To understand the gravity of such loss, and what it means for the region, I spoke with Hussain Haqqani, a former ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. What follows is some of our conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.
J. Weston Phippen: Can you tell me a little about the history of violence with militant extremists, the military, and the separatists in the region?
Hussain Haqqani: The Baloch have been mounting an insurgency against the Pakistani state for several decades. It has always been a low-level insurgency, and Pakistan has occasionally accused Afghanistan and India of supporting the Baloch, although it has not been able to prove that allegation.
Balochistan was also the staging ground for the war against the Soviets during the 1980s. But it became even more important during the rise of the Taliban, and for many years the U.S. government and the international community have accused Pakistan of providing safe haven to the Taliban in Bolochistan. There have been suggestions that the Pakistani intelligence service uses the area—especially in Quetta—for activities it wants hidden form the view of the international community.
Phippen: How would you explain the political situation today?
Haqqani: Significant parts of Balochistan are not necessarily controlled by Pakistan’s central government. The ethnic Baloch areas have a greater sympathy for nationalists who would like to see either an independent or autonomous Balochistan. The army tries to suppress them, sometimes with the help of religious extremists.
Also, the elected government in the province did not get significant mandates because the Baloch parties boycotted the last election and many people were elected with the low turnout of 10, 12, in some places 15 percent. So these political leaders are seen by the majority of Baloch as the puppets of Islamabad.
Phippen: Why do they want to separate from Pakistan?
Haqqani: This goes back to the country’s creation, when the Muslim majority part of India left and became Pakistan. Some Baloch leaders say Balochistan’s integration into Pakistan was done forcefully. But more important than that is the neglect. This is a resource-rich province, and instead of the people benefitting from those resources, they end up in other parts of Pakistan.
Phippen: Lawyers have played an important role in criticizing the corruption in the area, which there is a lot of. … Can you tell me how lawyers play a role in seeking justice?
Haqqani: Yes, lawyers have spoken out against corruption, but more importantly, they have criticized the Pakistani army and its conduct. In Balochistan, you must remember, the Pakistani army has been accused of killing and dumping the bodies of Baloch nationalists. It has been accused of having hundreds of people abducted without trial. With all those allegations around, the role of those lawyers becomes important because they are the voice against such excess.