On May 11,
three terrorists attacked the only five-star hotel in Gwadar, the new port city
of Balochistan being built with assistance from the Chinese Belt-and-Road
Initiative. They killed four hotel employees and a navy soldier before being
shot by the army. The attack was claimed by the outlawed Balochistan Liberation
official view was that “sudden intensification of attacks is linked to the
launch of the second phase of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the
progress on border fencing and the fluid situation in Afghanistan”. This
statement encapsulates the new threat perception in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
The reference to “border-fencing” points to the threat to a state that felt
threatened only on the eastern border in the past. And border-fencing with
Afghanistan is not going to be easy as there is no agreed formula of
demarcation of the Durand Line.
Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) — now merged with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
province and thus “regularised” — a new protest movement, the Pashtun Tahaffuz
Movement (PTM), complains of the “disappeared” people of FATA. The complaint is
similar to the one made by the BLA in Balochistan but with a difference: PTM is
a regular political party with two seats in the National Assembly.
in Balochistan is seen as connected with the ongoing covert conflict with
India. The BLA is composed of the “disappeared” (through extrajudicial killing)
men that the Baloch nationalists in the Quetta assembly blame on the Pakistan
army, accusing it of capturing and eliminating them. Pakistan wavers between
belief in the two versions because of the capture of Kulbhushan Jadhav from
Balochistan in 2016.
The PTM too
is accused by the army of being funded by the Kabul government in tandem with
India. It is evident that Pakistan is now worried about its western border more
than its eastern one which is already fenced against infiltration by India.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s India policy — backed by the army — is that of
normalisation, which to many looks like putting aside Pakistan’s “revisionism”
over Kashmir in favour of concentrating on the western border which it never
thought of protecting in the past.
away from “India centrism” has come in the wake of internal upheaval in the two
tribal areas — comprising almost half of of Pakistan’s territory — where lack
of development has caused the population to move. The Baloch, small in number,
have lost their youth across the border or in the badlands of Balochistan while
the Pashtun of FATA have migrated inland — mostly to Karachi where they form
the largest group after the Urdu-speaking refugees from India — and to Saudi Arabia
and the Emirates of the Gulf. Lack of development in Balochistan, from where
Pakistan extracted gas and spent it lavishly in Punjab and other provinces till
it was exhausted, has alienated the Baloch intelligentsia and caused the
emergence of the BLA.
The lack of
development of infrastructure in FATA has made this crucial northwestern region
unlivable. Moreover, by allowing the Afghan Taliban and their Arab and Uzbek
fellow-warriors to locate themselves in FATA and infiltrate Afghanistan to
fight the American war against the Soviet-supported government in Kabul
completely destroyed the local hierarchies that had kept the “tribal museum” of
Khan’s talk of normalising relations with India has caused many to do a
double-take. Everyone knows “making peace” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi
means forgetting Kashmir. In Pakistan too the “Kashmir first” mindset is
changing under pressure from the Chinese Belt and Road project, the
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is crucially dependent on the
development of the Gwadar Port and its hinterland. CPEC is viewed by Pakistan
as a game-changer. But without peace on the borders, this transformation may
not be achieved.
India becomes crucial because of the neglected western border and the offended
countries beyond it: Afghanistan and Iran. In 1998, the Taliban, along with
infiltrators from Pakistan, tried to take the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif
in Afghanistan, killing its anti-Taliban Shias and the five Iranian diplomats in
the city’s Iranian consulate. Pakistan has spent half a century facing trouble
on both eastern and western borders, including Uzbekistan.
It is time
for change in Pakistan and it is going to be difficult, given the tough man
expected to be ruling India for some time — Modi. Pakistan’s economy is in deep
crisis. Meanwhile, China’s persuasion to “normalise” the state of Pakistan is
becoming intense, judging from the way it has abstained from vetoing the
resolution on Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar at the UN. China wants its
corridor through Pakistan to run normally and that requires Pakistan to live
normally as a state.
is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan