Despite multiple attempts to bring peace to Balochistan, the province remains in crisis, beset by ethnic, sectarian, secessionist and militant violence, which has only soared amidst the recent resurgence of terrorism following the Afghan Taliban’s return to power in Kabul. The longevity of the unrest can best be gauged by a paper issued by the Carnegie Endowment in the U.S. in 2013, which saw the region as “descending into anarchy”—a descriptor that continues to apply today.
According to the paper, “a majority of the population wants more autonomy for the province but does not demand independence.” This is in line with growing demands for greater provincial autonomy—especially following the passage of the 18th Amendment—as authorities seek to develop the Gwadar Port, presenting it as a major component of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. To facilitate this “development,” the security establishment has attempted to discredit nationalist movements, associating them with organized crime or terrorist groups, to little benefit. If anything, ongoing extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances; and a lack of political ownership have actually served to radicalize existing groups. For the most part, the state blames foreign states for funding and fomenting unrest in the province. However, it has failed to provide lasting solutions, especially as insurgents continue to target non-Baloch, especially foreigners employed in the region.
In the prevailing situation, the most viable option is to support the participation of nationalist parties in mainstream politics, with the aim of establishing a legitimate and credible provincial government that maintains local control over the province, reduces violence, and advocates for due rights at the federal level. Key to this is a greater emphasis on ensuring fundamental rights and an immediate halt to “disappearances.” Pakistan, as a whole, is currently at an inflection point. A struggling economy, coupled with extreme political polarization, have left the country with no choice but to enact much-needed reforms or risk disaster. Ensuring the rights of the Baloch, as well as other groups in the country’s “smaller” provinces, would be a significant step toward achieving this.