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Support the self-determination of the Balochi people!

PAKISTAN’S MILITARY has intensified its fifth operation in Balochistan, battling a resistance movement against national oppression. Thousands of Balochi political activists are missing, and four hundred bodies of students, engineers, doctors and workers have been found, many showing evidence of severe torture. Arshad Shazhad reports.

Rebel leader Nawab Akbar Bugti’s assassination in August 2006, and the more recent discovery of the mutilated body of Sangat Sana Baloch – a leader of the national movement – on 13 February, has caused widespread indignation at the murderous campaign of the Pakistan Army and security services.

Since Pakistan’s foundation, the Balochi people have been an oppressed national minority. Despite British promises of self-determination or independence, they had to choose between joining India or Pakistan after Partition. Moreover, successive Pakistani governments have removed the initial concessions on autonomy granted to Balochi nationalists, leading to five full-scale uprisings and continuous armed resistance since the foundation of the country.

Balochistan, with 13 million inhabitants out of Pakistan’s 177 million, is Pakistan’s largest province, encompassing 44 per cent of its territory, and is one of the world’s richest regions in terms of natural resources that include coal, gas, gold, copper and other minerals.

These resources have not improved the lives of the Balochi people, but have become the principal cause of their suffering. Balochistan’s strategic importance has also brought the interest of rival imperialisms, further complicating their struggle against national oppression. China and the United States, as well as the Pakistani and Balochi ruling classes, all want control of its mineral resources, as well as the deep warm water Gwadar Port situated close to the strategically vital Straits of Hormuz.

Should revolutionary socialists support Balochistan’s struggle for national independence? There are major differences within the Pakistan left on this issue. Some oppose the Balochi liberation movement because it is supported by India and the United States, or because its leadership is in the hands of tribal chiefs.

They argue that these leaders are hostile to modernity and progressive values, and that we should support Balochistan’s capitalist development. In circumstances where Balochi nationalists are killing Punjabi, Kashmiri and other Pakistani workers, others ask how the left could support them?

But why do these tribal chiefs still exist, and why has the Pakistani state not eradicated their social basis? The majority of them always were, and remain, its supporters, and it is Pakistan’s continued rule that keeps the tribal chiefs in their positions of authority.

Similarly, Balochistan remains underdeveloped because Pakistan’s ruling class did not carry out any social improvements such as the building of infrastructure, that might have helped ameliorate the national question.

Pakistan’s ruling class draws enormous profits from Balochistan’s natural resources, while leaving the Balochi people in acute poverty. Many on the Pakistani left might view the tribal chiefs as the main obstacle to progress, but for the Balochi people the frontline issue is their homeland’s continued plunder.

Other Pakistani leftists claim that India and US imperialism are fomenting the Balochi liberation movement, making it a conspiracy against Pakistan rather than a genuine national movement. In doing so, they repeat the same argument that is used against every movement of liberation of an oppressed class or an oppressed people by its oppressors: that their struggles are not the product of justified resistance to exploitation and oppression, but merely the work of “outside agitators” – trade union militants, socialists or nationalists. Similarly, the Bolsheviks were accused during the Russian Revolution of being “German agents”.

Of course, there is no doubt that imperialist powers are backing part of the movement, hoping to manipulate it in their own interest. That however is no reason to reject the aspirations of an entire people. Almost every national liberation struggle or revolutionary uprising around the world has at some point been the subject of imperialist intervention and meddling.


Reactionary attacks on migrant workers

It is however true that some Balochi nationalists are attacking migrant workers, and we vigorously oppose such attacks. The vast majority of these workers are poor, and such indiscriminate acts weaken the Balochi struggle itself by antagonising potential allies within Pakistan. But the question remains: what approach should revolutionary socialists adopt towards the Balochi movement?

We support the right of national self-determination unconditionally, but critically. While it is a democratic demand that can be fulfilled within the limits of capitalism, support for the self-determination of oppressed peoples by the workers of the oppressor nation creates better conditions for working class struggle. Instead of the workers of the different nations fighting each other, they can unite to fight against capitalism.

We want a voluntary federation of nations, not a forced one. We would prefer to abolish borders and boundaries instead of creating new ones. But national self-determination (including the right of oppressed nations to form their own states, if they wish) has to be understood as a step towards this unity. Why? Because, the workers and all progressive forces of the oppressor nation can only win the trust of the oppressed if they support their rights without hesitation.

In these circumstances, revolutionary socialists should support the Balochi national movement, while warning against the intervention of imperialism, both American and Chinese. Neither power will bring the Balochi people independence, instead giving rise to war, destruction and rivalries.

We must also point out the class differences within the national liberation movement, and the dangerous mis-leadership of bourgeois and tribal forces. We need to fight for the working class and socialist forces to become the leadership of the national liberation movement.

In place of the petty bourgeois methods of guerrilla struggle, the Balochi working class must build its own organs of struggle, linking its struggles with those of the whole Pakistani working class, using the methods of class struggle: strikes, occupations, and the general strike, culminating in mass political uprising. In this way the national liberation of Balochistan and the struggle for socialism can go forward together.

• Stop the military offensive! All military out of Balochistan!

• No to imperialist interference!

• Self-determination for the Balochi people!



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