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The separatist group Baloch Republican Party (BRP) has stressed that it opposes an economic agreement between Pakistan and China, arguing it would undermine the development of the indigenous population in Balochistan, a province in south western Pakistan. Speaking to IBTimes UK, Ashraf Sherjan, a member of the BRP in Germany, alleged that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) aims to use the province's resources that belong to locals.
"Pakistan's deal with China over Baloch resources have put the Baloch people in a tense situation and military operations, abduction and killings have accelerated," he alleged.
"The [military] operation in Dera Bugti – started on 1 January – is a good example," Sherjan continued, referring to the army's offensive against separatist militants in Balochistan.
"As a Baloch, I will always feel like an outcast in a land that is supposedly mine," he said. "They come, they exploit and they leave. We do not want to be like extra-terrestrials in our own land.
What is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)?
- Launched in 2015, this $46bn ( £32bn) deal aims to develop infrastructure in Pakistan, provide China with a quick access point to the Arabian Sea and enhance intelligence-sharing between the two countries
- It would also connect Pakistan to the Beijing's Maritime Silk Road (MSR) – an initiative aimed at increasing investments across the Silk Road
- A network of pipelines to transport liquefied natural gas and oil would also be constructed
- Among other things, $248m (£171m) would be used to renovate the currently unused deep-water port in Balochistan's town of Gwadar and a road network that would connect the port to China
- Former chief minister of Baluchistan province, Akhtar Mengal, said that although it supported the deal, it could result in Baloch people being denied entry in Gwadar
Mansoor Baloch, president of the BRP UK chapter, also alleged that the deal means both Pakistan and China would use Baloch resources. "Pakistan takes all the money from China and spends it to kill Balcoh people because they want independence," he alleged. "China built the Gwadar port, but Pakistan brought all workers from Punjab while Baloch remain jobless," he continued. "BRP has held so many protests against the Pak-China corridor across Europe."
IBTimes UK has contacted the Chinese and Pakistani embassies in London for a comment on the allegations and the official position on the CPEC, but has not received a response at the time of publishing. Earlier in February, Pakistani authorities announced they would deploy special security forces to protect thousands of Chinese workers involved in the CPEC. The move came after China expressed concern over the security situation in some areas in Pakistan.
Why the BRP calls for independence
Balochistan was annexed to Pakistan following the British colonisation. According to some, the then-ruler Khan of Kalat was forced to sign accession documents despite a previous document recognising the independence of the Baloch people that had been signed by the British, Balochistan and the upcoming Pakistan administration.
- Capital: Quetta
- Population: 7,914,000 (2011 census)
- Largest cities: Gwadar, Turbat, Khuzdar, Sibi and Kalat
- Major ethnic groups: Baloch, Pashtun, Brahuis
- Languages: Urdu, Balochi, Pashto, Sindhi, Brahui
- Religion: Sunni Islam, Shite Islam
Since then, Baloch separatist groups demanding independence have been engaged in armed struggles with the Pakistani government.
During an armed struggle in 2006, Balochistan's leader Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed by the Pakistani government, which accused him of being a warlord and using the Balochistan Liberation Army as a front for the running of his own militia.
"Since 1948, the people of Balochistan have made five attempts to regain their independence, but the Pakistani state, with help of the fundamentalist state of Iran and others, crushed all the five movements using disproportionate and indiscriminate force," Sherjan said. "The current freedom movement, started in late 2000, is considerably more widespread, stable and stronger than the past attempts .The current movement has a powerful political command all over Balochistan, and has established stronger Baloch communities in many countries of world to support and promote the Baloch cause."
Human Rights Watch has released several reports on abducted people in Balochistan. In 2015, the NGO said that since 2009 authorities have recovered the bodies of 4,557 suspected victims of enforced disappearance and subsequent extrajudicial execution, of which 266 remain unidentified.
"Those figures reflect the brutal toll of government agencies' deplorable practice of abducting people and then denying holding them, or not providing information about their fate or whereabouts," the report read. "Such enforced disappearances – most often of men and boys – occur regularly throughout Pakistan, particularly in Balochistan and north western Pakistan, but also in Punjab and Sindh provinces. Under international law, an enforced disappearance is a 'continuous' crime: it persists, and continues to inflict suffering on the victim's family, as long as the fate of the missing person is unknown or concealed."
In a previous conversation with IBTimes UK, the London High Commission for Pakistan denied allegations of violence against Baloch people at the hands of Pakistani authorities. The commission said in a statement: "Balochistan is an undisputed and integral part of Pakistan from its very inception.
"There are some political and economic grievances which have been raised by the Balochistan province over the years. The Federal government is cognizant of these and is making efforts to address this through a political process and economic measures," the statement continued, and added that terrorist organisations are involved in activities in Balochistan.
"These terrorist organisations, with the help of some external elements, have time and again admitted to killing security personnel and also innocent people," the commission said. "The organisations that continue to use violence will have to be taken on by the state and the security agencies are the tool to do that end. So it is not the Army but the state of Pakistan which has taken on these terrorist organisations. In any case, within Balochistan it is the Frontier Corps that is the lead agency and not the Army. The judiciary in Pakistan is independent. Cases have been lodged in the courts regarding missing people or those killed. Not a single case has been proven against the security agencies in any illegal disappearance or extrajudicial killing.
"Another aspect of this manoeuvre is to internationalise this issue through media and other NGOs who don't have on ground knowledge, but tend to believe these self-exiled leaders of so-called 'Baloch Struggle Movements', which are in effect foreign funded terrorist organisations."