Unassuaged grievances lie at the heart of present Baloch insurgency where the largest ethnic group feels politically excluded and economically marginalised. Measured by Estaban Ray method and validated through Wolfson Index, the two widely employed measures for quantifying the inequality and polarisation, Balochistan figures highest on the index of polarisation. Some social scientists relegate the economic and political deprivations to a lower shade compared to the social deprivation that defines the Baloch grievances in more granular terms. The social deprivation perhaps gets a notch higher on the hierarchy of grievances due to the repressive tribal structure and entrenched inequalities in that structure.
Using a comprehensive data set of insurgencies between 1960 and 1999 Collier and Hoeffler introduced a civil war risk model that weighed grievance and greed as the chief motivators for the civil wars. The grievance theory explained the risk of civil war through enabling factors like the tyranny of majority, ethnic fractionalisation, religious differences, economic injustice and political marginalisation. Weighed on above factors the Balochistan’s case study indicates a high ethnic segmentation, high economic polarisation, and low political openness (measured by Galtix Index). Other than grievances another enabler for conflict highlighted by Collier-Hoeffler model is the greed factor. Greed and grievance hunt in pairs with grievances providing the fertile ground while greed provides the opportunity to plough that fertile ground.
The opportunity or greed is created through several enablers. These means include external financing for the insurgents, a dispersed population, and low cost of insurgency. Balochistan shows all of the above. The province is a hot seedbed of grievances with a wide ethno-tribal diversity, and a strategic hotspot in the crosshair of big power contestation. With the strategic Gwadar Port acting as the terminus of CPEC, the US-China rivalry acts as a magnet for destabilising proxies unleashed by countries such as India and other detractors of CPEC-Gwadar. So when we view Balochistan we view the combustible mix of grievance and greed lighting a prairie fire of perennial conflict and militancy. On grievance front the low HDI of Balochistan amongst all provinces betokens a longstanding neglect of human security.
Balochistan is not a geographical or demographic monolith. It is divided in three main portions — the Pakhtun belt of north; Baloch belt of centre and south; and the coastal belt of Makran comprising coastal region and Panjgur district. All three regions have different sociological profile and characteristics. Pakhtun belt features entrepreneurial Pakhtuns, with urban areas under PKMAP sway and the rural areas dominated by JUI. The Baloch belt features rugged and inshospitable terrain dominated by tribal dynamics. The Makran belt comprises a non-tribal society with relatively high incidence of literacy rate. Due to above diversity the Baloch polity is exceedingly fragmented with low incentive for development of cross ethnic political parties. The result is ubiquitously fragile coalition governments and a Chief Minister perennially blackmailed by the coalition partners.
Two important factors stand out in this curious mélange of deprivations and grievances in the province. These include an increased realisation to replace the security centric governance paradigm by a development oriented model and the negative role of externally sponsored identity politics. Federally inclined politicians like Senator Anwar-ul Haque and Abdul Malik believe that the deprivations do not constitute a rationale for militancy and that the monopoly of violence should remain with the state. According to them the increased integration of disparate Baloch ethnic groups in the political and economic power structures of the state would attenuate their deprivation anxiety. The most potent antidote to Baloch unrest therefore lies in enhanced political participation and increased devolution to power from the provincial to local level.
The second factor of identity politics that fuels separatism and violent insurgency sustained by foreign funding, needs a vigorous state response along with a strong political inclusion strategy to wean the separatists away from the path of militancy. The structuralists like Rafiullah Kakar however believe that increased securitisation of the Baloch narrative has resulted in identity politics. The conflation of dissent with treason and the suppression of organic growth of political parties by an interventionist state according to him result in disaffection. A heavily skewed federal structure featuring a dominant Punjab leaves little incentive for leading political parties to invest in Balochistan due to less political returns. The marginalisation of Balochistan in civil society and media space along with less presence in bureaucratic structure exacerbates the feeling of exclusion amongst the Baloch.
The Makran belt, in the throes of a Dr Allah Nazar-led Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) insurgency, has its own menu of grievances. It is a region that is not under tribal leadership but still feels politically and economically excluded. Dr Allah Nazar, an erstwhile member of Balochistan Student Organization (BSO), was in fact a protégé of Khair Bakhsh Marri, a tribal Sardar who actually encouraged him to start an insurgent movement in the hithertofore peaceful coastal belt. By doing so he very cleverly deflected the rights based agitation of a politically aware activist away from his tribal domain. The population of Makran coastal belt feels politically and economically excluded due to lack of connectivity with the mainland. With the electricity and other essential commodities including fuel accessed through Iran the bondage with federation gets weak. Due to reliance on trade through Iran and Afghanistan for their livelihoods the patriotic people of Makran belt want legal trade rights instead of paying off the corrupt officials for smuggled goods.
The Panjgur region is a fertile region in human as well as agricultural resource that needs to be optimally tapped. Unfortunately people of Panjgur region feel socio-economically marginalised and threatened by the militants that took to the mountains to wage insurgency and have been incentivised to come back and get mainstreamed. The criminal minded elements amongst those militants harry the peaceful community that believes in progress and development. When the state apparatus fails to protect peace loving people from the depredations of criminals and militants they lose faith in the idea of federation.
The state needs to wrest the people of Balochistan from the baleful clutches of greed and grievances through a whole of the government effort with focus on snuffing out the externally abetted insurgency along with provision of a propitious environment for organic growth of politics. When the state controls the politics it is also incumbent on it to ensure the fair distribution of jobs and development funds to the population. That is the only way to address the unmassaged grievances of Balochistan.
Note: This article appeared in Tribune, dated 23 June 2022.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.