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Right of Balochs to secede from Pakistan

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Conflicts for separate State (or Sovereign-based conflicts) are often hard to resolve. They involve rise of terrorism, grave human rights violations, lack of effective international legal norms. This article argues that Baloch have a right to self-determination and have ‘earned’ their sovereignty.

Balochs’ History

The term “Balochis” refers to a “confederation of about five hundred tribes and clans.” These claim to share common culture, religion, ancestors, traditions and language.

Accession of Balochistan to Pakistan

In June 1947, Pakistan promised autonomous status to all princely states and guaranteed non-interference in their functioning. Immediately before independence, the Baloch nationalists lobbied for an autonomous state. In August 1947, British Government, representative of Kalat State (presently known as Balochistan), Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan entered into an agreement which gave Kalat State the status which it had before its colonization. On the same day, another agreement was signed whereby Pakistan promised to “stand committed to all the responsibilities and agreements signed by Kalat and the British Government from 1893 to 1947”. It made Pakistan the legal, constitutional and political successor of the British. Article 1 of this agreement stated that Kalat State would get an independent status. On August 12, 1947, the Khan of Kalat announced the independent state of Kalat and conducted first elections. Afterwards, when Pakistan was formed, the Khan of Kalat offered special relations in the areas of foreign affairs, communication and defense. After nine months of deliberations, the Khan accepted an unconditional annexation. Many believe that the Khan was coerced to sign this agreement.

Since then, Balochs have remained unrepresented. From 1947 to 1977, only 4 out of the 179 persons in Central Cabinet and military were Baloch. There were hardly any Baloch in the top positions. A study showed that the recruitment from Balochistan had stagnated at 0.6% even after Britishers. There are mere few hundreds of Baloch in the whole Pakistani Army. Baloch Regiment and Kalat Scouts have 0-2 Balochs. Even in 1991 when the recruitment standards were brought down and quota was increased to 15%, majority of recruits from Balochistan were Pathans and not Balochs. Out of 830 civil services post, Baloch held only 18 posts in 1979.

Balochs have been subjected to various human rights violations. Baloch militants and activists have been unlawfully killed and disappeared. In 2013, highly decomposed bodies were discovered in Khuzdar. Till date, enforced disappearances continue with impunity. Voices of several people who tried to speak about human rights violations have been crushed. In March 2015, Baloch activists were stopped from attending a conference in the USA about human rights violations in Balochistan and Sindh. Renowned human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud was murdered in Karachi shortly after hosting discussion on Balochistan. Three activists, including Vice Chairman ‘Voice for Baloch Missing Persons’ were detained and accused of terrorism and anti-state activities when they were on their way to attend a conference in USA.

Right of Self-Determination

Right to self-determination has been crystallized in International law. It has been recognized by UN Charter, UDHR, ICCPR, ICESCR, and various UN General Assembly resolutions. It has been made a rule of customary international law. Under this right, people have a right to “determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”. It is exercised by way of self-government, substantial autonomy, free association, and arguably in certain circumstances, independence.

The question of whether right to secession is whether included in right to self-determination or not is a highly-debated question. It is argued that if every group in each country is given a right to secede, then every State would be destroyed. Hence, UN Charter drafters expressly excluded right to secede from the right to self-determination. However, right to secede has been recognized where people are dominated by colonialists or aliens, or racially oppressed. In addition to this, scholars, UNGA resolutions, declarations of international conferences, judicial decisions, and international arbitral dispute decisions, UN bodies and state practice have recognized the ‘remedial’ right to secession, i.e., right of secession of a group has been collectively denied civil/political right and abused. This right has been recognized where the State “lacks either the will or the power to enact and apply just and effective guarantees [for the protection of minorities]”. The UN Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations strikes an important balance between sovereignty and self-determination. It gives preference to territorial integrity until and unless, a ‘representative’ government without distinction to “race, creed, or color” is in power.  Support for this theory can be gathered from State practice. In 1971 Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan, due to violence, repression and economic and political discrimination employed upon Bangla population. In May 1991, when Kurds were facing massive human rights violations, UN sanctioned intervention, whereby, Kurds enjoyed de facto intermediate sovereignty. Former Yugoslavia broke up into the constituent States as the people were deprived of right to democratic self-government and were subjugated to ethnic aggression, crimes against humanity committed by Belgrade forces.

For the secessionist group to establish their claim of sovereignty, (1) it must demonstrate it was denied representative government and human rights, (2) it will respect set boundaries and not claim territory from other third party states and (3) it will respect rule of law, democracy, human rights, minority rights, principle of disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation. To effectuate the process of secession, a modern mechanism of conflict resolution, i.e., earned sovereignty is adopted.

Earned Sovereignty

Earned Sovereignty refers to the internationally-supervised process of systematic devolution of sovereign powers from a parent state to a sub-state. It allows the parent state and sub-state to negotiate and draw up certain conditions to be fulfilled before sovereign powers are devolved onto the sub-state.

There are three components of earned sovereignty– shared sovereignty, institution building, and a determination of final status. Shared sovereignty refers to the “cooling-off period”, which allows violence to decrease, enable stakeholders to adjust their final objectives, build confidence and establish necessary institutions for self-government. In some scenarios, sub-state might be permitted exercise significant number of sovereign functions and sharing the rest with the parent state. Institution Building refers to the process whereby the foundation of political institutions in the sub-state are laid down, and other measures such as disarmament, return of refugees etc. are taken.  This allows the sub-state a later date to continue with sovereign functions. Determination of final status involves determination of ultimate status of the sub-state, which ranges from an autonomous status within the parent state to complete independent state. This status is decided through plebiscites or negotiations.

Considering that free choice forms the core of self-determination, plebiscites seem to be an apt choice for reaching the final status. They have often been resorted to by the international community. The basic essentials for a successful plebiscite are: (1) unqualified consent of all stakeholders, (2) detailed plan of plebiscite and its monitoring, (3) international support and (4) security arrangements. However, few scholars have argued that referendum have led to further violence either before or after the vote. In Bosnia and East Timor, referendum turned into ‘winner-takes-all’ fight, as the groups, which were either about to lose or had lost, became insecure about their future, and resorted to violence. There are other available options where the voters elect representative who could in turn negotiate on their behalf.


Due to continuous subjugations and human right violations perpetrated by the Pakistani State, Baloch have ‘earned’ their sovereignty. However, there are several impediments which have to be overcome to apply the concept of earned sovereignty.

Firstly, even though the parties do not necessarily need to decide on the final status in the beginning, but there is a compelling requirement of considering extent of devolution of powers. It is evident status quo cannot be maintained. There are differing views on the future of Balochistan. Pakistan do not want to lose Balochistan due to its strategic position. The Balochs are divided on whether they want an autonomous or independent state. If there is no consensus on the extent of devolution, earned sovereignty can fail. Secondly, Pakistani government feels that if any kind of autonomy is given to Baloch, other states like Sind might revolt and ask for the same benefits. Lastly, since it is imperative to have an international oversight over such process, Pakistan might refuse give charge of its interests to the international actors.

To conclude, earned sovereignty is a win-win situation for all as it allows Pakistan to retain its territorial integrity and gives Baloch important international recognition and sovereign rights.

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