Delivering his first major foreign policy speech at the US State Department in Washington DC on February 2, 2021, Joe Biden, the POTUS signaled a major difference between his administration and that of his predecessor Donald Trump. Outlining his new foreign policy vision, Biden described China as America’s most serious competitor and vowed to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property, and global governance”. However, he did indicate that he was willing to collaborate with Beijing when it was in America’s best interests.
The US has been critical of China’s human rights violations against the Uighur’s in Xinjiang, Tibetans in China occupied Tibet and public at large in Hong Kong. However, Washington has traditionally ignored the genocide in Balochistan, because of which the EU and other nations too have chosen to remain silent. Joe Biden needs to make the change if America is really concerned about human rights.
Going back to the era of empires in southern and western Asia, land of the Balochis land is divided among Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. In Pakistan it is called Balochistan, in Iran termed Sistan-Baluchistan and in Afghanistan a portion of the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Nimruz too is part of Balochistan. In Pakistan, Balochistan is the largest province covering an area of 347,190 sq km, constituting 44 percent of Pakistan’s total land mass. Balochistan is thinly populated but its mineral deposits are estimated at about $1 trillion which include iron, copper, cobalt and some other critical industrial metals like lithium. The Pakistani military supported terrorist and radical Sunni organizations have been hunting Balochis since long but advent of the China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor (CPEC) has exacerbated the genocide against the Baloch population.
Balochis are not only facing killings, rapes, abductions, torture and disappearances on daily basis but also the plunder of their mineral and water resources. To top this is the Chinese demographic invasion. For example, China plans to settle nearly 500,000 Chinese in Gwadar where already Chinese marines are posted. Gwadar Port is being turned into a fortress on lines of the Chinese naval base in Djibouti. New Chinese bases are being built in Jiwani, Sonmiani and other coastal areas of Balochistan and Sindh. Does the Biden administration view the Chinese military inhabiting the entire coast of Pakistan in America’s interest?
According to Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, “The Baloch people are small in number and the Pakistani forces are eliminating them steadily. Some say this is genocide of the Baloch. The only thing that can save them is the international recognition of their issue and international support.” Discovery of mass graves in Balochistan has evoked no reaction from the world. Italy’s Francesca Marino says, “The genocide in Balochistan is being done silently. A member of European parliament stated the fact that mass graves have been found in Balochistan, but later on we did not find any action by the European Union.”
Human rights activists from Balochistan are fighting a lone battle. Protests in Pakistan against the assassination of Karima Baloch in Canada (infested with veteran Pakistani military officers) evoked no response from the Pakistani government. Same was Islamabad’s reaction to the killing of 11 Hazara Shia miners in Balochistan on January 3, 2021. Human rights activist Amjad Ayub Mirza says Hazara Shias in Balochistan are facing genocide at the hands of Pakistan army. Balochis have objected to the gruesome killings of miners in the region but Pakistan authorities have not paid heed to them.
Mama Qadeer Baloch, another human rights activist says that enforced disappearances particularly students and political activists is happening in different parts of Balochistan and Pakistani forces consider the Corona pandemic more suitable to abduct people, adding that almost every family in Balochistan has at least one member missing, including females and children. According to German politician Claudia Wadlich, “I have been observing Balochistan conflict for years and it is unnoticed because the Baloch do not have lobbying at the international level. ….due to lack of structured lobbying all are silent and even have joined hands with Pakistan….. Germany is also exporting arms to Pakistan but as per the laws, Germany cannot sell arms to an aggressive state and army. Even the European Union is silent. …Pakistan is playing with the USA for her strategic interests as China is already there. Therefore, USA is not noticing the abuse of human rights in Balochistan.”
The Baloch liberation fighters are fighting bravely against the ongoing genocide but their numbers are small and they are without international support. Instead of recognizing the China-backed Pakistani genocide in Balochistan and sanctioning China-Pakistan, the Donald Trump administration delivered a double whammy to the Baloch freedom movement. The US designated the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) a terrorist organization and assassinated General Qasem Soleimani, Commander of Iran’s Quds Force who was for the independence of Balochistan. Trump’s hatred towards Iran was behind the killing of Soleimani but labeling BLA as terrorists was simply to appease Pakistan ignoring the fact that Pakistani genocide in Balochistan is fully backed by China.
If America had any doubt about China’s human rights violations in Balochistan, Pakistani Major General Ayman Bilal Safdar, Inspector General Frontier Corps Balochistan recently stated that Beijing has given him a six-month task to end the freedom struggle by Baloch people, openly admitting that China has paid him a salary and a large sum of money and “posted him in Balochistan” for its regional interests.
It may be recalled that few years back China gifted four attack helicopters to Pakistan for crushing the Balochis. Foreign media has been reporting Pakistan operating multiple concentration camps in Balochistan region where Balochis including women, children and the aged, are kept in detention and tortured. Such camps, one each Nushki district in Western Balochistan, in Dera Bugti in Eastern Balochistan and in Awaran in South Balochistan are run with the assistance of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), with these locations also serve as training camps for LeT cadre.
According to Baloch nationalist leader Allah Nazar, “There is a total media blackout in the region. The handful of media outlets that are functioning there have been threatened by the army not to carry any news related to the presence of these concentration camps and the missing people. … After the coming of Imran Khan, army’s presence has increased in Balochistan. They have formed a new Corps for Balochistan and maximum number of colleges, schools and hospitals have been converted into army compounds.”
The question now is whether the Biden administration will continue to remain mute against the genocide in Balochistan like earlier US administrations including Donald Trump’s? Can Joe Biden champion the cause of human rights especially against China when China-backed Pakistan is massacring the Balochi population or “eliminating them steadily”, as mentioned by Hussain Haqqani? Are human rights violations only limited to Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Myanmar because Aung San Suu Kyi laid the red carpet for Beijing? Above all, does Chinese consolidation in Pakistan particularly proximate to the Straits of Hormuz serve US national interests?
Finally, apart from Washington’s obsession with Pakistan helping to stabilize Afghanistan despite Pakistan’s continuing double game as a vassal state of China, Joe Biden needs to seriously examine the above issues. Not doing so will prove the hollowness in Biden’s claim of acting against human rights violations.