Islamabad: Balochistan, the most volatile region of Pakistan, has been fighting for decades for its independence. In the past few years, the insurgency has reached its peak. No matter how much Pakistan envelopes the reality of Balochistan to build its unwarlike image globally, the news of violence, human right violations and crime are making the headlines internationally.
Area-wise, Balochistan is the biggest province of Pakistan and also the least populated region. Nature has blessed this region with mineral resources and natural gas reserves and that’s the reason by any means Pakistan would control this region. And not just Pakistan, China’s clever initiative of ‘One Belt One Road’ has roped Balochistan in a $ 60 million deal including the Gwadar port and road network.
But the road to Balochistan will not be a cakewalk for China as, for many years, this region is witnessing a constant battle between Baloch separatists, Pakistan Taliban and ISIS. Violence is commonplace here. According to government records, Shias, who are in a minority in Quetta, are becoming the targets of all these attacks. Around 509 people have died in such attacks.
Northern Balochistan is dominated by Pakhtuns. In this area, security forces are being targeted. Moreover, many religious organisations are banned here.
Last Monday, another suicide bombing happened in the south-west region of Balochistan, killing four security personals and leaving many injured. This was the second attack in the last three days. The Baloch Liberation Army, an insurgent group of this region, took the responsibility of the attack.
Earlier, on 12 April, a severe blast in Hazarganji market of Quetta led to the killing of 20 people and many injured. The toll of dead bodies included both Pakhtuns and Baloch. After this attack, people of the Hazara community poured into the streets to protest. The government assured them of that the National Action Plan (NAP) would be implemented.
The government of Pakistan framed an NAP after the Peshawar school attack in 2014, but never went beyond a bureaucratic exercise.
On 18 April, 20 odd extremists killed 14 bus passengers on the Makran coastal highway that lies in the coastal region of the Gwadar district. Another extremist group BRAS took the responsibility of this killing. The spokesperson of BRAS said, “We killed only those people who carried Pakistan Navy and Coast Guard IDs.” However, none of the government officials confirmed the attack.
The CPEC policy of China is another reason for the growing insurgency and attacks. The people of Balochistan are already fighting for their freedom from Pakistan and, in the midst of that, the presence of China has intensified the nationalistic sentiments of the Baloch. On the other hand, Pakistan has promised China to provide full security to its ongoing projects, which led to the deployment of more forces.
In the last few years, Baloch separatists have carried out many attacks targeting the CPEC. At the time of CPEC’s announcement, the Balochis were not asked for consent. Balochistan is feeling the threat that is coming from the outsiders after the CPEC was agreed upon between Pakistan and China. Most people in Gwadar have sold their land to investors who came from outside. The Baloch fear that gradually the population will change completely and they will be dominated by these outsiders.
Balochistan has been a tolerant and multicultural society, but now it is struggling. The strife in Balochistan has become worrisome for the Shia community of Hazaras. People from the Hazara community, who live in Madirabad and Hazara towns, are scared of losing their homes. Their lives are always at stake.
On 21 April, Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Quetta to meet people of the Hazara community. While expressing his condolences, he repeated the assurance of implementing the NAP to end terrorism. He said that the day would come soon when peace in Pakistan would be established. However, this tour of Khan was widely criticised as he had arrived several days after the attack.
The Hazara community of Quetta is frustrated.
The groups demanding autonomy in Balochistan include the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF). The Pakistani government often blames India’s pro-BRA leader Brahamdagh Bugti for the Baloch conflict, but he is hardly the undisputed leader of the Baloch people as media makes him out to be. In fact, his father’s association with the Pakistani regime as one point of time makes many Baloch people doubt his intention. His grandfather Nawab Akbar Shahbaz Khan Bugti was close to the Pakistani dispensation as was Brahamdagh’s uncle Talal Akbar Bugti. The Bugti clan turned against the government only when Pakistani military launched an operation in their region.
In 1948, the Balochis started the freedom movement against Pakistan. They fought in Pakistan in 1948, 1958 and 1974. However, in 1996, Baloch leader Habaiyar Murri laid the foundation of the Baloch Liberation Movement, working on the weaknesses of Baloch independence efforts, which strengtheneded in 2000. The revolutionaries demand the withdrawal of the Pakistan Army from Balochistan and freedom. The support this organisation enjoys in the region is of utmost concern to the government of Pakistan.
In Balochistan, 817 people have been killed in the suicide attacks since 2003 and more than 1,600 people have been injured. Conflicts have increased due to cults within Balochistan. Since 2009, more than 760 people have been killed in the conflict of cultures.
The Pakistan government and military officials often blame India for violence in Balochistan. However, by playing the card of India, Pakistan cannot escape the problem of Baloch. Pakistan will have to pay attention to the problems of Balochistan.
With inputs from Surajit Dasgupta