As tensions between Iran and Pakistan reach new heights, with both nations launching cross-border strikes targeting militants in the Balochistan region, the attacks have sparked outrage among the Baloch community on both sides, leading to widespread protests demanding an end to what demonstrators are calling a ‘Baloch genocide’.
Protesters from Pakistan’s Balochistan region and Iran’s southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan took to the streets on Thursday and Friday, calling on both nations to halt their military actions in Balochistan. The latest exchange of attacks saw at least nine people, including two children, killed in Pakistani air strikes on Thursday, following Iranian attacks on what it called ‘terrorist’ targets in Pakistan.
Balochistan, a region with a rich cultural and historical identity, is currently divided between three countries: Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.
On the Pakistani side of the border, the Baloch people, who have inhabited the area for centuries, have a history of resistance to the Pakistani government, with insurgencies dating back to 1948 and resurfacing in various forms over the decades.
Balochis have long felt deprived of development and political representation, fuelling resentment towards ruling elites. In response to the militant insurgency, Pakistan has waged a prolonged and brutal counter-insurgency campaign. This has resulted in widespread human rights abuses, including disappearances, torture and killings with impunity.
The militant insurgency has strained relations between Pakistan and Iran, with each accusing the other of harbouring “separatist terrorists”. Recent large-scale air raids by Iran and Pakistan’s unprecedented response have exacerbated tensions, raising fears of further regional instability.
In Pakistan, Baloch protesters, including many women, have rallied in Islamabad to highlight alleged abuses in the province. Their long-term action is ongoing in Pakistan, and seeks an end to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Balochistan.
Meanwhile, the Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan witnessed fierce uprising in 2022, with residents joining nationwide protests over the death of Jina Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman who died in police custody.
The protests in Sistan-Baluchestan province led to a harsh crackdown by Iranian security forces against Baloch citizens, resulting in over 80 deaths in Zahedan in what became known as ‘Bloody Friday’. Activists allege that the region faces economic and political discrimination, with a disproportionate number of Baloch people executed, particularly on drug charges.
The economic impoverishment of the region has driven many Baloch to work as fuel transporters, smuggling fuel into Pakistan for higher profits. Iranian security forces have reportedly killed dozens of these individuals in recent years. Amnesty International reported that at least 19 percent of all executions in Iran in 2021 were carried out against the Baloch minority.