Geo-strategic significance of Balochistan cannot be condoned. Its prime location is
phenomenal for Pakistan’s security apparatus and subsequently its very existence. The strategic depth (or lack thereof) is heavily reliant on Balochistan. The vast swath of land mollified Pakistan’s vulnerabilities vis-a-vis India; amplifies its second strike capability through swift mobilization and provides a best response against India’s prospective S400 batteries. Let alone the geo-economic benefits brought forth by Gwadar port.
Woefully, this piece of land has been undergoing phased and recurrent insurgency since 1970s, which has taken a toll on both sides. Whereas, technological advancement and transformations in geo-economic mode, states’ predisposition towards irredentism remains fundamentally unchanged. Akin to other abortive militancy campaigns elsewhere (for instance Tamil in Sri Lanka, Borneo in Indonesia, Kurds in the Middle East), the ongoing insurgency in Balochistan offered nothing to its inhabitants but death, destruction and gloom. Empirical data shows a very low success chance of such military adventures. Max Abrams concluded that less than 5% of asymmetric conflicts succeeded from 1977 to 2007. Notwithstanding the discontent, deprivation of basic necessities of life and apathy in the past, Baloch combatants virtually seemed reluctant to differentiate between government machinery and state.
The ostensible struggle for independent Balochistan is not only practically unrealistic and politically inviable but also detrimental to the very existence of Baloch race in the province. Since the latest upsurge of violence, gaining momentum in the post-2006 era, a generation of intelligentsia has been lost, which would have otherwise been instrumental in pacifying the wretchedness of the masses. This is an irreparable loss. Although the concerns are genuine, the approach adopted is perilous and suicidal. The road towards the presumed end is bumpily coupled with insurmountable challenges.
Firstly, unlike its outwardly seeming homogeneous outlook, Balochistan is a concoction of heterogeneous races, tribes and communities. This divergence is often at play and frequently leads to the unsought denouement. Baloch-Pashtun antagonism and rivalry between Bugti and Raisani tribes are prominent in this regard. Secondly, closely associated with the aforementioned point is the uneven socio-political culture. While Makran renounces feudalism and enjoys liberty, tribal lords in its adjacent regions hold significant sway over their respective subjects. Thirdly, the appalling level of illiteracy and gender inequality are serious challenges to cope with. Fourthly, the pursuit of militancy is not a common objective espoused by Baloch as a whole, it is rather a tactic of a few. Fifthly, viewed from a strategic dimension, the insurgents can not afford to wage a two-pronged, and potentially protracted war against both Pakistan and Iran, where both share Balochistan. Neither can they seriously endanger Chinese interests in the region, where it has major stakes.
Sixthly, the groups have failed to attract the much needed political support from the international community, conditional to legitimize their activities.
To cherish the goal of statehood, a political entity in addition to four fundamental components, requires a fifth element which is recognition. Recognition of belligerency by International Law would ratchet up the movement and promote it to the level of international war from the existing civil war. Thereupon, the comity of nations could interfere and step up the momentum.
Conversely, Baloch insurgents have gained no formal political and diplomatic support from any single state. Even India has not offered political and legal cover to BLA/BRA. The US reiterated its diplomatic support to Pakistan by labelling BLA as a terrorist organization. China too follows Pakistan’s stance. Therefore, any assistance to these militant factions by any state authority would invoke the principle of state responsibility and consequently be tantamount to the contravention of international law.
However, recognition of insurgency does not necessarily lead to independence. The Kurds, though relishing the patronage of western powers, have been fighting for around a century but all in vain. Even the opponents they are fighting against, namely Iraq and Syria, are failed states.
Similar to the recognition of insurgency is the notion of recognition of the state. It is pertinent here to mention that there are over 200 states in the world, but only 193 UN members. They are the ones with diplomatic recognition. Exclusive in this list are Palestine, Western Sahara, Nagorno Karabakh, Somaliland, Taiwan and Transnistria. Likewise, for any future state of Balochistan (which seems all but impossible in the distant future), amassing political endorsement amid gigantic opposition is a herculean task. Devoid of international countenance, the situation of Balochistan falls short of the freedom movement. Thus, it is within the national domain of Pakistan which under article 51 of the UN charter can resort to any measure, whatsoever, it deems necessary to ensure its national integration. From this vantage point, the Pakistan military has the capability to outmanoeuvre these groups in case the conflict intensifies.
Additionally, waging an asymmetric warfare against the world’s 6 most powerful military equipped with sophisticated weaponry and elegant secret services, makes no sense. It entails a stupendous effort to balance out Pakistan’s strategic superiority. These warring groups in no way possess a fraction of this capability.
Moreover, there follows the question of sustainability. A region which is a hodgepodge of competing ideas over military supremacy (Great Game theory) on the one hand and theological ideals (Shi’it-Wahabi) on the other hand, the durability of a new state can be seriously challenged.
Policy Options for Baloch youth:
Delving into the ongoing clash and the modes and mechanisms adopted, it can be rightly asserted that existing conditions manifest a grim picture of a prospective Balochistan. In order to mould the status quo in favour of a prosperous ‘province’ of Balochistan, it is incumbent upon the youth to take into consideration the following policy options.
Firstly, a rational approach has to be devised. Through the acquisition of modern education, youth can fuse into the national polity. Secondly, after the passage of the 18th amendment, a bulk of autonomy was handed over to the provincial government. Baloch must forge a unified vibrant stimulus to erect an efficient and operational provincial set up. Thirdly, it is high time, the youth of the province magnified their contribution to civil and military bureaucracy. Fourthly, they must deflect the cynical and acrimonious behaviour towards both state and society of Pakistan, in favour of inclusivity and Co-existence. Finally, the youth must take a proactive role in community development and policy formation with the chief objective of alleviating the miseries of the downtrodden.
To sum up the overall scenario, it can be explicitly claimed that taking up arms in conventional fashion against the state is in defiance of basal instincts of rationality. The futility of insurgency can be gauged from the fact that Pakistan in no instance of its foreign dealing had to counter any substantial trade-off vis-a-vis Balochistan. No matter the concerns of privation and negligence are valid, nevertheless, the vexations are reconcilable. Since it is diplomatically, economically and militarily infeasible to carve out a political entity out of Pakistan, a negotiated political settlement is in the best interest of the Baloch nation. The inconsequential lip service by India and Iran is ephemeral and self-centric. Hinging on coercive means against a mammoth opponent and hoping the desired end is nothing but delusive.
Written by: Majid Essa Ali Student of International Relations, International Islamic university, Islamabad, Pakistan