Northern Balochistan has a case for attention

Pushtun areas are being ignored

In our academic and political discussions, there is a widely believed consensus that Northern Balochistan is a peaceful region while Southern Balochistan is not. Such understanding of Northern Balochistan, which is contrary to the ground realities, is depriving the region and its people of its due rights and attention. Balochistan is a multi-ethnic province; home to Pashtuns, Balochs, Brahuis, and some other minority ethnic groups. Territorially, Balochistan is widely segregated between Northern Balochistan and Southern Balochistan where Pashtun and Baloch live respectively.  If the Baloch and Brahui are considered two separate ethnic groups, Pashtun emerges as the majority ethnic group in the province.

However, owing to the unfortunate series of Baloch separatist movements and sectarianism in Southern Balochistan, it snatched the attention of academicians, policymakers, and politicians from Northern Balochistan. Therefore, there is a need to unveil the myth of “peaceful Northern Balochistan” and call for due attention from both the provincial and federal governments.

The widely believed misconception that “Northern Balochistan is peaceful” needs to be dispelled in political, academic, and policy debates so that this region can get its due share of rights and attention from the policymakers

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Northern Balochistan, previously known as British Balochistan, was a developed region compared to Southern Balochistan. However, since the establishment of Balochistan as a province, Northern Balochistan was ignored by the policymakers with the excuse that Southern Balochistan requires attention and resources due to security issues and sectarianism.

Both in terms of security and development, Northern Balochistan has not received its due share of attention and resources. CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) which is believed to be the gamechanger for both Balochistan and Pakistan, is almost invisible in Northern Balochistan. Out of ten transportation projects under CPEC, five are completed/in-progress in Southern Balochistan while only two are planned for Northern Balochistan. The development of Gwadar city, establishment of Gwadar International Airport, and the only two power projects for Balochistan are also based in Southern Balochistan. Such ignorance of Northern Balochistan by the policymakers is creating a sense of deprivation among the people of Northern Balochistan.

Northern Balochistan shares its borders with the Pashtun majority areas of Afghanistan to the northwest and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the north. For almost two decades, Northern Balochistan has been the victim of religious terrorism. Due to the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the religious terrorists frequently execute cross-border terrorist activities without many hurdles. Due to the shared ethnic relationship between the people of Northern Balochistan and Afghanistan, religious terrorists have expanded their influence, especially in the border areas while strengthening their ideological roots in the region. Such grass root expansion of religious terrorist ideology is worrisome for both the province and the country.

The security situation in Northern Balochistan is worsening day by day. Religious extremism and Baloch separatists are working to sabotage peace in the region. In the areas of Ziarat and Harnai, Baloch separatists are actively targeting security personnel. Recently, the Baloch separatists abducted and killed a serving officer of the Pakistan Army, Lt Col Laiq Baig Mirza and claimed responsibility for several attacks on security check posts.

In terms of development, Northern Balochistan is one of the most underdeveloped regions in the country. It lacks education, health, and the basic necessities of life. As per the 2017 census data of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the education statistics in the region are alarming with a literacy rate of 33 percent in Zhob, 32 percent in Killa Saifullah, 52 percent in Pishin district, and 42 percent in Loralai district.

The health infrastructure is almost absent with no major hospital in the entire Northern Balochistan. People of Northern Balochistan are compelled to come to Quetta, the capital city, in case of any health emergency. The transportation system is barely intact in Northern Balochistan with no major roads in the region.

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One of the most alarming issues in Northern Balochistan is the growing trend of white-collar criminals and land mafia. In recent years, white-collar criminals under the name tag of Malaks and Khans are active in spreading hate among sub-castes of Pashtun in the region. They are steering the sentiments of their people for their political and economic purposes. Some believe that these Khans and Malaks are working under the patronage of some state elements. If these elements are not addressed and stopped at the earliest, they can divide sub-clans of the Pashtuns and can instigate conflicts between them.

Northern Balochistan is as important as Southern Balochistan. For decades, Northern Balochistan has been ignored by policymakers, politicians, and academia due to the security issues in Southern Balochistan. If Northern Balochistan is ignored much longer, and development projects are not initiated, this could further exacerbate the sense of deprivation among the people.

The people of Pashtun areas also claim that they never get their due share in the provincial government. The grievances of Northern Balochistan must be addressed before this region also drifts towards violence and conflict. The growing trend of white-collar criminals under the umbrella of so-called Malaks and Khans must be halted, even if it is allegedly sponsored by some state elements. The fear of possible religious extremism in Northern Balochistan, in the wake of the new government in Afghanistan, must also be addressed before it takes root in society.

The widely believed misconception that “Northern Balochistan is peaceful” needs to be dispelled in political, academic, and policy debates so that this region can get its due share of rights and attention from the policymakers.

Abdul Rehman
The writer is a Research Officer in Balochistan Think Tank Network, BTTN, Quetta

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