AS Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, that claimed responsibility for the horrific violence in Quetta on Saturay, strikes again and again in Balochistan, there may be a temptation to regard it as an out-of-control problem in an out-of-control backwater. But LJ is part of a continuum of militancy and extremism that has a long history and an ever more threatening future — a threat to all of Pakistan, not just particular regions. The history of LJ itself underlines the complexity of the threat from militancy today: what began as an anti-Shia agenda and targeted killings has morphed into an expansive list of targets, some seemingly picked at random and without much concern about whether women or children are direct victims. There is the LJ in Balochistan, which is alleged to have developed links with the Baloch separatists. There is the LJ in the tribal areas, which has long-standing ties to Al Qaeda and now the TTP. There is the LJ in Punjab, which continues to grow and develop its network inside the umbrella Punjabi Taliban. Taken together, they pose a formidable threat across the country, not just Balochistan. And LJ is only one aspect of a multi-dimensional and multi-faceted militancy threat.
The pervasiveness of the threat does not, however, mean that a modular, regional approach to countering it cannot be implemented. In Balochistan, LJ’s rise is intrinsically linked to a security policy that is controlled and directed by the army-led security establishment. The space for non-state actors’ singular obsession with crushing the Baloch insurgency through violence meant that other non-state actors were able to take advantage of the state’s focus elsewhere. Even worse, there are allegations that the obsession with crushing the Baloch insurgency also led to encouraging pro-state Baloch militants who have their own agendas, including developing ties with LJ. The Baloch separatists remain a problem — the shocking destruction in Ziarat on Saturday is evidence enough — but state policy is an even bigger one. Where a political problem — the Baloch insurgency — is being dealt with by brute force, the problem that does require an iron fist — LJ — is being left largely unaddressed. Both policies, extreme action against Baloch separatists and extreme inaction against LJ, must change and for that a reckoning with army-led security policy is needed first.
Beyond Balochistan and LJ, the bigger picture is almost as bleak. The transition to democracy may appear on track but the politicians have so far made no effort to reach for the holy grail: national security and foreign policy. The euphemistically termed non-state actors cannot and must not be elements of this country’s national security and foreign policy because they are the single greatest threat to Pakistan’s security and relations with the world. Will the army listen?