IT is a predictable pattern: violence by militants followed by the state unleashing its might to eliminate them. So it is once again in Balochistan. In the wake of a blood-soaked few weeks in the troubled province, security forces on Thursday launched an operation in the Mastung area, killing nine suspected militants who are said to have belonged to a banned organisation. Four security personnel also sustained injuries in the exchange of gunfire. Balochistan has been the staging ground for several deadly attacks within the space of a month. Most were claimed by either banned Baloch militant organisations or the (also proscribed) TTP. On April 18, around a dozen gunmen belonging to an alliance of Baloch separatist groups murdered 14 bus passengers in Gwadar district; 11 of them were personnel belonging to the navy, air force and Coast Guards. On May 12, armed assailants stormed Pearl Continental in the heavily secured Gwadar city; five people — including four hotel security guards and a navy official — lost their lives while the militants themselves were killed. BLA claimed responsibility. Two attacks during this period targeted the FC; at least five died in the line of duty. On April 12, 10 were killed and 48 injured in a bombing attack against the long-suffering Hazaras in Quetta.
Even for Balochistan, sadly no stranger to violence, this is a particularly gruesome tally. It seems that militants of all stripe, religious extremists as well as separatists, are determined to continue their battle against the state and prove they have the wherewithal to do so. The remote, inhospitable reaches of Balochistan are ideal for outlaws to retreat and recoup, and remain under the radar while planning their next move. Using force to deal with them, while staying within the bounds of the law, is no doubt necessary. However, where the Baloch separatists are concerned, believing that a militarised approach alone will neutralise them once and for all betrays a fundamental lack of understanding about the ‘Baloch problem’ — even a lack of imagination. It ignores the fact that at its core this is a political issue that needs a political solution to be durable. Unfortunately, no serious and sincere attempt has yet been made by the state to engage with the disgruntled elements among the Baloch, even through intermediaries. In the absence of such moves, the disaffection among the local population will continue to grow and fuel the insurgency.
Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2019