The Platform

Police in Quetta, Pakistan.

In recent weeks, Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province, has witnessed a dramatic increase in attacks against Pakistani security forces, with insurgents having caused heavy casualties. Baloch insurgents usually conduct scattered targeted killings, small ambushes, and roadside bombings. However, we are now seeing more highly skilled attacks on Pakistan’s military.

In late January, insurgents overran a security checkpoint and killed 10 soldiers. The Baloch Nationalist Army also took responsibility for the bombing of a market in Lahore. This demonstrates that insurgents have changed tactics and are not hesitant to attack urban centres. As a result, Pakistan’s military has deployed helicopter gunships and armoured personnel carriers against the insurgents.

Last month I interviewed the commanders of the Baloch Liberation Front and the Baloch Nationalist Army, and I found out that the insurgents are eager to take a more aggressive stance against Pakistani and Chinese interests in the region.

Let’s look at the factors leading to this new phase of an emboldened insurgency.

Almost all separatist groups are coordinating among themselves very effectively. They have formed joint strategies and coordination committees. Recently, the United Baloch Army and the Baloch Republican Army merged, and formed the Baloch Nationalist Army. The merger is significant not only because it fuses two potent militant groups fighting for the independence of Balochistan, but also because it marks the coming together of the Marris and Bugtis, two of the largest tribes that historically have not always seen eye to eye.

Afghanistan also changes the dynamics of the region. There is no clear evidence that shows any support from the Taliban for Baloch insurgent groups. But because of the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Baloch insurgents are taking advantage of the situation. They enjoy the freedom of movement across this border. In addition, Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban have deteriorated significantly. Islamabad lacks any influence to pressure the Taliban to eliminate Baloch separatists based in Afghanistan.

Resentment among locals adds a level of uncertainty for Islamabad. In November, large protests broke out across Balochistan. Illegal trawling by Chinese fishing boats was the main concern. The protest ended after the arrival of the Chief Minister, who signed an agreement to meet the protestor’s demands. Unfortunately, illegal trawling is still ongoing and unlikely to stop any time soon. Local people are angry because of their exclusion from the Chinese financed port at Gwadar, which the Pakistan military has sealed off from locals for security reasons. Under the terms of the port’s construction, China will receive 90% of any revenue generated by the port for the next 40 years.

Pakistani security forces have been accused of destroying and depopulating the region as well as being responsible for forced disappearances throughout Balochistan. As violence has escalated in the province, Pakistan’s military has stepped up its approach.

Pakistan’s repressive response to the movement to gain independence has radicalized most elements of the Baloch nationalist movement which now considers armed struggle the only to achieve independence. The conflict now demonstrates the absurdity of repression that is reinforcing the very threat it is intended to eliminate. Pakistan’s political and military leadership have to understand that there is no military solution to the Baloch issue. Balochistan requires a political solution. Until Islamabad meets some of the demands of the region, the insurgency will only continue.

Manish Rai is a geopolitical analyst and columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region and the editor of geopolitical news agency ViewsAround (VA). He has done reporting from Jordon, Iran, and Afghanistan. His work has been quoted in the British Parliament.