Insurgency in Balochistan: from ethnonationalism to counterinsurgency

(by Massimiliano Nima Lacerra)

1. L’ethnonationalism

Dictionary, Treccani: ethnonationalism (ethnonationalism), noun, Ethnic Nationalism takes hold of the traditions of an ethnic group or a people.

According to this definition, "ethnonationalism" – an essential word to grasp the complexity of the phenomenon matter of this paper – is a form of nationalism rooted in the idea of the existence of ethnic homogeneity. The shared sense of unity and ethnic pride, and the sense of collective identity do not stem from a concept of political-geographical homogeneity; they derive from the rooted belief in the existence of a shared bloodline, perceived as unique, which gives rise to a sense of geographical, linguistic and cultural identity.

Ethnonationalist movements are becoming increasingly significant due to the growing risk linked to this phenomenon, and they often are considered as one of the biggest threats to national security coming from inside the borders of a country since their ultimate goal is destroying the geographical and political continuity of the territory and therefore achieving territorial division in the area hit by secessionist movements.

In the severity scale of risk profiles, Baloch ethnonationalism ranks among the top positions in terms of the severity of the threat to the national stability of the countries concerned. This is due to the warlike and militias actions that several groups carry out towards the national entities they are fighting.

2. Balochistan: strategic gem

Balochistan is a vast mountainous region located in the southeasternmost portion of the Iranian plateau, between the Pakistanian region of Balochistan, the Iranian Sistan and Balochistan Province and Afghanistan southern regions, the provinces of Nimruz, Helmand and Kandahar.

Figure 1. Balochistan as seen by Baloch

It covers an area of 530,000 km² and has a population of almost 14 million people. It has the lowest population density among the neighbouring regions, with 25 people per square kilometre. Balochs constitute 3% of the population of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 2.5 million people out of 80 million Iranians, and almost a quarter of the Pakistanian population, 60 million out of the 220 million inhabitants of Pakistan, though only 12 million people still live in the original region.

Balochistan coastline stretching between the Strait of Hormuz and the Arabic sea is located in one of the most strategic sea areas of the world, welcoming 1/3 of the global crude oil and liquid gas trade. The coastline stretching over 2,000km hosts strategic infrastructures, crucial for Iran and Pakistan, such as the Pakistani deep seaport of Gwadar and the Iranian deep seaport of Chahbahar, bridgeheads for trade routes coming from Central Asia and Eastern Asia, and national oil companies. The Pakistani port of Gwadar, currently undergoing development, will encompass termination points for the TAPI pipeline (the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Pipeline, a project worth $11 billion), for the GUSA (the Gulf South Asia Gas Project) and will be a crucial step for the CPEC (the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a project worth $87 billion), the Pakistani leg of the larger BRI (Belt and Road Initiative).