THEATRE OF TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION: UNDERSTANDING THE TRAJECTORY OF BALOCHISTAN’S INSURGENCY
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”
If we consider the current insurgency and terrorist attacks in Balochistan one may apprehend that the province is descending into Anarchy. To raise our fears further the PM Imran Khan implied that they are thinking to talk with “Naraz Baloch” and then appointed MNA Nawabzada Shah Zain Bugti as Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Reconciliation and Harmony in Balochistan. Many political analysts believes that Shah Zain Bugti simply lacks the political clout and purpose required for a huge task of the reconciliation process in Balochistan. On the other hand, the security analysts assert that making such moves when the law enforcing agencies in Balochistan are under heavy attack reflects a frail and desperate government. For many years we have witnessed this theatre of truth and reconciliation happening and failing because we have never tried to understanding the nature this insurgency.
Every government have showcased their skills of reconciliation. The PPP government (2008-13) had introduced the Aghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan package, besides giving concessions to the province in the seventh NFC award. Then the PML-N government (2013-18) followed in the same footsteps and made the reconciliation with Baloch insurgent leaders a clause of the National Action Plan announced in January 2015. Now the PTI government wants to take the lead in the reconciliation process. Their intentions may be right but their timing and selection is raising concerns among stakeholders.
First of all, it is surprising to see the government announcing reconciliation in Balochistan when security institutions are giving the impression that the situation is fully under control and insurgents cannot pose a major threat. Their optimism is also growing because of the changing situation in Afghanistan where, they believe, the Afghan Taliban upsurge will shrink the space for the Baloch insurgent leadership hiding there. Secondly the person leading the initiative doesn’t enjoy the trust of the Baloch leadership. But most importantly without understanding the nature of insurgency in Balochistan we can never reach a viable resolution. The contemporary wave of insurgency in Balochistan is driven by multiple factors from exploitation of resources to the role of tribal sardars in perpetuating the conflict and mismanagement of Baloch grievances by the state. A nexus has been created among criminality, militancy and terrorism that seems to evade our policy thrust. This conflict is here to stay as long as we don’t study and understand it.
The conflict progression model by Adam Curle in 1971 explained the dynamics and progression of the conflict. The model is based on a premise the conflict never remains in a static position. It moves through a continuum from unpeaceful to peaceful relationship and vice versa. A conflict can be understood to progress over time and vary in intensity throughout its existence. Beginning with its initiation a conflict will be of low intensity, becoming more intense as it escalates and plateaus into a high intensity entrapment. As the conflict de-escalates and eventually terminates the intensity is reduced. It comprises four stages; latent conflict where the conflict is hidden due to unawareness of equality; the second stage is confrontation where the inequality is recognized and addressed. The third stage comprises negotiation with mutual recognition and cooperation and the last stage is sustainable peace and more peaceful relations. Sadly, in case of Balochistan we have never passed the second stage and it has always been a zero-sum equation because we never understood the trajectory of Balochistan’s insurgency.
Insurgencies throughout time and region are vastly different. According to RAND insurgency study, there is no definitive marker for how to predict if an insurgency movement is dying down. However, there are a range of trends that correlate with the trajectory and protraction of an insurgency. The RAND study, for example, found that government chance of victory in an insurgency improves the longer an insurgency occurs. The study put the average modern insurgency as lasting about ten years, indicating that insurgencies that last longer are far more likely to be reaching an end. Factors such as access to resources are much better guaranteed in government forces, and by outlasting insurgents, the warfare becomes attrition-based. However, there are several other elements that also play a role in the protraction of an insurgency. For example, insurgencies with more than two groups are more likely “have longer, more-violent, and more-complex endings” due to competing interests. Therefore, factors such as unification among groups hold implications for the length and outcome of insurgencies. The Baloch insurgent have exactly done the same when they established Baluch Raji Ajohi Sangar (BRAS) (in English, Baluch National Freedom Movement), an alliance of three Baluch nationalist-separatist groups—Baluchistan Republican Army (BRA), Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), and Baluchistan Liberation Front (BLF). The creation of BRAS has given new life to the dying insurgency. One wonder why our government cannot foresee any such move and the answer is simple we lack the culture to research and analysis.
If we examine the theories of insurgencies further it explains that the ability for either side to ensure civilian security and thereby gain civilian support is perhaps the most crucial factor for determining insurgency resilience. A civilian support base can provide assets such as intelligence, sanctuary, and resources, while at the same time denying those to the opposing force. Scholars suggest that the ability for counterinsurgents to gain a civilian support base may be far more difficult than the insurgent ability, because counterinsurgents must both protect the population while fighting to overpower the insurgents, whereas the insurgents “only have to demonstrate they can best protect a population or, far easier, inflict enough mayhem and destruction to demonstrate that the existing authorities cannot”. However, in case of Balochistan we are more eager to get support of Sardars and Nawabs or anybody with nuisance value than the public or intelligentsia.
Intelligence in insurgencies is a critical asset for both sides because it links the ability for counterinsurgents and insurgents alike to employ effective violence: indiscriminate violence leads to a decrease in support for any side utilizing the tactic. Without accurate intelligence, counterinsurgents may use violence against civilians hidden among insurgent forces, as insurgents tend to be far more difficult to distinguish from civilians, leading to greater insurgent support and lower counterinsurgent support. Indiscriminate violence proves an inability to provide security to the civilian population in addition to angering the population for unjust losses. Similarly, the same is true for insurgent forces attacking counterinsurgents, although counterinsurgents (normally, government sanctioned military or security forces) are almost always easily distinguished from the civilian population due to uniform an idea linked to what is describes as the “fluidity” and “rigidity” associated with insurgent and counterinsurgent positions, respectively. Gaining the support of the neutral population then can create a powerful cycle of improving forces’ ability to wage war: by providing greater security and winning civilian support, the support results in more assets in the form of sanctuary, intelligence, and manpower, which then improves the ability to effectively wage war. Without doing an assessment of our intelligence working and then adjusting we will be far from a resolve.
Another trend related to the endurance of insurgencies is the level of external support that insurgents receive. Researchers argue that insurgents with outside support are far more likely to outlast counterinsurgent efforts. This is where the international community have to plan their role effectively to stop any such support from happening in Balochistan.
The challenge today is not only ending the violence by militants, but also addressing the long-standing issues and troubled relationship between the people of Balochistan and rest of Pakistan. Even if the Security Forces are able to crush the insurgency today, tomorrow, or next week, without real changes between this relationship, we are likely to see another similar insurgency arise in Balochistan in the future.
We need to think in terms of relationship-building, rather than seclusion. The role of the masses is fundamental in reconciliation, and we must realise it. The state needs to foster relationships directly, not through a third party. Change cannot be forced from an external source; it just has to come from the people. The state must engage the people of Balochistan directly to create a ‘collective will,’ instead of aiming for ‘collective submission’ through tribalism and political elites. Once we have gathered the masses support then reconciliation will be sustainable.
The Baloch will hold on to their old narrative as they may think it serves their interests better. The decision to modify their narrative cannot be forced. If they perceive value in the new narrative, they will adopt it.