Despite escalating tensions between India and Pakistan following the militant attack on the Uri army base and the surgical strike on terrorist hideouts across the LOC, there are voices of praise for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Pakistan policy from across the border. Activists from Balochistan, a region which has witnessed large-scale human rights violations at the hands of the Pakistan establishment, have thanked Modi for his support to the Baloch community and its freedom struggle. A leading voice of the Baloch movement, NAELA QUADRI BALOCH, spoke exclusively to APN’s Editor-in-Chief RAJSHRI RAI: Excerpts:
What are your expectations from India?
Narendra Modi’s government is a strong government. In a democratic setup like yours, political parties might be in a competitive mode. But when it is a matter of national interest, all political parties will support Modi. The Indian public supports us, but we want the government’s support too.
What makes you hopeful that Narendra Modi will support you? Have you been in talks? Or is this a sudden development?
It’s not sudden. We have worked hard for this. I, along with other leaders, have been lobbying. I have visited India several times during the last four years. It’s not just one person’s effort that’s now bearing results. Balochs are active globally—be it the US, the UN or Europe. However, there is a long struggle behind the big success in India. In the past, I have given numerous presentations to Indian think tanks and answered some very technical questions.
Have you met Sangh leaders? As you want India’s support, you may have met various organizations, representatives and communities.
Yes, I did meet the Sangh and got a lot of affection from them. RSS leader Indresh Kumar gifted me Shivaji’s sword and chadar. Gifting the chadar is a mark of honor and respect among Balochs. I also met leaders of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch. There have also been constructive talks with the Muslim community.
What are the concerns raised by the Indian think tanks?
One major apprehension was that if Balochistan gets independence, Pakistan will become a pain in the neck for India. My simple reply to this was: the entire mess was created by you—by Nehru and Jinnah—and you handle it.
However, that’s one way of looking at things. The other answer is none of the nationalities want to remain in Pakistan: Balochs, Sindhis, Saraikis and Pakhtoons, all want independence. If they gain independence, Pakistan will be put in its place.
My message for Indian Muslims is: connect with the soil of India. You were born here. This is your land. If your heart is elsewhere then it’s a dual life you are leading… Pakistan will exploit the situation.It’s not so easy. The Indian government would like to support Balochistan but China, Pakistan and Iran are on the verge of an alliance. Don’t you think this should be a worry for India?
India need not worry. In the face of previous sanctions, Iran’s currency had fallen so much that even food commodities became very expensive. At that time, it was India which pulled Iran out of the crisis by investing in the Chabahar Port. Iran can’t afford to harm its relations with India. Given a choice between India and China, Iran would choose India.
Secondly, the Chinese economy depends on the international market for its goods. If India were to stop importing Chinese goods, in fact, if all the nations who want riddance from Pak-based terrorism were to stop buying Chinese goods, China will learn its lesson within a week.
What are your expectations from India?
We don’t want to impose any conditions. Let India support in whichever way it can, as long as it is in our interests as well as India’s interests. A government-in-exile would be a platform to bring the Baloch diaspora of 40 million together. Our people are scattered. They either have refugee status and can’t travel or have Pakistani passports and Indian authorities reject their visa requests. One of our demands is that India treat a Baloch as a Baloch when he approaches for a visa.
Is there a rift among Baloch leaders? Baloch leader Brahamdagh Bugti made a statement that Naela Quadri is not the official leader.
That is not the case. All Baloch leaders want the Baloch government to be formed. What we need to ask is what is more important for our national cause—ensuring a government is formed or seeing to it that Naela Quadri should not be the one forming it. If there is a problem among other leaders, we need to sit and sort it out.
What will be the shape of the government-in-exile if it is formed?
I am by nature very fit to be in the opposition as I have this innate capacity to criticize. But the government will be formed by the people, not by an individual or a group. It’s not for me to say who will be the prime minister or the finance minister.
Can you describe the situation in Balochistan?
To start with, there is no law. Unemployed Pakistani youth are recruited and sent to Balochistan. When they come there, they just want to loot the occupied territory. When they raided my home, they even looted cigarettes and dry fruits purchased for Eid. Mobiles, laptops, jewelry, cash—nothing is spared. Women are abducted and men are killed. Those suspected of being informers are abducted and their mutilated bodies are later found with organs missing. There is also organ trading, use of chemical weapons and nuclear adventure on our soil. Nuclear weapons are kept hidden in our hills. And terrorist squads are given a free hand.
Do you have any proof of the use of nuclear and chemical weapons?
The tests that China covertly conducted on behalf of Pakistan were followed by the spread of cancer in the region. For six years, it did not rain. Ninety percent of cattle and wildlife died. There were strange diseases that suddenly surfaced. As for chemical weapons, they mix chemicals in surface water and those consuming it—be it humans or cattle—die. We demand that a UN fact-finding mission be sent. As no one trusts us, let this body find out the truth.
Who is a bigger enemy—Pakistan, China or Iran?
After Pakistan, it’s China. As for Iran, we do have hope. Everything depends on democracy being restored in its true form, and religious policies being normalized. We hope that the Baloch people living in Iran get a better deal. Even there we want help from India. It’s India which has lifted Iran from its mess through investments in Chabahar Port which is actually Baloch land. There is a place in Chabahar where an entire settlement was razed by bulldozers. We don’t want India and Iran to do in Chabahar what Pakistan and China are doing in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Don’t link Kashmir and Balochistan. Kashmir is part of India and India has the right to get back its land. And Balochistan is a pluralistic country since thousands of years. We are not driven by religion. We are different temperamentally.When you started this movement, why didn’t you seek support from the Pakistani intelligentsia?
Because in Pakistan, civil society, parliament, media, judiciary and the administration do not exist in the real sense. There’s only the army. There’s an entire industry driven by the army. It can occupy any land it sets its sight upon. When civil society doesn’t have the strength to claim its own rights, how can it fight for us? They will work only till they are getting funds but will not stand up for us when our house is on fire. But I would like to point out Sabeen Mahmud (a human rights activist), did try to initiate a dialogue but sadly she was killed (in 2015).
Kashmir is a big issue. Can we link the Baloch and Kashmir issues?
I have a request. Don’t link the two. Kashmir is part of India and India has the right to get back its land. Being the biggest country in the region, it also has the right to play a moral role when genocide is happening in the neighboring country. And Balochistan is a pluralistic country since thousands of years. We are not driven by religion. We are different temperamentally. We will extend whatever help we can on the Kashmir issue. We know how to honor friendships. But linking Balochistan to Kashmir makes it a bargain. A friendship has to be unconditional.
We have seen images of saffron flags in Balochistan. What should we make of that?
The saffron flag is a “thank you” signal to Modi. Modi is a hero of not just Balochistan but all oppressed nations, just like Nelson Mandela was. As for the saffron color, it’s a sufi color and Balochs are intrinsically sufis—not fundamentalists but pluralistic.
You have come to India at a time when there is a debate brewing here. The Law Commission has invited suggestions for introducing a uniform civil code, which is being opposed by the Muslim Personal Law Board.
I feel that the interpretation of divorce should be understood clearly. A woman also has a right to divorce. Just as two individuals or two families come together for a marriage, similarly there are also mechanisms for ending a marriage which gives the woman a whole set of rights. You can’t just get away by uttering talaq thrice.
My message for Indian Muslims is: connect with the soil of India. You were born here. This is your land. If your heart is elsewhere, then it’s a dual life you are leading and it will stop you from developing bonds with your country and Pakistan will exploit the situation.
You have personally suffered during the movement.
I was underground for six years. My kids’ education really suffered…The turning point came when my mother was on her death bed—she was a heart patient—and when I went to meet her we were told that the army had encircled the area. I couldn’t even say a final goodbye to her. I fled in disguise. In five hours, I was in Kandahar.
Lead Picture: Naela Quadri Baloch. Photo: Bhavana Gaur