Days after prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, visited China and granted the Chinese operational control of the Gwadar Port in Balochistan, a massive attack on a security checkpoint on July 27 killed ten personnel of the Coast Guards. The Baloch Liberation Front (B.L.F.), an underground armed group fighting for a free Balochistan, accepted responsibility for the attack and claimed that the assault had actually killed 25 personnel. The B.L.F. also took in its custody two more personnel of the Coast Guards. While the Balochistan government also confirmed the detention of two personnel in the custody of the Baloch insurgents, a spokesman for the B.L.F. said the two men would be treated as prisoners of war and they would be tried in the Baloch court. There are no fresh updates about the fate of the personnel held in B.L.F. custody.
The check post attack took place in Sansar in Pakistan-Iran border area which is around 100 kilometers away from downtown Gwadar. Yet, the incident is deeply alarming about the state of law and order in parts of Balochistan, mainly in Mekran region, which offers enormous prospects of economic development and prosperity because of the Gwadar Port.
Gwadar and its neighboring districts of Kech (also known as Turbat) and Panjgur have become the new centers of nationalistic violence. A change in the government has not necessarily led to the improvement of the state of law and order in Gwadar and its surroundings. Chief Minister Dr. Malik Baloch belongs to the same region but law and order situation in the area is so bad that Dr. Baloch himself survived two assassination attempts on his life. While Dr. Baloch survived these attacks, his party leader’s have not been so lucky. The nephew of Jan Mohammad Buledai, the chief minister’s spokesman and the brother of Zahoor Buledai, a former minister and a leader of the C.M.’s National Party, have also been killed in the recent days.
The reason for increasing disillusionment among the Baloch population in Mekran is the lack of benefits, or their promise, from the economic opportunities Mekran offers. The Pakistanis and the Chinese have not committed to providing any kind of benefits to the local communities while running the Gwadar Port.
In addition, the attack on the Coast Guard also reveals another disturbing fact: All of the victims of the attack were non-locals. That said, the government should ensure Baloch representation in the country’s security apparatus. It is unfair to deny the Balochs employment opportunities in the Coast Guards and instead appoint non-locals on jobs that can at best be performed by youth of the area.
Balochistan’s Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani said in an interview with B.B.C. Urdu. that foreign companies and investors should not worry about such attacks since they take place too far from the center of Gwadar city. According to him, the government has provided complete security to installations in Gwadar where foreign companies are working. That is still not fully assuring for foreign investors and tourists.
The government should take practical steps to improve the law and order situation in Gwadar if it intends to properly utilize the port citys’ economic potentials. While doing so, it is also the government’s obligation to work to address the deep-rooted sense of deprivation among the Baloch youth. The government should give them a sense of ownership in all key economic initiatives, including the Gwadar Port.
Malik Siraj Akbar
The Baloch Hal
Republished in The Balochistan Point on July 31, 2013