A separatist faction in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan Province has called on India to intervene militarily in their simmering insurgency that has seen thousands of rebels, soldiers, and civilians killed since 2004.
“We want India to help us militarily, like its intervention in the support of Bengali [nationalists] in 1971,” said Sher Muhammad Bugti, a leader of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP).
“They should rescue us the same way they rescued the Bengalis,” he added. “Like the Bengalis, we will accompany their [Indian] army to win independence.”
An Indian Army intervention in 1971 resulted in the emergence of Bangladesh after the defeat of the Pakistani military, which was engaged in a counterinsurgency campaign against a Bengali nationalist uprising.
The rebellion was provoked by longstanding claims of discrimination and a political crisis following elections in 1970, when a Bengali political party was prevented from taking office after sweeping the polls. Pakistan’s East Pakistan Province became Bangladesh after the nine-month war.
Bugti’s comments follow reports that the BRP’s exiled leader, Brahamdagh Bugti, and his key lieutenants are all set to receive Indian passports in the near future.
The development is likely to further escalate tensions between South Asian nuclear archrivals India and Pakistan. Islamabad has already accused New Delhi of crossing a line after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused Pakistan of committing large-scale atrocities in Balochistan last month.
Modi’s criticism followed Pakistan’s support for a new wave of anti-India protests in the restive Himalayan region of Kashmir. The two neighbors have fought three wars over the region since 1947. They now control parts of Kashmir but each claims it in full.
The BRP, however, doesn’t seem worried about the consequences of an overt alliance with India.
“They are not exactly showering us with rose petals. Instead, they are bombing us from their jets,” Bugti said, referring to alleged Pakistani air strikes against Baluch rebels.
Bugti said his party will debate the issue of formally petitioning New Delhi to grant citizenship to thousands of BRP supporters who now live in exile in Afghanistan and European countries.
“He [Brahamdagh Bugti] currently does not have a travel document. We would like him to approach a country that would give him such a document so he can mobilize people for the Baluch cause,” he said. “India is our neighbor and the world’s largest democracy. They can give us travel documents quickly.”
Pakistan’s private Geo Television reported on September 16 that Brahamdagh Bugti and key associates are all set to receive Indian passports after months of negotiations with authorities in New Delhi.
Brahamdagh Bugti, now in his 30s, has been living in exile in Switzerland since 2011 after leaving Afghanistan because of incessant attacks on his hideouts.
He moved to neighboring Afghanistan after the 2006 killing of his grandfather, Nawab Akbar Bugti, in a Pakistani military operation in a remote region of Balochistan. He was a key leader of the fifth Baluch rebellion that began in 2004.
Brahamdagh Bugti’s reportedly received a setback after Swiss authorities rejected his asylum application in January 2016, citing Islamabad’s decision to declare him a “terrorist” because of his role in Balochistan’s violence.
The BRP, however, maintains his asylum application was not rejected and is still pending with the Swiss authorities.
“We want to mobilize the international community about the suffering in Balochistan and cannot wait longer [for the Swiss asylum process to conclude] as the bloodshed continues,” Bugti said.
Brahamdagh Bugti’s Indian citizenship is expected to escalate tensions with Pakistan, which reacted to Modi’s statements on Balochistan with fury last month.
On August 12, Modi accused Islamabad of committing large-scale atrocities in Balochistan.
“Pakistan forgets that it bombs its own citizens with fighter planes in its own land,” Modi told Indian politicians. “Now the time has come that Pakistan shall have to answer to the world for the atrocities committed by it against the people in Balochistan.”
He again mentioned Balochistan during his Independence Day speech on August 15.
“The world is watching. People of Balochistan, Gilgit, and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have thanked me a lot in the past few days,” he said, referring to his earlier comments. "It is a moment of pride that these people have looked out to India for support."
Later the same month Tariq Fatemi, a special assistant to Pakistan’s premier on foreign affairs, accused New Delhi of crossing “a red line,” with these comments.
Balochistan’s provincial government spokesman Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar said Modi’s comments were proof that “his country is meddling in Balochistan. Indian and Afghan spy agencies are backing Baluch insurgents and working to destabilize Pakistan."
Comprising nearly half of Pakistan’s landmass, Balochistan is the country’s biggest province. Rich in mineral, hydrocarbon, and coastal resources, its Gwadar seaport is slated to be the lynchpin in a multibillion-dollar Chinese transport and trade network that aims to connect the country’s northwestern Xinjiang region to the Middle East.
An acute sense of deprivation and discrimination among the Baluch majority has provoked five rebellions during the past seven decades. Nearly a dozen Baluch separatist factions see the estimated 8 million to 10 million Baluch as a marginalized minority among Pakistan’s 200 million population.
The separatists and even moderate Baluch nationalists fear turning into a minority in their homeland, which is strategically located at the crossroads of Afghanistan, Iran, and the Gulf.
After years of counterinsurgency operations, Islamabad appears to have gained an upper hand on Baluch separatist factions, who still frequently claim attacks on Pakistani forces.
They also accuse Islamabad of grave rights abuses such as enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Islamabad has rejected such claims and accuses them of being pawns in the hands of its enemies in New Delhi and Kabul.
With thousands killed, civilians have been the worst victims of violence in Balochistan. With nearly half a million people forced to leave their homes, the region has also seen large-scale displacement.
Sectarian attacks against Shi’ite Muslims by hard-line Sunni militants and high levels of criminality have also contributed to instability in Balochistan.