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Editorial: The Balochistan Problem

Pakistan must address the valid grievances of the Baloch to defeat the rising calls of separatist movements

by Editorial

File photo. Tauseef Mustafa—AFP

The Balochistan National Party (BNP) staged a protest against the Pakistan Army earlier this month over the establishment’s failure in defending people against terrorist attacks, with demonstrators voicing their anger on lack of law and order in the province as well as the extrajudicial “disappearances” that disproportionately target Baloch youth.

The restive situation, which several governments have failed to address, has given new impetus to calls from Baloch separatists, who maintain the province has not been granted its due rights. Just two years back, BNP chief Akhtar Mengal referred to the separatist movement in the National Assembly by noting that Balochistan was “slipping away” because of a growing number of “missing persons” and public anger over other human rights violations. Little has changed since then, despite Pakistan increasingly linking its future to the province through the development of Gwadar with China’s help.

Unfortunately, authorities have taken too long to respond to protest movements—some of them genuine—asking for Balochistan’s development in tandem with the rest of the country. Writing in The Fallen Leaves, historian Will Durant noted: “Balochistan is geo-strategically and geo-economically important for Pakistan. It could play an important role in the country’s development. But systemic as well as domestic security issues caused the country to be negligent in resolving these problems. This generated a narrative among the Baloch people that the center was less concerned about them. They started asking for their political and economic rights and started extremist movements against the center. So, far four insurgent movements have been initiated in 1948, 1958, 1962, and 1973 respectively, and the one ongoing started in 2003.”

Once upon a time, Pakistan believed its biggest concern was the eastern border shared with India, while the western border with Iran and Afghanistan was manageable. Today, things have changed. In an increasingly “remote” Balochistan, petrol pumps serve up low-quality smuggled fuel from Iran as security concerns prevent deliveries from the rest of Pakistan. The province also generally lacks any writ of the state, forcing capable Baloch to flee the region and seek their livelihoods elsewhere, particularly Karachi. Some misguided youth, seeing the inequitable distribution of resources, can turn to extremism, which authorities must recognize and seek to rectify. But there is little that can be done without acknowledging the plight of Balochistan and the neglect this lack of the writ of the state has inflicted on the Baloch. With China desiring greater linkages between Xinjiang and Gwadar port—triggering protests of Baloch being sidelined in their own land—the disenfranchisement has led to Baloch separatists targeting “intruding” Chinese in Karachi.

This same situation has already played out in the erstwhile tribal areas, which also suffered a development deficit, resulting in residents seeking a better life in Karachi, which is now considered the city with the largest Pashtun population in the world. Unfortunately, political instability has also encouraged the state’s writ being weakened in all but the country’s major cities.

Extremist movements like the Balochistan Liberation Army, Balochistan Liberation Front, Balochistan Liberation Organization, and Jandullah, are unable to understand the economic benefits of CPEC, accusing Islamabad and Beijing of seeking “to exploit the resources of the Baloch.” If there narrative is to be defeated, Pakistan must face up to the problems it has allowed to fester and finally bring prosperity to the people of Balochistan.

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