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OpinionsBalochistan has turned a melting pot for varied militant groups

Balochistan has turned a melting pot for varied militant groups


By Girish Linganna

On February 7, one day before Pakistan was set to have its elections, there were two bomb explosions near where political candidates have their offices in Balochistan. These bombs killed at least 24 people. So far, no one has said they are the ones who did it.

Iran and Pakistan have usually been good friends. Right after Pakistan became a country in 1947, Iran was the first to officially recognize it. They work together a lot on and keeping their countries safe. But, there's been a problem with some rebel groups in the Baloch area on their border, and it's been causing trouble between them for a while.

Recently, things have gotten worse. On January 16, Iran shot missiles into Pakistan's western side, saying they were going after Jaish al-Adl, a group of Sunni fighters labelled as terrorists. Pakistan fired back with missiles into Iran's eastern part, aiming at what they called “terrorist camps.” After this, both countries called their ambassadors back home, but they also quickly tried to fix their problems. Their top diplomats met in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, on January 29 and agreed to work together to fight against the rebel groups in their areas. Then, just before the elections in Pakistan, on February 2, Pakistan said they had taken out 24 militants in Balochistan. It's clear that both countries are dealing with serious fights against groups they consider to be threats.

The area known as Balochistan gets its name from the Baloch people, the main ethnic group living there. The Baloch used to be nomads and it's thought that they settled down near what is now Iran around 1200 BC. Over time, Balochistan has been invaded many times. After the Arabs took over in the 7th century AD, most Baloch people started following Islam. In the 1800s and early 1900s, the British and Persian empires divided the land, giving some to Afghanistan, too. Iran took over the western part of Balochistan in 1928. When the British left in 1947, Pakistan took control of the eastern part.

The way Balochistan was split up in the past has caused some problems. In Pakistan, Baloch nationalists think they have been left out and made poor by the Punjabis, who are the biggest ethnic group in the country. Because of this, they've sometimes taken up weapons against the government since 1947. The worst violence happened in the 1970s when about 8,000 people died. There's been a new wave of conflict since the mid-2000s. The attacks by these fighters are getting more complex over time.

The assaults by insurgent groups have grown more advanced. In 2022, for instance, the Balochistan Liberation Army executed simultaneous bombings in multiple cities, resulting in the deaths of various Pakistani security personnel. In retaliation, Pakistan's actions have escalated the situation, with allegations from human rights organizations of illegal arrests and mistreatment of Baloch activists. A significant number of these activists have sought refuge in neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan and Iran, using these territories as bases to carry out strikes against Pakistan.

The Balochs in Iran also face serious grievances. They endure harsh living circumstances, with their region, Sistan and Balochistan, being the most impoverished in Iran. The Iranian regime, which is a Shia-led theocracy, has a history of oppressing minority groups, including the predominantly Sunni Balochs. It was in the early 2000s that Baloch militants began to establish their presence in Iran.

Starting in 2005, the group known as Jundullah, meaning “soldiers of God,” launched a number of aggressive acts against Iranian authorities, involving kidnappings and sometimes resulting in the deaths of the hostages. In 2006, they were responsible for the deaths of over 20 Iranians. Jaish al-Adl, which Iran claims operates from Pakistan, is likely a splinter faction of Jundullah. Recently, these militants have intensified their campaigns in Iran, including a significant attack that claimed the lives of at least 11 Iranian police officers in December 2023.

The unrest in Balochistan complicates efforts by both countries to tap into the area's wealth of resources, such as natural gas, oil, and significant deposits of copper and gold. Attacks by militants on gas facilities have been a recurring issue, causing setbacks in the development of a major gas pipeline between Iran and Pakistan that is planned to run through this region. Militant groups have also strongly resisted the development of a major port in Gwadar, a coastal city in Pakistan close to the border with Iran, funded by China. These groups have targeted Chinese nationals working on the project, triggering a forceful response from the Pakistani government, which has resulted in a strict military presence in the region.

During discussions on January 29, Iran and Pakistan came to a mutual understanding to join forces against the insurgent activities along their shared border. The Iranian foreign minister declared that the two nations would not allow terrorists to compromise their collective security. This agreement could potentially benefit the overall stability of the region. However, it doesn't necessarily address the underlying issues and concerns of the Baloch population. (IPA Service)



The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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