In this article, we will discuss the Balochistan conflict, and how this conflict is impacting the international relations of South-East Asian countries. We will begin by providing an overview of Balochistan, the reasons why the conflict exists, as well as the various political and economic factors related to the conflict in Balochistan. As we shall see, the Balochistan conflict is one that has existed for decades, and a situation that continues to affect many lives, as “Baluchistan, a region rich in gas, gold and copper as well as untapped reserves of oil and uranium, has been rife with economic instability and political turmoil. The underdeveloped province’s problems stem from unfair state policies that largely ignored the region while continuing to exploit its natural resources. This neglect purportedly gave birth to Baloch nationalists and militants who have been waging a low-level insurgency against the Federal Government in Islamabad” (Nazar, 2015).
Where is Balochistan?
Balochistan is a province located in the country of Pakistan. The province is primarily made up of the Baloch people.
History of Balochistan Conflict
The Balochistan Conflict has its roots in the way the Balochs in the region feel that they have been treated by the national government in Islamabad. The conflict in Balochistan began in December 2005, and thus, has been going on for over ten years. As we shall discuss, the reasons for the Balochistan insurgency has to do with various political, military, and economic arguments.
In fact, some political leaders in the Balochistan region have attempted to adopt their own identities, away from other ethnic identities in the region. However, in 1947, following Pakistan’s independence from India, they also included Balochistan in the new state, despite some attempts to resisting this move. And following this take over of Balochistan into Pakistan, the national government not only controlled the politics of the country, but they did so while greatly neglecting needs of Balochs in the region (Kupecz, 2012).
Balochistan Conflict Issues
As mentioned, the conflict in Balochistan between the Balochs and the Pakistan government has taken place as early as the formation of modern day Pakistan, and even before the official state of Pakistan. There exist numerous reasons, or conflict issues, between the Balochs in Balochistan and the Pakistani national government and authorities. Below are some of the points of protest, concern, and dispute as it relates to Balochistan and the Balochistan insurgency.
One of the principal grievances for the Baloch people in Balochistan is the lack of economic prosperity that tha the province has seen, particularly compared to some other regions in Paksitan.
As Kupecz (2012) writes:
While economic development usually dominates the rhetoric coming from Islamabad, the larger issue for the Balochs remains resource exploitation. This source of tension dates back to the colonial era, when the British began extracting coal from Balochistan.24 Exploitation of the province’s natural gas has remained a major Baloch grievance since it was first discovered in 1952, soon after the departure of the British.25 Despite being Pakistan’s most abundant province in natural gas, Balochistan has seen little benefit from its gas fields relative to the Sindh and Punjab provinces. This is because a new constitution introduced in 1973 set provincial gas royalties at 12.5 percent. However, the wellhead price of gas from each province was differentiated, based on per capita provincial income in 1953. While this tremendously disadvantaged Balochistan, the dismissal of the provincial assembly in February 1973 left them without recourse. This has resulted in a wellhead price five times lower than in Sindh and Punjab, meaning that Baloch receives less in royalties.26 Furthermore, the government has returned little of the royalties owed to the province, citing the need to recover operating costs.27 Consequently, Balochistan is heavily in debt.
Human Rights in Balochistan
The Pakistani government has been said to have committed numerous human rights violations in Balochistan, violations that have spanned decades.
Political Disappearances in Balochistan
According to reports, there have been numerous political disappearances in Balochistan. Specifically, “The military government’s coercive tactics extend beyond the nationalist leaders and their families. Security agencies have targeted hundreds of Baloch dissidents, including political activists, students, doctors, lawyers, journalists and even shopkeepers. In 2006, HRCP cited numerous instances of intimidation, arbitrary arrests, torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings by security forces and intelligence agencies.20 As the insurgency continues, these practices have worsened” (International Crisis Group, 2007). In fact, “the province’s own Home and Tribal Affairs Department said last year said 800 bodies had been recovered between 2011 and July 2014, many of them activists linked to the insurgency” (Lavillee, 2015).
Social Media in Balochistan
One strategy that some Balochistan focused activists are taking is the move towards social media. The reason for this is in part due to the heavy control of information by the Pakistani government. As mentioned, journalists are rarely safe in the region. There have been numerous reports of journalists either being taken or being killed. Moreover, the Pakistani government has a tight control on the information that is being heard about Balochistan; independent media is quite rare, and the government attempts to suppress any information that makes them look bad. Moreover, “However, there is a belief among activists that the Pakistani government has in the past listened in on their conversations, and is monitoring their social media activities. In fact, “Early in the conflict, the Pakistani secret services “listened to our phones” and “went from house to house threatening people and their families”, says Brahumdagh Bugti, leader of the Baloch Republican Party, who lives in exile in Switzerland” (Lavilleee, 2015). Thus, due to these policies, according to one journalist in the country, “”Balochistan is a black hole in terms of information”” (Lavillee, 2015).
It is because of this tight control on the media that social media outlets have begun to be used in Balochistan, to better circumvent government spying and tracking.
It is believed that social media has had a great impact on people learning about Balochistan and the the Balochistan conflict. For example, “”It is because of social media that the world knows what Pakistan is doing in Balochistan,” claims Lateef Johar Baloch, an activist who rose to prominence last year after a 46-day hunger strike that played out on social networks” (Lavallee, 2015).
But while this is the case, there have also been drawbacks to social media in Balochistan. For example, it is very difficult to verify a lot of the information that is coming from the social media sites. And because of the lack of verification (in part due to security concerns with verifying a story in Balochistan), “Without being able to verify it is impossible to know if what is being posted is real — or indeed if it is being posted by the insurgents, their political rivals, or even security forces” (Lavillee, 2015).
A Lack of Political and Military Representation:
Balochistan Conflict under Pervez Musharraf
In 1999, through a military coup, General Musharraf and his supporters came to power in Pakistan. This was an issue for the Baloch population, because they felt that they had little representation in the military (Kupecz, 2012). Then, in their early 2000s, the beginnings of the conflict continued to be built, with increased military activity in the region.
General Musharraf framed the situation in Balochistan as one in which a few political leaders in the region were attempting to gain political power, at the expense of the national government. Furthermore, the government also suggested that Balochistan rebels’ actions were also because of a lack of wanting real economic reform in the province (ICG, 2007). As the ICG (2007) explains, “Almost two years after the military operation was launched in Balochistan, President Musharraf and his army insist they must, in the national interest, eliminate the handful of “terrorists” who are attempting to “hamper the developmental efforts of the government”. His rhetoric has been uncompromising: “These elements should be wiped out of the country…. Nobody will be allowed to challenge the writ of the government. This would not be allowed at any cost” (2).
Musharraf did little to actually hear concerns that the Baloch population had. In fact, “Instead of redressing Baloch political and economic grievances, the military is determined to impose state control through force. The killing of the Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti by the army in August 2006 was followed by the incarceration of another, Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal, who has been held on terrorism- related charges without due process since December. Law enforcement agencies have detained thousands of Baloch nationalists or those believed to be sympathetic to the cause; many have simply disappeared. With the nationalist parties under siege, many young activists are losing faith in the political process and now see armed resistance as the only viable way to secure their rights” (ICG, 2007: 1).
Moreover, Musharraf was willing to back Pashtun Islamist groups, as these organizations helped support his bid against rising power of Baloch moderates in Pakistan. These actions, along with little in the form of economic or political concessions, left many in Balochistan quite frustrated with the approach that the government and military were taking.
Balochistan Conflict under Asif Ali Zardari
Following Asif Ali Zardari coming to power in 2008, there was some hope that there might be a change regarding the Balochistan conflict, with the hope that some peace could be established. However, this was not the case. In fact, it has been argued that the situation continued to be tense between the Balochistan rebels and the national government. It has been argued that “The transition from the military government of Musharraf to the civilian government of President Zadari in 2008 did little to assuage Baloch discontent. Indeed, in 2009, 792 attacks resulting in 386 deaths were recorded;5 approximately 92 percent of the attacks were linked to Baloch nationalist militants. Violence increased in 2010, with 730 attacks carried out resulting in 600 deaths.6 Recently, non-political civilian targeting as well as politically motivated attacks and killings have been on the rise” (Kupecz, 2012: 97).
Balochistan Conflict under Nawaz Sharif
Given the repressive nature of military actions in Balochistan in much of the past decade, there has been some hope in recent years, particularly since the election that brought Nawaz Sharif to power. Since 2013, under Sharif, it seems that he is trying to reach out to Balochistan leaders, attempting to encourage those who are willing to negotiate to speak with the Pakistani government. And “With his support, they [the Baloch moderate political leaders] took control of the provincial government that year and started a dialogue with the rebels” (The Economist, 2015).
However, tension continues to exist. The reason for the continued problems is in part because of ongoing state actions, particularly as it pertains to political disappearances.
Potential Resolutions to the Balochistan Conflict
China and Balochistan
Given the fighting in the past ten years, people on the ground, national leaders, as well as international actors have expressed interest in resolving the conflict. This is important for many reasons. Most importantly, it is imperative that the human rights violations stop, and that citizens on the ground are granted complete socio, economic, cultural, political, and civil rights. As long as the conflict continues, the chances that full rights, an open and free media (where journalists are not repressed, jailed, or killed) is slim.
There are also other reasons why individuals are looking to end the Balochistan conflict. China, for example, has taken somewhat of an interest in the conflict. China’s leaders see great economic and trade potential with Balochistan, and China particularly “…eyes the port of Gwadar as a potential shipping hub, which could potentially alleviate its reliance on long shipping lanes in the Indian littoral and the vulnerable choke-point in the Malacca Straits” (Nazar, 2015).
And because of this, China has invested a great deal of time and resources towards Balochistan. In fact, “During a visit to Pakistan in April by China’s president, Xi Jinping, it was announced that China would invest $46 billion by 2030 in new roads, the upgrade of existing ones, power plants, pipelines and other projects to fulfil this dream—far more than America has invested in Pakistan in recent years” (Economist, 2015). For China, the hope is that establishing infrastructure in Balochistan will help bring in oil and natural gas from the Middle East, eventually to China (The Economist, 2015). In fact, “Mobin Saulat, head of state-run Inter State Gas Systems, made…remarks about a long-hoped-for gas pipeline connecting Iran and Pakistan. Saulat said the project had been given new life, and would be constructed as part of the broader CPEC. Prior to Xi’s April visit to Pakistan, the Wall Street Journal reported that Pakistan was seeking Chinese funding for the pipeline, which would connect the South Pars natural gas field in Iran with Gwadar port” (Tiezzi, 2015).
The Chinese government is also hoping for project in Balochistan this since it would also help China’s exports, given that “Chinese goods would have a much shorter route to world markets than the one through the Malacca Strait, which China frets is at the mercy of America’s navy” (Economist, 2015).
In fact, in the summer of 2015, China and Pakistan established more official talks (through a forum) on what is called the “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.” But exports recognize that there are ” difficulties still facing the CPEC. For one thing, there are lingering security concerns, given unrest and insurgencies in Balochistan, the province where Gwadar is located. There are also domestic arguments in Pakistan over the exact route of the CPEC, which will determine which provinces and cities will reap the windfall of Chinese investment” (Tiezzi, 2015).
Economist (2015). Dark Corridor: Conflict in Balochistan must be resolved for a trade-corridor between Pakistan and China to bring rewards. June 6th, 2015. Available Online: http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21653657-conflict-balochistan-must-be-resolved-trade-corridor-between-pakistan-and-china-bring
International Crisis Group (2007). Pakistan: The Forgotten Conflict in Balochistan, Asia Briefing No. 69, Islamabad/Brussels, 22 October 2007, pages 1-15. Available Online: http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-asia/pakistan/b69_pakistan__the_forgotten_conflict_in_balochistan.pdf
Lavallee, G. (2015). Pakistan’s Baloch activists take separatist battle online. Yahoo News, December 27, 2015. Available Online: http://news.yahoo.com/pakistans-baloch-activists-separatist-battle-online-102759319.html
Kupecz, M. (2012). Pakistan’s Baloch Insurgency: History, Conflict Drivers, and Regional Implications. International Affairs Review, Vol. XX, Number 3, pages 96-110. Available Online: http://www.iar-gwu.org/sites/default/files/articlepdfs/Pakistan%27s%20Baloch%20Insurgency.pdf
Nazar, S. (2015). Will the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Bring Peace to Balochistan? The Diplomat, October 1, 2015. Available Online: http://thediplomat.com/2015/10/will-the-china-pakistan-economic-corridor-bring-peace-to-balochistan/
Tiezzi, S. (2015). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Gets Even More Ambitious. The Diplomat. August 13, 2015. Available Online: http://thediplomat.com/2015/08/the-china-pakistan-economic-corridor-gets-even-more-ambitious/