During the past 70 years, Pakistan has been facing exacerbated internal challenges—ranging from bilateral border conflicts to armed insurgencies—deeply rooted in the Pak-India conventional rivalry. #baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest but least populated province, is witnessing bloodshed due to the incompetency of political leadership -- mainly the inability of the political centre to mainstream the province. Baluchistan is also the heart of global geopolitical games manipulated by global powers to gain direct access and control over the rich natural resources of the province. Since the inauguration of the China-PakistanEconomic Corridor last year, Baluchistan has undergone major political and economic changes due to democratic continuity, well-executed military operations and retreat of separatist leaders.

Advertisements
Advertisements

Contemporary nature of Baluchistan issue

Dozens of books, research papers and opinion pieces have been written on the Baluchistan issue by expert authors. According to Pakistan-based security expert, Rahim Ullah Yusufzai, n exclusive interview on local television on Tuesday, “Baluchistan issue is the net product of several complexes: military operations, foreign intervention, geographical terrain, tribal social fabric and lack of socio-economic development.” The National Security Advisor of Pakistan and ex-military commander of Baluchistan, General (R) Nasir Janjua said, “our past failures and inability to initiate mainstreaming of the province is the real cause along with the continuous Indian intervention in Baluchistan”, said during a seminar in Gwadar a few months ago.

Advertisements

In recent months, several political and global developments have provided a new perspective on the issue, while the most important development is the CPEC and continuity of democracy in the province.

The military not only supported the provincial government but also won the hearts of native people by increasing interaction with the people and offering lucrative packages to returning insurgents. When I visited the Quetta in August 2016, I was astonished to hear the comments of native people about the improved security situation in Baluchistan because mainstream national and international media was continuously describing Baluchistan as an active war zone. Baluchistan is the hotbed of global proxy wars due to rich natural resources, especially the geostrategic importance of deep water port named as Gwadar.

Indian involvement in Baluchistan is not a new scenario for Pakistani people, but global media paid attention to alleged Indian intervention when serving naval commander of Indian army Kulbhushan Yaduv—who was acting as perpetrator and facilitator of terrorism—was arrested by Baluchistan by Pakistani intelligence agencies.

Advertisements

After the Second World War, it was the first time that a serving army commander acting as a spy was arrested on foreign soil. The Pakistani military court has awarded the death penalty to Mr Yaduv after a confessional statement and criminal trial conducted in a military court.

Role of military and paramilitary forces in Balochistan

The law and order situation is measured by the index of political stability and the level of economic activities in any region. As far as the Baluchistan issue is concerned, Baluchistan is tough geographical terrain for any military to conduct overt and covert operations due to mountains, the absence of a transportation network and a scattered population. Historically, a major part of Baluchistan was guarded and patrolled by state-controlled tribal militia but escalated and widespread militant insurgency forced the militia to withdraw from areas and hand over control to the military and paramilitary force.

The foreign-sponsored insurgents started targeting strategic targets of the province after the assassination of tribe leader turned politician, Akbar Bugti in a military raid. The assassination of Akbar Bugti proved counter-productive for the state institutions because the incident provided oxygen to an almost dead separatist movement. Later, sectarian outfits also made safe houses in Baluchistan—while the genocide of the Hazara minority living in Quetta, made headlines in international and national media, during that period—as they were motivated by their little success in North West areas of Pakistan. Precisely, Baluchistan was proving to be a tough battleground for security institutions in Baluchistan due to the localised political support of insurgents, both militarily and economically, which was financed by foreign powers.

The political transition occurred in the war-stricken province after the 2013 general elections. After losing thousands of lives in deadly bomb blasts, civil and military leadership decided to make Baluchistan a safe and secure place. The army started hardcore military operations against militants while the political government provided essential political support and cover to army leadership. Chief Minister Abdul Malik Bloch and military commander General Nasir Janjua announced a lucrative fiscal package for returning militants who were giving up militancy and integrating themselves into the socio-political mainstream.

Amid the equation of criticism and appreciation, the Pakistan Army is acting as the primary stakeholder in the restoration of peace, especially after the inauguration of CPEC projects. According to security experts, CPEC projects carry vital and viable geopolitical and economic importance for Pakistan because the country wants to implement an extensive job market for youth and stabilise the dwindling economy by getting Chinese fiscal assistance and establishment of much needed industrial zones on CPEC route.

Baluchistan has a tremendous history of being used as the gateway to economic opportunities—even the British Empire took leverage of the geopolitical importance of Baluchistan against the Tsar Empire—an iron wall for the defence of the sub-continent. The #Pakistan Army wants to translate the geopolitical importance of the province into immense economic benefits for the increasing population of the country and its struggling economy.

What’s the future?

The majority of the population believes that Baluchistan has a lively future due to the retreat of the insurgency, the success of military operations and on-going CPEC projects in the country. Baluchistan has changed a lot in past few years due to exemplary civil-military co-ordination in the province. Military commander General Amir Riaz is committed to bringing utmost stability in the province while Frontier Corps is operating on two fronts: conducting counter-terrorism operations and restoring the completely obliterated infrastructure in the province.

Recently, FC held major events and sent symbolic but vocal messages to the world about the future of Baluchistan. According to local journalists, Pakistan day parade was an exceptionally crowded event where the national flag was waving all around even in previous no-go areas. The culture day of Baluchistan was celebrated in the whole province where civilians joined the celebrations conducted by the Para-military force with dedication and zeal. A special video song was released that enjoyed immense appreciation on media and social media websites.

The Frontier Corps also played a role in disaster management, a quick response force and local policing. According to a local administration official, when an earthquake jolted the remote areas of Baluchistan, flags of separatist elements were waving in the area but people put them off due to the professional and humanitarian dealings of our soldiers and officials. He further added that ranging from educational activities to quick response actions, the para-military force has been minimising the misery of people since their deployment. Many important officials ascertained the views of young FC officer who spoke to me in Quetta

Without strengthening the civilian institutions and improving the governance structure, permanent peace and stability can’t be achieved. Only education, political reconciliation and continuity of the democratic structure can ensure a peaceful and prosperous Baluchistan. The military must continue their job while civil-military dialogue and interaction in Baluchistan must be escalated and protracted. According to a historical British maxim, “the longer you pacify the Baluchs, the more you attain prosperity in the region.” This was written in an old memorandum on Baluchistan and is currently saved in the All India British Library London.