NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 16

The security situation in Balochistan

The security situation in Balochistan province is improving after valiant efforts by the Pakistani security forces to contain terrorist and militant organisations. Of late, several terrorists and militants were killed in fighting with the security forces in Kech, Panjgur and Turbat districts, when they launched simultaneous attacks on security installations. There have been reports that different Baloch militant and terrorist organizations have joined hands to launch coordinated attacks on the security forces and their installations in Balochistan. Importantly, the casualty rate among the security forces was also quite high.

The timing of the recent attacks by the militants in Balochistan was quite significant. These came before Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to China. The Prime Minister was scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jingping and other leaders and officials to particularly talk about China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects. The $60 billion CPEC projects are being carried out in the length and breadth of the country including Balochistan. The province is of special focus of the CPEC as the Gwadar Seaport, which is located in Balochistan, is the starting or endpoint of the CPEC route, which would give an outlet to landlocked Western China. The terrorists thus wanted to torpedo the CPEC projects in Balochistan, which the residents of the province could not afford. The CPEC projects in Balochistan are a rare development opportunity for the extremely underdeveloped province. Therefore, there must be full support from the local population to these projects. Even the militant and terrorist organizations that are waging militancy and terrorism in the name of Baloch people and their rights against all logic must support the CPEC projects. Importantly, Balochis collectively and as a province have a lot of complaints against the federal governments and most of them are also quite justified. The Centre has also mistreated Balochistan and its residents and one has no problem to say that the federal government has not treated Balochistan well. But what is done is done and cannot be undone and now all must look to the future. Then the projects are being funded and even executed by China, which is doing mostly in its own interest but Balochistan and its people must accept these projects as their development right. Here, a question arises that then why Baloch groups, which resorted to militancy and terrorism, want to sabotage the CPEC projects? The obvious answer is at the behest of some foreign power(s). In this connection, India, considering Pakistan as an arch-rival and has a history of inflicting damage on Pakistan in dismembering it and being instrumental in the emergence of Bangladesh, is the culprit. India not only is against Pakistan but also considers China as its key rival. The success of the CPEC and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), of which the former is a part, is the death knell for India’s regional hegemony. The Pakistan government must reach out to residents of Balochistan and tell them that the CPEC is the project of their development and the central government would like to make amends of its past mistakes by seeing these projects implemented and proving their benefits to them.

Sometime back, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that he was pondering over talking to insurgents and militants in Balochistan. It has been more than a decade that the crisis and conflict in Balochistan has been raging but with no solution in sight. Although there has been an ebb and flow in the insurgency and militancy by so-called Baloch right groups in the province but the crisis has never fully subsided. In this context, PM Imran Khan’s visionary statement was quite important. Unfortunately, he has so far not been able to give practical shape to his strategy of talking to Baloch militant and terrorist groups. The recent militant and terrorist attacks could have been averted had Baloch organizations been engaged in talks earlier. Still no time has been lost and the PTI government must start negotiations forthwith without any apprehensions.

While showing his intentions of talking to Baloch militant and terrorist organizations, PM Imran Khan had said the government would never have to worry about insurgency in the province if attention had been paid to its development. This was a bold and statesmanlike statement while addressing Balochis. Unfortunately, this has not happened so far. PM Imran Khan has, also on record, very rightly said that when the province progressed and there was peace, Balochistan’s inhabitants would understand that Pakistan is also theirs and they would also fight for it. There are no two opinions about what PM Imran Khan had said. The problem of Balochistan has been lack of development and nothing else. Why a province which became part of Pakistan out of the freewill of the representative Shahi Jirga would have rebelled against the state? This is a very critical question to be asked. However, the answer is not that difficult to be answered. There has been large-scale social, economic backwardness in the otherwise mineral rich province which resulted in abject poverty and unemployment. Had the state focused its attention on the socio-economic uplift of Balochistan despite the paucity of resources the situation would have been different for the federation. In other words, there would have been no centrifugal tendencies in Balochistan. The indifferent of the federal government for more than 70 years regarding development in Balochistan is although well-known but was even pinpointed in unequivocal terms by no other than the Prime Minister of the country.

Why successive federal governments remained indifferent to development in Balochistan has a number of reasons. The foremost has been the over-centralized federal structure of Pakistan. Secondly, lack of a genuine and visionary leadership at the state level which could fathom and understand the importance of Balochistan for Pakistan, both in geopolitical and geo-economic terms. Balochistan is a province that is located on Pakistan’s border with Iran, rather it makes the entire Pakistani border with Iran. It also borders Afghanistan, one of the most important neighbours of Pakistan. More importantly, it has a long seacoast and is located at a strategic point in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea just next to the Persian Gulf. The latter is one of the most strategic locations in the world. Thus, one can understand that neither the Pakistani leadership nor local politicians could comprehend the strategic importance of the region. The province has become even more important with the initiation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2013 and the handing over of the operational control of the Gwadar seaport to Pakistan’s closest ally, China. Beijing has been planning to invest more than $70 billion in Pakistan under the CPEC road-railway and infrastructure projects. The most important aim of China regarding the CPEC is to link its western regions with sea through Gwadar as it is the shortest possible route which could provide an inlet to Western China to sea and could be instrumental in its opening up and becoming part of the regional trading routes.

PM Imran Khan while taking stock of the history of underdevelopment said in Gwadar in July last that the “Centre did not do justice with Balochistan and neither did its politicians.” The money that was supposed to be spent on the development of the province was spent by the politicians on themselves, he said. He very rightly said, “The sense of deprivation that started spreading in Balochistan would never have spread if politicians in Balochistan had spent money in the right way.” So if there is a realization among the country’s top leadership of the injustice done to Balochistan and it also wants to make amends, people in Balochistan must also welcome it.