EVER so often, we are reminded of the symbiotic relationship between Balochistan and the rest of Pakistan.
On Sunday, Baloch separatists blew up a 24-inch diameter gas pipeline in Dera Bugti, which reduced gas supplies to Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and some other parts of the country by a massive 25 million cubic feet, and severely impacted the textile sector which is already under strain from power shortages.
This is the latest in a spate of attacks carried out by insurgents on infrastructure and vital installations — including gas and power distribution networks and railway tracks — within the last few weeks.
Gas pipelines have been attacked in several districts of Balochistan, including Jaffarabad, Naseerabad, Sohbat Pur and Dera Bugti. On Jan 25, the bombing of two major transmission lines in Naseerabad district precipitated one of the worst power failures Pakistan has ever experienced, plunging 80pc of the country into darkness.
A few days before that, three towers of the Guddu-Sibi transmission line were blown up, causing disruption to the national grid. Also in January, a Rawalpindi-bound passenger train sustained damage in a bombing near Quetta although luckily no one was hurt.
According to estimates, during the last four years insurgents have carried out more than 100 attacks on gas pipelines and around 45 targeting trains/railway tracks in Balochistan.
Although the sabotage of gas and power supplies does not per se result in casualties, it has a far-reaching impact on the economy and quality of life.
Gas for heating is in particularly high demand in the bitter cold, which means that targeting gas pipelines in winter makes strategic sense for Baloch insurgents.
The string of attacks recently also underscores the fact that notwithstanding the heavy presence of paramilitary forces in many parts of the province, there is hardly any way to secure thousands of kilometres of gas pipelines — which are either exposed or just beneath the surface — or electricity transmission networks and railway tracks.
At the most, security at key installation points can and should be enhanced. Overall though, it is clear that this is an unsustainable situation that cannot be resolved through military might, but requires a well-considered political solution.
The central government must revive contacts with those who may be better placed to bridge the chasm of mistrust and long-standing grievances between the ‘angry Baloch’ and the state. And the establishment must demonstrate the wisdom to stand aside and let this happen.
Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2015