Wednesday May 22, 2024

The Baloch conundrum

By Raashid Wali Janjua
February 14, 2022

Like the West, Balochistan also exists in the past and the present simultaneously. The jagged serenity of its mountains contrasts eerily with the serious mien of its valley and mountain dwellers who set great store by their tribal traditions and customs while encountering the forces of modernity.

Balochistan is in its sixth insurgency at present, with the disaffected militants regrouping to mount a violent challenge to the state yet again. Insurgencies cannot be won by pruning the leaves and leaving the roots of the conflict unaddressed. In order to pacify the gods of deprivation, development is de rigueur. Past injustices and the heady scent of present human security promises sit cheek by jowl over a powder keg of grievances.

The province has experienced over the years the majoritarian tyranny of a lopsided federation and a benign neglect born out of political expediency. And, like the rest of the country, it is experiencing rapid demographic and sociological changes. A rapidly increasing segment of an educated and jobless urban population, hankering for political and economic rights, finds itself up against the iniquitous strictures of tribal power structures and concomitant politics of exclusion. The limited government jobs being parceled out on political grounds breed discontent that manifests itself in a climate of anger acting as an ideal host for vectors of violence and terrorism. The state’s inability to understand the nature of interaction between the elite and the non-elite of the province and the consequent failure to navigate the reconciliation channels between the two is another cause of the public disaffection fuelling the conflict.

After politics, the socioeconomic dimension of the issue assumes salience in the deprivation index of the province. Inequality and Deprivation indices like the Gini coefficient, Wolfson Polarization and Esteban and Ray indices give misleading figures about Balochistan’s relative deprivation vis a vis other provinces due to lack of understanding of the demographics of the province. The tribal sardar dominated socioeconomic milieu in rural areas is in sharp contrast to the rapidly urbanising middle class in cities like Quetta where the political awareness of the educated youth is bringing the socio-economic deprivations of the province in sharper relief. A discontent is brewing amongst the jobless educate youth that view the anachronistic tribal structure and centre-dominated politics of expediency as an affront to the state’s promises of human security highlighted as recently as in the latest National Security Policy.

The next issue is tackling of hard core militancy and terrorism in the province. Due to vast empty spaces and the geographical expanse of the province and availability of cross-border sanctuaries, militants and terrorists can operate with relative ease compared to other provinces. The external support from India’s RAW and other intelligence agencies is an important factor in nourishing the insurgency. The political dynamics of pro-state and anti-state tribal sardars have a complex history.

The state and the sardars have both made mistakes in the past. There are those however who for power and pelf have sold their soul to the devil through Faustian deals with anti-state forces. The apotheosis of ethnic particularism in the shape of the Baloch Liberation Army, Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and the Balochistan Republican Army (BRA) and its latest reincarnation Baloch Nationalist Army formed through merger of BRA and the United Baloch Army is an expression of the same truculence that springs from externally funded irrational hatred. Irrationality and hatred, unlike genuine grievances, are to be fought rather than assuaged. This is an aspect where the state’s policies have not remained consistent, much to the detriment of our counterterrorism and counter-insurgency efforts.

The state needs to be resolute and consistent in its counterterrorism and counter-extremism efforts. Tenure specific polices and the frequent change in the strategic direction of security policies in Balochistan have given opportunity to anti-state militias to regroup and operate through active external support. The state needs to firm up its counter-insurgency and terrorism response with active public support. Pro-state tribal leaders and individuals should not be given short shrift in the interest of political reconciliation with those sardars who even while in power kept blackmailing the state.

The state has learnt to stop playing footsie with irreconcilable elements who have tasted political power and yet indulged in violence. The grievance narrative does not fit their cases as they have consciously chosen militancy as a vehicle for personal advancement. RAW, NDS, and a host of intelligence agencies of other countries interested in keeping Balochistan destabilised and CPEC at bay, are keeping the Baloch insurgency afloat. A problem like this kind of militancy does not lend itself to linear solutions. It requires a deeper understanding of the nature and drivers of the insurgency rooted in human deprivation and greed. A deadly combination of drug trade, cross-border crime and monopoly of wealth by the tribal elite have pushed people to the margins; they need to be delivered from these shackles to develop stakes in the federal structure of the state.

The state needs to adopt consistent policies to fight militancy while ensuring that the monopoly of violence only remains with the state instead of with individuals. If the civil and military components of the state deprive the sardars of their coercive power, there would be no need to manipulate electoral politics to block the entry of anti-state elements into the power corridors. The consequent shifting of the political discourse from security to development issues would therefore spawn a culture of inclusivity and pluralism, assuaging the discontent of the frustrated Baloch.

The answer to the Baloch conundrum is a combination of political and administrative reforms to end the tribal sardars’ monopoly on violence while ensuring genuine electoral process and equitable delivery of public goods. The above cannot be achieved without employment of first-class bureaucratic resources led by the best and the brightest, and the deployment of top grade military intelligence and paramilitary resources in the province. Lastly, and most importantly, is economic development focused on human security.

The writer is a security analyst and a PhD scholar. He can be reached at: