The Platform

Young boys outside what remains of their home in Quetta which was destroyed by flooding.

Pakistan desperately needs a new approach with Balochistan.

Last month, the Baloch Liberation Tigers (BLT) abducted six football players, claiming they were informants for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). This prompted a major military intervention in the Dera Bugti district of Balochistan. Senior military officials, including Pakistan Army’s Twelfth Corps Commander Asif Ghafoor, descended on the district to oversee a sweeping operation involving ground troops, airpower, and gunship helicopters.

But this large-scale use of force, which led to numerous house searches, coerced migration, and even reports of homes set ablaze, serves as yet another misguided endeavor by the Pakistani establishment. Rather than dialogues, they’ve chosen the destructive path of coercion and oppression, aggravating an already volatile situation in the region.

Historical precedence underscores this folly. The most vivid example remains the killing of 79-year-old Baloch veteran leader Akbar Bugti in August 2006. His death gave rise to a new wave of insurgency; and today, the situation remains ripe for further destabilization.

Sher Mohammad Bugti, spokesperson of the Balochistan Republican Party (BRP), lamented that Pakistan has ramped up its use of force in the region. They’ve executed countless operations, resulting in the disappearance of thousands and the death of many more, Bugti told me in an interview. Remarkably, they always manage to escape accountability, justifying their crimes in one way or another, Bugti further commented. Despite no official ‘State of Emergency,’ security forces, he said, continue to use force excessively and indiscriminately, flouting Pakistan’s constitution and international commitments.

Balochistan, with its abundant mineral and natural resources, could be a treasure trove for Pakistan. Yet the exploitation hasn’t translated into prosperity for the region’s inhabitants. A staggering percentage live below the poverty line, grappling with abysmal access to education, employment, and basic amenities. Even as Balochistan accounts for one-third of Pakistan’s natural gas supplies, only a smattering of towns benefit from this natural wealth. Social indicators like infant mortality and life expectancy also trail the national average. This creates a palpable sense of disenfranchisement among the Baloch people, stoking the fires of ethno-nationalist insurgency.

The Pakistani authorities must confront a hard truth: military operations in the name of counter-insurgency only perpetuate the cycle of violence. The crux of the problem lies in a deeply entrenched sense of oppression among the Baloch people, a sentiment too profound to be dispelled by brute force.

A more equitable approach necessitates a political resolution. Trust and confidence-building measures among the Baloch are critical for dispelling feelings of insecurity, injustice, and resentment. What’s needed are not hollow assurances but tangible action on the ground. Any failure to address these concerns empathetically and judiciously will only deepen the chasm between the Baloch people and the Pakistani state, driving more to consider armed struggle as the last resort.

The global community should recognize that Balochistan’s quest for independence differs markedly from other conflicts in the greater Middle East, which often pivot on religious and sectarian divisions. In Balochistan, it’s a clarion call for self-determination, fuelled by a history of neglect and exploitation.

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.