A tactical victory

Published April 9, 2023

Over the past decades, militancy in Pakistan has evolved into a hydra-headed monster. On Friday, a major achievement against one of these threats came to the fore when the ISPR announced the arrest of Baloch separatist commander Gulzar Imam who was “apprehended after an innovatively conceived, carefully planned, and meticulously executed operation”.

Imam is considered among the most influential leaders of the insurgency in Balochistan; he is also said to have been instrumental in forging an operational alliance of several separatist outfits. His arrest, therefore, has the potential of significantly weakening the insurgency which is already riven with factionalism; reportedly, some separatists themselves played a role in Imam’s capture.

But, howsoever important, this is but a tactical victory. The battle is far from over. Unless the state addresses the reasons why insurgencies have repeatedly arisen in Balochistan throughout Pakistan’s existence, one may be certain the separatist movement will continue to find ready recruits.

This year is the 75th anniversary of Kalat’s accession to Pakistan; while the move had its detractors, many also believed it would bring progress to what has long been a deprived part of the subcontinent. However, the intervening years have seen resource-rich Balochistan being treated with neocolonial disdain, useful only for extractive purposes to enrich the state and its functionaries.

According to the popular narrative, the tribal sardars have been a perennial obstacle to development in the province. That line of thought conveniently sidestepped the fact that a majority of the most regressive sardars have historically been aligned with the state — an alliance whereby elected Balochistan governments were dismissed and the people’s rights ruthlessly trampled on.

Over the years, various ‘development packages’ were introduced but, much like the province’s share in the NFC Award, achieved little of note. And why would it be otherwise? After all, the province has never been empowered in a manner commensurate with the 18th Amendment. The strings are still being pulled from Islamabad, not to mention Pindi.

Moreover, the security establishment’s short-sighted strategy of using violent extremists to counter Baloch insurgent groups fuelled an orgy of bloodletting. All these factors, coupled with the enforced disappearances of Baloch individuals suspected of nationalist sympathies — now centred among the province’s educated youth — created a fertile ground for foreign intelligence agencies to foment trouble.

The Baloch have legitimate grievances, and the groundswell of support for Maulana Hidayatur Rehman’s Haq Do Tehreek and the massive rallies he led in a well-secured town like Gwadar — the ‘jewel in the crown’ of CPEC — are evidence of the anger simmering in Baloch society. The state must change its approach. But judging by its arrest of the HDT leader, which has sparked huge protests, it appears to be doubling down on old, discredited tactics. That will only keep the flames of insurgency burning.

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2023

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