The recent decision by the Supreme Court to investigate the state of governance in Balochistan has once again put the spotlight on Pakistan’s longest running insurgency which also continues to be the biggest headache for the country’s security establishment.
Over the years, the insurgents’ ranks have swelled, as increasing numbers of Baloch political leaders have opted from the mainstream politics towards the nationalists’ side. Increasingly, they have little choice as the insurgents say whoever is not with them is against them and that call has been gathering massive public support in the province evoking sentiments that no politician can ignore.
Balochistan’s geographical location has always made it a strategically important pivot for the region. Its coastline runs up to the Iranian border — ending just before the straits of Hormuz through which pass a good 30 per cent of the world’s oil supply. It shares borders with Iran and Afghanistan.
Nato officials have consistently stated that Balochistan is the main centre of Taliban recruitment and training and that the Taliban high council — the fabled Quetta Shura — operate out of the provincial capital. Additionally, Iran also accuses Sunni militants’ group, Jundullah, of carrying out a series of bomb attacks in the neighbouring Sistan-Zahedan province.
Added to that is the growth of sectarian militancy across the province — with the Shia Hazara community of Quetta increasingly being the main target.
The increase in militant groups has also led to an increase in general crimes such as kidnapping for ransom and extortion, as criminal gangs take advantage of the growing lawlessness.
This presents a multidimensional threat to the local population, which increasingly feel to have been left alone as the security forces concentrate on controlling the nationalist insurgents.
The Supreme Court also started an investigation into the excesses committed by the security forces during their ongoing operation against militants in the province. While this heavy-handed approach has definitely exacerbated the problem — the inability of Pakistan’s political elite to come up with a viable alternative has lent strength to the military’s model.
There has been talk of dialogue and political rehabilitation of those who have taken up arms, but little work has been done on the ground to make this possible. At the moment the situation seems to be fixed in a state of bloodletting, with neither side prepared to talk but depending on increasingly brutal tactics to win what now many call Pakistan’s ‘dirty war’.
Both the sides appear unwilling to break this deadlock. The state says external forces (read India and in some cases the US) are using the insurgents to punish Pakistan, while the insurgents — while never denying this allegation — say they have burnt their bridges with Pakistan and the only road for them leads to full independence. In such a situation, there is no easy or quick fix solution to the problem.
Probably the last real effort was made in 2004, when Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Mushahid Hussain Syed met with Nawab Akbar Bugti in Dera Bugti.
“Nawab Bugti’s murder was a turning point for the movement,” says Maqbool Baloch, a young nationalist from Quetta. “After that there was no turning back for us.” Maqbool is a resident of New Marri Camp — a Baloch settlement just outside Quetta. Despite being nearly two decades old, it has no running water, gas or electricity — all available across the road.
Another major game changer that has led to this situation was the construction of the Gwadar port. The construction of another port near the Straits was always going to be an international political concern. Added to that is it’s potential to supply energy from Central Asia. But suspicions were raised in western capitals — particularly Washington — with the involvement of China in the port.
In this scenario the government has pressed on with its initiatives; the chief amongst which was the Aghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan package. Although it has achieved general consensus amongst the leading political parties, it has found few takers in Quetta.
The package included a basic three-point agenda, divided as confidence building measures, doables and strategic issues. The government insists that most of the work has been completed but for the common Baloch it is all too irrelevant.
“The question at the moment in Balochistan is of fundamental rights,” says Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director of the international Human Rights Watch organisation. “For there to be any viable solution, first of all both the parties need to stop waging war on each other and come to the negotiating table. Both have committed excesses, and especially all political activists or people arrested due to political reasons need to be produced in court.”
“The situation in Balochistan is a failure of both the administrative and judicial authorities and with the coming elections, the first task would be to convince the nationalists to participate in that process which would be a huge step forward,” he adds.
At the moment the nationalists appear in no mind to take such a step — militant insurgent leaders have already warned of dire consequences for any Baloch who takes part in the political process.
“We regard anyone who talks to Pakistan as an enemy,” says Maqbool and adds, “We are now ideologically of the view that we no longer want to be part of Pakistan and we are prepared to fight till death to achieve this. We will not stop this struggle no matter how many of our people they kill — or whatever incentives they offer us.”