Pakistan (Balochistan)

Status
Medium-intensity

Conflict Summary

The secessionist movement in Pakistan’s western province of Balochistan largely died down in 1977 following the imposition of martial law in Pakistan, but it broke out anew in 2005 when a doctor was raped at a gas plant in Sui. The government blamed the rape on Balochis, although the prime suspect was in fact an army officer. Baloch retaliatory attacks on the plant and on gas pipelines caused scores of fatalities and disrupted national gas supplies. The military’s response was heavy-handed and warlord Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, who was seen as the instigator of the attacks, was killed on 26 August 2006. The killing sparked Baloch rioting and led to a further deepening of the conflict. Human-rights violations and the disappearance of civilian Baloch leaders by the Pakistani security establishment have aggravated grievances since then. However, the conflict in Balochistan between the Pakistani government and Baloch militants under the auspices of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), the Balochistan People’s Liberation Front (BPLF), the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), and the United Baloch Army has deeper structural causes. The Balochs have a historical claim of independence harking back to the semi-autonomous Kalat state under British rule, and Baloch grievances are exacerbated by political and economic marginalisation within Pakistan. Although sparsely populated Balochistan is the site of most of Pakistan’s natural gas reserves, the gas is largely consumed in Sindh and Punjab and Baloch nationalists complain that the province is inadequately compensated for its resources. Additionally, economic life in Balochistan is dominated by the Pashtuns, who comprise a quarter of the population, and Balochis are under-represented in the influential armed forces and the central administration. Conversely, the Pakistani government contends that it is fighting sardars – tribal warlords – rather than an ethno-nationalist insurgency. The 2013 Awaran earthquake proved to be a watershed moment, as the Pakistani military was able to map out Baloch insurgent regions while delivering aid. Since 2014, infighting between Baloch militant groups has increased in the region. A general lack of progress by nationalist insurgents has also created an opening for Islamist groups, which have expanded operations in Balochistan.