To say that the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in October 2001 shook Pakistan to its core would be an understatement. Since then, the war in Afghanistan has spilled over into Pakistan on multiple levels. The escalating cycle of violence between Pakistani security forces and a patchwork of tribal militants, particularly the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and foreign fighters aligned with the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) is a case in point. Many observers of Pakistani affairs have used the deteriorating situation in the tribal agencies along the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier as a bellwether of future trends in Pakistan. In this context, it is no surprise that events in Pakistan’s tribal areas seem to draw the most attention. Yet Pakistan’s Balochistan province is also beginning to draw interest as a center of Taliban and al-Qaeda activity.
Reports that the U.S. is seeking Pakistan’s approval for expanding its controversial drone campaign against targets in Balochistan – a clear red line for Pakistan – have raised serious concerns in Islamabad about Washington’s ultimate intentions (The News, [Islamabad], September 29). As the Obama administration escalates its military campaign in Afghanistan, Pakistani leaders have expressed deep concerns about the potential destabilization of Balochistan resulting from the intensified fighting expected in Afghanistan in the coming months (The Nation [Lahore], November 27). As if these concerns were not enough, Balochistan remains a hotbed of ethno-nationalist militancy, drug smuggling, and organized crime. Balochistan is also in the throes of a refugee crisis that has been largely ignored. The confluence of these trends – which indirectly or directly reinforce each other – is making an already dangerous situation worse with severe implications for Pakistan and the wider region. [continued…]