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Insurgency in Balochistan

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By: Priyanka Saurabh

The Baloch tribe is a group of people from the Balochistan region and the region is divided into three regions. The northern part is in present-day Afghanistan, the western region is called the Sistan-Baluchistan region in Iran and the rest is in Pakistan.

This area remained the center of power struggle during and after British rule. Pakistan took control of the region in 1948 and the accession agreement led to the first rebellion for autonomy, which resulted in systemic repression of the independence movement with violence in Balochistan.

The Balochis believe they were colonized or annexed by Pakistan during partition and the ethnic group is distinct from the dominant Punjabis, Sindhis who have dominated Pakistan’s politics.

The association of the Pashtun region with Afghanistan and the Balochis demanding independence has become an ‘Achilles Heel’ for Pakistan. Fifty-two years ago, the call for independence in East Pakistan led to the creation of Bangladesh.

Baloch armed groups were formed to “liberate” the region and there have been several clashes between the Pakistani army and the militants. The groups have also targeted infrastructure to disrupt projects in the region and create a state of fear.

There is a shared feeling of subordination among the Balochis on both sides of the border. It has given rise to a sense of Balochi nationalism aimed at independence and is also a hub for drug and arms trafficking due to the power vacuum and growing hostility between the state and the people.

There have been instances in the past when Iran has fired mortars to attack terrorist camps in Balochistan. A fence along the Iran-Pakistan border now separates families and tribes, which is still in place.

Despite its strategic importance, Balochistan has been ignored by Pakistan’s central leadership, leading to an independence movement that began after it acceded to Pakistan in 1948.

The recent attacks have drawn attention to two things – the airspace of a nuclear-armed nation being violated by missile and drone attacks and the instability in Balochistan and power politics involving regional and global powers.

Recent events have put relations between Iran and Pakistan in the spotlight, with missile attacks, drone strikes, and territorial disputes increasing tensions between the two neighboring countries.

The Baloch population living on both sides of the Iran–Pakistan border share deep cultural, ethnic, and linguistic ties. Baloch communities have been marginalized in both countries, giving rise to separatist movements. Baloch insurgents operate across the open border, targeting military and civilian targets, complicating relations.

Baloch insurgents in Iran often have a religious bent, while insurgents in Pakistan lean toward secular ethno-nationalism. Before Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, both countries were allied with the United States and were part of the Baghdad Pact (later CENTO), a military alliance based on NATO.

Iran provided material and arms assistance to Pakistan during its wars against India in 1965 and 1971. Iran became a staunch enemy of the United States after 1979, while Pakistan moved closer to the US, especially as differences emerged during the “War on Terror” after 9/11.

Recent cross-border attacks and tensions between Iran and Pakistan underscore the fragility of their relations, which are complicated by historical, sectarian, and geopolitical factors. The involvement of Arabs, Israelis, and Iranians in the Balochistan issue reflects broader regional power politics.

Balochistan’s location at the mouth of the Gulf makes it an integral part of geopolitical strategies. The Balochistan issue, regional power dynamics and India’s emerging role in the Middle East are challenging established assumptions about security in the region.

As Gulf conflicts spill over to the Baloch border, a weakened Pakistan could find itself embroiled in a broader Middle East conflict, demanding a reassessment of regional strategies.

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Tehran’s harsh treatment of the Baloch has fueled Sunni fundamentalism in Sistan-o-Baluchistan. Even before the Iranian Revolution, ethnic Baluch from Iran migrated to Balochistan and Karachi and became involved in political activities against the Shah of Iran.

Pakistan has a complicated relationship with its Baloch population due to the increase in Baloch insurgency over the past few years. Baloch society is organized along tribal lines, and infighting among the Baloch population has contributed somewhat to the group’s lack of political power, as it has been subject to various empires for centuries.

Baloch separatist movements have been part of the political fabric of the region for decades, with a presence in both Pakistan and Iran, where about 20 percent of the Baloch population lives (about 70 percent are in Pakistani territory).

The increasingly porous and poorly policed border between the two countries has meant that drug trafficking and many different insurgent groups have had the opportunity to flourish, with Vale particularly noting cooperation between the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan IS, which wants to overthrow the Pakistani government and has carried out several deadly attacks by Baloch militants.

Due to Gwadar and Chabahar, the economic interests of both countries as well as changes in extremist ideology, Pakistan’s increasing cooperation with Gulf countries and the United States, and challenging conditions along the long border have increased tensions between the two countries.

Ultimately, the current conflict between Iran and Pakistan has more to do with the internal politics of each country. It is a continuation of a long-running conflict against an ethnic insurgency that has troubled them both for decades. Iran’s involvement – particularly its decision to attack Pakistani territory as well as targets in Iraq and Syria – reflects its battlefield capabilities as well as its concern about recent attacks on its people. The situation is likely to remain tense unless both countries reconsider their treatment of their Baloch populations.

(The author is a Research Scholar in Political Science. She writes for various newspapers)




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