Speaking Up for Baloch Nationalism: An Interview with Mahrang Baloch

In this conversation, Dr Mahrang Baloch addresses the genesis of Balochistan’s struggle for self determination, women’s participation in this agitation, and building a progressive South Asian solidarity.

In November 2023, Balaach Mola Bakhsh was killed while in custody of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD). Like countless other Baloch men, Balaach was forcibly disappeared until he was produced for trial following public outcry. His murder sparked the mobilization of hundreds of relatives of other forcibly disappeared people in Kech, Balochistan. Under the leadership of Dr. Mahrang Baloch, they formed the Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC) and marched across Pakistan towards Islamabad. Upon reaching the capital, they encountered police violence, arrests, and were confined to the National Press Club, where they conducted a month-long sit-in. Throughout this period, the government vilified and mocked their campaign in press conferences. However, despite the state’s attempt to delegitimize and discredit the mobilization, BYC’s return to Balochistan was greeted with unprecedented mass gatherings.

Balochistan remains the most underdeveloped province in Pakistan. The Pakistani state in cahoots with international capital continues to exploit its land and abundant mineral deposits. Under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Balochistan has seen multiple mega projects, most notably the development of the Gwadar port. This however has only increased the tension between the state and the local population who allege that these projects are leading to massive displacement and a further deepening of military rule in the province.

After Pakistan’s independence in 1947, the Baloch ruling elite was split on the question of being part of the new country. While the Pakistani state was able to subsume the province, it has relied on pro-state Sardars to legitimize its rule. However, during the military dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf (1999-2008), violence against the Baloch was greatly intensified. The state initiated a campaign of targeted assassinations, kidnappings, and torture to quash what it alleged was ‘Indian-backed’ separatism in Balochistan. Countless Baloch—students, teachers, poets, activists, doctors—have been forcibly disappeared by the state, their numbers estimated in the thousands. 

Over the past 75 years, there have been periodic upsurges in the Baloch national struggle for greater political and economic self-determination which have been politically or militarily quashed by successive Pakistani governments. The last 20 years have seen an intensification of the Baloch nationalist struggle which has expanded to include a large cross-section of Baloch society. Today, the struggle includes a wide spectrum of organizations, ranging from the separatist Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), which has been fighting the Pakistan army in militant struggle, to the Baloch Student Organization (BSO) and BYC, which appeal to the wider Pakistani society and international organizations to hold the Pakistani state accountable for its actions in Balochistan. Many of them identify with the Left; however, they are critical of Pakistan’s major Left forces for their lack of direct support for Balochistan’s national liberation.

The Baloch Yakjehti Committee represents a new chapter in the Baloch nationalist struggle—one that does not rely on the landed elite or Sardars for leadership and is more inclusive of women and working-class people. 

Jamhoor spoke with Dr. Mahrang Baloch, activist and the leader of the Baloch Yakjehtee Committee, on January 3rd, 2024, at the sit-in in Islamabad to discuss this latest upsurge in the Baloch national struggle. Considering herself a feminist nationalist, Mahrang also spoke about her opinion on the Pakistani Left and feminist movement.

You can watch the interview here or read a lightly edited English transcript below.

Arsalan Samdani (AS): How are you Dr. Mahrang?

Mahrang Baloch (MB): I’m well, how are you?

AS:  Can you talk about your movement? How, why, and where did it start? It’s been a month now that you have been protesting. Can you give us a little background? 

MB: Look, while there are many parliamentary parties in Balochistan, we don’t have a political movement that can resolve people’s genuine issues, or even raise a voice against them. For a decade now, we have not seen such a political organization or party. Our organization – the Baloch Yakjehti (Solidarity) Committee – has been organizing consistently for the last four years around these issues. We have been leading movements, organizing sit-ins. This current movement started on 23rd November when Balach and four others were martyred in a fake encounter (though to be clear, this wasn’t the first incident of its kind). Before that, in November alone, 10 to 15 people from Balochistan were killed, and their mutilated bodies dumped. 

However, when Balach was forcibly disappeared, it was reported in the media, his family organized campaigns, and his case was also formally registered with the Commission [of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, a government body]. After 25 days, he was presented before the court by the CTD (Counter Terrorism Department), where he was sent on a ten day remand. His family even went to see him, and after two days, his mutilated body was dumped in Kech along with four other innocent enforced disappeared persons. They were all aged around 21 to 25, not above 25. This case was then a mockery of the [country’s] institutions, the judicial system, in which an innocent civilian [is killed] in their custody.

After that, Balach’s family organized a sit-in, with Balach’s corpse beside them, at Fida Square in Turbat. The Baloch Yakjehti Committee supported them. We also contacted the families of the other four people that were dumped, but it is tragic that their bodies were not even handed over to their families, and were only later given, on the condition that they would bury them right away. Balach’s family showed courage and they protested for 15 days with his dead body. 

At the time, we demanded that an FIR (First Information Report, i.e. a police case) be registered against the CTD for this fake encounter, and that the murderers of Balach be sentenced. But during those 15 days we saw that on the one hand, a genuine movement was underway, with Balach’s lawyer issuing a statement in support. We staged a protest in front of the sessions court, and the court registered an FIR against the CTD. But on the other hand, the federal ministers and other public representatives whose responsibility is to act in the public interest, they threatened us, claiming repeatedly that Balach was a terrorist and tried their best to revert the actions their institutions had taken.

So the movement that emerged with Balach’s death became incredibly powerful, attracting thousands of people to congregate in Turbat, Kech District. And when the Baloch Yakjehti Committee decided to bury Balach, we witnessed an example of the secular character of Balochistan, where everyone stood united, regardless of religious or other distinctions, both men and women. And he was buried with great respect and national unity. 

And this is not the first such occurrence. Dumping bodies in Balochistan has become a common practice by the state. There is even a cemetery in Balochistan, known as Edhi Qabristan, where there are such mutilated bodies that can’t even be DNA tested. They don’t even bother conducting DNA tests….These bodies linger in Quetta Civil Hospital for months on end, and then [the NGO] Edhi Foundation’s volunteers bury them.

On the back of this movement, the Baloch Yakjehti Committee decided to organize a long march. The main reason was that the cases [against state authorities] had been suppressed. Look, we know there are injustices, there is an ongoing genocide. But every state institution has played a role in hiding this genocide. When someone is abducted, the police refuse to lodge an FIR, and the courts cannot provide them justice. So we had to mobilize our people. We knew that this was just the tip of the iceberg. More than 50,000 people have been forcibly disappeared. Fake encounters don’t just happen in Turbat, they happen everywhere. But people silently bury their bodies. They don’t demand justice.

So we started the long march, and we were doing this in a war-torn area, where there is [effectively] military rule – people are being ruled from military camps. It was challenging for us, especially traversing active conflict areas. Pretty much all of Balochistan is war torn. Our people were threatened, their families were threatened.

When we reached Panjgur, which is known as an area of [state-backed] death squads, again we were threatened. They even prevented us from holding our sit-in. Despite this, there were courageous people who came forward. When they saw that we were speaking for their cause, they gave us new cases to take up. 

Then going through Panjgur, and throughout our onward journey. wherever we went people would welcome us. They would be waiting for two to three days until our arrival. So we stopped in different tehsils and towns along the way for two days at a time, and set up registration camps to offer support to people. 

However, numerous obstacles were placed against us [by the state]. Trucks were used to block our path. In Surab, a death squad attacked us, injuring the relatives of some forcibly disappeared people. They would target us at night, they would target our vehicles. When our caravan reached Mastung, again they blocked the roads with shipping containers. The government or the administration should have welcomed us, provided us with security, and helped resolve the genuine issues that we had taken up; instead they were  busy harassing us, threatening us and trying to stop us.  

Finally, when we reached Quetta, the entire Red Zone was completely sealed off. We intended to set up our sit-in there, since the Red Zone is where the Governor House, and all the so-called institutions serving justice are located. Instead, we chose the Baloch-populated area, Saryab, for our protest. Because it was our organization’s decision that wherever they [the state officials] try to stop us, we will stop and hold our protest right there, without moving forward. We will not give the state the opportunity to crush our peaceful movement using the pretext of violence, as it has done in the past.

When we initiated the sit-in, it was extremely cold in Quetta. We were at a place where there were no washrooms, no tents, nothing, we were sitting on the ground. Even at that time, we were prepared for dialogue and our demands were clear. However, both the Balochistan government and the federal government repeatedly harassed us. Our peaceful movement was labeled as a terrorist movement, and there were multiple press conferences against us every day. 

That is when we decided to continue this long march to Islamabad. Initially, we went to Kohlu. Kohlu is ruled by the army; Generals and Colonels rule it. In Kohlu, we received a historic welcome, where thousands of people gathered. You can call Kohlu a town, but in fact the geography of Balochistan is such that it is scattered with settlements. People reside in villages. The most significant aspect of our movement was that our people were with us. They might not have had the means, but they were practically coming to support us. The place we stayed at in Kohlu, the house [of our hosts] was raided at night. Everything was taken away, their cars and everything. It hurts me to see this. 

As we left Kohlu, we saw that it had been besieged. Our wall chalkings had been erased. I received threats. Our movement is led by women…women are actively participating and leading it. Wherever there were wall chalkings, they [the administration] asked us who was responsible, demanded to know their identities, claiming they had footage. So, I took the responsibility upon myself. I felt that if someone had to face consequences, let it be me.

We left Kohlu for Barkhan…which is also a place ruled by death squads. Even there, our plan was to only stay for half an hour or two hours, and proceed to Rakhni, but unexpectedly there was such a large population that came out in our support. We were so surprised. We spent the whole day with them, and set up a registration camp. In Rakhni, we received the most historic welcome. So we kept moving forward. 

While we were in Kohlu, we had learned that our political workers in DG (Dera Ghazi) Khan, who were preparing to welcome us, were stopped by the imposition of Section 144 [ban on public assembly] . Even female students (part of the organizing committee) were met with violence and arrests. Around 15 people were arrested. This is why we say that Balochistan is ruled by a colonial state.

Upon our arrival, DG Khan was fully under siege, with multiple [security] checkposts. We had announced in Rakhni that we would go [to DG Khan] with all the people, and we entered peacefully. Because our movement was against enforced disappearances, against arrests, we held a two-day sit-in, demanding that the DG Khan administration release those who were arrested, or we would not move forward… our march would remain there. 

Two days later, they released the people, but they blocked our transportation. They called the transportation authorities and threatened them against providing us transport. Again, we organized a sit-in and shut down the main chowk (square) in DG Khan, something that had never happened before. The common people stood by us. And when we left DG Khan for DI (Dera Ismail) Khan, we received a similar welcome. 

Finally, we reached Islamabad from DI Khan. The purpose of this movement was to bring before the world the atrocities that the colonial forces are committing in every home in Balochistan, where women and children are not safe.

Balochistan is a no-go area, with no media presence. The actual situation in Balochistan, the oppression that is taking place, has been hidden. The state has used all its resources to conceal it. At every street and corner, you will find military camps, where military generals and captains rule, along with death squads. You see men associated with death squads, carrying weapons, extorting money. They inflict terror, commit atrocities against women, harm children, but there is no one to stop them. This is to ensure that people do not organize political movements and Balochistan is kept underdeveloped. 

So our main objective was exactly that [to highlight these atrocities]. Because we live in a world that is inherently biased, where those who commit genocide themselves are running campaigns against genocide. We wanted to tell the world that Pakistan itself is committing genocide in Balochistan –it has no right to speak against the genocides in Palestine or Kashmir. 

Our aim was to come to Islamabad, and the treatment we received there is in front of the whole world. In fact this is not even 0.2 percent of the treatment we face in Balochistan. We have witnessed more oppression in Balochistan, we have carried corpses. I have personally carried the bodies of children. Those children whom the military colonels killed. In Hoshab, two children lost their lives after shelling from a military camp, and for that, we staged a 15-day sit-in in Quetta. Only then, FIRs were filed, which were later quashed by the Supreme Court.

We want to show the real democracy of this ‘democratic state’ to the world.

AS: Can you tell us more about your demands?

MB: What is happening in Balochistan is never discussed anywhere, not in the print media, nor anywhere else. It’s not an internal issue, it’s a genocide. Our first demand is for a UN fact-finding working group committee to come and investigate all the human rights violations, the genocide, in Balochistan. We don’t have all the figures (of enforced disappeared persons). They should determine the actual figures, and on that basis they should ensure that Pakistan stops extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

Our second demand is regarding the CTD, which has been created with our resources, and based on the data we have, has been involved in extrajudicial killings in more than 38-40% cases, not just Balach’s case. Leave alone allegations of enforced abductions, and other similar incidents. The CTD must be disarmed, and the death squads created for the Baloch genocide should also be disarmed, rather than giving them party tickets and allowing them to contest elections. 

And our third demand is that, as this movement has been going on for 42 days, we have registered over 500 cases [of enforced disappearances]. Currently, in Islamabad alone, there are over a hundred families, increasing by the day. Just today, five more families arrived [to register]. We want the state to release their relatives, bring them to court, and try them there [if they are alleged to have committed a crime].

Our fourth demand is that whoever has been involved in extrajudicial killing, the interior ministry should come forward in a press conference and accept that the state, through the CTD, has extrajudicially killed so many people [giving the numbers and names].

Our main demand is also…because Balach’s case is an open-and-shut case. He was killed in custody, there is no need for any further investigation. The perpetrators should be punished. The crucial point is that those who killed Balach were not just the soldiers [those who carried out the killing], rather, it was the order that was issued to the soldiers. Therefore, that order needs to be abolished, because Balach is not the first case. In 2022 alone, we received 10 mutilated bodies. Among them was Shehzad, a student from Qalat, who was picked up and killed in a fake encounter. Similarly, there are many people in Taunsa who have been killed in fake encounters.

So, these are the fundamental demands of our movement. We have clearly stated that we will not accept any committee or commission. You have to accept responsibility. I question, what is a state? If you call yourself a state, you hold that power, then you have to solve these issues because they are created by your own state. You are responsible for this genocide, and you have to accept it and you have to end this.

AS: How do you understand the root causes of this conflict?  The state has committed these atrocities against the Baloch for decades. Do you believe this is linked to British colonialism, or perhaps driven by the vast mineral deposits in Balochistan that the state seeks to control, or are there other reasons?

MB: The root cause dates back to the annexation in 1948 when Balochistan was amalgamated into Pakistan. After that, a movement arose, a genuine movement of the Baloch. There is definitely a colonial mindset – Pakistan wants to rule much like how the British ruled, over not just the Baloch but also the Pashtuns and Sindhis. So that colonial mindset is there where the military is meant to rule, and its job is to control the distribution of resources…and crush any rights-based movements or even basic political movements. Without political engagement a society stagnates, so they don’t want consciousness to develop. They prefer creating a corrupt generation through a ‘banking model of education’ (from Paolo Freire), one inclined towards individualism that disregards collective thinking, and is not interested in societal change and transformation. This is what they’ve done to stop it.

Resources is only one point, the fundamental issue is that they aim to eradicate our national identity. My identity is that I am Baloch. I have inhabited this place for thousands of years, I have my own nationality, my own language, this is my cultural identity. Cultural colonialism has penetrated us. We can’t speak our language. The way we practice our culture…Look, we had a tribal system that was present before the British, which Sandeman converted into the Sandeman Sardari system. A Sardar, in Balochistan, used to be elected. He was not from some royal family. It meant that he’d have enough wisdom and intelligence to make decisions and provide justice for the region. He could be held accountable. The public could elect them or remove them, and they were not hereditary, meaning the title wasn’t transferred automatically from father to son. So our fundamental ruling structure was dismantled, first by the British, and then by Pakistan. Pakistan is doing the same, giving people power to become Sardars…a dual system of oppression has been imposed on us, dismantling our social structure.

The Baloch used to believe in collectivism…Our customs are such that when it comes to weddings, we collectively contribute, and when someone passes away, we collectively mourn their death. This is the beauty of our culture, the beauty of our nation. All these things have been erased. What the British colonialists were doing, today the Pakistani colonialists are doing too. They have an issue with what we wear, our language; if someone speaks their language, they are labeled ignorant or illiterate. They want to distort our beautiful history, so that we forget our identity and adopt theirs. This is the main issue.

Over the last 75 years, every means has been used for ethnic cleansing of the Baloch, spreading fear, and keeping our people so marginalized that even in the 21st century, they are living like in the stone age. There is no electricity, no basic amenities. People die from extreme weather conditions. You understand how dangerous drought is. Balochistan is a drought-prone area. If the people don’t die from drought, the floods that follow wipe out entire villages, towns, and settlements. This is the state.

For the state, the minerals in Balochistan are important, but they have destroyed human resources for those mineral resources. They have eliminated them in every possible way, not just through direct violence, but also indirect violence. There is no education. And most importantly, where there is mineral exploitation, there are higher incidences of disease like cancer, as seen in DG Khan and surrounding areas. The atomic plants that they have built for uranium have affected thousands of people. When the atomic weapons test was conducted in Chagai in 1998, the local population was not evacuated. The state has even used Balochistan as an experiment for nuclear tests. Today, there is not a single home in Chagai where there aren’t any differently abled children. Mothers are unable to give birth to “normal” babies. The same Chagai that made this state an atomic power, does not even have a hospital, where cough, flu…as a doctor I know that there aren’t even any facilities for childbirth, leave alone a cancer hospital…Our people are deprived of basic needs.

And then they say it’s because of the Sardars. It’s not because of this. They claim this is a democratic state. They say we have [democratic] assemblies, and assemblies govern, but then they impose these same Sardars as our representatives. These are your [the state’s] Sardars, not our Sardars. We don’t appoint them as our leaders. You train them in your GHQ. Then they blame the Sardars for exploitation and violence in Balochistan. Balochistan is against this kind of Sardari system, the government-sponsored Sardars are not our Sardars. The state sponsors and supports these Sardars, and justifies our exploitation and violence in their name.

AS: The state and state-funded media maintain this narrative that the Sardars are responsible for keeping Balochistan “backward”, and the state is not at fault. The state claims it has done a lot for Balochistan, like developing Gwadar, etc. How do you respond to such narratives?

MB: I would say to the state that when an innocent child is sleeping at home, you wake him up, snatch him from his mother’s lap, falsely accuse him of terrorism and forcibly disappear him…you can do all this, but if you know that the Sardars are responsible [for all the violence in Balochistan], then why don’t you go ahead and arrest them? Why haven’t you held them to account? Is your state, your military so weak? If you want to bring the rule of law…all these Sardars are sitting in your assemblies, and you have given them weapons. Which Sardar are you talking about? You have yourself created these Sardars. These are the issues, persisting for the past 75 years, where the state’s policy has been to orchestrate a systematic genocide, gradually create the conditions such that there is no political movement remaining in Balochistan, and direct rule can be imposed .

AS: There have been two or three Baloch marches in the recent past. This time it seems, from the outside at least, that the role of women is more prominent. So what impact has state violence in Balochistan had on women, in particular?

MB: As a nationalist and a political worker, I am also a feminist, and my feminist perspective is that women, as a part of this society, are the most affected. For example, if there are over 50,000 missing persons, they also have families. They have mothers who for the last 14 years have been living with mental illnesses. There are wives whose husbands were abducted on their wedding day. It is collective punishment. If your brother or husband is connected to a political movement, they pick you up and harass you. 

Now, the situation has escalated to the point where even women are being forcibly disappeared, and facing direct violence. A death squad attacked the home of Malik Naz, a housewife, and when she resisted, she was killed in front of her child. And this is not the first case. There is dual oppression on us —  on the one hand, women are not being allowed to come to the forefront [of society]. Baloch society is being transformed from its secular roots towards extremism, and there are restrictions on women’s education, there are other social issues…Altogether, women are being suppressed to such an extent that they face state oppression on the one hand, and social oppression on the other, and the social oppression has also been generated by the state. Because they want to rule over us in such a way that 51 percent of our population does not even participate [politically].

But, I would say that it is the beauty of our nation and culture that women lead and organize. When the violence started, when enforced disappearances began, from then on [women are prominent in the movement]. Women were there before even, but not in the spotlight. They had participated in wars, they were politically conscious, but when enforced disappearances started, in these past two decades women panels emerged in the movement, women came to the forefront of leadership in the BSO (Baloch Students Organization). 

There used to be this perception, (from the political movements I have witnessed myself) that  women are secondary members, as only participants, but the Baloch woman has come forward as a leader. She leads, she is part of decision-making, and her decisions are equally respected. And if I say that it’s a matriarchal society, they are respected even more than that. It is because they take everyone along in moving forward. This is also the beauty of our culture —if a woman comes forward, she can even end a forty year long war. This is the position of a woman in Baloch society. Because of this, when women entered political movements, they were given a lot of respect. The conditions are now such that women have become the builders and custodians of the Baloch political struggle, not just here but everywhere. Over the past 41 days, in all the political movements going on in Balochistan everywhere, I am happy to see that young girls have shown so much political maturity and are contributing to societal change.

AS: So, you mentioned that in DG Khan you received a lot of support, and while it makes sense that a lot of Baloch support you, your support seems to be growing outside Balochistan as well. Do you think the support in non-Baloch communities has increased, and are you able to reach more people than before?

MB: Yes, of course. Clearly, when the media is controlled, I don’t know what’s happening in Gilgit or Kashmir, others don’t know what’s happening in Balochistan, in Sindh, specifically interior Sindh, or KPK or Swat. The media is controlled, our thoughts are controlled. We see what the state wants us to see, and we adopt the state’s narrative, which is crafted and propagated to us from our schools up to now [adulthood]. Those who are ruling the state through political games, they label politics as a sin. From the beginning, as we grow up [our political expression is curtailed] – student unions are banned, parents are told that politics will derail their children, etc. 

The success for our movement is that the people of Pakistan are with us. They support our cause against murder, against ethnic cleansing of the Baloch, against this colonial way of ruling, and against enforced disappearances. The [state] narrative propagated for the last 75 years (that India is behind what’s happening in Balochistan, etc.) is now being opposed by another narrative that state [security] agencies are responsible for creating these conditions in Balochistan. 

We are receiving a lot of support. Volunteers are coming to our camp [in Islamabad], despite the threats and harassment they face. We are receiving support from all over the world, and especially in Pakistan. This is our biggest victory, that though our mobilization was primarily for Balochistan, once we reached Islamabad, the people of this city and those from resistance movements all over the country have been supporting us. The common person understands what is happening – that’s our greatest victory. 

When a doctor, lawyer, or professor comes to our camp…they’ve [the state] built a society where the middle class which could have been the source of change, has been completely sidelined. Or they have sidelined themselves. The youth that should have come forward to lead, has been sidelined. They have been recruited into a constructed, corrupt system, which is leading them towards individualism, disconnected from collective society. They view societal changes through fatalism, that this is how things are fated to be, they will never change. But things are changing. Maybe I am a bit too optimistic. In Balochistan specifically, our movement has been very successful. In the streets where the military used to rule, today our narrative is popular. All of Balochistan shuts down on our call. People come out on the streets, including women, and even when we try stopping them they keep going. So, this is the victory of our narrative.

AS: Individuals from Balochistan have recently gained prominent positions in the government and state institutions, such as the caretaker Prime Minister and former Interior Minister, as well as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. However, these individuals seem to align with the state’s narrative and they have been highly vocal in their opposition to the Baloch struggle, claiming that 98% of Balochistan’s population supports them while dismissing your movement as the work of marginal groups. They are trying to delegitimize your movement. Why do you think some of your elites prefer to align with the state?

MB: This is the state’s way of deceiving the public. Similar to this, when Pakistan’s federal party representatives come to Balochistan, they wear Baloch attire and turbans. The Baloch Culture Day that was initiated by BSO is now celebrated on March 2nd in every Pakistan Army headquarters. In fact, the military chose to bomb a Baloch culture day gathering [in 2010] where Bebarg Baloch was injured and remains paralyzed, but committed to the movement to this day. The people trying to eradicate our culture are nevertheless celebrating our ‘culture day’. 

So, whether the Prime Minister or the Chief Justice is from Balochistan or not, that doesn’t matter. What matters is whether they adhere to the oath they have taken.  As state representatives, as head of state are they following the constitution? This is just another tool for manipulation. Just like they brought in the Sardar setup to say that the sardars are responsible [for the situation in Balochistan], now they say the Chief Justice is from Balochistan – but no, he is the Chief Justice for your state, he doesn’t really have authority. If they had authority in the first place, if they had taken a stand when the first person was forcibly disappeared, then we wouldn’t have arrived at this moment. 

As for those who claim that 98 percent of the people are with them, I question them, why don’t you invite the UN? What are you afraid of? My second question is why, after 13 years since the UN working group on enforced disappearances came to Pakistan in 2010, are you not allowing them to come back even though they have requested an NOC (No Objection Certificate) multiple times? Pakistan is yet to sign the UN’s End Enforced Disappearances Bill – why? The bill to end enforced disappearances goes missing from Pakistan’s assemblies – why? If you are so confident that 98 percent of the public is with you, then what is there to fear? 

No matter how much you oppose our narrative, we have brought forward people. This is our evidence. Each of these people will bear witness to your oppression. You will find victims of your oppression in every household in Balochistan – those whom you have disappeared, and the numerous others whose people you have killed. Their graves are present in Balochistan, and their relatives, like me, are witness to your oppression. How will you finish us?

So there is a narrative that is concocted, and there is a narrative based on reality. That is why we are here – to tell the state that look, you said there were only 50 disappeared persons, but look at these people, there are many more than fifty. Even if there is one, that is also your failure. It’s a failure of your state. After the killing of Balach, Pakistan’s judiciary should have boycotted the courts. The fact that Balach was murdered after being presented in court [during remand], that is contempt of court. It is an insult to the oath you have taken. But if you don’t consider this an insult, then I am sorry to say you are dishonest.

AS: There’s a question about Gwadar. There is significant development taking place there, however many argue that there is also a demographic change that is accompanying the development. People from outside are being settled there, acquiring land, and attempting to take control. What are your thoughts on this?

MB: This is exactly how Pakistan’s colonial approach to ruling Balochistan works. In order to implement CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), potentially the most significant project in the region which has the potential to alter the world order, the people of Gwadar are being coerced into abandoning their lands and, more significantly, giving up their sources of livelihood. 

In Balochistan, unfortunately, there are only two means of sustenance: border trade and fishing. They [the state] blocked border trade by closing the border, and likewise they have finished the fishing industry. This is an obvious fact, there is internal displacement across Balochistan due to widespread military operations. People have been forced to leave their homes and lands, and are now scattered across Pakistan as immigrants. And today, that is happening in Gwadar. 

When the CPEC route was being established, wherever it passed, homes were burnt, people were picked up, forcibly disappeared, against their will. The will of the natives, the indigenous people, has never been considered. Deals are made here in Islamabad, in these assemblies… regarding our lands, our resources, and the killings and displacement of our people.

AS: How can the progressive people of South Asia help your movement?

MB: They can help by highlighting our movement as much as possible. Unfortunately, the world we live in, our thoughts are controlled, and we only see what the media wants us to see. Despite the widespread atrocities taking place in Balochistan, our voice doesn’t reach far. There are no investigative journalists. Despite that, we have a surge in our movement and we will propel it further. 

People in South Asia who are listening to us should support our movement, and raise their voice specifically against Baloch genocide. They should compel Pakistan, by writing letters, organizing demonstrations in solidarity, and taking practical action to help stop enforced disappearances. We need practical solidarity, but unfortunately, people are not even offering condemnation. They may not be aware, or if they are they may not be coming forward practically. They are not considering…our people are dying. Do our bodies not carry blood? 

We have been carrying the bodies of young children. In a conflict zone like Balochistan, having a  child grow into a youth is the greatest blessing for us. We wonder how they survived the war. Mothers have their dear sons picked up and their mutilated bodies dumped. This doesn’t just traumatize the family, it traumatizes everyone in the area where the body is found. We live together as one – our way of life is social. When a person’s body is dumped, everyone is, and should be, concerned. Everyone should think about it, and everyone should speak out against it. The loss of human life is not a trivial matter. It has been made trivial for us, by global states, by imperialists, and those forces that justify and legitimise genocide.

Estefanía Rueda Torres: I want to know what has been the women’s role in sustaining this occupation [demonstration camp]. And how  do you see your role as a young female leader in terms of teaching other women to take leadership in the movement?

MB: You know, when I was a child, it was my father who said that you will have to be a political worker. After school, I will enroll you in a student organization, and you have to do politics. They discussed [politics] with us. My father used to arrange a study circle with my aunts, all the females in our house, and discussed the Baloch issue, and international issues, political issues, so it’s very usual for us now. 

I started my political career as a student activist. From that point, we, as women, said that if a woman wants to be recognized as an equal, as feminists claim, then you have to participate in the larger social change. If there is a national movement, then you have to participate in that. You are not weaker than others. If you participate in that national movement, then you’ll be considered an equal. The society for which we are struggling, we imagine it as a women’s society. There is an ultimate change [objective], but there are other things that have been changing, like educating women, empowering them, motivating them to come and join our struggle. And there are multiple issues, I agree, that some of our comrades are not allowed to do politics, and some of our comrades are not allowed to get an education, but we are going to fix that. There is a community-level circle where we support each other.

You know, there is one thing. When we were doing student activism, we participated but we were like common workers. There were two specific seats [for women] in the organization: vice chairman and information secretary. I asked why we have fixed quotas, why can’t a woman be the president or general secretary. So we changed that. And I think the men there supported us. Had I not been doing politics, I would complain too that men wouldn’t support us and so on. But women have to show leadership qualities. You have to participate. Why have men been getting abducted? Because they are the political workers who have been participating in this revolution, and you [women] are not participating. What are you doing? You have been in the house, you have no idea what’s happening in the world or in your neighborhood. You have to change that.

That’s why I say, when the leftists of Pakistan came to Balochistan some five years ago for the Aurat March, they told us that they will organize something. I asked them, what do you know about Balochistan? What do you know about the problems of Baloch women? For Baloch women, the famous slogan of this march “my body, my choice” (mera jism meri marzi) – it’s not like this [it doesn’t apply]. In every region you have to study the population first; what are they suffering from? What are their main issues? 

So our feminism is different from all of the world. We are the direct victims of state oppression. Thousands of families, wives [of the disappeared] have lost their beloved. They are ‘half-widows’. You have to consider this issue, first of all. There are honour killings. Honour killings which are sponsored by the state. You have to do practical work for this. Our women have no right to education. First, you have to educate them that they are also human. They don’t need others to make their decisions. So [our struggle] is a little bit different.

But I think, as I understand it, if you want others to listen to you, then you don’t need to bargain with the system. You have to come into the leading position, and participate in the biggest change in society, like the national movement. Without doing this, there is no other way. You can’t change anything. If you are weak, people can sympathize with you, but they won’t solve your problem. Our national movement is encouraging women, and you see every person, every man in our movement not just respecting us but respecting our decisions. They have their full belief and trust in us that we can lead this movement.

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