Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Peter Tatchell: The people of Baluchistan have a right to self-determination

Ever since its annexation by Pakistan in 1948, Baluchistan has been subjected to a quadruple whammy of military occupation, political domination, economic exploitation and cultural hegemony. Just like Israel's settlement programme on the West Bank, Islamabad has a settler scheme to colonise Baluchistan. It is encouraging Punjabis to move to the region. The aim is to make the Baluch people a minority in their own homeland.

Punjabi supremacists have imposed an alien language, Urdu, on Baluchi-speaking people. Borrowing from the tactics of apartheid in South Africa, which forced black children to be schooled in Afrikaans, Islamabad has dictated that Urdu is the compulsory language of instruction in Baluch educational institutions. The cultural conquest also involves the radical Islamification of the traditionally more secular Baluch nation. Large numbers of religious schools have been funded by Islamabad with a view to imposing Pakistan's harsher, more narrow-minded interpretation of Islam. This is fuelling fundamentalism.

The West's attitude towards the plight of the Baluch people is less than honourable. Because Britain and the US want Pakistan as an ally in the "war on terror", they have armed Pakistan and acquiesced with its suppression of the Baluch people. Pakistan's war against Baluchistan is strengthening the position of the Taliban, who have exploited the unstable, strife-ridden situation to establish bases to terrorise the... Baluch people and enforce the Talibanisation of Baluchistan. The Pakistani military... bases in Baluchistan are also hideouts from where Taliban fighters mount military operations in Afghanistan.

If the nations of the world want to strike a blow against the Taliban and fundamentalism, they should seek an end to Pakistan's repression in Baluchistan and support the Baluch people's right to self-determination. Baluch secular nationalism could act as a powerful bulwark against the Talibanisation of the country, which ultimately threatens all the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan – and the wider region.

The best way to resolve this issue would be a UN-supervised and monitored referendum to allow the people of Baluchistan to freely and democratically determine their own future. If tiny East Timor can be an independent nation, why not Baluchistan?

This is an excerpt from a speech given at the United Nations last month www.petertatchell.net