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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Balochistan: The new player in regional politics?

Balochistan appears to be the chessboard of a new big game between regional and global powers in a changing world. Growing great power competition will thrust Pakistan into the midst of a global maelstrom, potentially altering the country's internal security dynamics.

The deteriorating law and order situation in Balochistan demonstrates Pakistan’s turbulent internal security environment. The recent spate of attacks on security posts in Naushki and Panjgur is not just an accident, but it has strategic timing and execution. It signifies the changing security landscape of the country with a shifting regional security paradigm and geopolitics.
In a changing world, Balochistan appears to be the chessboard of a new great game between regional and global players. Growing great power’s competition will bring Pakistan into the eye of the geopolitical storm; it can deplorably change the internal security dynamics of the country.

Understanding the actual matter

The coordinated assaults in Balochistan at the time of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to China should not be considered a coincidence, but it signifies intensifying Sino-US tension and Pakistan’s strategic hedging towards China.
To thwart Pakistan’s strategic partnership with China in the face of growing Sino-US competition and evolving Indo-US alliance, external players, both regional and extra-regional, will fan the flame of insurgency by providing logistic and material support to insurgent groups in order to unleash violence.
For achieving strategic advantage and intimidating Pakistan, hostile forces will galvanize both separatist and religious groups to escalate their conflicts in the country. It can disrupt the country’s internal peace and stability. As the security situation deteriorates in the province, it will increase China’s concerns and insecurity of the CPEC project.
In the face of great power competition, the CPEC has a strategic dimension. As China increases its economic footprints in the region through the integration of vital supply lines, it will try to get access to the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) that enables Beijing to maneuver for maritime routes. It is obvious that CPEC provides China the shortest route to import oil from Gulf countries and export manufactured goods to regional and global markets, but it also consolidates Beijing’s maritime security to escape the Malacca dilemma in a war situation.

What part US withdrawal has played into all this?

The regional security landscape has occurred just after the US’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the creation of a new security alliance, the AUKUS. It has dramatically changed the regional security environment with the resurgence of violence. Just after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, a new wave of insurgency swept the region.
Owing to inimical ties with the new guards of Afghanistan, dislocated militant groups are trying to find out new hideouts. They carry out deadly assaults where they operate. In this new great game, these militant groups can be used by hostile agencies for strategic coercion.
By the virtue of its geostrategic location, Balochistan will attract great power’s attention. It plays a significant role in regional connectivity, resource exploitation of Central Asian and Middle Eastern countries, and maritime security. In other words, Balochistan is at the heartland of vast regional oil and energy resources, which are instrumental for big powers to maintain their clout on regional affairs.
To control the connection between South Asia and Central Asia through Afghanistan, major players will continue their subversive activities in the province. In this context, Michael Kugelman’s article, “South Asia Has a Connectivity Disconnect”, is a timely appraisal of growing competition for regional connectivity between Pakistan and India. He writes that “[n]ew infrastructure plans are playing out in subregions, with India pursuing an initiative to its east and Pakistan eyeing opportunities in Afghanistan and Central Asia. This infrastructure development is becoming the latest battlefield for competition between Islamabad and New Delhi”.
Against this backdrop, India will increase its regional outreach and foil Pakistan’s policy initiative to be the “zip of Eurasia”. Along with other players, India will wage hybrid warfare through controlling narratives and perceptions. As long as Pakistan does not assess the internal dynamics of the Balochistan conflict, it will be harassed strategically by adversaries, making Balochistan’s problem its Achilles’ heel.
Given the complexity of the problem, these attacks are just the tip of the iceberg. There will be dangerous security situations provided that great powers compete for control at the Indian Ocean Region (and Balochistan) for controlling the sea lanes of communication and regional infrastructure for resources and strategic purposes.

In this scenario, power politics and the new great game will revolve around Balochistan

With the increasing tendency of extremism and sub-nationalism, the security environment of the province will become extremely troublesome. To restore the law and order, military deployment will be increased that resulting in deprivation and political crisis in the province.
For circumventing destabilizing forces, it is indispensable for policymakers to evaluate and understand the internal dynamics of the Balochistan conflict. Seeking a military solution to a political problem will aggravate the situation. As Islamabad has persuaded the US that there is no military solution to the Afghanistan problem, it needs to assess the Balochistan issue through political lenses, too.
Fair resource distribution, true political representation, replacement of Frontier Corps with police, allocation of special funds for infrastructure development, engagement with the public, and improvement of education standards can be some remedial measures to improve state-society relations. It paves the way for reconciliation and enables Pakistan to play the new great game aptly—while not getting sucked into evolving great power competition.
The writer is a strategic affair and foreign policy analyst. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.