THE shocking attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi last week has turned a spotlight on the long-running, low-level insurgency in Balochistan. The language in the FIR registered by the Sindh Police makes clear the prism through which the state views the problems in Balochistan: hostile external powers are exploiting vulnerable elements within the Baloch population with the aim of undermining the success of CPEC. Though there is indeed a strong possibility of foreign involvement, the security-centric perspective on Balochistan has failed to deliver peace and prosperity in more than a decade and a half. A fundamental rethink on Balochistan policy is required, though where pressure for positive change can come from is unclear at the moment. Certainly, the intelligence and security apparatus must continue to do their essential work, and where militant attacks can be thwarted or prevented necessary and proportionate action should be taken. But there is a need for the state to turn its attention once again to the political dimensions of the violence in Balochistan.

Even from the perspective of efficacy, the current approach of the state to Balochistan is problematic. CPEC is envisioned as a network of roads and railways connecting trading hubs and special economic zones, which must necessarily be open to the public in order to be successful. Every kilometre of road cannot realistically be protected, and excessive security would smother the economic potential of the trading hubs. Moreover, as the attack in Karachi has demonstrated, militants can strike in other regions of Pakistan in order to bring attention to the insurgency in Balochistan. The relatively small level of violence required to put the state on the defensive, draw international attention and unsettle foreign investors means that a low-level insurgency could continue almost indefinitely. All of those factors suggest that the only reasonable, long- term solution to the violence is to politically engage the disaffected Baloch population and restart a dialogue with separatist leaders in order to bring them back into the political mainstream in a peaceful manner. It is possible to do so if the state is willing to take bold and decisive steps to re-engage disaffected elements within the Baloch population.

With the Balochistan provincial government seemingly content to stay on the sidelines of this vital issue, perhaps Prime Minister Imran Khan can be encouraged to take a greater interest in the political dimensions of the long- running insurgency in Balochistan. Moderate, mainstream Baloch parties and leaders could potentially mediate between the state and the Baloch separatists. Whatever the path chosen, it should be different to what Balochistan has endured for more than a decade and a half.

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2018

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