In Pakistan, political instability and socio-economic factors coupled with uneven resource distribution and weak governance have played their role to fester terrorism and crime in marginalized parts like FATA, Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and Balochistan.
Though menace of Taliban insurgency has been at the top of internal threat matrix and gained premium attention in main stream media; the nationalist insurgency in Balochistan has long been concealed deliberately by the state from public exposure. The geostrategically located resource rich troubled province of Balochistan makes 44% of the Pakistan by landmass, bordering all the three provinces and sharing boundaries with Afghanistan and Iran. The ethnic Baloch population has long felt disenfranchised due to indifferent attitude of federal government as well as brutal british-era Sardari system leaving the region one of the most impoverished in the world. Since independence in 1947, some headstrong Baloch leaders were at odds with the state of Pakistan who viewed federation as a threat to their centuries old unique cultural identity, autonomy and free rule.
Historical studies reveal that in post-independence Pakistan, Qalat the then princely state ruled by Mir Ahmed Yar Khan initially insisted to remain independent but later it was annexed to Pakistan. In March 1948 The Khan of Qalat in an agreement ceded his territory to Pakistan which he later confessed to have done under duress. The move was so unpopular among local Balochis that Prince Karim Khan, the brother of Khan of Qalat not only repudiated the accession but also launched first insurgency in Balochistan against the state. The defiant prince initiated subversive activities through guerilla warfare while taking refuge in neighboring Afghanistan, forcing federal government to send in Pakistan Army as a mean to subjugate the warring tribes. Later on, the armed insurrection of Nawab Nowroz Khan against one unit policy in 1958 marked the second insurgency in the province. The third insurgency led by legendry Sher Muhammad Bijarani Marri’s against establishment of Pakistan Army garrisons and naval establishments in 1963-1969 was more ferocious in scale and magnitude. The Marxist Marri aligned resistance forces with Bugti and Mengal tribes after establishing Parari movement which later gave birth to Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) to carry out unconventional subversive activities against security forces. Later in 1973, the political crisis of Balochistan resulting in dissolution of provincial government of Sardar Attaullah Mengal and imprisonment of NAP leadership by egoistic Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto led towards much bigger insurgency which lasted for four years. Subsequently again army was called in to quell the rebellion in the mountains supported by thousands of guerilla fighters. However the military operation forced Baloch leaders to take refuge in Afghanistan. Meanwhile the government in Islamabad did not budge to overcome the deep sense of deprivation and alienation in Baloch population fuelled by decades of marginalization, denial of due share in resources, repressive policies and indifference to local cultural sensitivities. In addition, powerful Sardars who remained loyal to federation took millions in royalties but denied development and even basic amenities in their area of influence and in the end when central government would deny them increase in their shares they would blame Islamabad of all the ill poor were facing.
Such is the gory situation of the province that most of the less than 8 million of population has no access to clean drinking water, education and health facilities and the region remains one of the world most under developed. Then came the fifth phase of insurgency in early 2000s as incidents like Dr. Shazia rape case, establishment of military cantonments and continued feud over Sui gas royalty with central government infuriated belligerent Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti who eventually declared war on the state leading to his demise in a controversial military operation ordered by then military ruler General Musharraf. Bugti was widely respected for his nationalist ideas in Balochistan hence his killing proved to be final breaking point ruining any chance of reconciliation between the government and nationalists. Over the next decade militant groups mushroomed in rugged terrain of Kohlu, Dera Bugti, to Awaran, Panjgur and Gawadar engaging security forces in a low level but complex insurgency. Today, prominent among these separatist groups are Bloch Liberation Army of Hyrbyar Marri, Baloch Republican Army of Brahamdagh Bugti, Baloch Liberation Front of Dr. Allah Nazar and Lashkar-e-Balochistan of Javed Mengal fighting for varied objectives such as from provincial autonomy to absolute independence from Pakistan.
These outfits rely on terrorist activities such as ambushes, bomb blasts and IED attacks on gas piplines, power pylons, railway tracks, security and civilian infrastructure, assassination of prominent pro-state figures and Punjabi settlers. Since 2006, scores of civilians have been killed in this conflict but myriad of Balochistan problems still remain unresolved. Today dynamics of insurgency are not that simple as the arms raised against the state of Pakistan for greater autonomy, royalty of resources, share in province’s development and opposing demographic changes by constant non-baloch exodus in the province are now focusing on outright independence from Pakistan. In due course, Pakistani spy agencies blame that these centrifugal forces have aligned with India and other European and regional countries to harm Pakistani interests in its own backyard. Moreover, In last years a number of factors like paramilitary Frontier Corps vigilance, improved management at Pak-Afghan border, less venomous government in Kabul, departure of US and NATO forces and subsequent decline of Indian footprint in south east Afghanistan has improved over all security in the province. The insurgency has lost legitimacy and local support is fast waning for armed struggle and cessation from state.
It is high time for Islamabad government to shun decade old iron hand approach towards non-violent disgruntled Baloch leadership and build confidence among local by adopting serious measures to rectify the past. Military solution alone is no remedy for composite socio-economic problems that stem from decades of alienation, deprivation and miss-representation. Dialogue should be initiated with all dissident political forces who raise issues of provincial autonomy, share in development and resources, missing persons and electoral rigging which they allege is “Selection” rather than election. Provincial government should be allowed to freely implement mega projects like Reko Diq and operation of Gawadar port this will enhance Sense of ownership among people.
Although geo-strategic necessities and security linked apprehensions of federal government are genuine as the region is destined to become economic hub due to proposed $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Hence role of security establishment to protect vital interests in the province against multifaceted internal and external threats cannot be denied. Likewise, the armed groups vying for independence and unwilling to join political process must be coerced militarily to break their strength and given incentives to reconcile as the provincial minister Changaiz Marri has successfully pursued influential commanders of BLA, BRA, United Baloch Army, Lashkar-e-Balochistan and Balochistan National Movement to surrender to the state for amnesty and financial support. The journey of peace and tranquility in Balochistan is long and tortuous but this is the time every one should adjust compass and move on.