Balochistan: An unending crisis

The sporadic rise in killings of non-Baloch people in the region manifests the anarchy gripping Pakistan.

Pakistan persists with its policy to pit one ethnic group against another as Islamabad pushes for mass settlement of ‘outsiders’ into Southern Balochistan. The government allocates land holdings to migrants from other provinces, besides preferential allocation to ex-Army personnel, to transform the demography of the province and weaken Baloch separatism. This has created a sense of ‘siege’ among Balochis in the region and precipitated ethnic violence.

It is in this backdrop that Pakistan’s para-military force, the Frontier Corps’ combing operation on 30 May, 2015, to liquidate seven militants – suspected to have attacked a bus the previous day in which at least 22 people were killed in Balochistan – needs to be understood. Earlier on 29 May, suspected militants had hijacked two passenger buses en route to Karachi in Sindh from Pishin in Balochistan and killed non-Baloch people travelling in them.

Home Minister of Balochistan, Mir Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti confirmed that at least seven militants allegedly involved in the massacre were killed in the operations of the Frontier Corps. The United Baloch Army (UBA) claimed responsibility for the killings. A UBA ‘spokesman’ Mureed Baloch said that it “is a revenge for killing of militants in Mastung and Kalat areas by security forces”.

On 10 April, 2015, Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) militants shot dead at least 20 Punjabi and Sindhi labourers dead in Turbat district. Of the 20 deceased, 16 were Punjabis, and four Sindhis from Hyderabad, Sindh. A senior administration official Akbar Hussain Durrani disclosed that the militants killed them after confirming their identity. BLF ‘spokesman’ Goran Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack, asserting, “We will continue our fight against Pakistani occupation until (the) liberation of Balochistan.”

Baloch militant groups initiated a series of attacks on Punjabi and other non-Baloch settlers in Balochistan after the popular Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed on 26 August, 2006, in a military operation in Dera Bugti district. These attacks also targeted the destruction of  infrastructure in the province.

Following the Bugti killing, militant groups namely the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) began to paint slogans like ‘Down with Punjabis’, ‘Long Live Azad Balochistan’ etc. They primarily targeted Punjabis, besides other ethnic groups, especially Urdu-speaking people from Karachi and Hindko-speaking settlers from Haripur in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

The targeted killings have created an atmosphere of fear among settlers across Balochistan. According to a Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) report on 15 October, 2014, over 300,000 people have fled Balochistan over a decade due to socio-political unrest.

Tahir Hussain Khan, president of the Balochistan Chapter of the independent HRCP asserted that 90,000 people who had fled the province were Punjabi and Urdu-speaking citizens, and had exited to escape violence from Baloch nationalists.

Pak’s poorest province

Balochistan is the largest of Pakistan’s four provinces and resource-rich, though sparsely populated, with around seven million inhabitants who are aggrieved that they do not receive a fair share of its gas and mineral wealth. Despite vast natural endowments, Balochistan is Pakistan’s poorest province.

Even as both the provincial and federal governments persist in their neglect of ground realities of the province, Islamabad’s strategy to support armed Islamist extremist formations and other clandestine violent non-state actors/ proxies has enormously aggravated the situation in Balochistan. The sporadic rise in killings of non-Baloch people in Balochistan only manifests anarchy that has gripped the ‘Land of the Pure’ – Pakistan, with no hope of refuge for the Baloch communities which are the worst hit ethnic groups here.

On 30 December, 2013, Balochistan government evol-ved a “smart and effective security policy” for security operations to commence against Baloch militant formations, like BRA, BLA, BLT, UBA, Baloch United Liberation Front (BULF) and Baloch Liberation Front (BLF).

Interestingly, Islamist terrorist groups are not mentioned in this listing, though they are responsible for a greater proportion of attributed attacks and killings in the province. Fortunately or unfortunately, however, nothing much has been done to put this policy into practice.

Today, the security forces are preoccupied with their “kill and dump” operations, while Islamabad’s policy is to appease Islamist extremists and suppress the genuine demands of the Baloch people by raising the bogey of a ‘foreign hand’. Such a policy only wreaks devastation. Meanwhile, problems deepen as Islamabad ignores the Balochis’ legitimate demands and genuine grievances.

Islamabad has, for over six decades, excluded the Balochis from the development process, with little opportunity for employment and an abysmal record on social indices. The Punjab-centric Pakistan continues to impose a repressive, colonial regime on Balochistan. Today there is a collapse of faith between the Balochistan people and a predatory Pakistani state.

(The writer is an Assistant Professor and teaches International Relations at Christ University, Bengaluru)

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