencies take out their frustration on soft and easily accessible targets—students, teachers, intellectuals, lawyers, political and human rights activists. Enforced disappearances are endemic. Young and old go missing for months or years on end and in hundreds of cases, their bullet-riddled, tortured and often unrecognizable bodies turn up on roadsides. This practice has been called Pakistan's 'kill and dump' policy and both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have provided documentation of numerous cases. High levels of intimidation, harassment, arrest and torture are carried out against opposition supporters. Peaceful protestors have been suppressed, political representatives have been detained unlawfully, and freedom of expression and assembly is totally restricted for the Baloch. However, Pro-Taliban Pashtun groups that despise Baloch nationalists have complete freedom to promote their ideology with the tacit support of Pakistan's intelligence agencies.
This unofficial practice is but one in a long string of failed official policies towards this provincial member of the Pakistan federation. Following the British division of India and the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Balochistan—then referred to as Kalat—was also recognized as an independent state, news of which was reported even in the New York Times. Pakistan, however, spent the subsequent year cajoling some Baloch tribal chiefs, making backroom deals and prying away Balochistan's territory. After the upper and lower houses of the Baloch parliament unanimously rejected Pakistan's proposal, Pakistan forced Balochistan's accession at gunpoint on the 27th March, 1948, almost doubling Pakistan's landmass.
This landmass proved rich in minerals, oil and gas, but the wealth derived from these resources has never been equitably distributed to the people of Balochistan. Baloch gas has fueled Pakistan's most populous and dominant province of Punjab since 1953, but reaches only a handful of selected areas of Balochistan. While the first Baloch insurgency led by Abdul Karim Baloch in 1948 was sparked by the issue of political sovereignty, subsequent insurgencies embraced issues of development, rights to resources and autonomy. With the military's killings of revered Baloch leaders Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in 2006 and Balach Marri in 2007, however, grievances evolved from talk of 'divorce' into a full-blown demand for independence on the part of the political groups and many within the general population.
In addition to economic injustices, the desire for independence is fueled by very real social issues. The Islam of the secular Baloch is moderate. But as is happening elsewhere, Saudi-funded madrassas, with Pakistan's blessings, have made significant inroads into rural villages and urban areas. Unsurprisingly, fundamentalism and its religious radicals have proved a useful tool to counter the nationalists. Additionally, a government and military-supported influx of settlers from other provinces is squeezing the Baloch people out of the job market and universities. The sense of disempowerment and deprivation amongst the Baloch youth is overwhelming and matched equally by anger at the state, for the economic riches of this region, if wisely developed and shared, could pull so many out of grinding poverty and help Balochistan join the developed world.
While the mainstream media rarely covers the extrajudicial abductions and ruthless killings in Balochistan, in part because Pakistan denies journalists access to the area, Wikileaks documents and the Stratfor emails reveal that world powers are well-aware of the conflict. For reasons of Realpolitik they may remain silent, but the world ignores the plight of the Baloch at its own peril.
All manner of economic and political issues are developing on the horizon in Balochistan. Pakistan and Iran are building the IPI Gas Peace Pipeline which will cross the province. The Chinese are assuming control of Balochistan's geo-strategic Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. The United States has stated its intention to leave Afghanistan. A moderate and tolerant Balochistan at the heart of this region would be of great benefit to the world—serving as a counterweight to the some of the centrifugal forces now acting upon the area. This is what the Baloch want—to preserve their identity as a nation, to develop and to participate in the global economy. But rather than foster a vibrant educational system and intellectual environment for Balochistan's youth, the Pakistani military and its proxy forces endeavor to hamper political consciousness and eliminate the backbone of the political movement designed to achieve these goals.
This film illuminates Pakistan's dark and dirty secret: the disappearances and killings of those who seek liberty, justice, and a stake in their own destiny.