Weakening insurgency, strengthening reconciliation

This critical situation presents a unique opportunity to explore possibilities of peace talks

Durdana Najam May 23, 2024
The writer is a public policy analyst based in Lahore. She tweets @durdananajam


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.

Shambay’s capture has created a significant leadership vacuum within the Baloch Nationalist Army (BNA) that was formed out of 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. BNA now appears on the verge of collapse.

Further fracturing the insurgency is Pakistan’s offer of amnesty. 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 emphasises reconciliation and inclusivity. The aim appears to be fostering 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 greater Balochistan is nothing but a designed plan to break Pakistan. India has for long been targeting Balochistan to divert the world’s attention from the Indian Occupied Kashmir miseries, orchestrated by the state.

This narrative emphasises 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.

Those at the helm are completely aware of and acknowledges 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, the 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.

These anarchists in the garb of the anti-state elements (ASAs) employ a multifaceted approach to exploit various issues in Balochistan — physical attacks, political manoeuvring 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 attack on these projects demonstrate the insurgents’ intention to undermine the development in Balochistan. Why would projects upon which depends the progress of the province targeted if the insurgents were really fighting for the rights of the Baloch?

The ASAs are hindering Balochistan’s progress by attacking vital infrastructure projects like dams, communication facilities and transportation networks. These actions are portrayed as inflicting real damage on the Baloch people themselves, hindering economic development and essential services.

Moreover, the human rights activists — vociferous in their call against the illegal abduction, 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, meanwhile, 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 continuation of genuine efforts to address the root causes of the insurgency, ensure fair treatment of all citizens and foster a sense of justice.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2024.

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