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Taliban Meetings in Quetta: what implications for the Baloch?

Qambar Malik Baloch

The recent Taliban visits and meetings in Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan, signify the progress of what the involved parties call, attempts for a reduction in violence and to reach a peace deal in Afghanistan, however, regional groups like Baloch who are excluded from this process, are increasingly getting worried about how the future events will unfold for them once the controversial peace agreement is signed.

Outraged by the 9/11 incidents, the western countries led by the US, vowed to root out the weeds of terrorism, yet, eighteen years down the line, people in South Asia including in the west continue losing lives to the attacks being claimed by the Jihadists and their associates, whereas, the west with all its might and resources seems to be giving up its long-overdue pledge. The US has in recent years been pushing for options other than a military answer to the Afghan problem that is to negotiate with the Taliban, thus, awarding them de facto legitimacy.

It is quite remarkable how the west antagonized by the Taliban in power in Afghanistan, eighteen years ago, launched one of its longest wars, is now back to making way for the same Taliban for a share in power in Afghanistan. It has reached out to its non-NATO ally Pakistan to use its leverage on Taliban to agree to a peace deal which besides its other objectives, involves the pulling out of 14,000 US military forces from Afghanistan and guarantees from Taliban to prevent international terrorist groups such as Al-Qaida and the ISIS to find a foothold in the country.

According to many analysts of the South Asia region and top US military and intelligence officials, the duplicity of the state establishment of Pakistan has impeded the US success from containing the threat of Islamist Jihadists from re-emerging. Pakistan has been named and shamed for providing shelter to the terrorist groups that fled Afghanistan, and for equipping them with ammunition, logistics, and intelligence to disrupt the reconstruction process of the Afghan world through different groups including the “Quetta Shura” where the Taliban are meeting to seek advice on the deal from their Kuchlak, Quetta based leader Habibullah Akhwandzadah. Akhwandzadah was designated as the new Emir of Afghan Taliban following the death of his predecessor Mullah Mansoor in a US drone attack in 2016 while he was entering Balochistan from Iran on a Pakistani passport.

Many observers of the Afghan peace process see the US eager for exiting Afghanistan. President Trump is geared up to withdraw all the US troops from Afghanistan before the next US presidential elections in November 2020. Will this hurry mean the reversal of 18 years of War on Terror?

Pakistan was the first country to recognize the illegitimate regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It has been providing sanctuary to the retreated Taliban following the US invasion of Afghanistan. “Pakistan’s ISI has been actively interfering in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. Once the American troops have pulled out of Afghanistan, Pakistan will seize the control of Afghanistan via its Taliban proxies” believes the ex-Pakistani envoy Hussain Haqqani.

Amrullah Saleh, the former spy chief turned politician, has often called the talks with the Taliban and their return to power, a grand compromise on the sacrifices of the thousands of Afghan and the western troops who bled in the struggle to keep the Taliban out of power.

The Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan will also see a resistance to the Indian contributions given to Pakistan’s traditional hatred towards India that is teeth grinding against India for revoking article 370 that ensured a special status to Kashmir. Indian envoy Vinay Kumar speaking to a conference on peace talks in Afghanistan highlighted that India has trained 600 officials and contributed 350 projects. It has invested 2billion of its pledged 3billion of planned investments. The strong role of Pakistan in the country will also run the risk of a roll-back of these initiatives from a country in much need of aid and development.

The west seems to be overlooking other major aspects directly and indirectly linked with the Afghan peace, the lurking international terrorist groups, the ISIS, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi-Al-Alami and the splinters of Taliban in the neighbouring Balochistan, also home to secular Baloch insurgents who seek the right to self-determination for the people of Balochistan, and strongly oppose the Chinese led China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Contrary to the state’s treatment of Islamist jihadists that its top military and intelligence officials regard as their strategic assets to further its regional agendas, the secular Baloch nationalists and insurgents have been at the receiving end of military’s prowess.

Pakistan’s complicit support to the Islamist Jihadist groups is not a secret. The retired three-star Lieutenant General Talat Masood of Pakistan army admits of state support to the Islamist Jihadists including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi-Alami an associate of the ISIS. According to Masood, the difficult terrain and borders of Balochistan cannot be monitored comprehensively and insufficient forces make it hard to be deployed everywhere. Therefore, as part of a tactic, the deployment of these Jihadists in Balochistan helps the military to counter the Baloch insurgents”. The same Jihadists have coordinated various attacks against Baloch insurgents and religious minorities including the Christians in Balochistan. To make matters worse, Balochistan records the highest enrollment rate to Madrassas in the country and is a base for over 13,000 Madrassas. The actual numbers are believed to be way higher due to under-reporting of un-registered madrassas. All these points to a Pre 9/11 Afghanistan in the making.

Baloch underline fears not without reason. Should Pakistan earn the trust of the US, reinstate its support, it will then turn to the Baloch who are already facing the worst of the human rights abuses in a 21st-century world. Hundreds of Baloch have fled to Europe and neighbouring Afghanistan as a result of state bombardment and burning of their villages. Increasing Taliban influence in Afghanistan will mean the expulsion of Baloch from Afghanistan leaving them exposed to the wrath of Pakistan military. A leader of his faction of Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), Aslam Baloch, who was believed to be behind the attacks on a hotel in the port city of Gwadar and the Chinese consulate in Karachi was murdered in an alleged attack by the proxies of Pakistan military in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Without a surprise, his death was celebrated and regarded as an accomplishment for Pakistan.

Afghanistan’s human rights minister Sima Samar believes that “the conflict in Afghanistan is not just about the Afghan people but concern all the people in the region”. Afghans will still be challenged without taking on board all of Afghanistan’s neighbours in peace talks. Reiterated Samar. In terms of realpolitik, real Afghan peace is only possible with the inclusion of all relevant actors. says Adam Weinstein, a veteran of the Marine Corps in Afghanistan.

The Baloch being an important actor in the region standing at a geopolitically important region should not be excluded nor to have their fate decided without their consent. The Afghan peace process should work to empower the genuine representatives of Afghanistan, not the elements the Afghans have bled to overthrow. Pakistan on the other hands can be pressed to abandon its support to Islamists militants and to end its suppression of Baloch nationalists. The Baloch nationalists should be included as a party to a durable Afghan peace deal for various reasons. The Baloch like Afghans, are also a victim of the state-sponsored religious extremism for upholding their democratic and secular beliefs. Secondly, because they are the only secular force in a very hostile region where international terrorist groups like ISIS, L-e-J and Taliban are actively regrouping with the complicit support of the state. Being secular and indigenous to Balochistan, if recognized they can prove to be a reliable western ally to thwart the risk of their land being converted into a haven of religious extremists.

Qambar Malik Baloch is the editor of Balochistan Affairs and writes on various socio-political issues facing the Baloch and Balochistan.

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