EVER since Pakistan’s inception, the Baloch insurgency and the establishment’s methods to counter it have run a parallel course. But these methods have complicated the situation, with insurgents transforming their initial demand for political autonomy into one for separation, when the fifth phase of insurgency began in 2003-2004. The previous phases (1948, 1958, 1962 and 1973) were short-lived compared to this, which is still ongoing throughout Balochistan, excluding the seven districts of the Pakhtun belt.

Although the demands (provincial autonomy and control over natural resources and coasts) were politically motivated, they have never been addressed politically. And because their demands were ignored, some took up arms. They have been dealt with forcibly, but neither the military nor the civil establishment attempted to understand the nature of their issues and resolve them.

Pitting one tribal chief against the other is an old tactic. In 1973, then-president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto dismissed governor Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo and chief minister Sardar Attaullah Mengal (elected leaders) and installed Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti as governor; with his support the operation against the insurgents began. This divide-and-rule formula is still intact. After Akbar Bugti was killed in a military operation in 2006, Hali Bugti of the same tribe was given support against Brahmdagh Bugti (both his grandsons). His killing fuelled the fires in Balochistan, and things began to spin of control.

The Baloch issue requires political solutions.

After 2006, death squads within the Baloch community were set up as a card-carrying armed force against the insurgents. It is believed that personal revenge was a motive; they got involved in kidnapping, plundering and land grabbing, leading to insurgents killing political workers and death squad members; the latter in turn began to do the same. The establishment also supported the formation of religious lashkars and the madressah system to counter the insurgents’ school of thought, a by-product of nationalism and influenced by left-wing politics.

Some, if not all, of the lashkars have links with sectarian terrorist elements. Although Lt Gen Nasir Khan Janjua (then commander southern command) and Dr Abdul Malik Baloch (chief minister from 2013-2015) worked to stabilise the province by suspending the cards of the death squads and lashkars, not all were disowned. Meanwhile, many suspended members joined the militant Islamic State group and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and became an even bigger threat to the state than the insurgents. In five recent attacks claimed by IS some 220 people were killed and many more injured.

A member of a far-right political party in charge of two madressahs in Mand, a town on the border with Iran, told this writer that he bears the expenses of all the 1,800 students enrolled. Upon finishing their studies, he said, they will become religious scholars and teachers Islamic studies. All 1,800? “Many students are going for worldly education like engineering,” said one madressah student in Turbat, “I have chosen religious education because I have to defend Islam and work for my life in the hereafter.”

The reality is that graduating from a small-town madressah will not prepare the youth for jobs in the public or private sectors. And what will not work is an attempt to use faith-based ideology to suppress insurgency, particularly in Makran, the non-tribal and the most educated division of Balochistan. Makran is the epicentre of insurgency, and the sooner the establishment stops tolerating religiously inspired extremism to counter insurgency, the better it will be for the province and country.

The killing of Sindhi workers and fellow Baloch has lost the insurgents the support of the people, but that does not mean the establishment is well regarded. If it is ever to win the people’s respect and trust, it must reconsider its ill-fated policies before it is too late.

During Dr Malik’s tenure as chief minister, Brahmdagh Bugti agreed to return to Pakistan from Switzerland, saying that he was never against political dialogue. So what had changed when he decided to seek asylum in India?

The changing geopolitics of the region and increased alleged support of the insurgency by India and Iran is a warning for Pakistan to put our house in order. Shared borders with Iran and Afghanistan, and access to both the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, make Balochistan’s strategic importance of utmost concern.

Balochistan is a political problem and should be resolved politically, with free and fair elections leading the way to a peaceful resolution. Both the establishment and Baloch-dominated parties need to embrace the political process and stop giving space to drug dealers and killers. The Baloch issue is one of socioeconomic deprivation. If they were granted rights to the province’s natural resources and coasts, and personal rights and opportunities equal to those of other provinces, socioeconomic development could follow — as well as peace.

The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher.

Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2017


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