For decades, Pakistan has struggled with an insurgency in Balochistan, its largest but least populated province endowed with abundant natural resources. Unlike its other provinces, the local militants in Balochistan have rarely been inspired by radical or extremist Islam, and their demands have had more to do with enhanced autonomy for the region and a greater say in the exploitation of natural resources such as gas and minerals. It is, therefore, curious that the Pakistan army’s deradicalisation and rehabilitation programme for ethnic Baloch militants who have surrendered lays so much emphasis on Islam. Almost a fifth of the programme is devoted to a “religio-patriotism” module, including lectures by speakers such as local leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, which is not known for espousing a progressive or moderate form of Islam. The Jamaat-e-Islami is known for its long-standing links with the Pakistani military and extremist and jihadi groups, which were strengthened during the days of the jihad in Afghanistan against Soviet forces.
The deradicalisation plan is also unusual in that it strives to virtually replace the ethnic identity of the surrendered Baloch militants with one that suits the ends of the Pakistani military. In that regard, the similarity between the Pakistan army’s programme in Balochistan and China’s so-called re-education camps for Uighurs in the Xinjiang region is startling. Other Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia have sought to use similar deradicalisation programmes to wean militants and terrorists away from hardline and extremist groups, with varying degrees of success. Very few, however, would have had training modules where the former militants would be taught about jihad as part of the concept of patriotism.
Pakistan has for long sought to blame India of fishing in the troubled waters of Balochistan, without any evidence whatsoever. The problems in Balochistan are of Pakistan’s own making, ranging from a complete lack of sympathy for the genuine demands of the Baloch people to the rampant exploitation of the region’s natural resources, including for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Addressing the real issues affecting the Baloch people and stopping what human rights activists have described as the “kill and dump” policy of security and intelligence agencies could be much more effective than such a misguided deradicalisation programme.