Balochistan’s youth in focus

Published February 20, 2022
The writer is a security analyst.
The writer is a security analyst.

IF we want to feel the pulse of Balochistan, we need to listen to the Baloch youth. Nothing else can tell us more about the political, ideological and social transformation in the province. The tribal chieftains, or sardars and nawabs, are not as relevant as the state, that continues to rely on them, believes. Neither are the bureaucracy and security institutions capable of an objective and accurate assessment of the situation. And the youth are not happy with what is happening in the province, or the country for that matter.

The recent terrorist attacks on the local headquarters of the Frontier Corps in Nushki and Panjgur have once again pushed Balochistan into the mainstream discussion. But the crux of the debate still revolves around the rhetoric of economic grievances and political marginalisation. This debate usually ends without leading to any solution. There is also some discussion on why the youth in Balochistan are joining insurgent groups, and how little is being done to reduce the appeal of insurgent causes.

Very few people have had the courage to bring the issue of missing persons into the discourse; mostly external forces are blamed for fuelling the insurgency in the province. After the Afghan Taliban takeover, it has become difficult to blame Kabul for allowing miscreants to use its soil against Pakistan. Perhaps that is why Iran was included as part of the discussion. Iran did the right thing by responding quickly and sending its interior minister to Pakistan to review existing border security understandings with Pakistani leaders.

The thinking patterns of the educated youth can also help understand the dynamics of conflict and insurgency in Balochistan. The state has tried hard during the last 40 years to create apolitical students on campuses. It has largely achieved the target, but a critical though small mass that is not apolitical still exists. The Sindh government has recently tried to reverse the process by lifting the ban on student unions in the province after almost four decades and one can expect student politics to lead to greater social and political consciousness among the youth. However, the wait will be longer for Balochistan.

The thinking patterns of Balochistan’s educated youth shed light on the dynamics of conflict there.

As in other parts of the country, three patterns among the educated youth can be discerned in Balochistan. The first category is apolitical and the majority of students belong to it; religiously sensitive youth but with little political consciousness form the next category; and politically conscious and secular youth the last. State institutions are concerned about the third category. A big number of the missing persons belong to this category.

A recent study Discourse with Balochistan Youth on Society, Religion and Politics by an Islamabad-based think tank reveals that logical thinking and reasoning do not define the majority of apolitical students who may also suffer from a dearth of confidence. There is a struggle to process moderately complex ideas. But state institutions seem to prefer this type of human resource.

Those students who are inclined towards religious parties come from a madressah background or from families affiliated with a particular religious party. They remain sensitive about social and religious norms but tend to see the world through narrow lenses. Neither the state nor the campus administrations like students who ask questions, particularly those who are curious about civil rights, politics and the distribution of resources in the country. State institutions believe that such students have the potential to join insurgent movements or at least become dissidents. State institutions and campus administrations care less about students who are inclined towards radical religious groups. Such students inspire the apolitical youth as well. The result is obvious, and one can easily comprehend how and why extremism is flourishing on campuses.

It has been pointed out that Baloch insurgent movements are not under the influence of the tribal chieftains anymore and that the recruits come from the middle class and their leadership also consists of educated youth. However, state institutions still depend on, talk to and share power with sardars and nawabs who agree to their terms. State institutions do not want to engage the insurgents’ leadership in its half-hearted attempts at reconciliation. In fact, it tasked Shahzain Bugti with talking to the leadership in exile. The government wanted him to do so despite his controversial circumstances.

For a political scientist, the youth’s thought processes and student politics are critical to the study of sociopolitical structures and the simmering unrest beneath the surface. The state has fractured student politics, but several student organisations are still surviving. For instance, the Baloch Students Organisation has remained instrumental in nationalist and separatist movements in Balochistan. Since 1979, the BSO has undergone several transformations. It split into various factions and was united again, in parallel to the changing political stances of the Baloch leadership. All these transformations reflected the changes in the political landscape of the province. If the nationalist leadership compromised, it caused a split within the organisation. A faction, BSO Azad, was founded by Dr Allah Nazar in 2002, and it was an indication that the youth were not happy with state policies or even with the nationalist leadership. In subsequent years, BSO Azad gave birth to the Balochistan Liberation Front, a lethal insurgent group active in the southern parts of the province.

Now the BSO is divided into several factions, but the close surveillance of campuses has shrunk the space for such organisations, and this approach has created more space for insurgent groups to recruit politically conscious minds from educational institutions.

Nevertheless, the state has to change its approach to deal with the problems in the province and to reduce dependence on the sardars, give politics a chance, and allow youth to fearlessly express themselves. The study cited earlier also notes that the majority of the youth still believe that the state can provide them the jobs and a normal life, which they desire most.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2022

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