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Terrorism in Baluchistan has long been troubling the Pakistani government since the establishment of China Pakistan Occupied Kashmir Economic Corridor. Worldwide many think tanks have jumped into in-depth study on this issue. There are multiple theoretical perspectives to analyse Baloch separatism including political identification, nationalism, and socio-economic development. So when it comes to politics there are two main factors involved here namely the Government of Pakistan and Baluchistan Separatist. For instance, Christine Fair argued that the current Baloch conflicts mainly originated from Former President Pervez Musharraf’s policy impropriety and that Pakistan should not prioritize military means to solve the problem. Robert Wirsing contended that leaders of the Pakistani federal government should regard Baloch people as partners rather than enemies of their national development. Other scholars thought from the viewpoint of discourse between Pakistani-federal government and the Baluchistan. It is argued that the people of Baluchistan lacked a political identification towards Pakistani government as they imagined the government to be the personification of the Punjabi population. As a result, the relationship between the locals and the Pakistan government grows into continuous combats featuring riots and opposition against the Pakistan government itself from the people of Baluchistan.
The next frame of interpretation correspondingly classifies reasons for the rise of Baloch separatism into economic, political and other categories. Some scholars consider it in a comprehensive way. For instance, Mahrukh Khan argued that Baluchistan was faced with such major challenges as an institutional deficiency, problems in social structure, political separatism and the central Government’s short-sighted policies. Other scholars investigated the situation of Baluchistan from the aspects such as the dispute over oil and gas exploitation, Baloch marginalization, foreign intervention, the development of terrorism and Islamic religious fundamentalism in Baluchistan. This paper is an attempt to probe into a detailed correlation between the Baluchistan militants and China Pakistan Occupied Kashmir Economic Corridor.
Different groups in Baluchistan Militants
Scholars and historians divide the terrorism outfits of Baluchistan into two separate time logs. The first one being, under the British colonial rule, while the other one is under the rule of independent Pakistan. The latter period is marked by five large scale conflicts with the Pakistan federal government. The people of Balochistan decided to establish a separate country simultaneously after the British retreat from the Indian Sub-continent, but their hope was rejected by the Muslim league. This resulted in several multiple conflicts out of which resulted in the establishment of the Baloch National Liberation Committee, Parari guerrilla, Baloch Students Organization, Baluchistan People’s Liberation Front, and National Awami Party. Current Baluchistan separatist groups all have historical connections to these organizations. As time progressed these rebel group began to establish themselves into political organisations while some changed into armed groups. Each had their own political stance, goals and objectives, and unique strategies. Their objectives are to seek for the sustainable development of Baluchistan as well as better education and livelihood for Baloch residents within the current political framework of Pakistan. Even though they
sometimes resist national and provincial parliamentary elections, they still work within parliamentary politics and can conduct dialogues with the Pakistani federal government. All these once named political organisations began to split up into separate factions out of which were born the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), and Baloch Republican Army (BRA) which turned out to be militant organisations. These two organisations were marked as terror outfits and came to be a hard-liner armed groups. They have fought against the Pakistani security forces and government in the form of terrorism and guerrilla
Warfare and rely on militant means to establish a Baluchistan nation state. Among all the militant outfits the BLA turned out to be the most dreadful and prominently dangerous one. It was established in the early 1989 and shortly a decade after quickly rose into power. It was marked as a terrorist organisation by Pakistan government on April 9, 2006. It has built 25 military training camps in Baluchistan and cooperated with other separatist groups to carry out guerrilla warfare in remote mountain areas. It is highly influential and approves local armed groups in Baluchistan to use its name to attack the federal government’s security forces and citizens. Mehran Marri, former member of the BLA, disassociated himself from the BLA and separately established the United Baloch Army (UBA). The UBA’s terrorist attacks aim at two major cities of Quetta and Peshawar and three areas of Kohlu, Nachh and Mastung. It was designated as a terrorist organization by the Pakistani federal government on March 15, 2013. The BLA since then mainly focused to curb the activities of further advancements for any means of development in Baluchistan under the tag of China Pakistan Occupied Kashmir Economic Corridor.
Baloch militant groups’ perceptions on CPOKEC
The CPOKEC was brought to the agenda by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang when he visited Pakistan in May 2013. Later in July, China and Pakistan signed the formal agreement on cooperation. In Pakistan, there has ever since been a heated discussion about the CPOKEC, and Baloch separatist groups pay special attention to it. Moderate parties whole heartily welcomed the CPOKEC as they hoped it might bloom Baluchistan and contribute to the states’ growth and development.
In simple terms they resist the construction of any type of project that is being implemented in Baluchistan. On one hand they argue that local residents of Baluchistan must resist against the construction of CPOKEC since they forecast that it will lead to China’s over exploitation of natural resources like oil and natural gas as the land of Baluchistan is rich in these minerals. To them, Baluchistan, with its unique geographical location and rich natural resources, has become the object of Chinese commercial “plunder” in the age of economic globalization. In the BRP’s Geneva conference in June 2015 held by the BRP’s
European sector, Party leader Brahumdagh Bugti publicly announced that China’s exploitation and intervention into Baluchistan was unacceptable and the investment was only an excuse for China to exploit Baluchistan’s natural resources. The BLF’S current leader Allah Nazar Baloch, has seriously warned the Chinese companies about the investments and further advancements in Gwadar port. On the other hand, they strongly put forth their stand against the CPOKEC projects by arguing that these projects only benefit China and Pakistan, while Baluchistan’s political, economic and social interests are sacrificed in the name of “regional development.” For instance advancement in CPOKEC projects in Baluchistan will create job opportunities and attract the working class people from the region of Punjab and Sind, thus forming as a threat to local population by reducing their employment rates and job opportunities. In order to guarantee the security of the CPEC’s construction, the Pakistani federal government has established a Special Security Division to supplement the Operation Zarb-e-Azb starting in June 2014 in North Waziristan, with the aim to strengthen the suppression of Baluchistan’s violent activities. This was not a positive signal for the residents of Baluchistan. The BRP’S German sector leader Ashraf SherJan, claims that as years progressed the transactions between China and Pakistan has led to Baluchistan into the abyss of militant activities, claiming over many lives of Baloch people including kidnapping, torture and murdering them till today.
What is worth noticing is that in these past few years, these hard-liner armed groups turned their eyes and have begun to attack the oil and gas projects, ports, as well as transportation infrastructure jointly developed by China and Pakistan along various places in Baluchistan. Moreover they targeted Chinese engineers and workers. For instance in 2005 when a new wave of armed conflicts broke out between Pakistan and Baloch people, there are a huge wave of attempted attack on Chinese. On May 3, 2004, 12 engineers from the Chinese communication construction company known as First Harbour Consultants Co., Ltd. were involved in a car bomb attack in the construction site at Gwadar, with three killed and nine injured. On November 15, 2005, the road construction site of the Xinjiang Beixin Road and Bridge Group was bombed by several rocket projectiles. On February 15, 2006, three Chinese engineers who were providing technical aid for Hub in Baluchistan were killed in a terrorist attack. Therefore, it is predictable that the BLA, the UBA, the BRA, and the BLF may carry out further attacks on the CPOKEC and on Chinese engineers. On 23rd November 2018, an armed assault on the Chinese consulate in Clifton, Karachi, Pakistan killed four people, although no Chinese nationals were being harmed in the attack. The attack was claimed by BLA.
Detailed Analysis of how Baloch Militants’ perceptions of the CPOKEC
Why are the Baloch dissatisfied with and opposed the CPOKEC projects which brings new momentum to China and Pakistan? Answers to this question are closely related to the history of Baloch separatist’s movements. Firstly, the Pakistan government has been consistently suppressing Balochi people’s struggle for political rights, which is the main cause of Baloch separatist movements since the establishment of Pakistan. China’s investment in Baluchistan triggers separatist groups’ political disquiet and their sentiment to resist. Baloch people’s political objectives are constantly dynamic. For instance they wanted Baluchistan to be established as a nation-state. So at the least they seek for autonomous functioning of the Baluchistan state to escape the corrupted framework of Pakistan’s government. It all started way back in 1947 during the time of Pakistan’s Independence. Ahmad Yar Khan of the semi-autonomous Kalat state announced its independence from Pakistan. His brother Abdul Karim Khan established the Baloch National Liberation Committee, to boycott his brother’s plan that is to resist the kalat’s state annexation into Pakistan. This led to armed Conflicts only terminating when Abdul was arrested finally. The problem, in simple terms can be put up as separatist groups that seek for provincial autonomy within the established political framework of Pakistan are also under suspicion and suppression here and there. For example, the National Awami Party won the Baluchistan provincial election in 1972 and established a coalition government, but the provincial government’s various reforms for a higher degree of autonomy were disapproved by then federal government’s Prime Minister Ali Bhutto. From December 2005, Musharraf regime’s purge and arrest of separatist leaders intensified a new wave of conflicts.
To the Baloch people, China’s investment in Baluchistan conflicts with their political appeals. Hard-line groups and armed militants have their own so called militant solution for Baluchistan’s Independence. They cannot accept China’s development of Baluchistan because they believe that it threatens their strong sense of “sovereign” rights over Baluchistan and will help consolidate the federal government’s control over the area. To more moderate parties, they equally cherish Baluchistan’s autonomy from the control of the federal government and would particularly reject foreign intervention. Baluchistan is economically backward, but it has rich natural resources. Five of the nine mining belts of Pakistan are located within Baluchistan. Its reserves of natural gas, coal, ferrochrome, copper, sulphur and marble take up 50% of the total mining reserves of Pakistan. Baluchistan’s natural gas reserves account for a large percent of Pakistan’s total natural gas reserves with its known gas fields being 35% of the total. The Sui natural gas field’s production reaches 25% of the national natural gas production and is one of the ten largest natural gas fields in the world
These natural resources in Baluchistan form the basis for exploitation. Their disputes are dependent on who the real beneficiary from these CPOKEC projects. Whether Pakistan is making use of Baluchistan’s development (economic growth) to strengthen its military power, or China is exploiting to extract the maximum benefits from barren lands of Baluchistan. The key element lies in Gwadar port. It is stated that Pakistan keeps the real facts of costs, security and administrative mechanism hidden from the public eyes of Baluchistan. It means that the Pakistan gave into the Chinese demands on Gwadar without the consent of Baloch people. As a consequence, project construction leads to cultural invasion. Pakistani officials take the opportunity of port construction to illegally sell land, sacrificing local people’s interests for personal benefits. The construction of the port does not raise the living standard of local residents. Instead, the infrastructure in and around Gwadar merely serves the need of station troops, foreign labours and tourists rather than local residents.
Hardliners wish to expel Chinese investors through violent protests and attacks against projects under development. Not only the armed group rebel Gwadar port project but also energy projects across the land of Baluchistan since it is such an Energy strategic land to both China and Pakistan. The mode of Baloch separatist groups’ cognition of the Pakistani federal government somehow determines the difficulty to accept the federal government’s policies on the CPOKEC. Armed groups make use of the opportunities in every possible ways to create hostile propaganda or stimulate violence. In a seminar held on February 1, 2016 attended by people from different sectors in Baluchistan, the Baluchistan leaders proposed that Chinese investors should explain clearly in what aspects Pakistan, Baluchistan in particular, could benefit from the CPOKEC.
China’s and Pakistan’s Stand on the Baloch Militants
The Billion dollar project has been the dream for both China and Pakistan for many years. But Baluchistan militants pose a great threat to the Billion dollar project of China. Therefore it is essential for China and Pakistan to protect the assets of CPOKEC. For instance there have been claims that China for past over five years continuously negotiating directly with the militants of Baluchistan. “China had been in direct contact with the militants in the south-western province, where many of the schemes and heart of the project is located”, three officials were quoted as saying by the financial times. Even Pakistani officials have welcomed the talks between Baloch rebels and Chinese envoys. Pakistan’s Chairman of the joint chiefs of the staff committee Gen. Zubair Mahmood Hayat met several top Chinese officials, including Vice President Wang Qishan, and discussed anti-terrorism and security measures. The two sides jointly agreed to make solid progress for protecting the assets of CPOKEC. Over 10000 Chinese workers are employed along various places in various kinds of CPOKEC projects. Pakistan has constructed and deployed a Special Security Division comprising of 15000 troops, including 9000 soldiers and 6000 Para military personnel to protect the Chinese nationals in view of the threats to their security posed by the Baloch Liberation Army, which is opposed to the CPOKEC in their province. Even Pakistan accused BLA of being an Indian proxy, and Indian consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad, Afghanistan for providing arms, training and financial support to BLA in an attempt to destabilize Pakistan. It is even reported that BLA commanders had sought medical treatment in India’s hospitals, often under the disguise or with fake identity.
The Latest Developments in CPOKEC
Pakistan was able to complete some of the miscellaneous projects surrounding Gwadar. In late 2018 “cross border optical fiber cable” spanning a total length of nearly 820km was completed. Pilot Project of Digital Terrestrial Multimedia Broadcast (DTMB), another project completed during late 2018. The objective of the project is to upgrade “DIGITAL TERRESTRIAL TV BROADCASTING STANDARDS” with regarding to the latest technologies used by China. Although this ambitious project is bi-lateral in nature, Pakistan invited Middle East countries which one among them Saudi Arabia readily agreed to join hands with China and Pakistan. During the early months of this year Saudi Arabia planned to set up a $10 billion oil refinery in Pakistan’s deepwater port of Gwadar, announced by the country’s energy minister. Pakistan wants to attract investment and other financial support to tackle a soaring current account deficit caused partly by rising oil prices. Apart from Middle East countries, Russia has declared their intentions to join the CPOKEC to extend their cooperation and utilize the highways for their commercial purposes. Among many other EU nations UK has too declared their intentions to join this so called “wonder project”. The UK’s intentions to invest were declared by Boris Johnson, U.K. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
Nevertheless this Baluchistan nexus will not end anytime soon. This means that attacks on the China-Pakistan occupied Kashmir Economic Corridor and the Chinese Interests will continue in some or the other form because Baloch Insurgents are strategically positioned to attack CPOKEC projects with ease. This ambitious $60 billion project can never be fully functional as long as the Baloch insurgency continues to be a threat. Therefore, in my opinion the solution to this problem lies in the political solution of the Baluchistan conflict. Pakistan can negotiate with the Baloch insurgents by accepting all of their demands for secession. Given the 13 year long insurgency, Baloch militants will find it hard to refuse a tempting offer by the Pakistan state to end this Conflict once for all.
Robert Wirsing, “Baloch Nationalism and the Geopolitics of Energy Resources: The Changing Context of Separatism in Pakistan.”
“Baluchistan National Party,” The Dawn, April 16, 2013. http://www.dawn.com/news/803000/balochistan-national-party
“Insurgents Suffer Bloody Reprisals,” The Dawn, June 26, 2011. http://www.dawn.com/news/639427/insurgents-suffer-bloody-reprisals
http://cpec.gov.pk/ (official website of the China-Pakistan (occupied Kashmir) economic corridor)
(Anirudh Phadke is an Intern at Chennai Centre for China Studies)