Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

Explained: Baloch Freedom Movement

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Balochistan, BLA, Khan of Kelat

Mains level : Baloch Freedom Movement

Baloch separatism under the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) has been an ongoing issue in Pakistan since the birth of the nation in 1947.

Who are the BLA fighters?

  • The BLA announced itself in 2005 with a rocket attack on a paramilitary camp in Balochistan Kohlu during a visit by then President Pervez Musharraf.
  • It is a nationalist militant group that has been waging an insurgency for Baloch self-determination and a separate homeland for the Baloch people.

Rise of Baloch nationalism

  • While the BLA’s armed insurgency is about two decades old, demands of Baloch nationalists for political autonomy and threats of secession date back to 1947.
  • The Khan of Kalat (who claimed sovereignty over the four princely states of Kalat, Lasbela, Kharan and Makran) held out for independence, and the Pakistan Army forced his accession in March 1948.
  • Between 1973 and 1977, the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto-led government sent in the Pakistan Army to crush a leftist guerilla war inspired by the liberation of Bangladesh.
  • The tribal sardars of Balochistan, who had been at the forefront of Baloch nationalism, and were co-opted by the state in the late 1970s, grew rebellious again.
  • The insurgency gathered momentum from 2006, after the Pakistan Army killed the Bugti sardar, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, who had been also been a chief minister and governor of the province.

Why it is gaining momentum now?

  • The Pakistan Army’s operations against Baloch nationalists over the last two decades have seen hundreds of disappearances, and other alleged human rights violations.
  • Baloch nationalists also see the sudden influx of jihadist groups in the province as a move by the Pakistan security establishment to counter their nationalist demands.
  • In 2012, the US Congress convened a hearing on Balochistan and supported the demand for a free Baloch land.
  • In a significant shift in policy, back then in 2016, PM Modi had made a reference to the Baloch freedom struggle in his Independence Day speech.

Why does Balochistan matters?

  • Balochistan borders Afghanistan and Iran.
  • The people are mostly tribal with secular principles and are admirers of ties with India.
  • With gas, oil, copper and gold deposits, it is the most resource-rich of Pakistan’s four provinces.
  • It makes up half of Pakistan’s area, but has only 3.6% of its population.
  • Pakistan alleges that the insurgency is backed by India.
  • This is the region where a former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav was abducted from Iran and charged for espionage supporting Baloch activism in Pakistan.
  • Many Baloch activists had been seeking asylum and has applied for Indian citizenship. New Delhi neither confirmed nor deny the reports.

Why did BLA target the Chinese now?

  • The BLA claimed it attacks Chinese nationals because Beijing ignored warnings not to enter deals and agreements regarding Balochistan before the province had been “liberated”.
  • Baloch people see China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a neo-colonist move against their sovereignty.
  • Among China’s major projects in Balochistan is the port of Gwadar, strategically located near the Strait of Hormuz – a crucial oil shipping route in the Arabian Sea.
  • The security of its nationals in Pakistan has become a major issue for Beijing, especially since it launched the CPEC.
  • Such attacks has literally stalled the work in progress of CPEC projects making it a sheer failure.

Significance of recent events

  • It is rare that the BLA deployed female suicide bombers. Recent attack was done by a highly educated lady and mother of two.
  • This is also the first time that a non-jihadist ethno-nationalist group has deployed a woman suicide bomber in the manner of Sri Lanka’s LTTE.
  • According to security experts familiar with the Baloch insurgency, it marks a worsening security situation in Pakistan.
  • As the training camps are alleged by Pakistan to be in Afghanistan, the incident may also be a pointer to Pakistan’s loss of control over the Talibans.

 

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