After the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, illicit activity on the Pak-Afghan border has increased
he conflict in Balochistan has several domestic causes and complex dynamics but it is also influenced from the outside. Some of Balochistan’s problems are not shared by other parts of the country. Not all of them relate to terrorism either. Transnational organised crime – including drug smuggling and human trafficking – is a big challenge for law enforcement agencies in Balochistan. The province shares a border with two countries: Afghanistan and Iran. The socio-political changes in Iran and the emerging situation in Afghanistan are having a direct impact on Pakistan in general and in Balochistan in particular. Some of these problems have been mitigated by improvements in border security. However, it is difficult, if not impossible, to surveille and secure such a long border. Pakistan is in need of all the assistance it can get from international organisations in this regard.
After the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, illicit activity on the Pak-Afghan border has increased due to developments like the heightened influx of Afghan citizens travelling into Pakistan. Under the former Afghan government, some anti-Pakistan elements had enjoyed protection in regions close to Pakistan’s border. Several training centres along border with Balochistan prepared saboteurs for attacks in Pakistan.
These training centres received support from India. Several key BLA commanders were living in Aino Mina, a posh area of Kandahar. One of them was Aslam Achu, who according to some accounts was of Tajik descent. He had counted on support from Afghan intelligence agencies and Kandahar police in particular. In March 2016, he was injured in an attack in Balochistan. He was then taken to Afghanistan and then India for treatment. On his return to Afghanistan, he formed a new faction called the Majid Brigade, and launched attacks against Chinese citizens and installations. In 2018, he was killed in a suicide attack in the Aino Mena area of Kandahar along with many of his colleagues.
After the Taliban takeover in Kabul, it became difficult for these organisations to find shelter in Kandahar. A majority of them then either moved to other areas in Afghanistan or sought refuge in Baloch-majority areas of Iran.
A large number of Afghans are eager to escape to Europe. The only land route for this is through Iran and Turkey. Many of the travellers die on the way.
The chaos in Afghanistan has had a spillover effect in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The weapons used in the recent terrorist attacks in Balochistan were smuggled from Afghanistan. Some of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan fighters who have gone to Afghanistan and joined the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) are also trying to secure a foothold in Balochistan. However, they have not been too successful in this regard so far.
The ISKP is interested in Balochistan partly due to its proximity to the Iranian border. Following the recent incident involving a girl in Chabahar, some Baloch tribes in Iran have held notable protest demonstrations in Zahedan near the Pakistani border. Reports suggest that many people were killed in the violent protests. Some analysts have warned that the flare-up could allow organisations like the Jaish-ul-Adl to recruit Sunni Muslim youths in the region. In the past, organisations like the Jaish-ul-Adl and Jundullah have been very active in the Pak-Iran border areas. After the arrival of the ISIS-ISKP, most of the fighters of these organisations have joined it. Due to Iran’s role in the Syrian civil war, these elements are bent upon creating problems for Iran. Recent attacks against the Hazara community in Balochistan have also been explained in terms of a reaction to the Iraq-Syria war. Given the chaos in Afghanistan and the increasing strength of the ISKP, this can have a deep impact on Balochistan.
The economic hardship in Afghanistan too is causing an increase in human trafficking throughout Balochistan. A large number of Afghans are eager to escape to Europe. The only land route for this is through Iran and Turkey. Every month, groups of Afghan youths try to cross the border into Pakistan and then cross the border into Iran. Crossing the Pak-Afghan border is not a problem; they can also enter Pakistan on valid visas, but beyond that they have to resort to help from human smugglers to cross the border into Iran and then into Turkey. The travel is hazardous and many of the travellers die on the way.
Smuggling of drugs and various kinds of Iranian goods, including vehicular fuel, into Pakistan is only possible through Balochistan. The fencing of the border has largely controlled this problem. However, the smugglers keep trying new techniques and routes. It is feared that the economic crisis in Afghanistan will lead to an increase in opium cultivation and drug trade and that that will have a direct impact in Balochistan.
Most of the internal problems in Balochistan can be overcome by political means. However, problems like drug smuggling and human trafficking can become a big challenge and require commitment of resources as well as political will on the part of the federal government.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer.