If we want to feel the pulse of Balochistan, we must listen to the Baloch youth. Nothing else can tell us more about the political, ideological and social transformation of the province. Tribal chiefs, or sardars and nawabs, are not as relevant as the state believes, which continues to rely on them. The bureaucracy and security institutions are also not capable of an objective and accurate assessment of the situation. And young people are not happy with what is happening in the province, or in the country for that matter.
The recent terrorist attacks on the local Frontier Corps headquarters in Nushki and Panjgur have once again propelled Balochistan into the mainstream debate. But the heart of the debate still revolves around the rhetoric of economic grievances and political marginalization. This debate usually ends without leading to any solution. There are also discussions about why young people in Balochistan join insurgent groups and how little effort has been made to reduce the appeal of insurgent causes.
Very few people had the courage to introduce the issue of missing persons into the speech; most outside forces are blamed for fueling the insurgency in the province. After the Afghan Taliban took over, it became difficult to blame Kabul for allowing disbelievers to use its soil against Pakistan. Perhaps that is why Iran was included in the discussion. Iran did the right thing by reacting quickly and sending its interior minister to Pakistan to review existing border security agreements with the Pakistani leadership.
The ways of thinking of educated young people can also help to understand the dynamics of conflict and insurgency in Balochistan. The state has struggled over the past 40 years to create apolitical students on campus. It has largely achieved the goal, but there is still a critical mass, albeit small, that is not apolitical. The Sindh government recently tried to reverse the process by lifting the ban on student unions in the province after nearly four decades and student politics can be expected to lead to greater social and political awareness among young people. On the other hand, the wait will be longer for Balochistan.
The thought patterns of the educated youth of Balochistan shed light on the dynamics of the conflict in this country.
As in other parts of the country, three patterns among educated youth can be discerned in Balochistan. The first category is apolitical and the majority of students belong to it; young people sensitive to religion but with little political awareness form the next category; and the politically conscious and secular youth last. State institutions fall into the third category. A large number of missing persons fall into this category.
A recent Discourse with Balochistan Youth on Society, Religion and Politics study by an Islamabad-based think tank reveals that logical thinking and reasoning does not define the majority of apolitical students who may also suffer from a lack of confidence. There is a struggle to process moderately complex ideas. But state institutions seem to favor this type of human resources.
Students who are religiously inclined come from a madressah background or from families affiliated with a particular religious party. They remain sensitive to social and religious norms, but tend to view the world through narrow lenses. Neither the state nor campus administrations like students asking questions, especially those interested in civil rights, politics, and the distribution of resources in the country. State institutions believe that these students have the potential to join insurgent movements or at least become dissidents. Public institutions and campus administrations care less about students who are inclined towards radical religious groups. These students also inspire apolitical youth. The result is obvious and it is easy to understand how and why extremism flourishes on campuses.
It was pointed out that the Baloch insurgent movements are no longer under the influence of the tribal leaders and that the recruits are from the middle class and their leadership is also made up of educated young people. However, state institutions still depend, talk and share power with the sardars and moguls who agree to their terms. State institutions do not want to engage insurgent leaders in their lukewarm attempts at reconciliation. In fact, he instructed Shahzain Bugti to speak to the rulers in exile. The government wanted him to do so despite his controversial situation.
For a political scientist, the thought processes of young people and student politics are central to the study of socio-political structures and the unrest that simmers below the surface. The state has fractured student politics, but several student organizations still survive. For example, the Baloch Student Organization has been instrumental in the nationalist and separatist movements in Balochistan. Since 1979, the BSO has undergone several transformations. It split into various factions and united again, along with the changing political positions of the Baloch leadership. All of these transformations reflect changes in the political landscape of the province. If the nationalist leadership made a compromise, it caused a split within the organization. A faction, BSO Azad, was founded by Dr Allah Nazar in 2002, and this indicated that young people were not happy with state policies or even nationalist leaders. Over the next few years, BSO Azad gave birth to the Balochistan Liberation Front, a murderous insurgent group active in the south of the province.
Today, the BSO is divided into several factions, but tight campus surveillance has reduced the space for such organizations, and this approach has created more space for insurgent groups to recruit politically aware minds into educational institutions.
Nevertheless, the state must change its approach to deal with the problems of the province and reduce the dependence on sardars, give politics a chance and allow young people to express themselves without fear. The study cited above also notes that the majority of young people still believe that the state can provide them with the jobs and a normal life they most desire.
The author is a security analyst.
Posted in Dawn, February 20, 2022