Outlawed groups in insurgency-wracked province claim they want ‘independence’ referendum under the U.N.
Baloch separatist leaders on Friday called on Pakistan to follow in Britain’s footsteps by holding a referendum similar to Scotland’s on granting independence to the province.
Scots rejected independence in a vote that left the centuries-old United Kingdom intact despite a surge in nationalist support in the final fortnight of the campaign.
Asked whether a similar poll should be held in Balochistan, Dr. Bashir Azeem, secretary general of the outlawed Baloch Republican Party, said: “The Baloch have been struggling against the excesses and tyranny of Punjab-dominated establishment of Pakistan for decades.” Punjab is Pakistan’s most populous and influential province. “If a fair referendum is conducted after creating an atmosphere for it, providing the opportunity to Baloch population for deciding their future, it is welcomed,” he added.
Resource-rich Balochistan is the largest of Pakistan’s four provinces, but its roughly seven million inhabitants have long complained they do not receive a fair share of its gas and mineral wealth. Rebels began their fifth insurgency against the state in 2004, with hundreds of soldiers and militants killed in the fighting.
But rights groups allege security forces are also responsible for picking up non-militant separatists, including academics and students, torturing them and dumping their bodies on the streets.
The current insurgency gained in intensity after the 2006 killing of 79-year-old Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a revered figure for many rebels. Bugti’s son Jamil Akbar Bugti said: “I stand for a free and fair referendum in Balochistan under the United Nations. Let Baloch people who are struggling for their independence decide their future whether they want to stay with [the] federation of Pakistan or break away.”
The desperately poor province is also riven by sectarian strife and Islamist violence in its northern Pashtun belt, with middle-class Baloch increasingly viewing independence as their only hope for a more liberal and secular state.
Pakistan accuses neighboring India of funding and arming the rebels, a charge many analysts believe is true and payback for Pakistan’s interference in Kashmir.