Balochistan: New great game?
DETERIORATING law and order situation in Balochistan shows troubling security environment in Pakistan.
Recent spate of attacks on military forces in Noshki and Punjgor are not just accident, but it has strategic timing and execution.
It signifies the changing security landscape of the country with shifting regional security paradigm and geopolitics.
In a changing world, Balochistan seems to be the chessboard of new great game between regional and global players.
Growing great powers competition will bring Pakistan at the eye of geopolitical storm; it can deplorably change the internal security dynamics of the country.
The twin attacks in Balochistan at the time of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to China should not be considered a coincidence, but it signifies intensifying tensions between the US and China and Pakistan’s strategic hedging towards China.
To thwart Pakistan’s strategic partnership with China in the face of growing Sino-US competition and evolving Indo-US alliance, external players, both regional and extra-regional, will fan the flame of insurgency by providing logistics and material support to insurgent groups in order to carry out terrorist activities in Balochistan which is the country’s most volatile province.
For achieving strategic advantage and intimidating Pakistan, hostile forces will galvanize both nationalist and religious militant outfits to escalate their conflicts in the country.
It terribly disrupts the country’s internal peace and stability.As security situation deteriorates in the province, it will increase China’s concerns and insecurity of the CPEC project.In the face of great power competition, the CPEC has strategic dimension.
As China increases its economic footprints in the region through the integration of vital supply lines, it will try to get access to the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) that enables Beijing to manoeuvre for maritime routes.
It is obvious that CPEC provides China the shortest route to import oil from Gulf countries and export manufactured goods to regional and global markets, but it also consolidates Beijing’s maritime security and helps escape the Malacca dilemma in war situation.
The regional security landscape has occurred just after the US’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and creation of a new security alliance, the AUKUS.
It has dramatically changed the regional security environment with unleashing violence and terrorist activities.
Just after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, a new wave of insurgency has swept the region.
Since dislocated militant groups are trying to find out new hideouts owing to inimical ties with the new guards of Afghanistan, they carry out terrorist activities where they operate because it has become difficult for them to find secure hideouts both in Pakistan and neighbouring countries.
In this new great game, these militant groups are used by hostile agencies for strategic coercion.
By the virtue of its geostrategic location, Balochistan will be the focus of great powers because it plays a significant role for regional connectivity, resource exploitation of Central Asian and the Middle Eastern countries, and maritime security.
In other words, Balochistan is at the heartland of vast regional oil and energy resources, which are instrumental for big powers to maintain their clout in regional affairs.
To control connection between South Asia and Central Asia through Afghanistan, major players will continue their subversive activities in the province.
In this context, Michael Kugelman’s article, “South Asia Has a Connectivity Disconnect”, is a timely appraisal of growing competition for regional connectivity between Pakistan and India.
As he mentions: “[C]urrent efforts to strengthen connectivity are more likely to drive South Asian states further apart than bring them closer together.
New infrastructure plans are playing out in sub-regions, with India pursuing initiative to its east and Pakistan eyeing opportunities in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
This infrastructure development is becoming the latest battlefield for competition between Islamabad and New Delhi”.
Against this backdrop, India will increase its regional outreach and foil Pakistan’s policy initiative to be the “zip of Eurasia”.
Along with other players, India continues to wage a “hybrid war” through controlling narratives and perceptions.
As long as Pakistan does not assess the internal dynamics of Balochistan conflict, it will be harassed strategically by adversaries, making Balochistan problem its Achilles’ heel.Given the complexity of the problem, these attacks are just the tip of the iceberg.
There will be dangerous security situations provided that great powers lock their strategic horns over the Indian Ocean Region (and Balochistan) for controlling the sea lines of communication and regional infrastructure for resources and strategic purposes.
In this scenario, power politics and new great game will revolve around Balochistan.
With increasing tendency of extremism and sub-nationalism, security environment of the province will be extremely troublesome.
To restore the law and order, military deployment will be increased that results in deprivation and political crisis in the province.It makes Pakistan more vulnerable for hybrid warfare.
For circumventing destabilizing forces, it is indispensable for policy makers to evaluate and understand the internal dynamics of Balochistan conflict.
Seeking military solution to a political problem will aggravate the situation.
As Islamabad has persuaded the US that there is no military solution to Afghanistan problem, it needs to asses Balochistan issue through political lenses, too.
Negotiation with nationalists and engagement with politicians and public will create a path of reconciliation.
It enables Pakistan to play the new great game aptly—without getting sucked into evolving great power competition.
—The writer is strategic affairs and foreign policy analyst.