New Delhi, June 30 (IANS) Indian think-tanks, The Tilak Chronicle (TTC) and the Centre for Advanced Strategic Studies (CASS), organised a two-day international conclave, ''Balochistan Dialogues'', to discuss the conditions of the Baloch people, who have been leading a struggle for independence from Pakistan since 1948.
The province of Balochistan remains one of Pakistan''s poorest and neglected provinces despite being a storehouse of mineral wealth. Similarly, the Baloch community remains under the global spotlight for its nationalistic struggle and is believed to be one of the least understood communities in South Asia.
Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale, who opened the discussion, said that drawn to the region for its mineral wealth, China has joined hands with Pakistan to exploit Balochistan. He added that with more and more Chinese settling in the region, the Chinese population will overtake that of the locals in about 25 years.
Identifying one of the major traits of the people, Major Gaurav Arya said that the Baloch people never accepted Pakistan. "Very few people in history have suffered so much human rights abuses as the Balochs and yet they have continuously fought for their rights." He added that the Baloch people hold nationalism at a higher pedestal than religion. He also urged the Indian government to accord political recognition to the Baloch struggle for independence.
Hyrbyair Marri, well-known Baloch nationalist leader and founder of the Free Balochistan Movement, living in exile in London, UK, emphasized that his people have a closer affinity to India than they have to Pakistan. "We are Muslims and proud of that. But we have not used our religion as a weapon against other people. This is because we take our beliefs from India." He added that for the Baloch people, national identity matters more than a religious identity.
The Balochs are proud that they rejected Pakistan''s invitation to join that country. They never gave a nod to the instrument of accession to join Pakistan during the time of Independence. Also, they are proud of their participation in the Indian independence struggle and find that they are closer to India in their thinking than they are to Pakistan.
Another Baloch leader in exile who participated in the discussion is Arif Aajakia, a vocal critic of Pakistan and its army. An expert on South Asian geopolitics, he was the ex-Mayor of Jamshed Town, Karachi, when he was in Pakistan.
Aajakia felt that India, despite being a power, has not done enough to help Balochistan in its struggle "We never had a conflict with Indians, yet the country has not supported the Baloch people. When Pakistan can openly train people in Kashmir and say that it is providing money and support to the people there, why cannot India do the same for the people of Balochistan. Why cannot India openly say that it is lending moral support to us."
The Baloch leaders stressed upon the fact that their people remain devoted to secular concepts just like India. The people take their cultural identities from their land and not as much from religion, therefore, do not have sectarian or religious conflicts in Balochistan.
An underlying thought running through the entire length of the discussion was that India should start by providing political recognition to Balochistan. It can thereafter initiate financial and diplomatic support to the beleaguered people.
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