Northern Balochistan deserves attention

In our academic and policy discussions, there is a widely accepted consensus that North Balochistan is a peaceful region while South Balochistan is not. Such an understanding of northern Balochistan, which is contrary to the realities on the ground, deprives the region and its people of their rights and their attention. Balochistan is a multi-ethnic province; which is home to Pashtuns, Baluchis, Brahuis and other minority ethnic groups. Territorially, Balochistan is largely separated into North Balochistan and South Balochistan where Pashtuns and Baluchis live respectively. If the Baluchis and the Brahui are considered as two distinct ethnic groups, the Pashtuns emerge as the majority ethnic group in the province.

However, due to the unfortunate series of Baloch separatist movements and sectarianism in South Balochistan, it has caught the attention of academics, policy makers and politicians in North Balochistan. Therefore, it is necessary to uncover the myth of “peaceful North Balochistan” and call the due attention of the provincial and federal governments.

The widely held misconception that “Northern Balochistan is peaceful” needs to be dispelled in political, academic and policy debates so that this region can get its fair share of rights and attention from policy makers.

North Balochistan, formerly known as British Balochistan, was a developed region compared to South Balochistan. However, since the establishment of Balochistan as a province, North Balochistan has been ignored by policy makers on the grounds that South Balochistan needs attention and resources due to security concerns and sectarianism.

Both in terms of security and development, northern Balochistan has not received its share of attention and resources. The CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor), which is considered the game-changer for Balochistan and Pakistan, is almost invisible in North Balochistan. Out of ten transport projects under CPEC, five are completed/ongoing in South Balochistan, while only two are planned for North Balochistan. The development of the city of Gwadar, the establishment of the Gwadar International Airport and the only two energy projects in Balochistan are also based in southern Balochistan. Such ignorance of North Balochistan by policy makers creates a sense of deprivation among the people of North Balochistan.

Northern Balochistan shares borders with the Pashtun-majority regions of Afghanistan to the northwest and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the north. For nearly two decades, northern Balochistan has been a victim of religious terrorism. Due to the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, religious terrorists frequently carry out cross-border terrorist activities without too many obstacles. Due to the shared ethnic relationship between the peoples of northern Baluchistan and Afghanistan, religious terrorists have expanded their influence, especially in border areas, while strengthening their ideological roots in the region. Such a grassroots expansion of religious terrorist ideology is worrisome for both the province and the country.

The security situation in northern Balochistan is deteriorating day by day. Religious extremism and Baloch separatists are working to sabotage peace in the region. In Ziarat and Harnai regions, Baloch separatists are actively targeting security personnel. Recently, Baloch separatists abducted and killed a serving Pakistani army officer, Lt. Col. Laiq Baig Mirza and claimed responsibility for several attacks on security checkpoints.

In terms of development, North Balochistan is one of the least developed regions of the country. It lacks education, health and the basic necessities of life. According to 2017 census data from Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, education statistics in the region are alarming with literacy rate of 33% in Zhob, 32% in Killa Saifullah, 52% in Pishin district and 42% in Loralai district.

Health infrastructure is almost absent, with no major hospital in all of northern Balochistan. Residents of northern Balochistan are forced to travel to Quetta, the capital, in the event of a health emergency. The transport system is barely intact in northern Baluchistan, with no major roads in the region.

One of the most alarming issues in North Balochistan is the growing trend of white collar criminals and land mafia. In recent years, white-collar criminals by the name of Malaks and Khans have actively spread hatred among the Pashtun sub-castes in the region. They direct the feelings of their people towards their political and economic objectives. Some believe that these Khans and Malaks work under the patronage of certain elements of the state. If these elements are not dealt with and stopped at the earliest, they can divide the Pashtun sub-clans and cause conflicts between them.

North Balochistan is as important as South Balochistan. For decades, North Balochistan has been ignored by policy makers, politicians and scholars due to security concerns in South Balochistan. If northern Baluchistan is ignored any longer and development projects are not started, it could further exacerbate the sense of deprivation among the population.

People in Pashtun regions also claim that they never get their fair share in the provincial government. The grievances of northern Baluchistan must be addressed before this region also drifts into violence and conflict. The growing trend of white-collar criminals under the aegis of the so-called Malaks and Khans must be stopped, even though it is allegedly sponsored by certain elements of the state. The fear of possible religious extremism in northern Balochistan, in the wake of the new government in Afghanistan, must also be addressed before it takes root in society.

The widely held misconception that “Northern Balochistan is peaceful” needs to be dispelled in political, academic and policy debates so that this region can get its fair share of rights and attention from policy makers.

Comments are closed.