Balochistan – A Hub of Cross Border Intelligence Agencies

Balochistan map (Credit:

Not only does Balochistan have vast mineral resources (resources at Reko Diq alone are estimated in hundreds of billions, if not over a trillion, in dollars, sufficient to put our economic house in order for a decade or so), it also has the largest coastline available to us, housing the only deep sea port at Gawadar. But its real strategic significance is really far greater and durable than that.
Balochistan (and Gawadar) are the essence of our oft repeated ‘strategic location’.

It links us through Iran to the Middle East, and is the outlet for flow of resources from Central Asia, Western China, and Afghanistan. This is also China’s safe outlet to the Atlantic. A cursory look at the map will suffice to comprehend that from China’s eastern ports, sea-borne traffic via the Pacific poses no difficulty but to get to the Middle East or via the Gulf of Aden to the Atlantic is not merely a lengthy, circuitous route via the bottleneck at Straits of Malacca, it is peppered with US naval bases which can interdict traffic at will.

From Gawadar, however, Chinese vessels are at the mouth of the Arabian Gulf and a mere 1400 kms from the Gulf of Aden; what is more, this route is unthreatened. With the growing Chinese industry in the Chinese province of Xinkiang, coupled with an expanded KKH and a parallel rail link, this Strategic Commercial Corridor has become of vital strategic significance to China.
Finally, a Chinese naval presence at Gawadar in the not too distant future will multiply China’s options of power projection. It is in this backdrop that the Chinese warning to the US, in the aftermath of the US raid to execute Osama bin Laden on May 2nd this year when China stated that, “any future attack on Pakistan will be considered an attack on Beijing”, is comprehensible. Pakistan is, for the first time, in a position to be an equal partner in the (so-far) lopsided Sino-Pak relationship!

No wonder then, that Balochistan hosts so many international actors working to our detriment!

While ethnic based target killing has reduced in recent months, militants have now started targeting the pro-Pakistan loyalists. One example is the recent killing of Dr. Lal Bakhsh Baloch of the National Party. Reportedly, his death was ordered by Dr. Allah Nazar, BLF.

An apparently unusual development, but one which is understandable, is that the, usually peaceful Zikri community along the coast has joined the “Baloch Sarmakar”, a title denoting all Baloch insurgents. The Zikris, as we all know, have always been held in low esteem and discriminated against. To prove their “Balochness”, they have joined the insurgents and, very interestingly, I am told that Nadeem Baloch, a Zikri, has been appointed second in command by Allah Nazar!

As of last year, the area of major insurgent activity, which had rooted itself in the area ranging from Kalat to Khuzdar and Naushki, has extended to portions of the Mekran coast, due to afore-stated developments.
Traditionally, the anti-Sardari element among the Baloch were the youth and the very small middle class; these were also (mostly) patriotic and pro-Pakistan. The youth are alienated and, therefore prepared to accept distortions of their history, and are turning into insurgents; the Middle Class has gone into hibernation.
Traditional hold of Baloch Sardars is no longer very strong. All Baloch tribes have divided loyalties under sub-Sardars; all scions of the original Sardar family; most of them fighting each other. The most noteworthy exception is Sardar Khair Bakhsh Marri who enjoys the following of the bulk of his own tribe, as well as that of Baloch militants (and potential militants) and, to a far lesser degree, Ataullah Mengal.

The extent and depth of the corruption in the provincial government is well known and accepted. While many Baloch Pashtun are vehemently resentful of the rampant corruption, most Baloch seem to think it is a way of compensation to the Baloch! They seem to view the corruption as ‘stealing from Pakistan (or Punjab)’. Few, except the middle class, including Pakistan-loyalists who are relatively sidelined, advert to the fact that this corruption has actually deprived them of the development; the lack of which is their current complaint. Few are even aware of the billions of rupees that have been donated by the central government for socio-economic development, education, and human resource development, over the last decade, in addition to the annual budget.
In one instance, Zulfiqar Magsi has been quoted as having responded to a question, by Khair Bakhsh Marri, who asked him, “kiya ho raha hei?” Magsi responded, “Sab mil ke Balochistan kee XXXX XXXX rahe hein!”
Over the last year or so, resentment against the army has begun to decline and the army’s efforts to assist in health, education, and socio-economic welfare have begun to be appreciated. However, the ‘execution’ of Nawab Akbar Bugti still sticks in the Baloch craw, for which they cannot forgive the army, even though most of them are conscious of, and state, that it was on Musharraf’s orders.

On the other hand, naval cantonments along the coastline are a very sore point with the Baloch. Apparently, Naval Cantonments have made no effort to provide locals the kind of facilities that are associated with army cantonments. Very little, if any, effort is being made by PN to extend, health, education, sanitation, or social welfare. In the words of the Baloch, “They (PN personnel) are like foreigners occupying our land who treat us like dirt. We can do manual labor for them, but under armed escort. Even those (Baloch) permitted into their hospital are escorted by an armed guard”. I am not personally witness to this; however, even if this view is an exaggerated one, as we are all aware, in such instances, perceptions are more important than realities.

The general impression, with which I concur, is that there is no coordination between the various organs of the intelligence services in Balochistan, or between any of them and the FC. Consequences are frequently chaotic.

Smuggling arms, weapons, explosives, and drugs continues unabated. The general impression is that this is being done in collaboration with individuals in the intelligence agencies and the FC, in the case of the latter, almost without exception. This accusation is difficult to dispute. I have been given the name of one prominent smuggler, who is known by his pseudonym, “Beer”. Whether or not he belongs to the tribe, he now calls himself a Bizenjo and, reputedly, enjoys political patronage. Three different influential (but middle class) individuals, two of whom I consider fairly reliable, have told me that, along the border with Afghanistan/Iran, posts are vacated at certain times to facilitate free movement of smugglers.

Siraj Raisani is credited with most of the smuggling and he is laying claim to most of the killings and “missing persons”. However, he sells himself as one who enjoys support from GHQ and claims to be acting on behalf of the army/ISI.

A number of the Baloch have used words to the effect that, “if you send majors, Lt Cols, or even Brigs to such assignments, who have no future left in the army, why should they not seize the opportunity to enrich themselves”.

Some individuals have pointed out that (some) very senior officers have also taken the opportunity to make profits, if not through outright corruption, through misuse of authority. Shares procured by senior officers in various mining projects, by exerting influence, and jobs procured by them for close family members are cited as examples. I am not in a position to verify this and put it down merely to emphasize that the general view is that “Balochistan is a land that provides opportunities to rape it and enrich both; politically powerful Baloch and military officers/bureaucrats for the duration of their stay”.

Intelligence agencies and the ISI in particular, are still held responsible for the majority of deaths and ‘disappearances’. In private, however, some individuals, albeit reluctantly, acknowledge the fact that under the garb of accusations against the ISI, numerous personal vendettas, internecine rivalries, including political rivalries, inter and intra tribal ones, and between smugglers are responsible for a large number of killings, including those who are tortured; and that all these are laid at the door of the military/ISI.
In the last few years, there has been a demographic change in the population of Balochistan due to the influx of Afghan Pashtuns and Hazarvis, as well as Pashtum from Tribal Areas. The Baloch are very conscious of this fact and of the fact that, over decades past, the Pashtun of Balochistan have outstripped the Baloch in all respects: financially, in education, in employment opportunities; in every conceivable sphere.

They are also convinced that there is a deliberate effort by “Pakistan” to favor the Pashtun so as to diminish the intensity of the insurgency. If this is a policy, it might succeed in the interim but, in the long term Baloch grievances will have to be addressed.

With reference to above, some contradictory clarification is necessary, since the Pashtun complain of being under-represented in the political dispensation. Many, ethnically Pashtun Baloch tribes have adopted Baloch ways. Not only do they exclusively speak Balochi language, they claim Baloch ethnicity, like the Raisani tribe. Consequently, while Balochistan’s corrupt CM is ethnically Pashtun, for all practical purposes, from the Governor down to the IG Police; all posts are actually held by Baloch or Barahvis.

As a consequence, the traditional hostility between the Barahvi and Baloch has virtually disappeared. They have, more or less united against the common threat from Pashtun dominance engineered by “Pakistan/Punjab”. That being stated, the “Barahvi Ittehad” continues to exist.

However, the hard core Baloch militants are not, in my estimation, too large a number. I estimate them to be well under 10,000. They do, however, enjoy the willing support of their extended families, their tribe, and other Baloch.

The greatest and most urgent problem is that there are between 500,000 to 750,000 (so-called) ‘educated’ youth, some with college, others with university degrees, in search of gainful and respectable employment. They are fully conscious that their degrees are worthless and they are unfit to find respectable employment in a competitive selection. They are too proud to take up manual labor and angry enough to become potential militants and/or their supporters. I have frequently heard these words spoken in anger, even hate, but the plaintive cry beneath them is audible if one is listening, “Hum par Jihalat kyoon musallat kee jaa rahee hei”.

The youth are being fed, not only distortions of their real history, they are being fed the spiel that, “The Americans are coming. They will divide Balochistan into a Pashtun region and a Baloch region. Each Baloch family will receive a grant of $ 500,000/-“. Very few actually believe this but it serves as a “fall-back” belief, if all else fails—a ray of hope, if you will. Khair Bakhsh Marri is the main individual responsible for selling this view.

In brief, the all-pervasive view among the new generation of Baloch is that they are unequal citizens of Pakistan and are not stake-holders with a future or any hope of a future.

The fact that numerous ‘foreign hands’ are involved in stoking unrest in Balochistan is now accepted by numerous international journalists as well. This fact comes as no surprise to me or to the audience this document is addressed to. After a lengthy discussion, one young man who burst out in anger, while explaining that, with a university degree, all he could really qualify for is manual labor and added, “why should I not earn $ 100/- a day?” Since I wanted to goad him into saying more, I also asked in pretended anger, “who the hell will pay YOU $ 100/- a day?” and he immediately replied, “Indians pay $ 75/- through Iranian conduits and the CIA pays $ 100/- through Pakistani agents in Quetta.

This view has been expressed by some middle class Baloch and Punjabis, settled in Quetta for over a generation. “You (meaning Pakistan, the army, or government—take your pick) have turned Pakistan into a country of Muslims, not Pakistanis. Consequently, all Muslims from all over the world are here. The current war for control of Quetta is being fought between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Saudi supporters (presumably meaning Taliban) are occupying Kuchlag and Iranian supporters (Shias including Hazarvis) are centered round the Quetta Medical College. Kuchlag is, as you know, Pashtun, and the area was once under the iron hands of the father of Maj Ashraf Khan Nasir, former Chief Secretary Balochistan), whom I know well. There are a couple of nuances in this assessment, which need to be highlighted, since most Pakistanis refuse to acknowledge the damage done to us by Saudi Arabia and focus exclusively on the US. Firstly; that Saudis are a major part of the problem and, secondly; that, when it comes to Iranian interests, Jundallah (a Sunni organization) and Irani Shias (including the Iranian chapter of Hizbollah) and Hazarvis join hands. This opinion is shared by some Baloch Shias as well, but I am not certain that this is necessarily true.

Taliban: When the so-called “Quetta Shoora” initially moved into Quetta from Afghanistan and attempted to exert itself; it was soon silenced and, over time the prominent member of the Shoora shifted to Karachi. During my visits, between 2003 and 2009, I saw numerous Taliban roaming the streets of Kuchlag, Loralai and other Pashtun dominated regions. However, they went unarmed during daylight. My impression was that local Pashtuns were prepared to host them but kept them firmly under control. Ashraf Nasir also assured me that my impression was accurate. In 2009, however, for the first time, Ashraf Nasir sent me back to Quetta after dinner, under a heavy escort. Early this year (2011), in response to my query on Taliban, he reiterated his earlier claims of their being firmly under control, but my impression was that that was no longer true. Taliban had become independently strong.

This was very visible in other Pashtun dominated regions, including Chaman. (My impression is that this may be a deliberate response by the Pashtun of Balochistan due to being excluded from the corridors of political power.) The Pashtoonkhwa Party is being revitalized, which might also be a reactionary response.
From the above, I conclude that the claim of a ‘turf war’ between Taliban and Iran supported groups is probably a gross exaggeration but with, at least, a grain of truth. Recent events like the attack targeting the DIG FC and the one killing over two dozen Hazrvis lends some credence to this conclusion.

Underneath a rather large paint of hate to be found in the Baloch activists, is a yearning for peace and a return to normalcy. However, they are proud people who have a stated position and, therefore, need to be “seen to have won” (something) so as to acquiesce to a return to the Pakistani bosom.

I have, for long held the view that Counter Insurgency, COIN, is NOT really a military function. And, that if there is an insurgency, it is due to genuine (or perceived) socio/politico/economic grievance(s), or a combination of these. That if they have taken recourse to violence, it is because of the feeling that, without violence, their voice does not reach their target audience. Consequently, COIN as a strategy must seek to redress those grievances. To coin a phrase, insurgencies cannot be suppressed; a COIN campaign can only succeed by “out-governing” the insurgents!
This in no way implies that there is no role for the use of force, whether overtly, by security forces or covertly, by intelligence agencies. But the use of force, by either means, is only to create a situation favorable for COIN to succeed. This is a link to an article by me, originally carried in the US by Counterpunch, where I have attempted to explain my perspective of why American COIN is a perpetual failure, but it includes illustrations by example, of the selective use of force—-for those interested in wasting another 10 minutes:!!

It is my considered view that unless we can, with immediate effect, initiate a meaningful two-pronged COIN strategy, addressing the immediate and the mid/long term, we might end up alienating the Baloch forever.

Since the success of a comprehensive COIN strategy hinges around its effective utilization of resources, it will have no chance, if funds are routed through the corrupt provincial government or NGOs. Consequently, I find myself left with only one option i.e. organizing this through the army! I am fully conscious of the irony of this proposal after having stated above, so vehemently, that COIN is not the function of the military.

However, our political leadership is, not only magnificently unaware of this fact (that COIN is a non-military function), it has willingly been ceding in Swat and SWA all socio-economic development projects to the army’s supervision (including our very successful venture titled “Sabaoon”) and, I am certain, would willingly cede ALL aspects relating to COIN in Balochistan as well.

I am also very conscious of the fact that GHQ is overworked and would be very reluctant to assume a larger role. However, my proposal will attempt to reduce its direct involvement to a bare minimum. Nonetheless, it will have to be GHQ and the ISI that pushes for this proposal; otherwise it will not take off.
Under the garb of COIN; using the excuse that the provincial government itself offers an excuse i.e. its inability to access remote areas and those areas threatened by violence, GHQ/JCSC should assume responsibility for ALL projects relating to health, education, and socio-economic welfare of the people of Balochistan, on behalf of the provincial government, the last clause is of prime importance since then GHQ/JCSC will be seen as acting within the mandate of the 18th Amendment and not in violation of it by acting on behalf of the central government.
As stated earlier, the immediate problem is a large proportion of (supposedly) educated youth who are unemployed and have no hope of getting respectable employment, expected by young boys/girls, with college/university degrees. My short term recommendations deal with this issue.

Start numerous Vocational Institutions located in or close to all military cantonments, for the young with college degrees, youth of upto 25, though individuals elder than that need not be excluded automatically. These institutes could include basic computer skills, alongside the field of actual specialization, sewing, knitting, embroidery and similar subjects for young ladies; mechanical skills, carpentry, masonry, electrician, plumbing, etc for men.

Young men should be encouraged to move to other cities in the country to seek employment opportunities there. Even Fauji Foundation could induct a certain percentage of these youth. If they are skilled labor and acquire their skills and are employed away from home, they will earn a respectable living, without being exposed to the humiliation of having to do such work where they might be exposed to ridicule by their peers.
Young ladies, on the other hand, should be encouraged and assisted to find employment close to home. Askari Bank might be encouraged to start a venture akin to the famous “Grameen Bank” in Bangladesh, which provides small loans to (almost exclusively female “members”) to enable them to begin small business ventures on their own. Some young ladies could be encouraged to begin such ventures collectively.

Most young men over 25 might be reluctant to join vocational institutes. Those willing to, should be encouraged to move to larger cities, where job opportunities are greater. They can be assisted in finding semi-respectable employment e.g. when I ordered a V Sat connection from PTCL, two respectably dressed young men on a motorcycle, turned up to set up the gadget and explain how it works. I am certain that there are numerous other such opportunities for semi-skilled work, for which limited necessary expertise is more easily acquired. Others can be encouraged to turn to agriculture as desalination plants spring up along the coast.

Small industries for fruit packaging and export should be encouraged around Quetta. This is one industry for which, unlike the ill-fated venture of textile industries, no raw material need be imported and, logically, the packaging plant(s) should be as close to the source as possible. This too will generate employment opportunities and will be profitable. In fact Fauji Foundation or AWT could espouse this venture and set aside a fixed percentage of the profits for other welfare projects in Balochistan.

A variation on the “Sabaoon” theme is required for the Baloch youth. I am not yet in a position to spell out how or what. But as soon as I can, I will consult with people and make a separate suggestion on this.

The Baloch plea against “Jihalat” being forced upon them is both moving and merited. It must be addressed immediately, and be seen to being addressed in the long term. We have to revive their hope for a better future for the future Baloch generations in a united Pakistan.

One Reply to “Balochistan – A Hub of Cross Border Intelligence Agencies”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *