Have the Historic Floods in Pakistan Aggravated Separatism in Balochistan?
When a Pakistani military helicopter crashed on September 30 in the Balochistan province, separatists in the area claimed that they had shot down the aircraft. The Pakistani army denied this.
Whatever be the truth, it is certainly true that the historic floods which have devastated nearly a third of Pakistani territory, have accentuated separatism in Balochistan. Balochistan is the largest province in Pakistan. It has had a long-simmering separatist movement ever since the country was created after the break-up of British-ruled India in 1947.
The Baloch separatist movement seeks an autonomous, self-governed province which it believes would ensure better governance, economic development, and employment opportunities for the people. To put this into context, Balochistan has remained one of the most backward regions of the country despite being the hub of various natural resources including oil, natural gas as well as copper and gold. Balochistan is so coveted because it is rich in natural reserves including gold, copper, oil, valuable stones, chromite and natural gas. It has an oceanic coastline that stretches along with one of the world's most important shipping routes i.e., the Straits of Hormuz. According to the Geological Survey of Pakistan, Balochistan has more than eighty mineral resources with significant deposits worth around one trillion dollars.
Yet, every study over the years has shown that Balochistan remains the poorest province of Pakistan. According to the latest census of Pakistan in 2017, the poverty rate in Balochistan is 46 per cent, the highest in the country despite the region being the richest in natural resources. The lack of political and economic attention paid to the province along with constant crackdown of the armed forces has fuelled the dissatisfaction of the people with the regime.
Today, Balochistan is the worst-affected area from the floods of Pakistan. Constant images of distressed people displaced from their homes, bridges and dams collapsing into rubble and starving children are a wakeup call for the people within the country as well as the international community. Recent images of Pakistani security forces protecting assets of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – the leg of China’s Belt and Road project that passes through Pakistan with a major portion through Balochistan - even as thousands struggle to exist in the flood waters has further aggravated public opinion.
Already Baloch separatists had attacked the CPEC multiple times; these floods are likely to exacerbate the situation. Such attacks are increasing as Pakistani security forces are seen as defending Chinese interests rather than helping the people of Balochistan.
The separatist crisis in Balochistan, therefore, is likely to increase.