Since its beginning in 2004, the Pakistan's Baloch insurgency is caught up in the worst infighting ever known to the general public. Different left-wing underground armed groups that had been fighting Islamabad for a free Baloch homeland have now started to attack each other's camps. If the infighting exacerbates, Islamabad will have solid reasons to rejoice the end of one of the two deadly insurgencies it has been facing for nearly a decade (the other being the Taliban insurgency).
Overshadowed by the deadlier Taliban insurgency, the Baloch resistance did not draw ample attention in the national media but it was certainly a matter of deep concern for the past three consecutive governments. The Baloch insurgents had attacked almost all prime installations of the Pakistani government, including the military cantonment in Quetta, Balochistan's capital; important government buildings and killed senior government officials.
The Baloch had confronted the Pakistani state on at least four occasions in the past. The Pakistani government adopted numerous approaches to undermine the Baloch resistance but none of these approaches fully worked until infighting crept the ranks of the Baloch. In the past, Islamabad carried out military operations, bought the loyalties of rival tribal chiefs or empowered the so-called moderate leadership of the Baloch and also sponsored religious extremist groups in order to counter the Baloch nationalists. All such policies failed to completely uproot the resistance in the mineral-rich region. There has only been only one antidote to the Baloch movement: Infighting.
On November 3, the United Baloch Army, an underground armed organization, said the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), another armed group, had killed one of it its commanders, Ali Sher, and detained four of its 'freedom fighters'. This was an unprecedented development as the Baloch insurgents had never attacked each other in the past although half a dozen armed groups have been operating separately for a decade to challenge the Pakistani state. The killing of a fellow Baloch commander comes in the midst of a call two days earlier by two most important pro-independence Baloch political organizations, the Baloch National Movement (BNM) and the Baloch Students Organization (BSO) that appealed to all the armed groups to refrain from fighting each other. The BNM and the BSO provide support for the call for a free Baloch land among the people through political rallies and distribution of literature among the masses. In the process of their overt public support for the idea of a free Balochistan, the BNM and the BSO have lost the largest number of political activists in Pakistan's brutal crackdown against the Baloch political activists.
Unlike the past resistance movements, the ongoing Baloch resistance had created serious challenges for Pakistan for at least four reasons.
First, it lasted longer than any of the past resistance moment. Second, the armed struggle reached the breadth and width of Balochistan. It was expanded from rural mountainous regions to the city centers. Third, the movement involved Baloch women and children who supported the armed groups through regular protest rallies. Fourth, the Baloch resistance drew more international attention than ever before. In 2012, the U.S. Congress convened a hearing on Balochistan and supported the demand for a free Baloch land. The conflict in Balochistan has drastically influenced India-Pakistan relations as Islamabad has accused New Delhi of supporting the insurgency in Balochistan.
What suddenly caused the dramatic fall of a movement that was otherwise capable of giving Islamabad a serious headache?
While the state-sponsored killing of a top Baloch tribal leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti in August 2006, had escalated the insurgency, the natural death of another veteran nationalist leader, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri in June 2014 has caused the dramatic decline of the Baloch separatist movement.
Widely perceived as the godfather of the Baloch armed movement, Mr. Marri was a Marxist who ardently advocated the idea of a free Balochistan. I met and interviewed him at his Karachi residence in 2008. He was old and frail but said there was no way the Baloch could coexist with Pakistan. Marri was believed to be running the Baloch armed group, the Baloch Liberation Army. Islamabad had already pitted his pro-Pakistan tribal rivals against him to weaken his political position. After his death, differences broke out even among the Marri brothers on the question as to who would succeed the senior Marri. It is believed that the BLA and the UBA are loyal to two warring Marri brothers.
Currently, there is persistent tension between the two groups as to who can join and lead these organizations. In the past, the Baloch armed groups drew their manpower from the largest Baloch tribe, the Marris, only. There has been disequilibrium in the recent past as non-tribal activists from other parts of Balochistan have also joined these groups. Differences exist on how much to trust the newcomers and how much authority they should be granted. Besides the UBA, the BLA has also been criticized by another armed organization, the Lashkar-e-Balochistan, which, a recent statement published in Urdu language newspaper Daily Tawar, said the BLA was more active on social media than the actual battleground. The BLA is the oldest and the most dangerous among all Baloch groups operating in Balochistan.
Meanwhile, on another front, Baloch armed fighters struggling inside Balochistan have come out against those Baloch politicians who are currently living in exile. Those risking their lives in the battlefield in Balochistan against Pakistani forces feel somewhat betrayed that some other leaders are enjoying 'comfortable' lives in western capitals and capitalizing on their struggle. An awkward series of public allegations was seen in Balochistan's local Urdu newspapers last week between Dr. Allah Nazar, the supposed head of another Baloch armed group, the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) and the Khan of Kalat Mir Suleman Dawood, a daydreamer who perceives himself as the future king of a free Balochistan. Mr. Dawood, living in exile in the United Kingdom, has been instrumental in reaching out to American and western parliamentarians to get their support for a free Balochistan.
The armed resistance gained enormous public support in mid-2000s because of Pakistan's excessive use of force against the Baloch masses. But the insurgents failed to utilize this time to come on one single platform to put forward their demands. More and more armed groups emerged among the Baloch which made it almost impossible for them to properly coordinate with each other. The armed groups alienated the fellow moderate Baloch political parties by questioning their patriotism and commitment to the 'national cause'. Human rights groups criticized the Baloch armed groups for killing numerous non-Baloch citizens under the allegations of spying for the Pakistani government while ordinary Baloch citizens also became victim of their attacks on similar unsubstantiated allegations.
After one year of continued fighting, the Baloch insurgents appear frustrated with the lack of international support for their movement. A decade later, even not a single country supports the free Balochistan movement. The Baloch fighters seem jaded with how moderate political parties, such as the ruling National Party of Dr. Malik Baloch, the chief minister of Balochistan, capitalize on their hard work and gain political power. Islamabad's counter-insurgency policy can hardly be credited for pushing the Baloch insurgents to this level. Frustration, suspicion, infighting and division are the common features of the end of a guerrilla fight. Perhaps that time has come in Balochistan.