Balochistan has a major reserve of untapped mineral resources. It is a region with historical and cultural significance. However, most people around the world know Balochistan as a land of armed conflicts and gross human rights violations by the Pakistani state. The major reason for conflicts in Balochistan is the ethnic composition of the province. The largest and most influential ethnolinguistic group in Pakistan is the Punjabi-speaking Sunni population of the country whereas the two majority groups of Balochistan are Baloch(35.49%) and Pashtuns(35.34%). The Punjabi-dominated military and political leadership of Pakistan has systemically persecuted Baloch in order to crush the separatist movements in the province.
Balochistan’s perpetual state of conflict offers the most suitable conditions for foreign powers to engage in a proxy war, akin to what the US and Russia did in a war-torn Syria. Balochistan is a region of interest for both India and China. India is often accused of using Balochistan to foment tensions in Pakistan in return for Pakistan’s misadventures in J&K. On the other hand, China’s interest lies in exploiting Balochistan’s vast mineral resources and its strategic location.
The Gwadar Port developed in Balochistan’s coastal city of Gwadar, by China under CPEC, is under the operational control of China and could prove to be the maritime trade gateway for landlocked Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban. The Chinese were the first to welcome a Taliban delegation as state guests. If it officially recognizes the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, China, in lieu of developing infrastructure in Afghanistan, will try to get the nation to be an extended part of the CPEC, a part of its expansionist Belt & Road Initiative.
Ethnic cleansing by the Pakistani establishment and now a virtual invasion by China have compelled the Baloch insurgents to sabotage Chinese investments and projects in Balochistan. Chinese nationals have been targeted by the insurgents, in a bid to discourage China’s investments and growing influence in the region. These disruptive attacks have more often than not been pinned on alleged Indian-funded Baloch separatist groups.
China’s influence in Balochistan as well as its maritime control in the Arabian Sea, through the Gwadar Port, need an effective check to maintain regional peace and security in South and Central Asia. The QUAD needs to take up the task at hand and achieve the objective of countering Chinese expansion in the region, through all means at its disposal. India can use its covert assets in Balochistan to damage China-Pakistan relationships in the region. All the four nations of QUAD have impressive naval strength and this can be used to tackle Chinese naval presence in the Arabian Sea, in the guise of anti-piracy efforts in the region.
A concerted diplomatic effort by QUAD members to lend support to Baloch advocacy groups throughout the world can prove to be effective in strengthening separatist groups in Balochistan, which in turn will help develop a more fierce resistance to Chinese ambitions in the province.