The situation of minorities in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province is rarely reported about. GHRD spoke with a human rights defender from the Southwestern province and talked about the increasing difficulties these minorities face.
Baluchistan is the largest of Pakistan's four administrative provinces, constituting approximately 44% of land area despite being home to less than 5% of the country's population. The most prominent minorities are Christian, Hindu and Sikh. The Shia (Hazara) population is officially not seen as a minority according the Pakistani Constitution and they are treated as 2nd class citizens as a consequence.
The majority of Hindus and Christians in Baluchistan live in the western regions of Kalat, Sibi, Quetta, Nushki and Bolan. The Sikh population are primarily located in Eastern Dera Bugti. Before 1970 there were a few Hazaras, an ethnic minority group with predominately a Shia background, in Baluchistan. However, after the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan in 1979, close to a million Shia fled to Pakistan. After 1979, around 500.000 Shias migrated to other countries, leaving 500.000 Hazara to remain in Pakistan, who were mainly located near the regional capital Quetta.
Historically these minority groups coexisted peacefully with their Muslim neighbors, with relatively few conflicts. Some Hindu adopted ethnic Baluch names and one of the main Baluch tribal leaders (Nawab Akbar Bugti) even shifted financial powers to Sikh civil servants. Interestingly, the Pakistani government started to accept Hindu, Christian and Sikh minorities as a legitimate and recognized part of the Baluch society.
The first tensions started just after the foundation of Pakistan in 1947. In the Objective Resolution of 1949 it was decided the future constitution of Pakistan would be modeled on Islamic ideology and draw heavily on the Islamic faith. This contradicted the idea of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who spoke of a state focused on secularism. According to many, this decision was the first step towards the marginalization of minorities in Pakistan.
Over the years the Baluch fought battles against the central government for greater autonomy or even independence. During the 1980s, political developments in Iran, Afghanistan and Kashmir caused religious tensions to grow stronger.
After 09/11 militant groups near Quetta received many more sympathizers, especially due to an increase in Afghan refugees. Supporters of the militant groups started to emerge in other parts of Baluchistan. Concomitantly the number of religious schools increased. The nationalist uprising of Baluch nationalists was an important factor in inciting the Pakistani authorities to covertly allow militant groups to shift their activities to Baluchistan.
Religious groups which are active in Balochistan are: Lashkar e Jhangvi, Lashkar e Islam, Tanzim Ul Islam Ul Furqaan, Sipah e Sahabah and Jamat Ahl e Sunnat. Initially these groups tried to enforce religious conversion on the minority groups. Later, the military establishment tried to counter the uprising of the ethnic Baluch by allowing the military groups to pursue their activities in Baluchistan to counter the nationalistic insurgents. The groups were responsible for sectarian violence and ordering attacks on minorities.
In the beginning of 2005 a new uprising was started by the nationalist Baluch, led by Nawab Akbar Bugti. On 17th March some 60 people were killed by the Pakistan army, 33 of which were Hindu. Shortly afterwards the local Hindu place of worship was severely damaged. Many Hindu families decided to migrate to India. The army considered the Hindus to be sympathizers of the tribal chief, suspecting them of links with India and on top of that not loyal to the Pakistani ideology.
The situation for minorities changed for the worse in other cities like Ghuzdar, Bolan and Quetta . The local Hindu and Sikh populations were left unprotected and fell prey to kidnappings started by local criminals, many of whom were linked to the establishment. During 2004-2014 more than 90 Hindu’s were kidnapped, primarily for purposes of ransom. Three Hindus remain in captivity to this day.
The Christians in Baluchistan still have no equal opportunities and are not represented politically. Over the years several cases of forced conversion have taken place. As a result of the United States actively combatting militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Christians are often targeted in Baluchistan in retaliation to US drone attacks, and US actions in neighboring Afghanistan.
Nowadays conflict between the government and Baluch nationalists has changed into a struggle between the Baluch and extremist groups. On a weekly basis attacks take place against Shia (who are politically moderate and highly educated). They do not receive protection from anyone.
A possible solution to stop the ongoing violence might be the restriction of the building of more religious schools (madrassa’s), a strengthening of law and order, and a greater emphasis on the protection of minorities.
The information presented in the article are provided by a human rights defender who works in Balochistan, however due to security issues GHRD cannot disclose the name of the person.