Imran Khan has finally gone to Balochistan – to Nushka, to be precise – along with Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa to spend the day “with the troops who repulsed terrorist attacks”. And he is promising 'panem et circenses', meaning food and amusement, to the Baloch, while announcing a raise in the salary of the Frontier Corps and other paramilitary organs. Those same corps, to be clear, who are exploiting, disappearing and killing Baloch people every day in connection with criminal squads, and, of course, with the Chinese protectors of the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) interests in the area.
The premier and his guardian flew to Balochistan a few days after the Balochistan Liberation Army launched on February 2 what they called ‘Operation Ganjal’ carried out by their Majeed Brigade. The attack, targeting military posts both in Panjgur and Nushki, lasted almost 72 hours.
According to the BLA spokesperson: “More than 90 enemy personnel, including approximately 55 personnel of Frontier Corps, 18 SSG Commandos and 7 Lite Commandos were killed in Noshki, whereas at least 105 enemy personnel were neutralised in Panjgur. This includes 85 personnel of Frontier Corps and 20 SSG Commandos. During the battle, a military drone was shot, whereas a helicopter was also targeted. However, it could not be ascertained if this helicopter crashed or not. Two armoured vehicles of Pakistani military were destroyed, whereas both military camps were partially destroyed.”
According to the Pakistani military, “Both attacks have been successfully repulsed while inflicting heavy casualties to terrorists.” In Panjgur, terrorists tried to enter a security forces' camp from two locations, the statement read. “However, timely response by troops foiled the terrorist attempt. During intense exchange of fire, one soldier has been martyred. Terrorists have fled while their casualties are being ascertained.”
So, they flew drones and helicopters and evacuated the area just for fun, it seems, while Imran and Bajwa went to Balochistan just to have a picnic with the soldiers carrying out a routine operation. The truth might be in the middle, as what happens during war operations.
The Baloch Are Up in Arms, And Pak Is Deluded
But besides the numbers and figures of casualties, there’s another truth, a more unpalatable one – the Baloch are up in arms and are not going to give up. Islamabad tries to silence the press about the military operations carried by the BRAS almost every day, the region is sealed for journalists and independent observers, but the reality on the ground still seeps out of the region.
Islamabad maintains the usual narrative: that Baloch handlers are in Afghanistan and in India, that it is not a freedom movement or a spontaneous revolt, that the Baloch are happy and dancing in the streets like Uighurs in China, and that the revolt is just due to terrorist elements funded and armed by India.
Interestingly enough, talking about terrorists, Mohammed Hafiz Saeed flew to Balochistan before Bajwa and Imran and gave a scandalised statement about the anti-Pakistan (and anti-China) feelings brewing there.
Imran's Own Words in 2009
The same feelings were highlighted in the past by Imran himself who, in 2009, had said on record: “Hundreds disappeared, there was extrajudicial killing. It was treated more like a colony rather than a part of Pakistan”. He added that if he were a Baloch, he may well be someone who “would turn to arms” in order to “defend the rights” of his people. “I think I would turn to arms if I had no access to getting into Parliament because most of the elections are heavily rigged there.”
Imran testified in favour of Hyrbyair Marri and Faiz Baloch during a trial for terrorism held in the UK against them under Pervez Musharraf's pressure. According to the record of Henry Blaxland QC’s (Marri's lawyer) final speech, in a video call from Islamabad the actual Prime Minister of Pakistan “described that sense of military occupation, the roadblocks, the military cantonments everywhere – I think he described the one in Quetta being the biggest he had ever seen – that permanent sense of occupation.”
Interestingly enough, in his testimony in the Hyrbyair and Faiz case, Imran maintained the same position currently held by Bashir Zeb, the actual commander of the BLA, who stated:
“We consider armed struggle a form of political approach. Our movement stems from established political concepts and it is in its current status only because peaceful means of struggle have been banned on us and armed struggle has been left as the only choice”.
A Warning to Pakistan
The latest BLA statement says, “The Baloch freedom movement is a homegrown movement, and its power sources lie in the Baloch public. All Baloch fidayees involved in the Operation were educated Baloch youth who were born in Balochistan and, following the philosophy of General Aslam Baloch, died defending the motherland. It should be now clear that this freedom movement cannot be weakened by any changes in neighbouring countries or by being labelled as a proxy movement”.
But it also offers an overture to the government: “The Baloch Liberation Army values human lives and we do not find happiness in ending any life. If Pakistan, instead of bloodshed and carnage, opts for peace then we in the presence of an international guarantor invite Pakistan to the negotiation table. We are ready for negotiations on agendas of secure withdrawal of Pakistani forces from Balochistan and complete independence of our motherland.” Otherwise, they say, the attacks will go on against military posts and Chinese economic interests, in Balochistan and all over Pakistan.
Why Pak Must Learn From History
But it might be too late for Islamabad to end the state of denial and the narrative they are carrying on with for many years now. They sold Balochistan to the Chinese, telling Beijing that they could easily manage a few rioters funded by the usual 'foreign powers', and the only way out Pakistan could think of was escalating the repression, the human rights violations, and the level of violence against Baloch people.
The Chinese gave them a good hand, trying to adopt in Balochistan the same strategies they adopted in Xinjiang, including showing happy people playing golf in Gwadar. But that has only resulted in a new generation of fighters who are even more motivated than their elders.
A negotiation table might be a better idea for both Islamabad and China. They should all, in fact, go back to history books and remember what happened to East Pakistan. History, if you don't learn from it, will always repeat itself.
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. Her latest book is ‘Balochistan — Bruised, Battered and Bloodied’. She tweets @francescam63. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)