Islamabad (Imran Y. CHOUDHRY) :- Former Press Secretary to the President, Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, Former MD, SRBC Mr. Qamar Bashir analysis :
I take pride in hailing from my beautiful hometown, Quetta, and my beloved province, Balochistan. It’s a unique province with vast barren land but abundant mineral wealth. Despite the absence of permanent rivers, our water needs are met through rain and snow, replenishing aquifers to sustain the entire human and animal population. The province also stands out for its demographic diversity. It’s neatly divided into two major ethnicities, with Balochs in the south and Pathans in the north. Quetta, on the other hand, is a melting pot, hosting settlers from various ethnic backgrounds like Punjabi, Kashmiri, Sindhi, Hazara, and more. My own Kashmiri family resides in Quetta, fostering strong bonds with Pashtoon, Baloch, and Hazara friends. Over the years, intermarriages, once considered impossible, are now common and flourishing.
Both the Pathan and Baloch ethnicities are deeply rooted in tribal societies, often regarded as some of the most beautiful communities in the world. These societies value honesty, trustworthiness, truthfulness, friendliness, and hospitality. The people prioritize honor and dignity above all else and guard it against any threat. It’s important to note that this commitment to honor doesn’t imply a hostile posture unless they face denigration, insult, deception, or a trampling of their honor and dignity. Once these communities declare someone as an enemy, however, they become formidable foes. They are known to pursue their enemies relentlessly for generations if necessary. This fierce loyalty and determination are integral aspects of their cultural values.
Now, the significant question arises: why did groups like the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) emerge from these culturally rich societies? How did they transform into formidable and lethal entities? Before delving deeper, it’s essential to distinguish the Pathan and Baloch communities within the religious context.
The Pathan community is predominantly religious, actively practicing Islam through rituals such as offering prayers, observing fasting, and performing Hajj. However, in societal conduct, their primary adherence is to the Pashtunwali code of life. They can readily align with movements that claim to uphold Islamic values, as perceived by them, and may fiercely engage in struggles aligned with these principles.
On the contrary, the Baloch community is not as inherently inclined toward religious practices. While maintaining the distinct identity of each Baloch tribe, they follow a tribal code of conduct rooted in traditions and customs. This code is adhered to not only by the general populace but also by figures of authority such as Nawabs and Sardars.
The lethal, violent, and inhuman activities perpetrated by both the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) are in no way aligned with either the Pashtunwali code of the Pathan community or the tribal code followed by the Baloch. These acts of violence, insurgency, terrorism, and extremism are foreign to the inherent values and conduct of both societies. Such streaks of violence starkly contrast with the overall cultural and traditional norms observed by the Pathan and Baloch communities.
The seeds of these violent tendencies were planted during a time when both the USA and USSR were actively seeking allies worldwide, making friends of their enemies’ enemies. My first hand experience in college in Quetta during (1978-82) reflects this, where the propaganda arms of both superpowers were actively engaging Pathan and Baloch students. Through offers of free books, cash incentives, scholarships, and all-expenses-paid trips to their respective countries, they sought to sway student leaders to their side. In addition to these inducements, they provided financial support and furnished lethal arms and ammunition. Once student leaders were effectively brought on board, they were strategically pitted against governments they opposed, serving as vocal proponents of either capitalist or socialist ideologies.
The USA found common ground with Pathans, utilizing religion as a catalyst and supporting them with weapons and financial aid. They manipulated them into denouncing the USSR as Kafir (infidel) during the Cold War, but eventually left them without clear support. India, seizing an opportunity, stepped in and employed a similar strategy—using religion as a foundation, providing financial support and weapons. They redirected their focus toward a new enemy, the state of Pakistan, and encouraged politico-religious parties, assuming their religious nature would align with the Taliban’s resistance against the government. Recent attacks on the JUI (Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam) are likely driven by the same motive.
Shifting focus to the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), the USA attempted a similar strategy by aligning Baloch interests against the USSR. However, this approach proved less effective with the Balochs. Unlike the Pathans, the Baloch people prioritize their tribal code over other considerations, including religion. Recognizing this distinction, the USSR strategically leveraged nationalism, combined with financial support and weapons. This potent combination resonated well with the Baloch, who passionately began demanding complete control over provincial resources, including minerals, gas, oil, and land.
The Baloch, largely advocating communism and socialism on the political stage, considered the Punjabi army as their primary adversary. They viewed settlers as exploiters of Baloch resources and occupiers of government roles, leading to armed resistance against them fueled by foreign money and weapons. With the collapse of the USSR, these armed factions were left without support. India seized the opportunity and stepped in, replacing the USSR by promoting nationalistic ideologies and providing financial aid and weapons to the Baloch groups and poised them against the state of Pakistan.
Now, we are better positioned to comprehend the narratives of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), understanding their persistent efficacy even after being abandoned by the USA and USSR, respectively.
The TTP aims to establish its interpretation of Islamic law in Pakistan, rejecting the democratic system, accusing the government of corruption and subservience to the West. Advocating for an Islamic state, they oppose Western influence and view the military as collaborators with perceived enemies of Islam. Justifying armed resistance, including suicide bombings, as a form of jihad, they target military and government entities in their pursuit of what they perceive as liberation from oppressive forces.
In contrast to the TTP’s religious narrative, the BLA pursues a secular philosophy, functioning as a militant separatist group. It seeks autonomy for the Baloch people in the Balochistan region through armed insurgency, targeting military installations, personnel, and officials to weaken state control and create insecurity. The BLA employs tactics like bombings, sabotage, and assassinations to disrupt the economy and instill fear. Kidnappings are used to pressure the government and gain publicity. Propaganda articulates their grievances, seeking both local and international support by accusing Pakistan of human rights abuses through lobbying, media engagement, and participation in international forums.
The lifeblood of both the TTP and BLA lies in financial resources and weaponry. To effectively curb their strength, the Pakistani government must cut off their access to these crucial elements. This involves sealing borders to prevent illegal movement of goods and services, as the existing policy allowing smuggling is a significant source of income for the local population and inadvertently supports TTP and BLA activities.
Implementing stringent financial controls, minimizing cash transactions, and adhering strictly to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) regulations will significantly hamper the effectiveness of these militant groups. By addressing the sources of their funding and limiting their access to weapons through border control measures, the state can weaken their operational capabilities.
The ultimate solution to these challenges lies in addressing their root causes. This involves comprehensive development initiatives for their respective regions, focusing on providing high-quality education from the grassroots level universally. An essential step is mainstreaming Madrassas, which often serve as recruitment grounds, especially for groups like TTP. Developing a skilled human resource, generating employment opportunities, and integrating remote areas of both Pathan and Baloch communities into national road and highway networks are critical components.
Moreover, legislating the responsible utilization of proceeds from mineral wealth, oil, and gas for the upliftment of their native areas is vital. Raising awareness among the populations about their rights and responsibilities is crucial, ensuring that progress and prosperity reach them parallel to the more developed regions of the country and the world. Achieving a permanent solution requires a sustained commitment to these long-term development strategies, acknowledging that there are no shortcuts to lasting progress and stability.