Is Balochistan insurgency dying?

By Haris Khurshid

In a renewed resolve after Peshawar massacre, followed by all parties’ conference and subsequent contemplation of National Action Plan the security establishment has finally come hard on terrorists of all colors and hue. Initially the move was aimed at defeating Taliban insurgency which has wreaked havoc since last decade inflicting colossal human and financial loss to the nation. However, later with collaboration of civilian governments at federal and provincial level the counter terrorism scope was widened targeting not only extremist elements in FATA but also bracketing their urban supporters, financiers and abettors in urban centers of the country.  Through Intelligence Based Operations (IBOs) terrorist sleeper cells are being targeted successfully as efforts by military top brass and interior minister Choudhary Nisar Ali Khan has yielded increased inter-agency collaboration between intelligence agencies i.e. IB, ISI, MI, FIA, Special Branch and law enforcement agencies.  Although since Peshawar tragedy few significant terrorist activities like Karachi Safoora bus attack and Mastung Bus carnage struck the nation but overall security situation improved after successful clearing of North Waziristan in operation Zarb-e-Azb and pushing terrorist to flee out of strategic heights of Tirah, Khyber Agency.

As the menace of Taliban insurgency has been at the top of internal threat matrix and gained premium attention in main stream media; the nationalist insurgency in Balochistan has long been concealed deliberately by the state from public exposure. This situation has also disappointed Baloch separatists who desperately pursue their agenda to “internationalize” Balochistan conflict. The low level insurgency has disrupted socio-economic activity since 2003 in the Pakistan’s resource rich and largest province which also remains one of the world’s least developed regions. The province has significant geostrategic importance due to its deep water Gawadar port which Pakistan plans to develop as region’s important trade hub by linking it to Kashghar, through China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC) and then to landlocked central Asian states via Afghanistan. Chinese investment of $46 billion under CPEC plan surely will usher in a new era of economic activity and prosperity giving boost to local economy. However the area is hotbed of Baloch insurgents’ subversive activities who constantly attack security personnel and civilians as well as important installations, rail links, gas pipelines and communication infrastructure. Also killing of Punjabi workers, hostage-taking, targeted assassination of political opponents and important officials have been preferred tactics of these groups to terrorize local populace. Militant organizations like Baloch Liberation Army of Hyrbyar Marri, Baloch Republican of Army of Brahamdhagh Bugti, Lashkar e Balochistan of Javed Mengal and Baloch Liberation Front of Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch have previously made Kohlu, Dera Bugti, Awaran and other areas of Makran division practically inaccessible to provincial and federal government for initiating developmental work on projects. Unfortunately it is not only local politics over decades of Islamabad government’s indifferent and biased policies that led disillusioned baloch youth to join “Saramchars” in mountains.

A dangerous mix of international vested interests have converged efforts to fume this low scale insurgency into a full blown war of secession in Balochistan. Pakistani security establishment have, over the years alleged interference by Indian spy agency RAW in collaboration with previous Afghan government of Karzai and Afghan intelligence NDS chief Amrullah Saleh. The Kabul government saw exploiting Baloch separatist elements as a quid pro quo opportunity against Pakistan, which they alleged was supporting Afghan Taliban. Over the years Pakistani intelligence has pointed at Chain of Indian consulates along Pak-Afghan border allegedly involved in defining even minute specifics of Baloch insurgency i.e. supplying money, ammunition, arranging training and safe havens for insurgent leadership, strategic and tactical planning, indoctrination and printing of anti-Pakistan literature etc. Some local analysts speculate alleged role of western spy agencies along with Iranian and Emirati intelligence elements to have hand in local volatile security condition as the two Muslim nations operate their respective ports (Dubai and Chabahar) and view Gawadar port as threat to their economic interests in the region.

Furthermore, according to media reports the exiled self-proclaimed Baloch leaders like Hyrbyar and Brahamdagh are sponsored by Indian diplomatic corps in western capitals presenting them as “soft power” of Baloch struggle at international organizations. There they would describe State “repression” and “atrocities” against “peace loving and secular” separatists to garner political and financial support for “Independent” Balochistan.

However, things have changed dramatically after new governments in Pakistan and Afghanistan came closer and venomous approach regarding regional security on either side has subsided. After withdrawal of US and NATO troops in 2014, Indian diplomatic footprint purportedly once used as conduit against Pakistan has receded from the south east Afghanistan bordering Balochistan. This lack of external support has rendered BLA, BRA and other insurgent groups in dire need of resources to sustain effective campaign against Pakistani security forces. Additionally, the situation has also led to rivalries between already fractured insurgency as each commander see himself the chief of his tribe’s loyal members. In July this year, Hyrbyar Marri’s BLA and his younger brother Zarman Marri’s United Baloch Army which previously splintered from the former reportedly over feud of resources, clashed in Pir Suri Darbar and Han Nullah border areas between Dera Bugti and Kohlu leaving 20 militants dead. In June, FC arrested BLA Commander Sorat Jan Marri along with accomplice involved in IED-attack on President Mamnoon Hussain’s son convoy in Hub. Marri was in charge of BLA operations in Khuhzdar, Hub and Karachi and planned the killing of eight labourers in October 2014 as well as the attack on the Chinese bus that led to the death of 35 people.

The BLF, active in Awaran and Kech area is only organization headed by non-Sardar Dr. Allah Nazar who is strictly against Sardari system practiced by Bugtis, Marris and Mengal “saramchars” and believes in liberal Baloch nationalism. However, Dr. Allah Nazar has extremist view about Army and settlers in Balochistan and routinely target Punjabi laborers and other soft targets. His tight grip on the Awaran was shaken in 2013 devastating earth quake as Pakistan Army moved in for relief activity which was previously considered difficult if not impossible. Last month in operation, FC killed BLF Chief’s brother Safar Khan and nephew Shaek Baloch along with 13 militants in Mashkay Bazar Awaran, dealing heavy blow to already encircled commander. Elsewhere in Balochistan special operations wing of FC has taken proactive role to defeat disrupt and dismantle separatists’ hideouts and choke their line of communications and clearing no go areas. Recently a number of important militant commanders have been arrested or killed in Frontier Crops intelligence driven operations which demonstrates that security agencies have deeply penetrated into terrorist organizations structure. Their ability to operate with impunity, replenish their weapons stockpiles and trans-border movement has been reduced markedly. Moreover, it is far from sight for all insurgents to abandon guns and return to mainstream hence threat of terrorist activity like bomb blast, assassinations, hitting of civilian soft targets and occasional skirmishes with Para-military forces will remain real in the foreseeable future.

On diplomatic front, Pakistan is actively engaging friendly nations to curtail activity of Indian sponsored Baloch leaders who spare no occasion to blame Islamabad of “violence” and “Human Rights Violation” in Balochistan. In this regard, Nawaz’s government decided to take up matter of Indian involvement in Pakistan with United States, British government and United Nations through its permanent UN representative Maleeha Lodhi. Recently Pakistan successfully lobbied in UN to retract special status of two hitherto unknown African NGOs, African Technology Development Link and the African Technical Association routinely used by Mehran Baloch to speak against Pakistan. Likewise, in a dramatic turn of events British authorities has asked Pakistan’s help to extradite Imran Farooq killers wanted to London Metropolitan Police. Seeing an opportunity authorities here are raising issue of Baloch leaders’ possible exchange who have gained asylums in London and constantly orchestrate terrorist activities through their militias in Balochistan.

Similarly, while peace efforts of chief minister Abdul Malik Baloch yet remains premature to woo dissident leaders like Khan of Qalat Suleiman Daud to initiate dialogue for peaceful solution of Balochistan problem, active reconciliation and integration efforts for low and midlevel militant commanders are proving fruitful. The Muslim League Nawaz leader Nawab Changez Marri, elder brother of Hyrbyar Marri has successfully persuaded a number of insurgent commanders of UBA, BLA, Balochistan National Movement and Lashkare e Balochistan to renounce violence against the state who were in turn awarded amnesty and financial support. There is no denying that meddling of central government in provincials affairs viz-a-viz mega projects like Reko Diq and operating Gawadar Port, extreme poverty, miserable educational and health infrastructure, resources exploitation and royalty, security forces’ high handedness of situation and missing persons, cultural sensitivities, absence of genuine representation and lack of coordinated efforts to streamline the angry baloch youth are real problems of the land. However, the people of Balochistan understand that insurgency and terrorism is not the answer to address these complex issues. Therefore appeal of raising arms against the state is losing its sheen by each passing day as Balochistan braces towards new era of peace and development.

“We were trapped by our leaders who said they are fighting for the rights of Balochs, but later we realized that they were enjoying their lavish lives abroad and had pushed us and our families to a war here,” Obaidullah alias Babrak, a surrendered Lashkar-e-Balochistan commander, told reporters recently.

Haris Khurshid is a Research Fellow at PARC and writes on Science, International politics and Security.

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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