Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Though their exact numbers are uncertain and as with other communities are contested, previous estimates have suggested that Baluchis make up around 2 per cent of the population. They are part of the larger Baluchi community, the majority of whom live across the border in Pakistan, and the rest live in Iran. The Baluchis of Afghanistan live in the pastoral lands of the south-west and south in Hilmand and Faryab Provinces and practise Sunni Islam. Their language is Baluchi, although some speak Brahui (who are known as Brahuis or Brahui Baluchis).
The Baluchis’ main economic activity is agriculture and animal husbandry. They are traditionally nomads and have preserved their ancient tribal structure with patriarchal, male-dominated kinship. Traditional and acquired skills have made them relatively self-sufficient, with the ability to build their own homes and develop the tools necessary for daily life. Rugs are woven for trade and household. Their farming activities follow a strict division of labour between women and men. Women work in groups threshing and separating the harvest while men are responsible for ploughing and planting. In keeping with Baluchi nomadic tradition, lands are not privately owned but belong to the whole tribe.
Divided between three countries – Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan – the Baluchis are one of Asia’s classical cross-border minorities. They have a strong awareness of their ethnic identity which has resulted in several rebellions against their respective central governments in a bid to maintain their autonomy. While there has been a strong Baluchi pull for self-determination with the view to the formation of an independent Baluchistan, these demands have gradually faded through sustained political repression at the hands of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Unlike the Kurds’ struggle for independence the Baluchi struggle has rarely attracted attention in the outside world.
In the 1970s the strongest organised Baluch group in search of independence were the Baluch People’s Liberation Front (BPLF). Most PLF guerrillas were based in training camps in southern Afghanistan and were reportedly given sanctuary by Daoud’s regime.
Baluchis are one of the named ‘national’ ethnic minorities in the Afghan Constitution. Accordingly, they have all the rights bestowed to Afghan citizens. Nevertheless, Baluch leaders have expressed concern that their rights to their language have not been protected by the government, and that their children do not receive mother-tongue language education.
Minorities and indigenous peoples in