THE contrast could not be grimmer and is almost certainly deliberate. As the country’s civilian leadership gathered in Beijing for a milestone summit of the One Belt, One Road project, Balochistan has come under vicious attack. In Mastung, Deputy Chairman of the Senate Ghafoor Haideri’s convoy was bombed during a visit to a local madressah. At least 25 people were killed in the attack, which has been claimed by the militant Islamic State group. A day later, in Gwadar, 10 labourers belonging to Sindh were killed, with separatist Baloch militants quickly claiming responsibility. The complex, multilayered, seemingly never-ending security crisis in Balochistan continues. What is apparent is that neither the state’s militarised approach to security in the province is working nor has the latest civilian government, led by one of Balochistan’s most powerful tribal sardars, had much success in engaging Baloch separatists in dialogue.
The Mastung attack is potentially more ominous because of the IS connection. For more than a decade, as the state has focused on fighting Baloch separatists, sensible observers in the province have warned of a parallel, rising religious extremism threat. Indeed, at various points, local leaders have accused the state of colluding with religious extremists to help fight the secular Baloch separatists. Whatever the truth to those allegations, there is an undeniable fact: a vast infrastructure of mosques, madressahs and social welfare networks has been created in Balochistan, helping turn a traditionally non-extremist population towards certain brands of deadly religious radicalism. Mastung itself has been playing host to a virulent cocktail of extremism and Baloch separatist thought, leading to a steady series of attacks over the years in the district. The attack on Friday is particularly troubling because it underlines an IS presence in the province, the ultra-violent, ultra-radical fringe taking on mainstream political parties from the religious right.
It can be expected that the country’s civil and military leaderships will unite to condemn the attacks and bemoan them as an attempt to sabotage CPEC by outside forces. While there may be some truth to those allegations, the twin attacks in Mastung and Gwadar almost certainly have very local roots. The long-running, low-level Baloch insurgency may be thoroughly riddled with inconsistencies, infiltrated by the state and too weak to mount a serious challenge to state authority, but neither is it any closer to being ended by the militarised approach of the security establishment. For all the state’s claims, Balochistan effectively remains a vast no-go area and the frenzied hubs of CPEC-related activity are guarded by extraordinary security. In the long term, this is not a viable approach for what is envisaged as a trading corridor with pockets of industrial activity. But is anyone in the state apparatus willing to acknowledge the flaws of a militarised approach to Balochistan’s security troubles?
Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2017