THE decade-old insurgency in Balochistan is no longer the monolith that it had so far appeared to be.

Twenty people were killed and several injured in the early hours of Tuesday during a clash between two militant groups belonging to the banned Balochistan Liberation Army and the United Baloch Army that took place near the border of Kohlu and Dera Bugti districts. With both sides using heavy weapons, the skirmish lasted several hours.

Elsewhere in the province on the same day, in the Mashkay area of Awaran district, 13 militants were killed in an encounter with security forces. Reportedly, among the dead are a brother and nephew of Dr Allah Nazar who heads the Baloch Liberation Front, another banned separatist group.

Take a look: Profile: Khan of Kalat — king without a crown

For several years, the unity between the various militant groups has been a distinguishing feature of the Baloch insurgency; areas of their operations even overlapped in many places without reports of friction. That seems to have effectively come to an end with the death of veteran Baloch nationalist Khair Bux Marri in June last year when a rift between his sons Mehran and Hyrbyair — who heads the BLA from self-exile in London — led to the creation of the UBA with other groups also aligning themselves with one side or the other.

Such a rupture was perhaps inevitable at some point: prolonged militant movements become susceptible to internal crises stemming from differences over ideology and/or finances, which can then lead to disagreements about operational strategies.

Where the security forces are concerned, the fracturing of the insurgency offers a tactical advantage for them to comprehensively crush the movement. In 2013, nature afforded them a similar opportunity when a devastating earthquake struck Awaran, a stronghold of the BLF. In its aftermath, the security forces — under the umbrella of providing relief to earthquake victims — managed to access parts of the very volatile district that were hitherto ‘no-go areas’ due to risk of insurgent attacks.

However, in the process they also employed highly questionable tactics such as allowing unfettered leeway to the ultra right’s ‘charity’ wings to establish a presence in the area’s secular and multi-sectarian — if deprived — society.

Extremist forces are part of the problem that bedevils Balochistan, a fact highlighted by Dr Abdul Malik on Tuesday. They can never, in any viable sense, be part of the solution.

Recent events indicate there is, at last, perhaps some realisation that a new approach is needed. There was the announcement of an amnesty for Baloch militants turning their backs on violence, and an initiative to hold talks with the Khan of Kalat in London is in the works as a means of reaching out to hardline separatist leaders.

However, unless the state discards its old proxies and prejudices, and takes the long view that actually addresses legitimate Baloch grievances, the province will remain a powder keg.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2015

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