Balochistan, the Bloodiest War You’ve Never Heard Of

Laura Secorun Palet


Google “Pakistan” and you’ll be flooded with images of terrorist attacks, photos of Malala or trailers of the next Homeland
episode. Actually, all of the above. But there is one region of this
country you can be pretty sure will not show up on the first few dozen
result pages: Balochistan.

A group of fighters from the Baloch Liberation Army pose with their weapons around the campfire. Photo Marc Watterlot

Roughly the size of Germany, it is Pakistan’s biggest and poorest
province. And it’s also home to a long and bloody civil war that has
been going on for decades. On one side there’s the central Pakistani
government. On the other are the Baloch nationalists who have fought
for independence since the year after Pakistan’s 1947 birth. They are
organized in insurgent groups with names like the Balochistan
Liberation Army and the Balochistan Liberation United Front. And while
the government labels the Baloch as “terrorists,” the Baloch accuse the
army of ethnic cleansing. According to the International Institute for
Strategic Studies:

Since the start of this forsaken conflict,
people have died and thousands of others have gone missing.

The Baloch are an ethnic minority
with their own language, traditions and culture. They are also present
in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan but feel strongly deprived and
alienated by the government in Islamabad. The intensity of the conflict
has been ebbing and flowing for decades. It had slowed down after the
imposition of martial law in the country in 1977, but it broke out anew
in 2005 after a Baloch doctor
was raped, allegedly, by a military officer. That triggered a wave
violence and retaliatory attacks on both sides, including two attempted
assassinations of then-President Pervez Musharraf during visits to
Tribal militiamen belonging to pro-government group Aman Lashkar, fighting Taliban and Baloch insurgency

The Baloch feel no loyalty toward the central government. “Pakistan
has already lost Balochistan, but it won’t let it go,” says Burzine
Waghmar from the Center for the Study of Pakistan at the School of
Oriental and African Studies in London. That’s because despite being
the poorest, most scarcely populated region of the country, it is also
rich in natural resources like oil, gas and minerals and strategically
valuable — with three borders, access to the Arabian Sea coast and a deep-sea port.

Like in all wars, both sides accuse each other of inhumane acts.
Human Rights Watch has reported a growing number of kidnappings of
Baloch activists. Dead bodies are often dumped on empty lots or alleys —
116 in 2013 — and there have been widespread accusations against the
Pakistani military and security agencies of extrajudicial executions,
torture, displacement and excessive use of force against protesters. In
January 2014, three mass graves were found in Balochistan. The Asian
Human Rights Commission claims that the hundreds of bodies found
belonged to members of pro-Baloch organizations who had been abducted
by Pakistani forces. But a judicial commission absolved the army and
intelligence agencies of any responsibility.
Dr. Allah Nazar, commander of the Baloch Liberation Front

To be sure, the armed militant groups (that Islamabad accuses New
Delhi of funding) are no strangers to indiscriminate violence either.
While the U.S. doesn’t label the Balochistan insurgents as terrorists,
they too have been accused of myriad human rights violations, such as
killing civilian Pashtun “settlers” — from doctors to construction
workers — and intimidating and even murdering journalists. Yet most
accusations are hard to corroborate precisely because of how dangerous
reporting is in this area.

The Pakistani military does not allow any foreign journalists to Balochistan. Since 2006, several correspondents, including New York Times
reporters Declan Walsh and Carlotta Gall, were kicked out of the
country for secretly going into Balochistan to report. And local
reporters are also too afraid to try: “There is an unwritten
understanding that those reporting on Balochistan are going against the
greater ‘national interest,’” says Malik Siraj Akbar, a Pakistani
journalist exiled in the U.S. after being a newspaper editor in
Baloch women protesters speak to the crowd of thousands in front of Karachi Press Club, February 2013

But whether or not it makes deadlines, the death count continues to
grow. As Waghmar points out, a shot at peace would require political
will on both sides, and after more than six decades of conflict, no one
is rushing to the negotiation table.