INSIGHTS: Balochistan: Pakistan's Nuclear Wasteland Up in Arms

By Ahmar Mustikhan

LEXINGTON PARK, Maryland, October 27, 2006 (ENS) - As a Buddhist who believes in Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence - an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind - I am at a loss to understand how to get peace, freedom and environmental justice without bloodshed for my ancestral land - Balochistan.

My people are extremely poor, they have one of the highest levels of illiteracy anywhere in the world and as a nation they are stateless, with a significant chunk of the population still nomadic. In their psyche and political outlook, they resemble the Kurds further to the West, who also are stateless.

Living in the opulence of the United States, I shudder to think about the abject poverty of the people of Balochistan despite the richness of their land in southwestern Pakistan. The majority is suffering from malnutrition, and many of the Baloch folks in the countryside have never watched television.

Yet the land is rich in mineral resources. Just last week the Voice of America announced the world's fifth largest gold and copper reserves were discovered in the Chagai District, on the Afghan border.

Chagai is the nation's nuclear testing ground. On May 28, 1998, Pakistan conducted five nuclear tests at Chagai. Generals of the Pakistan Army used Chagai though they very well understand the sentiments of the local Baloch population against Pakistan.

Chagai

Residents of the arid Chagai District lack electricity and other basic services. (Photo courtesy Islamic Relief)
Though no scientific evaluation was ever carried out on the specific effects of the nuclear tests on the local populace, there were news reports of an unusually high number of deaths of both camels and nomads.

Baloch locals allege that the nuclear tests have devastated the ecology of the area and their fruits do not taste as sweet as they used to prior to the nuclear tests. Water has been contaminated by radiation caused by the nuclear tests, press reports have suggested, saying that skin diseases, and mental and physical disorders have been recorded in Chagai and surrounding areas.

Most Americans seem never to have heard the name Balochistan, a Texas sized region divided among Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Some who have heard the name mispronounce the "ch" in Balochistan as "k," though it should be pronounced like the "ch" in the word China.

Still, Balochistan is a vast territory - 43 percent of Pakistan's land mass - and it is very rich in oil and gas. According to Frederic Grare, a Balochistan expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Balochistan has an estimated 19 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves and six trillion barrels of oil reserves both on-shore and off-shore.

The area under Pakistani army occupation is slightly bigger than New Mexico. The area under Iranian mullahs is the size of Nevada, and that under Afghan control is the size of West Virginia. The total Baloch population in these areas is eight million, and seven million Baloch live elsewhere in the world.

Since 1980s, several hundred Baloch have made North America their home.

leaders

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and U.S. President George W. Bush shake hands for the cameras September 22, 2006 in the East Room of the White House. (Photo by Eric Draper courtesy The White House)
On September 22 when Pakistani dictator-turned-president Pervez Musharraf was visiting President George W. Bush at the White House for promotion of his book, "In the Line of Fire," I stood outside the building and showed my five fingers as his black limo entered the president's official residence. I showed him five fingers, which means "Get Lost," for the harm that the Pakistan Army had done at Chagai.

A severe drought descended on the region after the May 28, 1998 nuclear tests, sending tribesmen to relief camps. Sardar Akhtar Mengal, a former chief minister, insisted the drought had a connection to the nuclear explosions.

"Even in the world's top industrialized countries, any atomic blast is never entirely safe," Mengal told this correspondent at the time. "How can these blasts be safe in Pakistan or India?"

With most of the world and the U.S. media focused on the disaster in Iraq, a war that has claimed thousands of lives in Balochistan has been ignored. The Baloch call it the Fifth War of Independence. For almost six decades, the cries of anguish of the Baloch people as they struggle to become masters of their own destiny have gone unheard. Over the years, 10,000 Baloch tribesmen and 3,000 Pakistani soldiers have been killed.

In fact, when the British granted independence to India and Pakistan on August 14, 1947 Balochistan got its independence as a separate entity from Pakistan as it was never a part of the British Indian Empire. Both houses of the Balochistan Parliament unanimously rejected the idea of joining Pakistan.

Still, under threat of being arrested by Pakistan Army as some of his ancestors had been arrested during the British era, Balochistan ruler Mir Ahmedyar Khan signed an Instrument of Accession on March 27, 1948 with Pakistan's founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Under that agreement, Balochistan did exist as an independent nation on the map of the world for seven-and-half months. Even that controversial accession document promised semi-sovereignty to Balochistan, now governed as a province of Pakistan.

A grand Baloch jirga, or assembly, decided last month to approach the International Court of Justice at The Hague to force Pakistan to honor its commitments under the 1948 Instruments of Accession.

Against the backdrop of this forced annexation, Pakistan's nuclear testing in Balochistan appears even more sinister.

Baloch

A Baloch tribesman (Photo courtesy Government of Pakistan)
The Baloch complain they are being "Red Indianized."

They compare their situation to what happened when the United States broke the Treaty of Ruby Valley and took a huge chunk of Western Shoshone Indian land to turn it into the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. The Shoshone now call themselves "the most bombed nation on earth."

Numbering less than five million in Pakistan-controlled Balochistan, the Baloch fear if Islamabad's plans of transferring the ethnic Punjabi population from the north are not checked, the demography of their land would be altered for good in no time and they would be marginalized much like the Native Americans in the United States.

girl

The next generation of Baloch people in the Chagai District, like this little girl, will grow up with a nuclear test site in their back yard. (Photo courtesy Islamic Relief)
The Baloch feel the "trail of tears," a phrase used by the Cherokee people to describe their forcible relocation from western Georgia to Oklahoma in 1838, is being re-enacted today in Balochistan.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, the key scientist who ran the Manhattan Project which created the first atomic bomb, said after the first explosion, "We knew the world not be the same... a few people cried, most people were silent."

In the same way on May 28, 1998, I cried my heart out on learning about the nuclear blasts in Chagai. I mean the forcible and illegal annexation of Balochistan, the looting of Baloch resources at the point of gun, the killing of the people and finally the destruction of their land.

For international expediencies, these injustices and the environmental rape perpetrated on Balochistan have been forgotten. Even the danger Pakistan's armaments pose to the world, and to the United States in particular, has been glossed over.

map

Map showing the location of Pakistan's nuclear test site in the Chagai District of Balochistan.
J. George Pikas, recently wrote in a letter to the "Wall Street Journal" that, "Pakistan is for sale to the highest bidder and is cleverly walking the line between the Taliban, Osama, China, Iran, the U.S. and India - quite a mix."

Pikas wrote, "One can agree that the general [Musharraf] is the only thing standing in the way of an Islamic takeover of Pakistan but he won't be there very long, and Pakistan's nuclear arsenal may then fall into the hands of 'raving Islamic fanatics.'"

To make the American public aware of this ongoing conflict in a strategic area at the hub of South Asia and Middle East, Baloch activists have joined hands with concerned Americans to form the American Friends of Balochistan.

I helped form the organization and two of its points are of particular interest to me. One calls for winding up of Pakistan's nuclear program. As the mission statement of the American Friends of Balochistan says, "Nuclear testing on the soil of Balochistan as practiced by Pakistan is against the wishes of its people and must stop."

The second point calls for making Pakistan's nuclear facilities compliant with International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. "At the least, the Chagai nuclear test range should be opened for international inspections," the American Friends of Balochistan urges in its mission statement.

The Baloch deplore lack of Western interest in their plight. Said Professor Dr. Sabir Badalkhan, a Baloch expert on folklore who now lives in Naples, Italy, "The West has no idea of what it means to be occupied by others, not being able to speak in your language, wear your national dress, celebrate your national days, commemorate the days of your national heroes, read and learn about your national land and feel proud, or sometimes be ashamed, of your forerunners."

{Ahmar Mustikhan can be contacted at ahmar_reporter@yahoo.com}