The Balochistan crisis

February 20, 2022

Recent days have witnessed a rising trend in attacks on LEAs by Baloch separatist militants. Pakistan should review its counterterrorism and intelligence policy in the area

A view of signs along a highway leading to Gwadar. — Image courtesy: Reuters
A view of signs along a highway leading to Gwadar. — Image courtesy: Reuters

Balochistan is located at a geostrategic crossroads for regional and international players. It’s the shortest route to the Arabian Sea and has fascinated key international and regional players, including China, India, the US, Iran, the Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Afghanistan. Each player desires to exploit this region to pursue its geopolitical and geostrategic interests. The CPEC, under the Chinese One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, has enhanced the significance of the Balochistan province. It has also added to the concern of the adversaries of Pakistan and China, particularly India and the US. To counter the viability of Gwadar, India had started investing in the development of Iran’s Chabahar port.

China’s rivalry with the US and India’s with Pakistan has been a recurring theme in global and regional politics respectively.

Recent days have witnessed a rising trend in attacks on LEAs by Baloch separatist militants. Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA)’s Majeed Brigade has accepted responsibility for the recent attacks including an attack on FC Headquarters. The BLA has been designated as a “terrorist organisation” by Pakistan, the UK, the US, and the EU. Pakistan has accused the BLA in the past of being an Indian proxy, and Indian consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad of providing arms, training and financial aid to the BLA in an attempt to destabilise Pakistan. After the death of Aslam Baloch, alias Achu, in Kandahar, Afghan officials stated that the Afghan police chief, Abdul Raziq Achakzai has housed Aslam Baloch and other separatists in Kandahar for years. Afghan news channel Tolo News has reported that Aslam Baloch had been living in Afghanistan since 2005. Previously, the Baloch Liberation Army’s leader Balach Marri was also killed in Afghanistan. During the Gwadar attack, the Counterterrorism Department apprehended some individuals who told their interrogators that the attack was planned in Chahbahar.

The 959 kilometres long Pakistan-Iran border begins at the Koh-i-Malik Salih and ends at Gwadar bay in the Gulf of Oman. It includes a diverse landscape of mountain ridges, seasonal streams and rivers and is notorious for human trafficking and smuggling as well as cross-border militancy. Pakistan has undertaken special operations including fencing of border to curb militancy and smuggling but no such measures gave been taken by Iran.

Indo-Iranian security ties may be inferred from the reported presence of an unusually large Indian consulate at Zahedan in Iran. India had also established a consulate at Bandar Abbas in 2002, a development that provoked Pakistan to protest that India will use this facility to monitor ship movements in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Another arena of Indo-Iranian cooperation is the North-South Transportation Corridor. The project, the result of an agreement among India, Iran and Russia in 2000 (with Belarus and Kazakhstan joining later), is meant to link Mumbai, via Bandar Abbas in Iran, with St Petersburg. The development of Indo-Iranian relations has become a key factor in the strategic environment in Southwest Asia and the Arabian Sea.

Pakistani authorities have presented evidence of Indian involvement in promoting terrorism to destabilise Pakistan and a strong connection between terror outfits and Indian handlers through consulates based in Afghanistan. The document emphasised objectives such as the Indian intelligence agencies promoting violence and ethnic problems, provision of training and technical assistance for sabotage activities around the CPEC, economic coercion and measures to destabilise Gilgit-Baltistan. Iran has allegedly turned a blind eye to the evidence.

The recent surge in attacks against security forces points to terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan and Iran. The mitigation measures taken by Pakistan have included fencing of its western border, re-organisation and restricting of second-line forces to improve security operations. An attack on Pakistani troops was carried out before Prime Minister Imran Khan left for China. Soon afterwards the BLA issued a threatening statement against the CPEC project. The joint statement issued by Pakistan and China after the PM’s visit read: “Pakistan reaffirmed its commitment to making all-out efforts for the security of all Chinese personnel, projects, and institutions in Pakistan.” The statement is a strong response to the BLA threat.

Some experts have argued for use of drones for aerial surveillance in the region, night vision equipment and better transport facilities for troops and paramilitary units. It is time the government reviewed its counterintelligence and counterterrorism policy in the area.

The writer is an independent media and foreign policy analyst. She tweets @MsAishaK.

The Balochistan crisis