Challenges Facing Balochistan Province
In Pakistan’s post-independence history, the province of Baluchistan has been primarily defined by its geo-economic considerations and vast fields of valuable nature reserves.
While it is true that this province has been endowed by Almighty Allah with exceptional natural resources, the geopolitical position of the province as a crossroads of civilizations, cultures and a political center of power of the great and superpowers has been more pronounced. and significant.
What makes the province of Balochistan hugely important to Pakistan’s strategic stability can be gauged from the interests of three contemporary powers that are vying for global ascendancy in one way or another?
First; from Tsarist Russia to the communist Soviet Union and present-day Putin’s Russian Federation, Moscow has always viewed the strategically located province of Balochistan as the core part of its strategic expansionist theory.
Having failed to control the region through hard power politics during the Cold War, Russia moved closer to Pakistan through diplomacy and political engagement early in the 21st century.
Second; From its gradual rise to international power status, the United States maintained its key interests in the region that formed (post-colonial) Pakistan and its strategically positioned province of Balochistan as a strategic legacy of British India.
This was more pronounced during the Cold War when the United States engaged Pakistan in strategic treaties such as the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the lesser known Middle East Defense Organization (MEDO).
Furthermore, the US war against the USSR in the 1980s and the global war on terror from 2001 to 2021 provide ample evidence of Washington’s interests in Pakistan and its key province, Balochistan.
The current militancy in the province has its direct and indirect link with the interests of the American and Western powers for their strategic penetration in the region.
Three; After years of geopolitical investigations and analysis, the People’s Republic of China has chosen Balochistan as the key area for the implementation of its international influence through a mixture of geoeconomics and geopolitics.
Indeed, as a smart power, China has found Gwadar and CPEC to be the most crucial elements for the success of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); the soft power tool that China uses to achieve international supremacy.
Visible Chinese interests are delineated to the economic uses of port and corridor facilities (Gwadar and CPEC), however, there are strategic aspects deeply entangled in secret economic theory.
This will give China an excess in the Indian Ocean (IO), where India has already entrenched itself, strategically holding key IO locations with the United States as its main ally.
Gwadar and CPEC are alternatives to the Chinese Malacca dilemma which the United States and India oppose by all military and non-military means through direct and indirect modern warfare strategies.
As during the Cold War, the ultimate target of this great power competition is Pakistan, and the current phase of militancy in Balochistan province is a manifestation of Pakistani suffering.
In a way, the competing interests of major powers and regional states have created a strategic dilemma for Pakistan that Islamabad needs to address with great wisdom and foresight.
The threats to Balochistan province are indeed of a serious nature and have a direct impact on the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan.
Although there is no direct threat from the conventional and traditional point of view of warfare, the transformed nature of these threats seriously compromises provincial autonomy, its security, the safety of the masses and its stability.
Over the years, militancy and terrorism have held the province and its masses hostage.
Indeed, the direct victims of non-traditional security (NTS) are the inhabitants of the province; aspects of human security.
The format of warfare used by rival forces in the province today is a mixture of terrorism and hybrid warfare; a total transformation in the format of conventional and traditional warfare.
While the sectarian aspect was confined to the Hazara community at the hands of foreign-sponsored militants to create chaos in the province, the sub-nationalists appear to be deeply rooted and formally trained, funded and harbored for decades.
Pakistan’s security forces have been actively involved in defeating this internationally planned scheme against the province and state of Pakistan over the years.
As a result, there has been a rise in the campaign of politicization and vilification of the Pakistani military at the level of various political forces, several non-state actors and social groups.
These groups use mainstream media as well as social media for their disinformation campaigns aimed at defaming the military, FC and its premium intelligence agency (ISI) in particular.
This campaign has two dimensions; create horror at the national level against the security forces and project them abroad as violators of human rights, as has been the case in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.
Today, Balochistan Province faces myriad challenges to its security in the form of terrorism mainly by sub-nationalists.
Due to its strategic positioning, major powers and regional states directly and indirectly play their active role in keeping the Pakistani state in turmoil by waging war in the province.
Besides terrorism, the hallmark of these challenges is a war of narratives, perceptions and opinions against the state and its institutions, implemented through hybrid warfare.
Moving forward, the government must devise strategies for direct social engagement with the masses of the province while addressing their socio-economic concerns and restoring their trust in the state.
Through a visionary strategy and sincere determination, this must be ensured at the earliest.
— The author is a professor of politics and international relations at the International Islamic University in Islamabad.