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Seventy-four years after a false dawn, Balochistan fights again for its second independence

The Baloch carry out a protest seeking independence from Pakistan (Photo courtesy: Mehran Marri Twitter)

Not many know that August 11 is celebrated as the Balochistan Independence Day. On this day in 1947, a Standstill Agreement was signed between Kalat and Pakistan under the supervision of the British by which Pakistan recognised Kalat as a sovereign nation.

What we know as Balochistan today—a province of Pakistan with borders touching Afghanistan and Iran, was called Kalat during British times.

India Narrative spoke with lawyer and geopolitical analyst, Mark Kinra to know more about Balochistan's intriguing independence.

Kinra says: "August 11 is a symbolically important date for the Baloch nationalists and the common Baloch as on this day both Britain and Pakistan agreed that Balochistan will be an independent sovereign state. This news was also reported in The New York Times of 12 August 1947 and since then it has become a part of Baloch folklore”.  

Interestingly, it was Muhammed Ali Jinnah who fought the legal battle for Balochistan’s independence on behalf of the princely state of Kalat. Jinnah won that case for Balochistan from the British. And, as the Baloch did not know at that time, Jinnah would come back soon to snatch that independence from them at the barrel of the gun.

CAPTION: The Balochistan flag (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Balochistan flag (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

With Balochistan coming into its own, Pakistan had other ideas. To settle this matter, the Viceroy, Jinnah and the Khan of Kalat sat down for a series of meetings. The lengthy discussions, just three months before Pakistan was to be granted independence, gave birth to a trilateral agreement that stated that "the Government of Pakistan recognises Kalat as an independent sovereign state in treaty relations with the British Government with a status different from that of Indian princely states".

However, the agreement also added that Pakistan and Kalat will also decide on how to manage defence, external affairs and communications. This clause was to satisfy a Pakistani demand that Kalat as an independent country will not be able to manage these affairs on its own. Instead, Pakistan will help it while respecting Kalat’s sovereignty.

Soon after independence, Pakistan launched its first war on the princely state of Kashmir, snatching away a large part from the Maharaja of Kashmir.

Emboldened by the major acquisition of territory in Jammu and Kashmir, Jinnah turned his gaze on Balochistan, for this southwestern territory was almost equal in size to Pakistan and rich in natural resources.

Between October 1947 and February 1948, Pakistan mounted pressure on the Khan of Kalat to join the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Khan instead decided to refer the matter to the two houses of the parliament—Dar-ul-Umara and Dar-ul-Awam, the House of Lords and House of Commons, and informed Jinnah that he would go by the decision of the parliament.

The Baloch parliament decided that it would remain an independent entity.

However, the Pakistani army moved into the coastal areas of Pasni, Jiwani and Turbat in March 1948. The Khan of Kalat was forced to merge Balochistan with Pakistan—a decision taken under duress as its parliament had already rejected the merger.

Kinra says: "It is not that Pakistan and Mohammad Ali Jinnah betrayed Balochistan but Britain also did the same by way of Standstill Agreement which has a lot of contradictions. The UK never wanted Balochistan to be an independent nation. At that time, the Kalat State National Party, which was governing Baluchistan, had won the first democratic elections of Balochistan was close to the Indian National Congress and both were against the British imperial interests in the Indian Subcontinent”.

Read more: China, Pakistan investment in Gwadar pushes the Baloch minority to the margins

Read more: After conflicts and neglect, water and food crisis stare Balochistan in the face

The Baloch people, who were suspicious of Pakistan, still look to India for support. When the Baloch wanted India to intervene during 1947-48, and some even suggested a merger with an independent India, India declined.

“I think it was myopic of India to not support Balochistan independence or accept its accession to India, when Pakistan was invading it”, says Kinra.

The Baloch people rue that as an independent nation, Balochistan existed only for 227 days–from the British rule to Pakistan rule. Today, they feel that with increasing Chinese influence in their region, they are again living under colonial exploitation.

While China is busy extracting their mineral deposits, Pakistan is abusing Baloch human rights on an industrial scale–enforced disappearances, killings, unleashing death squads, dumping bodies of Baloch youth on remote hill tops. Pakistan's gross violations of individual freedoms in Balochistan have been documented by not just human rights organisations but international journalists as well.

One of the vital geo-strategic projects of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Gwadar Port, lies in Baloch territory where China is building a multi-purpose port to be used for both commercial as well as naval purposes.

Another threat the Baloch face is an influx of Chinese workers, engineers and defence force personnel who have been brought by Beijing to work on and safeguard the CPEC investments, particularly the Gwadar port.

Lawyer and Geopolitical Analyst, Mark Kinra says: "Everyone has failed Balochistan because an independent Balochistan doesn’t align with interests of western powers. The Baloch people need to understand that it’s their battle and they need to fight it. As far as India is concerned, the creation of Balochistan not only solves India’s interests but it is also India’s moral obligation”.

More on Balochistan and Pakistan:

Pakistan Air Force to build new air base in Balochistan

Chinese fishing trawlers swamp Arabian Sea, Baloch fishermen protest

PoK activist condemns Pakistan for deaths of 11 Shia Balochistan miners