Pakistan Reader# 279, 24 January 2022
The largest and most backward province of Pakistan remains deprived of its provincial rights, infested with violence and managed by the establishment. The 2018 elections produced a new hybrid structure in the province with the formation of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) overnight to win elections. With an abysmal recordof governance and internal crisis within the ruling party, the failures of this experiment are starkly visible.The management of the province by the Establishment and political gains in cooptation has made the political elite bereft of any accountability to the Baloch people. With no electoral gains from development, the province continues to lag in all social indicators. However, the shift of politics towards the middle class, as manifested in the Gwadar protest, exhibits a possibility of new politics in the region.
In 2022, the following three issues are likely to dominate Balochistan.
1. Political engineering will be at play
In 2021, Balochistan was engulfed in a political crisis. Just like in 2018 and 2013. The province has never been free from interference, not even during the democratic interludes. Earlier political crises were marked by Establishment’s adverse relationship with the ruling party; in 2021, the political crisis was unique, as it emerged within the King’s party. The simmering that started with the opposition’s protest demanding development funds for constituencies ended with the resignation of the chief minister to avoid a no-confidence motion. For AbdulQuddusBijenzo, who replaced the outgoing chief minister, could have been a déjà vu movement; in 2018, he had played a key role in ousting the government of Sanaullah Khan Zehri. The internal crisis within the ruling party – Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) – reveals that the ragtag alliance of electables, whose only cohesion is political opportunism, is likely to collapse under its weight.
The political crisis of 2021 has set the ball rolling for the political engineering in 2022 that will unveil itself slowly as the provincial and national elections come closer. The electoral politics in Balochistan is dominated by individual rather than party loyalties, with blessings from the Establishment. With internal crisis in PTI and faltering of same page script with the Establishment, one could witness the migration of electables as other parties try to solidify their relationship with the Establishment Currently, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) remains an attractive choice with its strategic silence against the Establishment, as opposed to Shariff’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N). PPP vying to win the national elections will try to coax the electables to gain presence in Balochistan. Former chief minister Sanaullah Khan Zehri and his party members have joined the PPP. Baloch national parties will also try to regain their political space and are likely to remain open to alliances with the PPP. Religious parties under the coalition of MMA will also try to bank on the popularity of Maulana Hidayatur Rehman, who emerged as the leader of the Gwadar protest. They have also brought in the former chief minister Nawab Aslam Raisani into their ranks. However, in Balochistan, one who forms government in Islamabad, forms government in Quetta.
2. Increase in Violence
According to the PIPS annual report, as compared 2020, there was an increase in 93 per cent of attacks by non-state actors and a 43 per cent increase in the number of people killed. Balochistan witnessed 81 attacks in which 136 people were killed and 345 injured. In 2021, after Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it was the second most affected region by terrorism.
Violence in Balochistan manifests itself in many forms. State violence relating to the enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings of political activists remains ubiquitous. This is likely to continue unless the military recedes from the region giving space to the democratic political process to take its course. Insurgent violence by Baloch nationalists increased in 2021, in both ‘intensity’ and ‘frequency’. According to the PIPS annual report, the year 2021 witnessed 71 attacks as compared to 32 a year before by the insurgent groups. They have routinely targeted government infrastructure and CPEC projects. Out of 71 attacks, 47 attacks targeted security and law enforcement agencies, convoys and check-posts. In recent years, with attacks in Karachi and Lahore, they have also shown the capacity to attack beyond the territory of Balochistan. In 2021, PM Imran Khan announced a dialogue process with the insurgents. However, no progress was made on this. Therefore attacks by insurgents will continue until the Baloch national question regarding provincial autonomy and rights is answered.
Sectarian militant outfits such as Daesh and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have also carried out attacks in the region targeting the Hazaras, and the Shias as well as the government installations. The attacks by TTP have increased in recent months after the Afghan Taliban seized power in Afghanistan. The government has tried to enter into dialogue with TTP but it has yielded no result. With no clear strategies by the security agencies in dealing with either Baloch insurgents or sectarian outfits, Balochistan will be witness violence in 2022.
3. People’s Movement will gain new energy
The momentum from 2021’s protests is likely to continue with more vigour and pressing demands for better governance and accessibility to basic services. In 2021, ‘Gawadar Haq Do Tehreek’ (Give rights to Gwadar) emerged as the largest protest movement in the region. The main demands of the protestors are to eliminate unnecessary check-posts, provide clean drinking water and electricity, priority to locals in jobs, improvement of the public education system and end illegal trawling. The protest emerged against the frustration of big development and mega infrastructure projects sanctioned in the region while neglecting the basic amenities of the people.
The protest in Gwadar also signifies the shifting geography of politics towards the emerging middle class in the province. Earlier the politics and resistance had revolved around the northern region led by tribal elites –sardars. Located in the southern part, Gwadar is bereft of tribal social structure. On the contrary, it is a remittances rich region and is home to the educated and professional class, representing different political economy and interests. Rather than the issues of ownership of natural resources, their emergent demands revolve around jobs, public infrastructure,access to basic civic amenities and better livelihood. The shifting geography of resistance and politics to the south provides the possibility of forging new alliances and demanding political rights and autonomy for the province from which it had remained deprived since independence.
Muhammad Akbar Notezai, “Political uncertainity is the norm in Balochistan,” Dawn, 18 October 2021
Muhammad Akbar Noezai, “Back to the throne: Balochistan’s game of musical chairs,” Dawn, 30 October 2021
“Pakistan Security Report-2021,” Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, 4 January 2022
Adnan Aamir, “On Gwadar’s grievances,” The News Sunday, 28 November 2021
Muhammad Akbar Notezai, “The Baloch Spring in Gwadar,” Dawn, 2 January 2022
Mahvish Ahmad, “Balochistan: middle class rebellion,” Dawn, 5 June 2012