The United States and the Taliban have finally signed a peace deal in Doha after several months of intense negotiations. With the actual Afghan government primarily excluded from the talks and members of the Afghan civil society expressing grave concerns about the future of women’s rights under the Taliban, this can hardly be described as a perfect deal.
However, parties involved in finalizing this deal optimistically hope that it will pave the way for ending the prolonged war in Afghanistan. For the Taliban, the deal is a landmark victory as they can now brag about successfully driving another superpower out of Afghanistan, the other being the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
Since Baluchistan shares a border with Afghanistan, it has also remained tremendously affected by the turmoil in Afghanistan. The way events and developments in Afghanistan had social, political, and economic implications on Baluchistan, the peace deal is also crucial for Baluchistan. While everyone is concerned with one question on whether this deal will actually bring peace in Afghanistan, it is equally important to ask if peace in Afghanistan will also translate into peace in Baluchistan. After all, the Taliban have a lot of blood of the people of Baluchistan in their hands.
Soon after the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government in 2001, top Taliban leadership immediately moved to Baluchistan to take shelter where they used Quetta, Baluchistan’s capital, as a regular meeting place. The Taliban’s authoritative decision-making body known as the Quetta Shura thrived in Baluchistan under the watch of the Pakistani officials. Ironically, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy who negotiated the peace deal with the Taliban, was always aware of Pakistan’s “double standards” in the war against terrorism, as noted by Steve Coll in his book Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban did not solely use Baluchistan as a hideout; they also used it as a launching pad for frequent terrorist attacks. They brought with themselves suicide bombings and a culture of mass murder of innocent citizens, making Baluchistan’s public places, courtrooms, and places of worship unsafe. They operated with impunity, even targeted the local law enforcement personnel.
Despite numerous deadly terrorist attacks orchestrated by the Taliban, neither the Pakistan army expanded its anti-Taliban operations to Baluchistan nor did the provincial government receive any support from the federal government to upgrade the province’s security apparatus so that it was able to contain the Taliban. There was a straightforward reason why no action was taken against the Taliban: They enjoyed support from sections of the Pakistani security establishment despite remaining engaged in the killing of Pakistani citizens in recurrent terrorist attacks. Throughout these years, neither the provincial nor the federal government ever waged war against the Taliban present in Quetta and its outskirts. This was a pitiful abdication of responsibility by our government. While the Taliban killed our people, our own government mostly turned its eyes away from the Taliban brutalities as if nothing had happened.
The Taliban even brought their rivalries and internal differences to Baluchistan. Different factions would fiercely fight each other in Baluchistan. For instance, on August 16, 2019, a bomb blast inside a mosque near Quetta killed the brother of Haibatullah Akhunzada, an influential Afghan Taliban leader. It is no coincidence that Akhunzada had replaced Mullah Akhtar Mansour, a former head of the Taliban who too was roaming freely in Baluchistan until an American drone strike killed him in the Dalbandi area of Baluchistan on May 22, 2016.
When the Baluchistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal remarked, that it “is very important for the people of Afghanistan to see the shinning rise of Peace,” Sulaman Ijaz, a Quaid-i-Azam University professor, rightly retorted on Twitter, “Sir what about the people of #Baluchistan?? Do they deserve peace or not?? It would be great if you please focus on #Baluchistan being the CM of the province.” Dr. Ijaz, an anthropologist, and a Ph.D. scholar, is right because, since the beginning of this year, at least two major terrorist attacks have killed several innocent citizens in Baluchistan. The provincial government has utterly failed in investigating the two recent terrorist attacks or/ and bringing the culprits to justice.
One question that the Baluchistan Chief Minister and fellow residents should instead be asking is if this peace deal is going to end the violence in Baluchistan that is masterminded by the Taliban and their local proxies. Now that the Taliban have struck a successful deal with the US government, will the government of Pakistan make sure that the Taliban completely vacate all parts of Baluchistan and return to Afghanistan so that the people of Baluchistan are able to live in peace and harmony? It would be catastrophic if the Taliban control Afghanistan and simultaneously use Baluchistan as a convenient field to stage attacks on unarmed civilians to demonstrate their military strength.
Another point that merits attention is the future of the Afghan refugees in Baluchistan. While Prime Minister Imran Khan has expressed an interest in granting Pakistani citizenship to Afghan refugees, the Baluch leaders have vehemently expressed opposition to such a decision. Despite their political differences, two prominent Baluch leaders and former chief ministers, Sardar Akhtar Mengal of the Baluchistan National Party and Dr. Malik Baluch of the National Party, have repeatedly demanded of the federal government to make arrangements for the Afghan refugees to be repatriated to their home country. The Baluch nationalists view the Afghan refugees as a threat to their demographic majority status. Last year, Dr. Malik Baluch said that the presence of a large number of Afghan refugees in Baluchistan was “politically, economically and administratively affecting our province…we have been showing our hospitality to Afghan refugees for the last three decades…we have always supported any effort that would help restore peace in Afghanistan.”
Sardar Mengal, on the other hand, has even a more hardline stance on the Afghan refugees since the demand for the repatriation of the Afghan refugees is one of the key elements of his Six-Points, which were the basis for his support to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government at the federal level. The BNP is now increasingly turning frustrated and agitated over the PTI’s lack of action and failure to fulfill its promise to repatriate the Afghan refugees.
It is possible that the situation in Afghanistan will turn even worse if the Taliban come in power. If they once again impose stringent laws, curb civil liberties, attack minorities, and curtail women’s freedoms, it is likely that many Afghans would once again flee to Pakistan seeking safety and a relatively better life. While the government of Pakistan would have a legal and moral responsibility to welcome the Afghan refugees, this would further worsen the relationship between Islamabad and the Baluch nationalists. Finally, the Afghan peace deal will inevitably have its footprints on Baluchistan.