Balochistan refers to the arid region in South Asia that is comprised of the southwest Pakistani province of Balochistan, southern areas of Afghanistan, and southeastern Iran. The region, rich in mineral and natural resources, has faced a decades-long insurgency by militant separatist groups. These groups are driven by economic and cultural grievances and demand political autonomy. In addition, separatist groups claim that the Baloch people are economically and politically marginalised by Pakistan and China, who have invested heavily in the region for development projects. Since the beginning of 2022, the number of attacks by these groups, particularly by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) have risen, leading to increased anti-China sentiment and posing a risk to Chinese infrastructure projects in the region. Political unrest in the area will likely exacerbate developing humanitarian issues in Balochistan.
Key Judgement 1: In the next 24 months, the ongoing insurgency in Balochistan is likely to disrupt the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
- In 2015, China announced the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $46 billion project that aims to link a port in Balochistan to China’s Xinjiang province. The project involves several infrastructure projects throughout Balochistan.
- CPEC continues to intensify separatist tendencies in the region. Many separatist groups see the project as exploitative and see China as usurping Balochistan’s rich natural resources. (source)
- Moreover, in recent months, separatist groups have targeted Pakistani military personnel for providing physical security for Chinese investment projects.
- Stability and security are necessary for the successful completion of these Chinese investment projects. However, increasing violence in the region jeopardizes the future of Chinese development ambitions in Balochistan.
Key Judgement 2: In the next 6 months, it is highly likely that separatist groups will continue to target Chinese affiliated people and organizations in an attempt to deter China from their ongoing CPEC projects.
- In late April, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing. This attack killed three Chinese teachers and a local driver at the Confucius Institute, a Chinese-funded cultural promotion center, at the University of Karachi. In a statement, a spokesperson for the BLA asserted that the bombing was an attempt to deter China from continuing “exploitation projects” in Balochistan.
- The BLA has a history of anti-China attacks. The group has also targeted and attacked the Chinese Consulate in Karachi and a Chinese-owned hotel. (source) (source)
- The BLA recently issued a statement claiming they have planned “harsher” attacks which they will carry out unless China ceases its infrastructure projects and “occupation” in Pakistan. (source)
Key Judgement 3: In the next 12 months, the ongoing unrest in Balochistan will likely worsen the region’s pre-existing humanitarian and human rights issues over the next year.
- Balochistan is experiencing widespread food insecurity and malnutrition due to drought and livestock diseases. An estimated 25% of Balochistan’s population will experience severe food insecurity in 2022. (source)
- Forced disappearances, particularly of human rights activists, journalists, and students have been on the rise in Balochistan. Baloch sources claim that Pakistani security forces are responsible for these disappearances, a claim the Pakistani government denies.
- Political unrest due to separatist groups and increased Chinese investment in the region will exacerbate these issues. Despite increased Chinese investment, Balochistan will likely remain the most impoverished region in Pakistan.
- Ongoing conflict in Balochistan will make both providing and distributing humanitarian aid more difficult in the region.
- If separatist groups continue to promote violence and instability in Balochistan, their actions will deter the international community from providing aid to those who need it most.
- The Pakistani government must address these developing humanitarian issues. Otherwise, their inaction will add to the list of grievances of the separatist movement and fuel the Baloch separatist agenda.
Therefore, increasing Chinese investment in Balochistan will lead to augmented violence by separatist groups against Chinese people, institutions, and those supporting them. Although Balochistan has economic potential, it will likely remain impoverished and underfunded by the Pakistani government, worsening its imminent humanitarian and development issues. Due to Balochistan’s geographical position, it will remain a point of contention between Pakistan and its neighbors, highlighting the need for the Pakistani government to address the grievances of separatist groups before the violence escalates further.
Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 11th of May 2022