Published:  03:11 AM, 12 September 2019

Saving Baloch, Pashtuns from Pakistan atrocities

Cooperation sought from global powers

Saving Baloch, Pashtuns from Pakistan atrocities A poster outside the UN office in Geneva calls for support from international powers to stop Pakistan government's repression on the people of Balochistan. -Collected

Balochistan is situated in the southwest portion of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan which used to be an independent nation, having gained autonomy in 1947 from colonial English rule. Shortly thereafter, however, Pakistan launched a military operation and forcibly annexed Balochistan back under Pakistani control. Since then, the Baloch have faced incessant hostility and aggression at the hands of the Pakistani government and have had their most fundamental human rights stripped away.

The Save the Baloch movement has organized a Pavilion at the Broken Chair outside the United Nations office of Geneva to create awareness of the atrocities the Baloch have historically faced and continue to suffer at the hands of the Pakistani government.

Balochistan has historically contained swathes of mineral-rich land where oil, gas, gold, and copper have all been found. The government of Pakistan has exploited this wealth of natural resources, directly violating the Pakistani constitution and denying the Baloch their most basic rights. Islamabad has illegally hoarded the profits from natural gas and hydroelectric power facilities instead of redirecting the net funds to the people of Baloch, reports 4NA Bureau.

Pakistan has also restricted phone and internet access in Balochistan and threatened, kidnapped, or killed reporters who share the truth of what is happening to the Baloch. Alleging so-called "national security" concerns, Pakistan has barred international NGOs and rights groups from entering Balochistan and has repressed all forms of political activism that oppose the Pakistani government's agenda.

As a result, the fullness and vibrancy of Baloch culture has been completely and wholly suppressed. Balochistan is reportedly the least-educated  province in all of Pakistan with a low literacy rate. Only one third of children are able to safely access schools; when they are able to get to school, their educational experience suffers as teachers in the region lack appropriate funds for providing sufficient materials and do not have access to educational resources. Employment opportunities for all people are strictly regulated based on political and cultural affinities.

At home, the majority of households do not have access to clean drinking water. There is also widespread internal displacement due to decades of conflict. Family members and loved ones are still forcibly disappeared at the hands of the Pakistani state, but Pakistan refuses to acknowledge any role in the kidnappings.

UN intervention is crucial, and local NGOs and civil society organizations like the Save the Baloch movement must be included in the negotiations. One thing is certain: without pressure from the UN and other powerful international institutions, the Baloch will never receive the peace and justice to which they have a right.

On the other hand, as one of the world's largest tribal communities, the Pashtun of Afghanistan and Pakistan have a rich history and culture extending thousands of years into the past. Afghanistan's Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Lashkar Gah cities and Pakistan's Peshawar and Quetta represent vibrant, bustling centers of Pashtun culture.

Clinging fiercely to both their traditions and their right to self-determination and autonomy, the Pashtuns have for centuries been thrust into the middle of various conflicts between the Pakistani government and terrorist groups like the Taliban. Caught in the crossfire of opposed political agendas, the Pashtuns have frequently been treated as mere collateral damage.

Especially at risk are Pashtun youths. Every 5 out of 10 girls are not in school. Essentially, half of the Khyber Pakktunkhwa's population is completely deprived of their right to an education. Additionally, the Pakistani army has laid mines across Pashtun lands, strategically placing the mines on heavily-travelled roads and even in front of schools. More than 2000 landmine blasts have occurred, with the majority of the victims children. Instead of making their way to class to access their fundamental right to education, these children are ending up in early graves.

In order to raise awareness and build critical support for the Pashtun people, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a leading human rights movement for the Pashtun people, has launched an advocacy campaign at Geneva's Broken Chair monument, which stands at the entrance to the United Nations (UN) offices there. The campaign serves the dual purpose of highlighting the wrongful oppression of the Pashtun people and petitioning the UN to act to end the atrocities committed against the Pashtuns by Pakistan.

In this way, the Pakistani state has rendered the Pashtuns victims on their own land and has destroyed the past, present, and future of the Pashtun people.

More than 32,000 people have been forcibly disappeared at the hands of the Pakistani state over the last ten years. Today, 5 out of 10 Pashtuns live in abject poverty-the most severe form of deprivation to basic needs and services that any individual or family can suffer. A whopping 54% of the population suffers from water-borne diseases as access to clean drinking water is severely restricted. One out of every three children is malnourished in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Despite all of the terror and destruction that has been imposed upon them, the Pashtun people are resilient. The PTM has demanded that the Pakistani government carry out a full and swift removal of all landmines, release all missing persons, create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, end invasive and humiliating practices at checkpoints, cease unnecessary and baseless collective punishment against Pashtuns, and secure justice for Naqeebullah Mehsud by punishing his murderer Rao Anwar. Ending Pakistan's atrocities against innocent Pashtuns is possible, but only with support from the global community.

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