Balochistan and Regional Conflicts

Recently, a major attack plotted against the Governor of Balochistan was successfully foiled by security forces. A few days prior, Quetta was hit by a terror attack in a Church – leaving some dead and several injured; IS took responsibility for this gruesome act. This news line raises two distinct concerns: one regarding the overall security situation in Balochistan, and the other regarding IS in the region—both equally concerning.

It has been widely noted that the security nuisance caused by a small segment of externally funded separatist elements has been successfully thwarted. The state is taking simultaneous measures to improve security and socio-economic conditions of the province. Alongside the operations, a political amnesty scheme is also in place for the dissenters – this initiative has produced promising results. Even in the latest days several ‘separatist fighters’ have voluntarily laid down arms and opted to work with the state. The COAS also recently announced ‘The Khushal Balochistan’ initiative aimed at uplifting the provincial development. There are also talks of Chinese ‘grants’ for the infrastructural development of Gwadar port.

Baluchistan serves as a lynchpin for the regional connectivity visions taking shape; it is now also an important factor in Pakistan’s foreign ties. The province has a bright future but at the same time it remains vulnerable to various external tensions such as those amongst: India, China, US, Saudi Arabia and Iran—thus necessitating constant security efforts by Pakistan.

The Indian sponsored terror activities in fueling and funding Baloch separatist elements are aimed at countering China and Pakistan. Very recent times revealed the Indian spy networks instigating terror activities on Pakistani soil, Indian intelligence agencies are also heavily funding anti-CPEC agendas and funding efforts to ‘internationalize’ Baloch separatists.

 Adding to the mix, is the reinvigorated Iran-Saudi rivalry; some reports hint to a policy of supporting ‘low level insurgency’ in Iranian Balochistan—which is also a precarious situation for Pakistan. Sources also point to the recent surge in external financing provided to some religious organizations in Balochistan.

This hotchpotch finds the potential to get exacerbated owing to the US role in the region. Balochistan shares a significant border with Afghanistan—a nation which hosts an assortment of conflicts. Recent reports discuss the growing footprint of IS-K in Afghanistan; Pakistani security forces on their part, are undertaking successful measures to ensure IS does not find any space for entrenchment on its soil, nor is its ideology welcomed locally. However, it is reported that some anti-Pakistan terror groups such as TTP are shifting allegiances to the IS franchise because of their ‘attractive economic incentives’; these developments create a nefarious collusion space amongst state rivalries, transnational terror groups and anti-state terror groups.

Pakistan is at an important cross road, it needs to proactively design creative solutions to tackle the various regional crises and maximize the utility of the opportunities at its doorstep. The security operations in dismantling the grips of terror groups have been successful, it is now imperative to expedite correct supporting measures.

 Recently, the nation watched the astonishing development at Faizabad, some also criticized the notions of ‘mainstreaming militant groups’ and foresaw Pakistan’s democracy turning into ‘mob rule’. However, mainstreaming is a broad term that requires a carefully designed mechanism, this notion should be viewed against the backdrop of the term ‘assessing constructive roles’ as stated by the DG ISPR. Given the loop effect that may result from the regional conditions, providing correct alternatives to a burgeoning population is crucial. Given the talks of extreme ideologies gaining traction next door, it may also be useful to correct the course of local religious groups so they may serve as a counter narrative base. Alongside, measures to choke terror financing sources; reforming and monitoring of religious seminaries—as stated in the National Action Plan– are a must.

It is also imperative for Pakistan to adopt a more integrated view on security and economics and devise nonlinear approaches to flourish both ends. The on-going connectivity projects carry the potential to positively impact overall global trade and improve human development. A collective vision is required to move forward with them, Pakistan on its end must create broader economic and investment opportunities, to ensure its territory harmonizes economic and security interests of key players –after its own.

The region must also come together and devise stringent policies against the terror groups active in the broader region, Pakistan and US may also strengthen their counter terror efforts against these terror groups. Pakistan must continue with efforts to install vigilant border security and management mechanisms along its Afghanistan and Iran demarcations.