When Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan pledged recently to start talks with Balochistan’s entrenched and restive armed insurgents, it was
not clear he was moved by the economically deprived and politically emasculated state of the nation’s largest province.
Nor was his outreach
likely motivated by any assessment long-active Baloch insurgent groups had become too weak to continue their hit-and-run campaign.
his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government appears to have belatedly awakened to the grave threat the rising Baloch insurgency poses to the China and Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and how the security and political situation in Balochistan could deteriorate
in the wake of the Taliban’s resurgence in next-door Afghanistan.
The province, with its strategic port of Gwadar where China is pouring
in billions of dollars in investment funds, is a vital territory within the wider US$60 billion CPEC.
At the same time, Balochistan has also
historically been a secure political base for the Afghan Taliban’s leadership, or Quetta Shura, and is now arguably turning into a confluence area of religiously inspired militancy and long-standing ethnic insurgency.
This makes it an extraordinarily sensitive region for Pakistan, as widespread instability leaking out of Afghanistan could provide new fuel for disgruntled Baloch groups to
revamp their militias and up their separatist campaign.
While rooted in grievances against the Pakistani state, insurgents have recently targeted
Chinese nationals and the CPEC more broadly as associated with Islamabad.
Many analysts and political leaders in Pakistan believe widespread
militant and ethnic insurgency could ultimately force China out of Balochistan, which would deal a serious blow to Pakistan’s efforts to revamp its economy.
That campaign is ramping up. Two Pakistan military personnel, including a captain, were killed on July 15 in a blast in Balochistan’s Pasni district, 126 kilometers east of the Gwadar port.
On July 14, a separate bus blast in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province killed at least 13 people, including nine Chinese nationals. While China was quick to call it a bomb attack,
Pakistani authorities continue to insist that it was a vehicle failure.