The government needs to work together with the mainstream Baloch political parties to bring reforms and change in Balochistan.
On 18 September 2017, Geneva’s streets were branded with ‘Free Baluchistan’ posters by members of the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA); a separatist group proscribed by both the United Kingdom and Pakistan as a terrorist organisation. Only recently, Pakistan strongly protested against Switzerland allowing its territory to be used by a terrorist organisation to carry out activities that infringed upon its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The ambassador of Switzerland, Thomas Kolly, was asked to leave Pakistan, by the Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani. India was also deemed responsible for funding these displays in Geneva. While there has been no concrete evidence suggesting whether India has funded such activities, it has extended its support to these separatist groups on previous occasions. India’s National Security Advisors, AK Doval, threatened Pakistan, stating that the troublesome neighbour could lose Balochistan if 2008 was repeated.
Following Doval’s threats on Balochistan, Pakistan arrested India’s senior intelligence operative, Commander Kulbhushan Jhadav, from Balochistan on March 3, 2016, who confessed to funding, training and planning terrorist attacks in the province. The event in Geneva orchestrated Pakistan’s biggest fear – international meddling in its affairs with regards to Balochistan. Yet, neither Switzerland nor India are responsible for the rise of the separatists in Balochistan; rather, the fault lines can be traced to the uneven state building in Pakistan. While greater resources and efforts have been devoted to the federal, Balochistan remains neglected in political, economic, and social terms. A disenfranchised Balochistan lays as a breeding ground for insurgency.
Pakistan is now challenged with the question, how to confront armed groups in this region. So far, it has failed. Using a strategy of co-option and coercion has not worked. A military solution cannot be applied to a political problem. How can we understand the conflict in Balochistan? Collier and Hoeffler in their study argue that those areas which are proportionally higher in commodities of natural exports have a significantly higher risk of conflict. Often, their study is applied to Balochistan to argue that the conflict in the region can be understood as a case of greed over grievance; the sardars and the government are fighting to gain greater control over the resources.
However, we need to go beyond the greed vs the grievance argument to understand the insurgency in Balochistan. While it is true that a war for resources has fed into the conflict, it is by no means the reason for the insurgency. Rather, the grievances have emerged because of uneven state building in Pakistan; while resources are being extracted from Balochistan the federal reaps its benefits. At a micro-level, the neo-mercantilist theory can be applied to Balochistan. Much like British mercantilism, which extracted resources from its colonies to make the mother country rich, the establishment has extracted resources from Balochistan and has injected them into Punjab. This has deepened the resentment between the centre and the periphery.
Even though Balochistan is rich in resources it remains as Pakistan’s poorest region. It supplies around 40% of country’s needs. Sui Gas provides 38% of the national gas but only 6% of Balochistan has access to gas. The Saindak Copper-Gold Project, located in Chagai District of Balochistan, has an estimated 412 million tonnes reserve. From the revenue earned from this mine around 48% goes to Punjab and Beijing and only 2% goes to Balochistan. The project was supposed to be handed to the Balochistan government by 2018, however, the government has extended the lease to the Chinese firm, on existing terms, for another five years. Chagai remains deprived of proper schools, universities and water facilities, even though it sits on a mountain of treasure.
More recently, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has intensified the concerns of the Baloch people. While its strategic importance is unquestionable, Balochistan has not seen benefits from the project. A total of $62 billion has been invested by China for CPEC, out of which only $7.1 billion has been used in Balochistan. The rest of the money is being put into Punjab and Sindh, where major projects are being developed, including the Orange Line in Lahore. With so many foreigners coming into Gwadar, the Baloch people fear that the government is using a strategy of assimilation to eliminate ethnic differences, by turning Baloch people into minorities in Gwadar. This will hinder their voting rights.
Such uneven state building in Pakistan has led to an increase in the numbers of insurgencies in Balochistan, however, the state has not been able to deal with the situation effectively. Rather than addressing the grievances, the government has chosen a strategy of coercion. Moreover, the Pakistani state does not have a direct monopoly of violence in Balochistan; a form of a hybrid rule defines the structures of governance. Exceptional legal frameworks and modes of coercive forces govern these areas, that defer from the suzerain state. The government shares authority with the local sardars, who run the system through their extrajudicial laws or jirgas.
In Balochistan, where the colonial modes of governance were not dismantled, the newly found Pakistan used these structures to control the region. Instead of using the regular police the Levies and Frontier Corps (FC) are used, which fall under the military. Using the military instead of the police has acted as a centrifugal force, by creating a blur between the internal and external enemy. Adopting a ‘kill and dump’ strategy and the rise of missing persons has led to an outrage. A direct comparison can be drawn here with the insurgency operating in FATA, where Islamabad has had a more nuanced view. Initially, negotiations are the proposed there as opposed to launching military campaigns, usually because senior officials belong from that region.
The Baloch insurgency before 2006 was mainly led by the sardars. It has been more than often argued that the sardars resist change and have encouraged the insurgency, in order to keep control of the region and its vast resources. Whether that is the case or not, this essay is not concerned, however, it’s pertinent to note that the insurgency is no longer just a sardar led operation. Post-2006, after Akbar Bugti’s death, a new wave of students, intellects and middle-class people have joined the insurgency. While the government has been effective in criticising the sardari system, it has in turn done nothing to bring reforms.
In fact, it is the Pakistani state that has managed this system; the process of abolishing the sardari system has been selective, only aimed at the opponents of the regime, while the supporters have been excluded from it. An example of this can be seen in 1976 when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto passed the Sardari Abolition Ordinance to get rid of the government in Balochistan, to consolidate his power. Tribal structures are weakening and they should weaken, however, this has not meant a decrease in the insurgency, rather the insurgency has seeped from the confined regions of Marri and Bugti areas into the Makran belt.
In the past few years, efforts have been made to address the issues in Balochistan. Attempts to give greater autonomy to the provinces have been seen in the 18th Amendment of the Constitution. Similarly, introducing projects like the Agaaz-e-Haqook Balochistan has been seen as bringing social benefits to Balochistan.
However, these endeavours have been limited and disappointing. Efforts by the state have been further undermined by the terrorist and separatist groups working in Balochistan. The government needs to work together with the mainstream Baloch political parties to bring reforms and change in Balochistan. It needs to hear the grievances of the Baloch people and address them. Balochistan waits for a political solution.
Mahso Gichki is a Research Assistant at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs. She holds a first class BA degree in International Relations from King’s College, London. See her post Who Am I: Understanding Pakistan’s Political Dynamics?