The dynamics of Balochistan
The significance of Balochistan has increased manifold with the initiation of CPEC
APRIL 12, 2018
The location of Balochistan is strategically important because of its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz. It has a coastline of 470 miles along the Arabian Sea. It borders with KP, FATA and Punjab in north and northeast, Sindh to the south-east, the Arabian Sea in the south, Iran in west and Afghanistan to the north and north-west. The population of province according to the 2017 Census is 12.344 million.
The main ethnic groups are Baloch, Pakhtun, Barahvi and Hazaras. The dynamics of Balochistan are different and challenging as compared to other provinces. Firstly, the so-called Durand Line is the internationally recognised border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But successive Afghan governments have refused to accept the Durand Line as a legitimate international border.
Secondly, the Sardari system has remained an important institution in the tribal society of Balochistan. Sardar is at the helm of affairs and is equally recognised by his tribe. The British further gave full authority to all Sardars for their allegiance to the crown.
Thirdly, the killing of Hazara people has become a routine because their physical features easily identify them. The Hazara community has been on the receiving end of terror attacks. Hazaras migrated from Afghanistan to Quetta to escape persecution and also came to Quetta while serving the British. Though with the start of operation Zarb-e-Azb and now with Raad-ul-Fassad large-scale attacks on the community has stopped but target killings are still on. At present, all the entries/exits to Hazaras living areas are manned by FC Balochistan, thereby giving an assurance that state cares about them.
The influx of Afghan refugees has fuelled suspicion among ethnic Baloch groups, who fear that influx of Pashtuns will disturb the existing demographic balance
Fourthly, the Baloch miscreants appear to be frustrated with the lack of local support for their so-called movement. The primary group involved in anti-state activities is BLF led by Dr Allah Nazar. It mainly operates in the Makran division. Another group is BLA led by Hyrbyair Marri, which mostly operates in Khuzdar area, and BRA led by Brahamdagh Bugti. The insurgency has begun to weaken and restricted to some occasional incidents in Makran division.
Fifthly, Gwadar port, which lies at the opening of the Strait of Hormuz through, provides the shortest route to the Central Asian States and China. The importance of Balochistan has increased manifold with the start of the CPEC. The CPEC’s prime beneficiary is Balochistan which will change its socio-economic condition. Some powers are not happy with Gwadar assuming the strategic importance. Gwadar has the potential to become a hub of international trade in the near future. It will be the only port to keep supply lines open if Karachi port is attacked or blocked. India is all out to destabilise Balochistan to prevent China from using Gwadar port.
Sixthly, the province has since long been the focus of foreign intervention due to its strategic location and for their contradicting interest. With the start of CPEC, some of the countries led by India have developed a keen interest in damaging the CPEC. India is already funding and providing weapons to the miscreants in Balochistan for fomenting trouble. In 2009, Pakistan handed over to India comprehensive evidence of her involvement in terror activities in Pakistan and particularly in Balochistan. In the past, Afghanistan has been raising the so-called issue of ‘Durand Line’. Afghanistan supported the insurgencies of 1958 and 1973. Most of the insurgents in the past took refuge in Afghanistan. Safe heavens are being run by RAW in Afghanistan through consulates of Kandahar and Jalalabad, where terrorists are trained, targets identified and launched for attacks in Balochistan and elsewhere in Pakistan.
Seventhly, there are 340,000 registered Afghan refugees in Balochistan. These figures do not include undocumented Afghans living in the province. The Government of Pakistan has started to document undocumented Afghans across Pakistan. The major source of concern is the flow of undocumented Afghans through frequented/unfrequented routes in the province. The influx of Afghan refugees has fuelled conspiracy theories and suspicion among ethnic Baloch groups who are apprehensive that the large influx of Pashtuns will disturb the existing demographic balance. Along 2,430 kilometres border with Afghanistan, Pakistan has eight formal border crossing points including one is in Balochistan, ie, Chaman. Pakistan has recently launched a comprehensive border management system along the Afghan border.
Eighthly, in the past, the settlers had been targeted by the terrorists. These settlers are mostly Punjabis, Urdu speaking and Pashtuns. The attacks started after the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006 and BLA is mainly involved in target killing of Punjabis with the slogan of ‘down with Punjabis’. Most of the settlers are killed in the area of Turbat, Gwadar, Panjgur, Sibi and Quetta.
Ninthly, banned organisations besides targeting on sectarian basis also target government officials, security personnel and government institutions/churches. These banned organisations have a nexus with TTP and Al Qaeda. The most lethal groups operating in the province are LeJ, LeJ al-Almi and Jundullah. Last year, 15 terrorists of LeJ al-Almi were killed in Mastung area by security forces. Reportedly, they were the sympathisers of Daesh and were in the process of facilitating their foothold in the province.
The arrest of Kulbhushan Jadhav from Balochistan proves the Indian involvement in subversive and terrorist activities in the province.
Tenthly, the Pakistan Army is playing a pivotal role in ensuring durable and sustainable support to the provincial government to establish its writ in the province. The army is providing health and educational facilities from within its resources to win the mind and hearts of Baloch people. Pakistan Army has taken extraordinary measures to recruit youth from Balochistan.
Recently, the COAS while addressing a seminar in Quetta mentioned that more than 25,000Baloch students were receiving a quality education at Army and FC run schools/colleges and cadet colleges all over Pakistan. Nearly 20,000 Balochs are serving Pakistan Army including 600 as officers. Majority of Baloch militants have accepted the government reconciliation offer and have joined the mainstream by surrendering their weapons. All the annoyed Baloch leaders should come forward and do politics under the framework of the constitution of Pakistan.
The writer is a retired brigadier
Published in Daily Times, April 12th2018.