The murk surrounding the likely political cohesion in Balochistan has thickened considerably with the unending terror-related attacks on both the security forces and the civilians. As we picked the coffins of seven Frontier Corp soldiers a few days ago, the coffins of 11 labourers working in remote coalmines in Balochistan were waiting for an offload in the graves. Despite possessing the so-called jewel of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor — the Gwadar Port — Balochistan is a bleeding wound.
The assaulted coal miners were Hazara Shias. They had suffered this tumultuous fate many times in the past. Sticking to their old practice of staging a sit-in, with the coffins of their loved-ones, the Hazaras seek a new promise from the government for security from an identifiable enemy. First, it was the orthodox Sunni organisation Lashker-e-Jhangvi. Now the baton of the attack on this vulnerable community is taken over by the Islamic State. A conglomerate of loose Islamic jihadi groups, the militant outfit has a self-assigned mandate to build an Islamic empire, without any obligation to follow the Islamic injunctions, though. The group has been involved in organised crime against women and children and had ransacked properties, agricultural fields, oil wells, and human dwellings at a massive scale in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
The IS and its regional variant, the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), entered Pakistan’s orbit in 2014-15 through Afghanistan that had long offered terrorists a safe haven, thanks to the United States and its allies for keeping its soil ever fresh for terrorism to grow and flourish with impunity. In May 2019, the ISKP announced the formation of its two provinces in India and Pakistan. Since then, the group has been claiming responsibility for attacking religious minorities in Pakistan. Two high profile attacks resulting in the death of 150 people were made at the shrine in Sehwan and the police training college in Quetta. The ISKP has also been reported to have nexus with LeJ along with other militant groups.
Because of its presence in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, ISKP has been a security challenge, especially in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
According to the UN monitoring report published this year, most of the 6,000 to 6,500 Pakistani militants in Afghanistan belonged to different banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) factions. Other than TTP, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) has been reported to find safe haven in Afghanistan. According to the US State Department, BLA is “an armed separatist group that targets security forces and civilians, mainly in ethnic Baloch areas of Pakistan”. The TTP, the BLA, and the ISKP have anti-Pakistan sentiments and have found among them a common ground for attacking Pakistan’s regional interests.
To undermine Pakistan’s position in the Financial Action Task Force, India had also been accusing Pakistan of supporting the ISKP. The neighbour, however, forgot that the ISKP had a presence in two of its southern states, Kerala and Karnataka, which the group calls its “Wilayah Al Hind”.
India has refused to accept CPEC and has openly threatened to sabotage the China-Pakistan relation built on this economic corridor. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been on record claiming responsibility for supporting the separatist movement in Balochistan. This complex tapestry of militancy needs an integrated restraining mechanism from cooperation among Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Russia, Iran, and central Asian states.
However, the recent attack on the Hazara community by the IS, having LeJ elements in its ranks and file, smacks of militant sanctuaries and terrorists’ cells still operating inside Pakistan. Our national security demands that we take action against these sanctuaries without delay. Since most of the militant organisations are located in Afghanistan, Pakistan should get into a political settlement along the US-Taliban peace deal to ensure that the Afghan soil would not be used against Pakistan. It would also be an agreement on the issue of regional security.
Having said that, there is another element that requires equal attention as militancy does in Balochistan. The Baloch have legitimate grievances on issues of development, sparse and unequal distribution of resources as compared to other parts of the country, and the absence of a harmonious ethnic environment for socio-economic emancipation.
The question is why the government has been unable to make headways in the oblivious domain like development and militancy that has roots in the local community. The answer lies in the archaic provincial governance and the parochial political culture of Baloch society, which has not been upgraded to have it aligned with the modern and contemporary needs of the larger population in Balochistan.
The present government, despite its tall claims, has also failed to build hope in the ruin, and the murk surrounding the likely political cohesion in Balochistan has thickened considerably with the unending terror-related attacks on both the security forces and the civilians.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2021.