No province for young men
My article published in ‘The Friday Times’.
If police training centre attacks are to be prevented, Balochistan will need a well-trained police force not a paramilitary solution
The lethal attack on a police training facility in Quetta adds to the long list of terror incidents of the past decade, in which more than 60,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives. The carnage has also exposed the limits of military action and the plain reality that without a change in security policy and institution building, counterterrorism operations will only yield partial, transient results.
On October 24, three suicide bombers stormed into a training academy for police recruits in Quetta and ended up killing at least 61 cadets and injuring hundreds of others. This was perhaps the deadliest attack on a security installation in recent years. Hundreds of families have been affected and Pakistan’s battle against terrorism has been dealt a severe blow.
This is not the first mass attack in Balochistan this year. Earlier, in August, a bombing at Quetta’s hospital killed dozens of lawyers, and directly hit the already beleaguered civil society of the province. The head of Frontier Constabulary (FC), a paramilitary security force, in Balochistan named the Al-Alami, a (global) faction of the outlawed sectarian outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), as the perpetrator of this attack. On social media, the Islamic State or Daesh was also quick to claim responsibility for the Quetta carnage. If these reports are true, the sectarian outfit has espoused the IS network.
Balochistan, area-wise the largest province of Pakistan, has been under attack from all sides. Since 2006, a renewed insurgency and the heavy-handed response of the Pakistani state have undermined prospects of peace, development and improvement in civilian governance. The grievances of the Baloch have been fueled by political neglect, denial of control over the province’s natural resources and a lack of political representation in the country’s decision-making structures.
The insurgency is only a manifestation of these multiple fault lines that affect the province. In recent years Balochistan has also been targeted by violent organizations such as the LeJ, which have been continuously targeting its Shia Hazara minority with tragic impunity.
Securing Balochistan is difficult given its peculiar governance arrangements as the British arrangements of keeping it ‘ungoverned’ has continued. The province is divided into A and B areas. The regular—or what we know in South Asia as the modern-colonial—police force operates in ‘A’ areas, that are not more than 5 percent of the territory. The Levies, a community or tribal police force, is tasked with controlling crime and providing security to government installations in the ‘B’ areas, which constitute 95 percent of Balochistan.
To his credit, General Musharraf attempted to reform such arrangements. In 2003, plans were made to convert the ‘B’ under police control and upgrade the training and facilities of the tribal recruits. Within a few years, the momentum for reform lost steam and with the renewed insurgency, the old arrangements were revived and since then, there has been little or no effort to change this situation.
Currently, the paramilitary FC force patrols the province, battle militias of all kinds (including the separatists) and is de facto in charge of law and order in Balochistan. This makeshift arrangement is no substitute for recruiting a proper, well-trained police force and equipping them with all the powers to manage public order and fight violent groups.
Since 2001, the Taliban militia have also found a safe haven in the province. The [in]famous Quetta Shura, Taliban’s political and strategic decision-making council, is headquartered in Balochistan. In May 2016, it was in Balochistan that the US carried out a drone strike that killed Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor, leader of the Afghan Taliban.
Encircled by non-state groups furthering their respective agendas, sometimes with complicity of the state, the people of Balochistan have suffered the most in the past decade. The Baloch have been at the receiving end of the state’s policy, with many going missing. The Pakhtun, which comprise nearly half the population, find themselves at the receiving end of the Taliban; and the settlers (who include Punjabis and others) have been regularly targeted.
Since the enactment of the 18th Amendment, and increase in the share of Balochistan in national revenues, the provincial development budgets increased threefold. A host of special ‘packages’ directed at the population were also introduced. Sadly, due to the broken governance system and lack of accountability, corruption is the order of the day. A glaring example of this phenomenon was the discovery of Rs730 million (approximately $7 million) from the house of the provincial finance secretary’s home in May 2016.
This state of affairs has only fueled the sense of marginalization; there is high level of youth unemployment, as well as poverty compared to other parts of the country. Balochistan, an unstable, deprived region desperately needs a new social contract with the Pakistani state.
Amid this mayhem, the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has been launched. The state views this opportunity as a catalyst for development and the Chinese investment of over $50 billion has been projected as vital for Pakistan’s stability. The success of CPEC and its ability to generate economic benefits, hinges on peace building, conflict resolution and reframing federalism in the province that requires a political solution and not a security-led response.
Even though the state has crushed the insurgency and cracked down on groups such as the Pakistani Taliban and LeJ, there is more that needs to be done. And this relates to reviewing the security policy of the country. In view of the strategic and economic significance of CPEC, Pakistan has repeatedly accused India and Afghanistan for meddling in Balochistan. Pakistan alleges that India is providing covert support to separatist movements to destabilize Balochistan. Indian PM Modi’s speech on August 15 lent credence to this view, and so have the earlier pronouncements by India’s NSA on using the Balochistan card. The arrest of Kulbhushan Yadav, ostensibly an Indian spy, has been presented as evidence of Indian meddling.
Yet, the specter of Islamist militias that Pakistan has nurtured since 1980s haunts the country, and cannot be overlooked even if there is Indian support. This is why the Chinese footprint comes in at the right time, as it would exert the required levers to further push the paradigm change. Long-term peace is not possible without finding a relatively acceptable solution for Afghanistan’s endgame and some measure of normalization with India.
Progress on foreign policy shifts will be slow and remains uncertain. The government, however, can move to take decisive action to improve Balochistan’s governance arrangements, acknowledge that jihadists have outlived their utility and expedite political reconciliation with the separatists.
Published on 4 Nov 2016