Mainstreaming former militants in Balochistan | By Prof Dr Muhammad Khan


Mainstreaming former militants in Balochistan

THE arrested founder of banned Baloch National Army (BNA), Gulzar Imam Shambay, has confessed his involvement in militancy and anti-state activities. After his arrest in the beginning of April 2023, he was interrogated for his militant activities. Mr Gulzar Imam has been involved in numerous terrorist activities in the province of Balochistan which include attacks against security forces. He had very strong linkages with spying networks of India and Afghanistan (RAW and NDS). His arrest was materialized after years of hectic efforts of intelligence agencies of Pakistan. He has been visiting India and Afghanistan quite frequently for training, financial support and weapons.

He appealed to the militants, especially his own militant group (BNA) to give up arms and surrender to the state. He appealed to all sub-nationalists and militants of the province to “leave their armed rebellion and better join the national mainstream to work for the development and prosperity of Balochistan and the country”. While confessing his guilt and militant activities he announced surrendering himself to the state and give up militancy. Shambay appealed to the Baloch youth to remain away from the militancy and get the people’s rights through constitutional and political means.

Balochistan forms over 43% of Pakistani landmass. However, it is thinly populated and constituting only 5% of the total population of Pakistan. Strategically and economically, the province is the significant part of the country. Ever since 2004, the province has been in socio-political turmoil which allowed external powers to exploit the situation in their favour and to the disadvantage of Pakistan and the province. During this tenure, there emerged many fault lines in the province which could not attract the attention of the federal and provincial elite, thus situation kept on deteriorating with each passing day.

Among many fault lines, sub-nationalism is the most dangerous trend, nurtured over the years and needs special attention. Those involved in this unholy game of promoting sub-nationalism in the province are making maximum investment on the youth of the province. Resultantly, the youth of the province is getting into an unsatisfactory mode and many of them are being dragged into the militancy and undesired activities which goes against the state and particularly the future of the youth. The entire development needs a retrospective evaluation and critical assessment as a course correction sooner than later.

A set of measures are being suggested as a package for the federal government, the provincial government and state institutions to play the role towards bringing normalcy in the province. The first and the foremost is immediate engagement with the youth and general masses of the province at an extensive level.  This engagement must be initiated at three levels: social, political and economic.

Among these, social engagement is the most important, since masses and youth needs immediate attention and motivation to remain away from any activity which goes against their own future the state of Pakistan. More so, clarity among the masses and the youth would save those standing at the fence who can decide to go anywhere. The social engagement has to be real and sincere while exploring the cultural, traditional and religious aspects of the province. While engaging the masses and youths, it has to be kept in mind that, local customs and traditions have to be respected. Baloch are most respected people, thus this aspect must be given the utmost significance while interacting with them.

After social engagement, the economic and political engagements will act as catalyst and the booster. This would include creating stakes of the masses in the major decision-making process of the province while engaging the local notables and literate youths at gross-root level. Indeed, the political engagement is all about empowering the youth and local notables through ownership. This strategy would entail the dual process of engagement and stakes where elders of the society provide wisdom as per the Baloch traditions and the youth act as organizers and implementers through a process of transformation in line with the state’s requirements.

The social engagement must include a rigorous campaign of identifying the socio-economic vulnerability of the masses and the youth in the first instance. After a clear identification of the vulnerability, the government must address the issues not as an economic assistance but as a futuristic investment which act as a multiplier for them on a long-term basis. This would include twin-process of economic well-being and social engagement. The modalities of this strategy can further be deliberated for the maximum socio-economic benefits of the masses and the various parts of the province, especially the rural areas and the deprived class of Balochistan.

Empowering the locals; the deprived class through a gradual strategy on social issues through a collective resolve will greatly reduce the socio-economic problems of the masses. In this regard, the educational institutions need special attention. Within educational institutions, the teachers must be motivated and institutionalized to play a positive role towards uplift of their institutions and students. In order to do that, there is a need to address the educational and logistic needs of the educational institutions throughout the province. A facilitated teacher community will have nothing to talk against the state with their students which could promote hatred among the students.

Besides, provision of basic civic facilities; health facilities and convenient availability of food and water is yet another area which needs governmental attention. The process of confidence building measures (CBMs) between masses and the provincial administration is yet another aspect which needs attention. Apart, CBMs are needed between locals and the security forces on the sound basis as a sense of security rather than a sense of insecurity. The local masses must have confidence that security forces are there to protect them. As Gulzar Imam Shambay appealed to militant outfits for giving up arms and surrendering to state, let’s evolve a strategy for mainstreaming the former militants. This would attract those still involved in the militancy from the platform of various militant organizations.

— The writer is Professor of Politics and IR at International Islamic University, Islamabad.

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