Counter-Terrorism In Pakistan And The Baloch Separatist – OpEd


Since the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2021, the terrorist outfits have mustered renewed vigour to rehabilitate and collaborate on tactics to rupture regional security. Under the weak control of the Taliban government over its territories, such outfits have found new dwellings to unveil their mischievous tricks. Several analysts predicted that the withdrawal of the US and NATO forces might see the reunification and reorientation of terrorist outfits, who were disoriented and dismissed due to the US presence in Afghanistan. 

Such terrorist groups are detrimental not only to national security but also impacts the peace and stability of others in the region. The sanctuaries established by such outfits host and support similar-minded outfits in the region. Such is the case in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where exchanges among such outfits have become routine. This has caused a surge in terrorist activities in Pakistan, as predicted.

Pakistan’s government and its security forces have several times attempted to negotiate peace with such groups who, at times, have pledged to curtail terrorist activities. However, peace in the region is not in the interest of spoilers and foreign funders like India, who use these outfits to devastate regional peace and stability. Not only do these outfits harm national security, but they also trigger insurgent and separatist groups in the country. Since the breakdown of peace talks with Tehrik-e-Taliabn Pakistan (TTP), the group has formed nexus with the insurgents in Balochistan. Such activities have led Pakistani security forces to take strict counter-terrorism measures.    

One of Pakistan’s recent successful intelligence operations led to the arrest of Gulzar Imam alias Shambay the leader and founder of the Baloch National Army (BNA), a banned ethnonational separatist outfit in Pakistan. The arrest was a result of a high-profile intelligence-based operation by Pakistan’s security forces, who carefully planned and meticulously executed an operation spanning over months, according to Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR). 

It was necessary for the national security of Pakistan to capture the high-value target as he was a hardcore separatist militant who galvanised separatist and anti-state activities in Pakistan. Gulzar Shambay was radicalised as a member of the Baloch Student Organization (BSO) at a young age. This paved the way for anti-state forces to enlist him. At a mature age, Gulzar Shambay was a deputy of Brahamdagh led by Brahumdagh Bugti, who presently resides in the luxuries of Switzerland and uses social media platforms such as Twitter to promote anti-state narrative.

In January 2022, Gulzar Shambay formed his group Baloch National Army, a merger of the now-dissolved Baloch Republic Army (BRA) and the United Baloch Army (UBA). Since its formation, the group has been active in Balochistan and Kandahar and has carried out a terrorist attack in Lahore and raids on the Pakistani Frontier Corps stations in Balochistan. Pakistani authorities intercepted communications that unveiled that these activities were funded and supported by militants in Afghanistan who provided abandoned US military equipment and Indian intelligence and peace spoilers. The arrest of Gulzar Shambay was a big blow to the group and their activities. 

The separatist and insurgents must realise that they should not hurt the land they were born on and are dwelling from. Such groups have pictured the state as an enemy and foreign irritants as consolers. BNA and other Balochistan separatist groups overtly use social media platforms such as Twitter to radicalise the users and spread misinformation about Pakistan. This highlights the need to acknowledge the high level of misunderstanding that is growing mistrust between such groups and the state, particularly in the case of Balochistan. In order to bridge this gap, efforts must be put in from both sides. 

Local-level trust-building measures by the state are important to reconcile the differences and address the grievances of separatist groups. However, such groups must realise that addressing grievances would only be possible with their cooperation in defeating the anti-state forces thriving in Pakistan. Moreover, it is essential that the government engage the youth of Balochistan by providing them with means of livelihood other than separatist activities funded by foreign agencies. 

Youth is the future of the nation. Therefore, supporting youth and providing them with avenues to flourish and be confident in the state is paramount. It could include establishing educational and vocational institutions, providing scholarships, and holding sporting and competitive events. This would give the youth of Balochistan education and skills, which are powerful tools in determining the development of Balochistan. 

Moreover, social media can be used to promote the message of unity. According to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), there are 70 million active social media users in Pakistan. This provides a practical and fast way to reach out to the people of Balochistan than print media. 

It is also essential to benefit from the potential of trade and development of the mineral-rich Balochistan. Pakistan and China have embarked on the journey to develop China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which passes through Balochistan and ends at the Gwadar port. This is a significant opportunity that must be utilised to engage the locals and skills of Baloch youth. It will brand the people of Balochistan as a substantial part of Pakistan’s development and prosperous future.  

Maheen Shafeeq is a researcher in International Security. She holds an MPhil Degree in International Relations from the University of Sheffield, UK. She tweets at @MaheenShafeeq.

Maheen Shafeeq

Maheen Shafeeq is a research analyst in international security and emerging technology. She holds a master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Sheffield, UK. She tweets @MaheenShafeeq.

One thought on “Counter-Terrorism In Pakistan And The Baloch Separatist – OpEd

  • April 30, 2023 at 1:43 am

    Baloch & Pashtoons are of Iranian orgin, not of South Asia origin. They are racially and culturally different from Sindhis, Punjabis or Mohajirs. Pakistan should move out of these areas and allow them to become independent countries. It will bring stability in Asia. It is something like Russia giving freedom to Latvia, Lithuania & Eastonia as they are racially and culturally non-Slavic.


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