Could Baloch Freedom Charter Do More Harm than Good?

Over the past year, Baloch nationalists and their supporters have been working to develop a Freedom Charterwhich articulates the legal grounds for an independent Baloch state. Using social media, email, and private consultations, the drafters have sought to extend the revolutionary spirit of the Arab Spring to Baloch lands in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan.

Claiming to have received significant feedback from the Baloch community, some North American supporters of Baloch independence suggest that the draft is now ready to be finalized. However, vocal American supporters of Baloch independence believe that the finalization of the Freedom Charter should not proceed. Andrew Eiva, a Washington lobbyist associated with a number of past self-determination movements, is one of them.
Eiva says that Baloch activists should abandon the Freedom Charter and instead embark on the drafting of a new document that better aligns with their tactical needs and strategic interests. Given my reporting interest in Balochistan, I sat down with Eiva to hear his long list of reasons why he favors this approach.
I. Foreign Influence

Eiva’s concerns can be traced as far back as the origins of the draft Baloch Freedom Charter.
According to the Baloch activists, the current draft Freedom Charter is derived from one originally prepared by Peter Tatchell, a British political campaigner best known for his work promoting LGBT freedom and global justice.
Without criticizing Tatchell, Eiva stresses that the Freedom Charter’s non-Baloch origin should concern proponents of Baloch independence: “The drafting of the document should have started with the Baloch and then moved on to other players. This is the wrong way to do it … The American founding fathers drafted the Declaration of Independence and gave it to the American army. It became important because the soldiers began calling themselves Americans because of the document.” Given its origin, he questions whether the Freedom Charter can ever inspire the Baloch resistance to the same degree.
Eiva says that the Baloch should have taken a different approach. If the document had been completely drafted and finalized by the Baloch and then circulated with foreigners, Eiva believes the average Baloch living in Southwest Asia would feel stronger ownership in the document. He also argues that the Pakistani Government would have a more difficult time dismissing the movement as yet another example of foreign meddling in Pakistani internal affairs. Such concerns cannot be easily rectified at this point in the process.
II. Out of Scope

Eiva’s second issue of concern is the language, length, and scope of the document.
While the draft has yet to be finalized, Eiva notes that the document has grown considerably in length and scope from Tatchell’s original. Eiva bemoans the current draft, saying that“the document is too long” and “the prose is unreadable.” He attributes this in part to the decision to originally draft the document in British English rather than Baluchi. The drafters may have failed to properly establish limits in their solicitation of feedback as well.
From Eiva’s perspective, the final document should strive to be no more than a few pages; emphasizing: “The founding document of Pakistan, the Lahore Resolution, is only a couple of sentences.” Given the length of the current draft (including consolidated feedback), it is difficult to see how Baloch activists can reduce the document to such an extent.
According to Eiva, the scope of the document clearly is to blame for the length issues: “This (document) tries to cover everything, which is a mistake. It is a declaration of independence and a constitution at the same time. In the end, it accomplishes neither. The Baloch need to establish their basis of existence by iterating a list of grievances and values and providing grounds for their self-determination. It is wrong to tackle more in this document.”
When asked specifically about the draft document’s support for the legalization of drugs, Eiva admits that this could be “a major turn off for the people of India, Russia, Europe, and Iran whose populations are afflicted with hundreds of thousands of cases of addiction from South Asia heroin.” He therefore presses the Baloch to be more prudent about what they choose to put in and leave out of their founding document.
III. Wrong Emphasis
Eiva’s third set of reservations are with some of the central arguments made in the draft Freedom Charter.
While Eiva sympathizes with the Baloch position that they are occupied by foreign powers, he also recognizes that the International Community generally supports the sovereign claims of Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan over Baloch lands. As a consequence, Eiva says the occupation argument is a far weaker grievance than the others listed by the Baloch, including “genocide, marginalization, racial extermination, denial of education, and exposure to nuclear testing.” He therefore stresses that the Baloch should de-emphasize the importance of the illegal occupation grievance to their cause “until they have first won the argument for sovereignty based on their history and grievances.”
Eiva is also bothered by the document’s failure to sufficiently tackle “tribalism, the monarchic tradition, the vitality of the Baloch resistance in Iran, and religion.” Regardless of Baloch sentiment on these matters, Eiva says that each is likely to define future Baloch society. For this reason, he is of the opinion that the Baloch should vigorously debate all four as they create “a vision of Balochistan true to its past and its future.”
By failing to confront these four issues, Eiva believes that the current document instead “seeks to blindside the Khan of Kalat” and a significant percentage of the population who identify themselves as traditional Baloch or devout Muslims. He bases this opinion on the fact that the charter overlooks the nearly “universal attendance” of all Baloch traditional leaders at the Quetta Jirga called by the Khan of Kalat in 2006. Eiva asserts that this could lead to widespread opposition to the document weakening Baloch support and their ability to govern.
Eiva says a more pragmatic approach would prove a better course of action given that Iranian Baloch, particularly those affiliated with Jundallah, are much more fervent followers of conservative Islam than their compatriots in Pakistan. He even suggests that the Baloch in different countries should consider advancing their own freedom charters before being subsumed into the larger quest for the Baloch nation. He points out that the American revolutionaries “waited for preliminary declarations of independence in individual states” before moving forward on a joint declaration.
    Alternate Way Forward
Given these lengthy concerns, Eiva argues that the Baloch should probably just scrap the current draft altogether and rewrite it from scratch based on a less radical and more concise approach.
In his view, the document should be limited to only a few pages, which should concisely “define the Baloch 1,000+ year history of nationhood, describe the illegal conquest of Balochistan by Pakistan 65 years ago, outline the five major uprisings against the Pakistanis and the 2006 jirga to establish a history of seeking independence, and list Baloch values and grievances, including genocide and ethnic marginalization.”
Eiva says that the document should emphasize that “the Pakistani conquest of Balochistan after the Lahore Resolution explains why the Baloch don’t recognize the Lahore Resolution and why Pakistan can no longer claim sovereignty over Balochistan.”
As opposed to many of Baloch activists, Eiva is less concerned with whether the new document is a declaration of independence or merely a declaration of the right to self-determination.
While he concedes that this decision is up to the Baloch, he stresses that the Baloch could “save a lot of lives” if they defer the question of autonomy, federation, or independence in the document: “In Lithuania, we had the same internal debate over this issue. The Lithuanian Democratic Movement debated vociferously between independence and sovereignty. The resulting ambiguity may have prevented a bloody crackdown and allowed for a relatively bloodless victory for independence when the time was right. The tactical decision of the pro-autonomy faction to delay their support for independence may have saved thousands of lives in the Lithuania case. I am not certain that the Baloch autonomy advocates will facilitate the same result, but at this point, the independence advocates have more important things to do than denouncing the autonomy/federation advocates as traitors.”
Eiva also reasons that the Baloch should not so overtly link their cause to Western geopolitical interests. He says Western governments, corporations, and politicians are beginning to discover the strategic value of an independent Balochistan on their own: “The Israelis have reportedly told the U.S. Government that more should be done to foment regime change in Iran. They know it is to their advantage to support groups who challenge the Iranian Government. As far as I can tell, Jundallah may be the most effective resistance in Iran at least until last year.” In any event, he does not think this document is the place to make such links.
That said, Eiva sees a place for separate preliminary document which outlines how the Baloch will manage their natural resources. He reasons that “a public debate and commitment over the transparent and just management of oil and gas revenues building upon the best practices pioneered by Norway and Alaska” could do more to unify the resistance than any other issue on the table: “Resistance movements in petrostate countries often have four to five rival strongmen who foresee independence as a chance to seize control of the natural resources from one another. Instead of trying to cut secret deals with outside oil companies, the Facebook revolution can empower the Baloch to agree on a transparent and just oil and gas production and revenue scheme that can unite every Baloch, whether in a federated or independent Balochistan.”
In the end, Eiva concedes that the Baloch still have a huge uphill battle to achieve independence with or without the Freedom Charter. While he believes that the “oil and gas reserves which nature has placed in the ground beneath their feet has given the Baloch an exceptional tool with which to unite,” he nevertheless agrees with Ralph Peters’ warning that the Baloch still need to unite around a set of common grievances and values rather than backing a divisive document that is “nowhere ready for release.”
The debate over Balochistan is a complex and contentious issue. I therefore encourage readers to voice their agreement or disagreement with the points raised by Eiva in the comment section below. I also welcome general comments on Baloch nationalism, including whether the Baloch should even be pursuing independence, as long as they are on-topic and tied back to the interview. Update: Peter Tatchell wrote to clarify his role in the drafting of the Baloch Freedom Charter. According to Tatchell, he first suggested the idea of the Freedom Charter at a conference of Baloch nationalists. He also helped edit/produce a standard English draft of the Freedom Charter. But, the draft itself was prepared from 12 points proposed by ethnic Baloch nationalists.

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