A radio story of mine has just been broadcast on PRI’s The World, about the role of women in the Baloch separatist movement. I’m a bit uncomfortable with the web title given to the report by my editors: “Baloch Women Leading Fight to Secede Balochistan Region from Pakistan” — so I thought I’d clarify it here, and also discuss some other aspects of the story (and links) that didn’t make it into the report due to time limitations.
To say that “Baloch women are leading the fight..” wouldn’t be entirely incorrect, but it suggests more than there actually is. The reality is that men still seem to overwhelmingly dominate leadership positions in Baloch separatist organizations. But what I was trying to convey in the piece is that Baloch women are becoming increasingly active and taking on increasingly prominent positions in the movement, contrary to how one would expect it.
My interest in this story started about 5 years ago when I came across a phone interview of Karima Baloch, the vice chairperson of Baloch Students Organization – Azad (BSO-A). The BSO-A can lay claim to revitalizing the Baloch nationalist movement and especially of mobilizing young middle class people in to the separatist struggle. I was surprised not only by the fact that a woman had a senior leadership role in the organisation, but also by the militancy of Karima’s ideas. It was in total opposition to how Baloch women are usually portrayed, as submissive victims of the male-dominated tribal society.
Journalist Malik Siraj Akbar has described Karima as the Baloch Leila Khaled. In 2009 Karima was sentenced (in absentia) to 3 years in prison by an anti-terrorist court, for leading a protest against forced disappearances, and for defiling a Pakistani flag. She’s been on the run from authorities since then.
Scores of videos on YouTube show Karima and other women, leading protest rallies and giving speeches alongside men, calling for Balochistan’s secession. The grainy video below shows a woman, Andleeb Baloch, giving an angry speech at a rally in Tump, before it was alleged to have been opened fire on by Frontier Corps personnel:
The video isn’t clear enough to be conclusive, and the FC claims they were attacked first.
In my report, I discuss how, as a student leader several years ago, the now guerilla commander Dr Allah Nazar Baloch gave a speech at the Bolan Medical College, urging Baloch women to follow in the footsteps of Palestine’s Leila Khaled and take up arms. He asks if Razia Sultana, Margaret Thatcher, Tansu Çiller and Indira Gandhi can govern over their countries, then why can’t Baloch women take up such roles.
I also mentioned in my report a low-budget Balochi-language feature film called Jageen about the conflict between Baloch guerrillas and the Pakistani military. Near the end of the movie, the rebels are outnumbered and want to surrender. But a young female character decides she will take up arms, if the men are willing to keep fighting. The movie is below, and the relevant scene starts at around 35.50 :
And finally I discussed the case of Naela Quadri, a former assistant professor at the University of Balochistan, who had to resign after she led a protest against the 1998 nuclear tests in Balochistan. She then began campaigning for Baloch rights and was hounded by authorities, forcing her to to go underground for 5 years, and unable to see her three children and family. Since 2010, she’s been in exile in Afghanistan where she heads the World Baloch Women’s Forum. She claims to be the first woman in Balochistan to be actively involved in politics.
Naela Quadri (third from right) at a rally in 2009
I interviewed her over Skype, in which she described one incident when the Inspector General of police wanted to meet her while she was being held at a police station in Quetta, when :
She told me she regarded the involvement of women in Baloch politics as a historic change in society:
My report just touches on some of the main points. There are many issues that have not been discussed, and my research is particularly lacking because of how hesitant (rightly so) people in the movement are about dicussing their activities with outsiders. But it will be interesting to see how this phenomenon continues and the changes it may bring about in the long run.