Jan Achakzai |
Pakistan has entered into the second phase of counter-insurgency in Baluchistan — the reintegration of sub-nationalist Baloch militants, the foot soldiers of the insurgency. Is it the best time to talk to the exile Baloch separatist leaders within the parameters of the constitution as well?
The answer is a straight yes: because, through hard power, these leaders have been made realized that violence could not achieve goals; that Baluchistan has moved on as development-oriented connectivity hub, poised to attract billions of US dollars of Chinses, Russian, and Saudi Arabian investment; that the province is no more a home to their medieval era ethno-supremacist nationalism; and that it is in the best interest of Pakistan to engage the reconcilable elements, given new political, economic, and social realities emerging in Baluchistan.
Regional rivals, particularly India, are psychologically “fatigued”, as they are nowhere close to Pakistan’s envious position, through Gwadar, as a linchpin of the ancient Silk Road.
The bottom line is they understand the difference between talking to the state of Pakistan who has upper hand and their situation of being not succeeding in their goals. But, whether they will get a nod from India for dialogue is a different matter entirely, assuming that they are New Delhi’s best investment in the proxy warfare in and around Baluchistan.
On the other hand, the context of the defeated insurgency in the province is changing: Baluchistan, with Gwadar port fully operationalized by 2030, is going to be the gateway connecting almost economies worth $20 trillion through containerized trade & commerce, formally launching the ancient Silk Road, as envisaged by the great Chinese Strategist, Sun Tzu.
As Sun Tzu noted ages ago, “Whoever dominates the battleground and awaits the enemy, will be at ease”, so Baluchistan is the new theoretical “battlefield” due to Gwadar, for trade and commerce of the Eastern and Western hemispheres.
The CPEC, starting from the port of Gwadar, immediately links four countries including Central Asia through Pakistan’s Karakoram mountain range including Afghanistan, India, Tajikistan, and China. Regional rivals, particularly India, are psychologically “fatigued”, as they are nowhere close to Pakistan’s envious position, through Gwadar, as a linchpin of the ancient Silk Road.
Therefore, India resorted to “leveraging” Baloch insurgency to hamper Gwadar’s progress to become the economic outpost overseeing trade caravans through the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. So far it has failed, through fomenting unrest and failed insurgency, to halt Gwadar’s march to lead almost 70 % of the world’s containerized trade. New Delhi has lobbied for, financed, sheltered, and trained the separatists in sabotage and psycho operations.
Attempts of dialogue in the past were clumsy and lacked strategic convergence of all stakeholders. The main rationale was, “do not negotiate from the position of weakness”.
Whereas, Pakistan has come far away from the 2009 situation where she almost lost her writ over Baluchistan province to these Indian sponsored separatist groups. The first stage of the counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy has achieved its goal: state’s writ has been established; communication highways, population centers secured; normal life has been fully restored, and there is no organized terror network that can operate from the province. As a result, the separatists are down and in their last throes.
Small cells, however, occasionally in the form of tactical level attacks, make their presence felt. They are mostly being organized, financed, and launched from neighboring Afghanistan. But such incidents are as high and as low as of those in the UK. Almost 6 terrorist attacks were carried out in five successive months in the UK last year, yet its economy and society absorbed the troubles. So, these cells can only pose a limited tactical threat as a worst-case scenario.
Read more: Balochistan and its fate in CPEC
The second stage of the COIN– like the amnesty, reconciliation, and reintegration (R2) phase– has partially been adopted what is called a “bottom-up approach”; allowing low-level foot soldiers to surrender, lay arms, rehabilitate, and become part of the society. [How far, this has been successfully adopted and properly incentivized is not within the scope of this article, though].
What is clear, however, is that so far the “top-down approach” has not been followed: what it means is that no “meaningful dialogue” has been conducted with the leaders of the insurgency who are in exile and who have become proxies at the hands of hostile agencies. Attempts of dialogue in the past were clumsy and lacked strategic convergence of all stakeholders. The main rationale was, “do not negotiate from the position of weakness”.
The concept of reconciliation involves potentially massive trade-off and that this will make some officials and Baloch leaders uneasy and even apprehensive. However, the naked fact remains: we have ended the conflict but not won the war so far.
The context suggests a new unspoken understanding of the pointers like the following:
1) First, as of now, the state has weakened the insurgents to the extent that they are no more a strategic threat to the stability of Baluchistan and the CPEC. So, any talks with the exile leaders by the state will be from a position of strength rather than weakness.
Second, all counterinsurgency literature suggests “do not kill till the last soldier”; hence a “top-down” dialogue has to take place at some stage.
2) Being himself from Baloch Regiment, the Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa is half Baluchistani and has a clear strategy comprising three Ds (i.e. Deterrence, Development, and Dialogue) viz-a-viz Baluchistan. He is clear-headed on the possibility of co-opting reconcilable elements of the exile leadership.
3) Prime Minister Imran Khan in his maiden speech also unveiled his vision to reach out to the exiled Balochs.
4) From now on, any over-reliance on kinetic strategy might obstruct economic, political, and social developments of the province.
Granted the reconciliation is only one of the several end states, but it is the most desirable option, which is ultimately good for the stability of the entire region, besides, benefiting Pakistan and its people, which is what matters the most.
5) The foundation for the second phase of reconciliation, through the COIN operation, has been laid by Pakistan’s para-military forces and other LEAs who have restored the state’s writ after huge sacrifices. Therefore, the conducive environment thus created, offers the best chance to initiate reconciliation with the exile Baloch separatists.
6) The concept of reconciliation involves potentially massive trade-off and that this will make some officials and Baloch leaders uneasy and even apprehensive. However, the naked fact remains: we have ended the conflict but not won the war so far.
7) From the political economy standpoint, one can safely assume that some parties will not want to see reconciliation as the process to achieve the end product, i.e., conflict resolution since the current status quo means power, perks, and leverage with the security forces. The politicians and local militant commanders who tax mineral trade and coerce weak tribesmen and government employees to part with money will continue to act as rent seekers. The development contractors, practitioners bridging government and non-governmental NGOs, corrupt officials, and drug dealers will thrive on the sustenance of conflict-ridden environment.
8) Geo-politically, more powerful players like India, the US, and neighboring Afghanistan will prefer inconclusive war rather than any settlement.
9) Granted the reconciliation is only one of the several end states, but it is the most desirable option, which is ultimately good for the stability of the entire region, besides, benefiting Pakistan and its people, which is what matters the most.
So, let meaningful talks with exile Baloch separatist leaders begin and the ice melt away. This is the time to change gears.
Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst and a politician. He served as an advisor to previous Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service in London covering South and West Asia. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy