THE recent wave of violence in Balochistan has once again turned a spotlight on the long-running conflict in Balochistan. Two important lessons can be drawn from this wave of violence:
First, it marks the growing complexity of the conflict landscape in the province. A low-level ethnic insurgency concentrated mainly in southern Balochistan on the one hand and sectarian and religious militancy in northern and central Balochistan on the other continues to pose a threat to peace and stability. Over the past few years, the militant Islamic State group has also established a footprint in the province and built alliances with sectarian groups and splinter groups of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. The latter is responsible for some of the most deadly attacks carried out in the province in the last few years.
Second, the persistence of violence proves that the security-centric approach has failed to deliver peace and prosperity in Balochistan. There is no denying that hard and kinetic measures have succeeded in curbing terrorism partially and temporarily. However, the long-term threat of terrorism is far from over. Despite partial successes, sectarian and militant groups continue to launch brutal attacks every now and then. Similarly, a low-level Baloch insurgency lingers on, despite military operations, increased presence of security personnel, enforced disappearances and political engineering.
The aforementioned trends suggest that restoration of durable peace in the province requires a holistic but differentiated strategy.
Recent violence proves that the security-centric approach has failed to deliver peace in Balochistan.
To begin with, tackling religious and sectarian militancy requires a fundamental shift in our national security policy and Afghan policy. There is a widely held perception in the province that the state doesn’t have a zero-tolerance policy for violence perpetrated by certain non-state actors. In addition, we have repeatedly been accused of becoming a party to the Saudi-Iran proxy war. The recently announced Saudi investments in Gwadar and Reko Diq, local analysts fear, may turn the province into a battleground for a regional proxy war.
Our security thinkers need to appreciate that durable peace in Balochistan or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa cannot be established without peace in Afghanistan. Therefore, a policy of zero tolerance and indiscriminate action against terrorist groups should be adopted. Furthermore, we need to play a balancing act in our relationship with Iran and Saudi Arabia rather than tilting in favour of the latter.
The Baloch ethnic conflict is different in nature and merits a different strategy. Developments of the past decade suggest that only political engagement and reconciliation can ensure long-term peace and prosperity in the province. Repressive measures and cosmetic development packages both have failed to bring the disaffected Baloch into the political mainstream.
Here is what the government needs to do to find a sustainable solution to the Baloch conflict:
First, the government should prepare a comprehensive strategy for reaching out to the Baloch insurgents. This strategy should entail credible guarantees, substantial concessions and confidence-building measures such as ceasing of all military operations, withdrawal of the Frontier Corps from certain areas, release of Baloch missing persons and compensation for families of those killed in an extrajudicial manner. In the absence of confidence-building measures and substantial concessions, negotiations are unlikely to succeed. Mere offers of amnesty won’t convince insurgent leaders to abandon violence and return home. Key reasons why previous efforts to reconcile the Baloch insurgents failed were: a) repression went hand in hand with reconciliation efforts, and b) those leading the process had little leeway and freedom to negotiate and make meaningful offers.
The military’s support is a must for the proposed reconciliation efforts to make any headway. The military needs to realise and appreciate that a hard approach alone can ensure only partial and temporary peace at best and that a low-level insurgency could continue almost indefinitely no matter what security measures are taken. Complete suppression and defeat of the insurgency is impossible. And the low-level violence is enough to put the state on the defensive, draw international attention and unsettle foreign investors.
Second, Baloch concerns regarding control over their natural and coastal resources should be addressed. For example: control of the multibillion Saindak copper-gold mining project was supposed to be transferred to the Balochistan government in 2012 under the Aghaz-i-Haqooq-i-Balochistan package. The federal government refused to transfer the ownership of the project to the province, claiming outstanding dues of Rs27 billion that it had invested in the project. The lease agreement of the project has since been extended twice by the federal government without the genuine consent of the provincial government.
Similarly, Baloch people have serious grievances regarding the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. They have concerns about the influx of human labour and threats to demographic balance, displacement, share of local people in jobs and financial and administrative control over Gwadar port. Moreover, they fear that CPEC will increase oppression and intensify isolation of the Baloch people rather than bringing socioeconomic development and integration.
Third, in the long term, a constitutional amendment shall be introduced to enhance the powers of Senate and replace the current method of indirect election with direct elections. Pakistan’s current majoritarian federal design makes Balochistan the least rewarding political constituency for political parties seeking to come to power at the federal level. It offers little or no incentive to these parties to care about the province. This primarily explains why successive governments in Islamabad have tended to remain indifferent about Balochistan. Moreover, the Senate has been ineffective in enabling smaller provinces like Balochistan to block policies or legislations that may impinge upon their rights.
A directly elected and powerful Senate is likely to incentivise state-wide parties to take a serious interest in Balochistan. This will, in turn, induce more political competition and bring technical expertise and experience to the province. Besides, enhanced powers will give provinces like Balochistan more say in decision-making at the federal level.
The writer is a public policy and development specialist from Balochistan.
Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2019