War-torn neighbour is an uncertain haven for refugees fleeing Pakistan’s Balochistan, where locals seek independence.
Islamabad, Pakistan – The elusive leader of a major armed group fighting for independence in Pakistan’s Balochistan has said he would welcome cash and other help from India.
In his first video interview in five years, Allah Nazar Baloch, head of the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), also pledged further attacks on a Chinese economic corridor, parts of which run through the resource-rich province.
The planned $46bn trade route is expected to link western China with Pakistan’s Arabian Sea via a network of roads, railways and energy pipelines.
“We not only wish India should support the Baloch national struggle diplomatically and financially, but the whole world,” said Baloch, a doctor turned rebel fighter believed to be about 50, in filmed responses to questions sent by Reuters news agency.
Baloch’s appeal for Indian help may deepen Pakistani suspicions that India has a hand in a decades-old unrest in the southwestern province.
Relations between the neighbours deteriorated this month after 18 Indian soldiers in Kashmir were killed in an attack on an army base that India blames on Pakistan.
Pakistan denies the accusation.
In the build-up to the raid, Pakistan had voiced outrage over the crackdown on protests in India’s part of the Muslim-majority region, and Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, hit back by accusing Pakistan of atrocities in Balochistan.
The Indian connection
Baloch, leader of one of three main armed groups fighting for independence, said that while he wanted support from India, the BLF had not received funding from Modi’s government, or India’s spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
Baloch is the only leader of a sizeable separatist group who is believed to be waging a war from inside Balochistan; the other two leaders are in exile in Europe.
Security analysts said his fighters stage most of the attacks in the province and have borne the brunt of Pakistan army operations.
Reuters has not been able to establish the scale of the BLF campaign.
Brahamdagh Bugti, the Switzerland-based leader of the Balochistan Republican Party, another major separatist outfit, last week told Indian media that he planned to seek “political asylum” in India.
BLF chief Baloch claims to have “thousands” of fighters.
Domestic news coverage of the Balochistan conflict is rare and foreign journalists are broadly forbidden from visiting the province.
China’s investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has brought fresh focus on Balochistan, which is endowed with rich but largely unexploited reserves of copper and gold.
Baloch, speaking from an undisclosed location, called the economic corridor a Chinese “imperialistic scheme”, and pledged to attack roads, security personnel and construction crews associated with it.
Over the past two years, there have been 44 workers reported killed and about 100 wounded in attacks on the CPEC sites.
“We are attacking the CPEC project every day. Because it is aimed to turn the Baloch population into a minority. It is looting, plundering and taking away our resources,” Baloch said.
Baloch and other separatists fear that indigenous Baloch people, who are estimated to number about seven million out of Pakistan’s 190 million population, will become an ethnic minority in their ancestral lands if other groups flock to the region to work on exploiting its natural resources.
The rebel leader alleged that 150,000 people had been evicted from the route of the trade corridor by security forces to clear the way for roads and other infrastructure.
Pakistan’s military, which manages security for most of the province, did not comment on the number.
Human rights activists say that thousands of people have been killed or arbitrarily arrested in Balochistan by the military, a charge Pakistani security forces deny.
Charges of abuse have also been levelled at rebel groups, including the BLF, which are accused of targeting non-Baloch citizens as part of their rebellion.
Baloch denied BLF killed civilians, but said his group did go after “traitors”.
Asked if he would be open to negotiations with the Pakistani state, Baloch was clear: There would be no dialogue with what he considered “the biggest terrorist country”.
“There will be no negotiations with Pakistan without national independence and without the presence of the United Nations,” he said.
“Our destination is independence.”