Newspaper Article 13/04/2023
Balochistan is again in news because of the nabbing of Balochistan National Army’s (BNA) head Gulzar Imam Shambay. He was initially a Balochistan Students Organization (BSO) activist who came under the sway of anti-state forces and ended up leading an insurgent group comprising 300 plus militants. His capture is a major achievement by state’s intelligence agencies which penetrated the insurgents’ network and lured their leader from the safety of his sanctuary. The bust-up of the top network and its leader would indubitably yield a treasure trove of information pointing to further leads regarding the sponsor network, logistics chain and funding trail of the insurgency. What however is more important is to focus on the causes of this insurgency to starve its roots rather than pruning its leaves alone.
The capture of Gulzar Shambay would not be of lasting benefit if another virulent version of him takes his place. How can that be prevented is the pearl of high price every discourse on Balochistan’s counter insurgency strategy needs to chase. Shambay’s BNA was formed when he came out of shadow of Brahamdagh Bugti’s Balochistan Republican Army (BRA) to form part of an umbrella organization Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar (BRAS) that yoked a motley group of separatist organizations like Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), Balochistan Republican Army (BRA), United Baloch Army (UBA), Baloch Republican Guard (BRG) and Lashkar e Balochistan (LeB) together in 2018.
All the above mentioned separatist organizations have different operational orientation but follow the same strategic objective of ethno nationalistic separatism. BLA that was led by Balaach Marri till 2007 when he was killed is presently being led by Harbiyar Marri who is located in London under UK government’s asylum. The group has a strength ranging from 500-700 militants operating in Quetta, Bolan, Kohlu, Nushki, Kalat, Khuzdar and Karachi. The organization however is split between Harbiyar group and Majeed Brigade led by Bashir Zeb, a commoner in Balochistan’s tribal hierarchy. BRA is led by Brahamdagh Bugti who split from his uncle Talal Bugti’s Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) in 2008 and is leading the separatist group from Vienna. Gulzar Imam Shambay was a deputy of Brahamdagh who formed his own group i.e. BNA in January 2022 merging United Baloch army of Mehran Baloch with BRA. He was the main actor after marginalization of Europe-based Brahamdagh Bugti operating with over 300 militants in Khuzdar, Kech and Nushki.
BLF is being led by Dr Allah Nazar with focus on Turbat and Makran coastal belt. Lashkar e Balochistan is being headed by Javed Mengal whereas another splinter group of BLA which was being led by Aslam Achu until he was killed in 2018 is now being led by Karim Marri, Hamal and Commander Nisar. The insurgents’ attacks that totaled 51 in 2019 had reached 81 in 2022 and the intensity is expected to lessen only after successful counter action by the security and intelligence agencies. The targeting of BNA head was a result of a meticulously planned intelligence operation wherein the initial leads to the leadership hierarchy were found through resident moles inside the militant organization. The leads were corroborated through state of the art digital software, and the BNA leadership’s linkage with hostile intelligence agencies like RAW established.
The confirmation of the leads was followed by a luring-in operation which entailed high risks to the lives of intrepid intelligence operators. The successful busting of the network is a testament to the professionalism and pluckiness of the intelligence agencies and a major setback for the militancy. It however needs to be followed up with a strategy to starve the insurgency of the oxygen to sustain itself. That oxygen is the poor governance, lax law enforcement and economic injustice. The change in the character of insurgency already is reflective of the slow tectonic shift in the sociological and demographical profile of the province. The demographical change is being effected through rapid urbanization of the province with cities like Quetta, Zhob, Panjgur, Turbat, Khuzdar and Nushki.
The sociological change is evident in the shape of rise of educated urban population which is politically charged and unhappy due to lack of development and absence of job opportunities. This new generation is angry and frustrated due to bad governance and economic injustice. This young and disaffected cohort makes for a fertile ground for the hostile intelligence agencies that wish to keep the province destabilized. Balochistan has a geopolitical angle to its peace and stability. It is in the crosshair of global power competition with CPEC sticking as a sore thumb to the sensibilities of competitive power politics. The foreign funding of these insurgencies need to be targeted with the same efficiency by intelligence agencies with which they have nabbed Gulzar Imam. The local generation of funds through smuggling, drug trafficking and extortion also needs to be stopped through better law enforcement to close the tap of funding to insurgents.
The geographical expanse of Balochistan lends itself to hit and run insurgency, and therefore sustenance of low level insurgency is not a big deal in the province. What is more important is that the insurgency does not gain enough traction to disrupt the stability of the province. It should also be noted that those separatists that have done a Faustian bargain with the devil and are playing in the hands of hostile intelligence agencies need to be dealt with full force of the state whereas those who are agitating for rights need to be engaged. Balochistan needs real democracy not the foisted version that yields corruption and bad governance. Educated Baloch segment and the deprived strata want jobs on merit and utilization of development funds without corruption which should be ensured through good governance and empowered local government structures.
And finally all development including CPEC needs to be tied to people’s welfare in the province to create a buy-in for the population. That would be the best antidote to insurgency in the province.
Note: This article appeared in Tribune, dated 13 April 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.