The movement of IDPs and potential militants into Balochistan will prove to be disastrous for the province with serious implications for regional security.
On June 15th, 2014, the Pakistani Armed forces launched a “comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists hiding in sanctuaries in North Waziristan.” Countries and provinces bordering the region were asked to seal their borders, and full scale military operations targeting militants – specifically the Taliban and Uzbek militants in the area – commenced. The timing of the blitzkrieg, coinciding with escalation by the more attention-seeking ISIS in Iraq, and the Syrian crisis, has made it possible for the government to carry out the operations with as little international attention as possible. The Pakistan government has also managed to expertly tailor its narrative as to the success of the operation, and has claimed to have killed a large number of terrorists.
The Internally Displaced People (IDP) fleeing from Waziristan, according to various reports, range from 500,000 – 800,000 in number. Most of the refugees have fled to nearby Khost province in Afghanistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province in the north of Waziristan, and Balochistan province located south of Waziristan. The Pakistan military have recently admitted that the militant leaders and terrorists could have escaped the region even before the military operations began.
While the impact of the operation on the stability of Afghanistan is being analyzed, attention needs to be directed towards the effect of the operation on Pakistan’s own province. Balochistan has, for the past decade and a half, borne the brunt of repressive policies from various federal governments. Systematic and targeted attack on minorities, kill-and-dump policies, deliberate imposition of abysmally low levels of living has resulted in a province that is extremely volatile and vulnerable. The movement of IDP’s into the region can have a number of effects, which taken alone or in combination have the potential to contribute to the instability of the province.
Balochistan’s biggest threat will be from militants who might use the civilian movement to cross into the province. The province is a potpourri of ethnicities that includes refugee population mixing with indigenous tribes. The region with its majority Sunni and pockets of Shia population has been the hotbed of sectarian violence for the past many years. The last two years have been especially violent, with radical outfits openly calling for the elimination of Shias. Religious minorities, including Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus have all been targeted, under the pretext of the blasphemy laws or by radicalized outfits and individuals. Groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and its parent outfit Sipaah-Sahiba (now known as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat) have had implicit support from the government and various military agencies, who have continued to turn a blind eye to their atrocities. Nearly 4000 Shias have been killed since 2000, and any further attacks on them can only serve to foment an already tense situation. Reports from multiple sources already point to an increase in militant activity around the towns of Quetta, Mastung and other cities within Balochistan. The Quetta Shura, a militant organization that serves as an offshoot of the Afghan Taliban has been based out of the city since 2001. Revival of the organization post the Waziristan campaign and using it as a hub to recruit new members to carry out attacks in the region is a serious and very plausible risk. The Taliban (specifically, the TTP), according to multiple reports, are also sharing space with the Islamic Movement of Uzbeks (IMU) in seeking a foothold in the region.
The instability that comes from greater militancy is aggravated by a significant increase in the Islamization of the community. What was once a secular region is being overrun by madrasas and by the teaching of the value system of the (more radical and conservative) Deobandi and Wahhabi forms of Islam. With schools under attack, and teachers and students alike finding themselves threatened by militants and governmental agencies, education is being increasingly dispensed through these madrasas. Evidence of the heightened religiosity and copycat movements can already be seen. In May of this year, girls’ schools in Panjur and Makran were threatened and shut down. Little-known militant groups in Panjur have called for a stricter interpretation of Sharia and banning girls from getting an education. Although unsuccessful, the move highlighted a growing problem about the dismal education system in Balochistan.
The many Baloch nationalist movements, disparate as they might be, have also started attracting attention from militant movements. The instability of the province, the distrust of the federal government, and the discontent amongst the youth are proving to be fertile grounds for movements to establish themselves and gain foothold in the region. The gross violations of human rights through the kill-and-dump policies against the Balochs, disappearances, and the media blackout imposed on these regions ensure complete repression and ostracization of the population and complete dominance of the province by the federal government. Over 800 bodies have been found in the past couple of years. International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, an NGO, claims that as many as 18,000 have gone missing in the last decade alone. For a militant movement to establish itself under these circumstances within the province will not be difficult.
With repeated natural and man-made disasters, extreme poverty, lack of access to international aid groups, and medicines, Balochistan is ill prepared in every which way to host the IDP’s. Polio outbreak is already at a high in Pakistan, and samples have already been found in sewage in Quetta. With more than 95 cases Polio cases found this year alone, the regional impact of the disease is high and the implications for neighboring countries is increasing. India, especially has managed to declare itself Polio free only recently. With cases of the virus from Pakistan found as far as Egypt and Syria, India cannot be complacent about the spread of the disease.
The increase in radical elements within Balochistan clubbed with the inflow of potential militants will become a force that could wreak havoc in the region. International attention is much required for this province at this point. The cocktail of provincial sidelining, religious and sectarian strife, and falling human conditions can prove to be dangerous for Pakistan and for regional security. Iran and Afghanistan will be directly affected. India will bear the brunt of an imploding Pakistan as well. India needs to keep an eye on the developments. With the Pakistani army confirming that many militants might have escaped even before assault started, India needs to pay a lot more attention to this internal war in Pakistan. Balochistan needs a lot more attention from international media, and Indian media specifically can play a leading role in highlighting this crisis in the making.
Photo: European Comission