Sunday March 03, 2024

Balochistan suffering from botched prescriptions

February 11, 2022

News Analysis

The frequent episodes of violence in Balochistan, is the outcome of exploitation of festering human rights, socio-economic and political issues, requiring a long sustained strategic policy to stop the prevalent sense of alienation, rather than the present-day singular focus of employing kinetic actions to put them down.

The deeply upsetting, week-long attacks on the security forces in Balochistan and the tragic life loss of security forces personnel and the civilians caught up in the crosshairs, are the outcome of a lack of distinction between terrorism and violence emerging from public distrust, denying employment of strategic policy options.

The recent wave violent attacks starting from Lahore, followed by attacks on security forces camp near the Iran border around a week ago, and leading to those on Frontier Constabulary in Panjgur and Naushki were not an unexpected surge.

These trends were visible ever since 2020. Terrorism in Balochistan was effectively over and buried by 2019 amid huge financial and physical costs, but the next year saw a new transformation, a more radical one.

The emergence of independent, hardcore, educated, middle class militant leaders threw up entirely new challenges, replacing the Bugti, Marri, and Marri tribal chieftains operating from Europe.

With external help, they created modern militant organisations like BNA, BRAS, and Majid Brigade bringing disparate groups together, to conduct a series of more brazen attacks on the Chinese bus, PC Gwadar, naval bus in Ormara, Karachi Stock Exchange, and multiple attacks against Frontier Constabulary. Quetta that had become peaceful also witnesses ever more turbulence.

The problem lies in employing kinetic retaliation as the only tool against these attacks which only provided more gasoline to the raging fire of alienation.

The government replicated the TTP-Daesh counter-terrorism from Punjab to Balochistan theatre, which manifests a serious lack of understanding of the dynamics of terrorism in that province directly linked with public distrust, ad alienation. The misguided religious-inspired terrorism which horrified the larger society was deterred by the decapitating operations of security forces with public support and larger ownership across the country.

But the situation in Balochistan is quite the opposite, here it is sustained violence against the state ie LEAs, and not the public who remain largely insulated. Illiteracy, abject poverty, malnutrition, and poor development are the real nagging problems of Balochistan which fueled a sense of deprivation among the locals, and the state by not allowing timely succour has certainly not helped.

Discrimination continues as a misguided policy. Reko Dik gold mines and the Saindak copper project remain simply beyond the control of the provincial government, run solely by the federal government. Similarly, the construction of highways, motorways, Gwadar port, and other infrastructure projects are not helping employ the locals.

This lack of trust between the larger public and the government provided fertile grounds for violent exploitation in the age of hybrid wars. The PPP’s Aghaz-Huqqoq-e Balochistan package in 2009 and the Pur Aman Balochistan in 2015 were attempts to allow the militants to surrender and encourage them to join the mainstream with a promised financial package. Both saw only a momentary drop in terrorism as the promised rehabilitation and resettlement fell halfway except to benefit some of those with dubious credentials. And at the end of the day, many of those who surrendered were abandoned, left high and dry with neither the gun nor the promised package, driving further desperation.

It is against this backdrop, that every couple of months, there is a new attack of stronger and deadly magnitude. While the masterminds and militant leadership would escape only to regroup, the common folk would bear the brunt in the combing and mop-up actions by the security forces. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, the public is sadly left to fend for themselves, instead of being protected.

The tactical approach of addressing the complex issue from the prism of a law and order problem led to the explosive missing person issue which continues to remain a serious human rights concern and all this collectively fuels violence.

Some ‘missing persons’ have been found involved in terror attacks giving some credence to the assertion that the issue is more of propaganda. But there are superior courts’ directions regarding many of those that clear the ambiguity.

True this is a hybrid war, where exploitation of internal fault lines including human and political sectarian, ethnic sensitivities, and economic disparities is the rule, calls for sagacious handling. We require a more humane and people-centric approach without undermining or compromising on the writ of the state.

We also miserably failed to build a counter-narrative to convince the civil society, its intelligentsia that the CPEC is the gateway to a prosperous future, at a time when some regional and international friends are bent upon sabotaging the game-changing project. We are hostage to hostile countries that continue to exploit the situation and provide sanctuaries to terrorists bent upon bleeding the country and its economy. This brings us to another reality that in the last 15 years, the politicians, barring some, have not provided ownership against insurgency. Without ownership by the political-intellectual spectrum, the security approach cannot on its own lay it to rest.

We can defeat this by ridding ourselves of ad hocism and indecisiveness, adopt a long strategic policy for Balochistan with a political-civilian face at heart to address the root causes of violent turbulence with compassion that the people of one’s own country deserve.