A history of revolutionary situations is often the prerequisite for insurgencies. Recently, in many cases around the world, we have seen how movements scatter into spontaneous revolutions that breed a group of leaders who then proceed to organise and conduct insurgencies. The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is known to be one such movement.
The goals of the militant secessionist organisation include the establishment of an independent state of Balochistan, free of Pakistani rule. The organisation is often described as a relic of the Cold War. During the USSR-USA war in Afghanistan, the Soviets supported, armed, and funded the organisation. Over the years, the organisation has claimed credit for a series of terrorist attacks in various parts of the country. In 2006, it was declared to be a terrorist organisation by the Pakistani and British governments. It has also been included on a list of 25 banned militant organisations, which includes organisations such as Al Qaeda and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi.
Most media coverage of the BLA in Pakistan revolves around the belief that the organisation is associated with and financially dependent on the Indian intelligence agency RAW. Recent increased and widespread activity of the organisation prompted Federal Interior minister Rehman Malik to claim that India was funding the BLA as a tool to destabilise Pakistan. Similar statements have also been made about the Taliban in Fata and the Frontier province, all of which have been dismissed by the Indian authorities.
Irrespective of the funding source for the BLA, the resurfacing of the organisation should be Pakistan’s main concern. The fact that an ideology has sustained an insurgency over the decades reflects official negligence in its worse form. If it weren’t for government negligence – both with regards to the needs and rights of the people of Balochistan as well as the overall security situation – it would not have been possible to recruit people and mobilise a movement, and that too one with motives as extreme as the liberation of the country’s largest province. Members of the BLA have not been recruited under strenuous brainwashing techniques or guerrilla warfare; these are men who claim to have a history as old as the partition of the subcontinent.
In a recent interview with Dawn, Brahmdagh Bugti, the chief of the Baloch Republican Party, made strong statements about the history and motives of the BLA. His descriptions of the BLA and its support are quite frightening. He says, ‘we need nothing from Pakistan. We want them to leave our land and release our people from their torture chambers,’ and claims that separatist groups have overwhelming support in Quetta, Makran, Mastung as well as many other areas in Balochistan. The claims go as far as showing an overwhelming confidence on expanding militancy, despite army deployment.
Such blatant claims about anti-state movements enjoying large public support raise serious questions about the state of law and order in the country. Should we allow private armies to function within the country against the state? Should we hold those who sympathise with these movements responsible for their actions, even while realising that they have been offered no alternatives by the authorities? The brunt of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is still being dealt with. And while we blame Talibanisation on the Afghan war, there is no one to blame for the worsening situation in Balochistan but ourselves.
The fact is, Pakistan is currently involved in counter-insurgency operations in various parts of the country with increasing foreign pressure and scrutiny at all levels. To promote disorder is a legitimate objective of an insurgent and the absence of laws to stem anti-state activities leaves citizens clamouring for protection. With regard to the Taliban, we have had to learn from the mistakes of the past and take decisive action.
The presence of a private army such as the BLA within Pakistan’s border is a harsh reminder that dire action is needed on other fronts as well. No action will be possible without a national recognition of the fact that organisations such as the BLA cannot flourish without a well-grounded cause. In this case, the cause has been facilitated by the sense of deprivation that is prevalent amongst Balochis.
With recent news of possible drone attacks in Balochistan the situation is bound to worsen. Caged in a no-way-out situation, the authorities need to realise the power of ideological movements and use tactful methods in order to dismantle such movements. If the authorities allow the cause of such insurgencies to remain dynamic, we will meet defeat and no amount of strategic initiatives can compensate for our ideological handicap.
Let’s not wait for the situation to worsen to the extent that it can only be tackled by violence. It would be more productive if actions against organisations such as the BLA is taken promptly and at the grassroots level, with due attention for human rights and ideology. For now, the most basic requirement would be to remove the sense of deprivation amongst the people of Balochistan by taking practical measures – such as halting the development of cantonments, allocating development funding, employment and resources, and ensuring amnesty for former separatists – with utmost sincerity.
Read an extensive research on the BLA here
PUBLISHED AT DAWN.COM