Security Landscape Of Balochistan: A Path To Peace – OpEd


The windswept plains and rugged mountains of Balochistan hold within them a story of resilience, a yearning for progress, and a future waiting to be written. Yet, the narrative surrounding this land has often been hijacked by small but disruptive Baloch separatist movements. A significant figure within these movements was Gulzar Imam Shambay, whose capture in April 2023 marked a turning point. These groups have cast a shadow on the genuine aspirations of the Baloch people, but Shambay’s capture has created a significant leadership vacuum within the Baloch Nationalist Army (BNA), formed from the merger of the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and the United Baloch Army (UBA). This absence has unleashed internal conflicts over resources and finances, severely hindering the insurgency’s ability to function as a cohesive unit, leaving the BNA on the verge of collapse.

The humane treatment extended to surrendered members, like Sarfaraz Bangulzai and his men, presents a tempting proposition for others. Bangulzai’s defection, along with his fighters, has created a domino effect, potentially leading to a mass exodus from the BNA. This critical situation presents a unique opportunity to explore possibilities of peace talks. The key question is: can a path towards a peaceful resolution be forged, or are there insurmountable obstacles?

The Pakistani state emphasizes reconciliation and inclusivity, aiming to foster a sense of shared identity and belonging among the diverse groups within Balochistan. The Baloch are an inclusive nation striving for a peaceful and prosperous future for all its citizens. Any attempt to create division among them in the name of a greater Balochistan is seen as a designed plan to break Pakistan. This narrative emphasizes that Balochistan belongs to its people and that the state will not allow “anarchists working at the behest of foreign agencies” to hijack Baloch nationalism.

The leadership is acutely aware of the grievances of the Baloch people, particularly the harm inflicted by “misguided dissidents” in remote areas. To address these concerns, the government offers Baloch youth opportunities for success through improved access to quality education and employment opportunities. They also promise a share in the prosperity promised by the exploration of mineral resources in the province. Furthermore, law enforcement actions and the fencing of the international border have demonstrably improved security in Balochistan. This enhanced security, coupled with the offer of reconciliation, presents a compelling reason for dissidents to lay down arms and rejoin society.

The onus now falls on the patriotic Baloch to deny space to these anarchists through collective action and cooperation with security forces. The anti-state elements (ASAs) employ a multifaceted approach to exploit various issues in Balochistan — physical attacks, political maneuvering, and manipulation of humanitarian concerns — to cultivate a hostile perception of Pakistan both domestically and internationally.

Pakistan’s efforts to develop Balochistan are highlighted, particularly through China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects and the development of Gwadar Port. These initiatives aim to generate revenue for the province and create jobs. However, the latest episodes of terrorist attacks on these projects demonstrate the insurgents’ intention to undermine the development in Balochistan. If the insurgents were genuinely fighting for the rights of the Baloch, why would they target projects that are crucial for the province’s progress? The ASAs are hindering Balochistan’s progress by attacking vital infrastructure projects like dams, communication facilities, and transportation networks. These actions inflict real damage on the Baloch people themselves, hindering economic development and essential services.

Moreover, human rights activists — vociferous in their call against illegal abductions, rightfully so — are accused of turning a blind eye to the ASAs’ recruitment of students into militant groups. This recruitment is a clear violation of the right to education and a tactic to exploit young people. The issue of missing persons is a contentious one. The state contends that exaggerated figures are being quoted and that many missing persons are actually hiding in militant camps. Some activists are said to have manipulated the issue for propaganda purposes.

Recent events like the involvement of Abdul Wadood Satakzai and Karim Jan Baloch in terrorist attacks are used as examples of Baloch youth being manipulated. The families of these men were reportedly engaged by a human rights activist in a ‘long march’ seen as a propaganda campaign against Pakistan. Such actions hinder genuine efforts towards peace.

Shambay’s capture marks a significant juncture in the Balochistan conflict, underscoring the significance of reconciliation, improved security, infrastructural development, and opportunities for the Baloch people. However, it also paints a picture of external manipulation and domestic actors hindering progress. Whether this translates into lasting peace or a temporary lull in the conflict remains to be seen. This critical situation necessitates the continuation of genuine efforts to address the root causes of the insurgency, ensure fair treatment of all citizens, and foster a sense of justice.

Pakistan’s development initiatives in Balochistan, particularly those under the CPEC, are crucial for the province’s economic revival. Projects like Gwadar Port are designed to create jobs and boost local economies. The insurgents’ attacks on these projects reveal their true intentions — to hinder development and maintain a state of unrest. For genuine peace to prevail, it is essential that these projects are protected and completed. The economic benefits from these projects can significantly uplift the local population, providing them with better living standards and reducing the allure of insurgent propaganda.

One of the most effective ways to counter insurgency is through education and employment. The government’s efforts to improve access to quality education and create job opportunities for Baloch youth are steps in the right direction. Educated and employed individuals are less likely to be swayed by insurgent rhetoric. The promise of a share in the prosperity from the province’s mineral resources can further incentivize the youth to support the state’s efforts towards peace and development.

Civil society organizations have a crucial role to play in the peace process. They can help bridge the gap between the government and the local population by facilitating dialogue and promoting understanding. These organizations can also play a vital role in monitoring human rights and ensuring that the government’s actions are transparent and accountable. By working closely with the government and local communities, civil society can contribute to creating an environment conducive to peace and development.

The capture of Gulzar Imam Shambay and the subsequent leadership vacuum in BNA presents a unique opportunity for the Pakistani state to push for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Balochistan. This requires a multifaceted approach that includes continued development initiatives, enhanced security measures, improved access to education and employment, and inclusive governance. The state must also address the grievances of the Baloch people and ensure fair treatment of all citizens. By doing so, it can foster a sense of justice and belonging among the local population, thereby reducing the appeal of insurgent groups.

One of the most significant challenges in achieving peace in Balochistan is the manipulation by external actors. The state’s narrative suggests that foreign agencies are behind the separatist movements, aiming to destabilize Pakistan. Whether this is entirely accurate or not, it is undeniable that external influences can exacerbate internal conflicts. Therefore, it is crucial for Pakistan to engage in diplomatic efforts to mitigate these external influences and garner international support for its efforts towards peace in Balochistan.

The role of the media in shaping perceptions and influencing public opinion cannot be overlooked. The media can either contribute to peace by promoting positive narratives and highlighting the government’s efforts towards development and reconciliation or fuel conflict by sensationalizing issues and focusing on negative aspects. Therefore, responsible journalism is essential in this context. The media should strive to provide balanced coverage, give voice to the Baloch people’s genuine grievances, and highlight the positive developments in the province.

The path to peace in Balochistan is fraught with challenges, but it is not insurmountable. The capture of Gulzar Imam Shambay has created a unique opportunity for the Pakistani state to push for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. By addressing the root causes of the insurgency, improving security, fostering economic development, and promoting inclusive governance, Pakistan can pave the way for lasting peace in Balochistan. However, this requires a sustained and multifaceted approach, involving all stakeholders, including the government, civil society, and the international community. Only through collective efforts can the genuine aspirations of the Baloch people be realized, and a peaceful and prosperous future be secured for all.

Muhammad Wasib

Muhammad Wasib is pursuing an MS from Ripha International University.

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