Baluchistan is more than just a wasteland

Jan 31, 2011 12:00 AM

A recent trend concerning studies on Pakistan amongst researchers and think tank operators has been the use of hyperboles to explain the current and future prospects of the country. They are not really hyperboles though – they are meant to be taken literally. But in truth, they are indeed exaggerated, and at times very inaccurate. Some scholars, whose names shall not be mentioned, exaggerate the danger Al-Qaeda poses to Pakistan, and at times seem unable to differentiate between said terrorist group or the Afghan Taliban. Though Al-Qaeda and security threats posed by India and its allies are no doubt high, a great deal of Pakistan’s misery can very well be put on the shoulders of their own incompetency. Military and civilian leaders have shown a shocking amount of parochial thinking along implementation of ideas and plans that they deem of high priority to the country.

One prominent example is the education system, and the central government’s failure in reforming it. According to Christine Fair, 70% of Pakistan’s students still attend the public school system that is in utter shambles – a combination of inadequate teachers coupled with mismanaged or limited available funding are commonplace contributors to the system’s failures. If this arrangement was reformed (properly, with a honest mindset to help the people), even as late the 80’s, there is no doubt that some of its fruits would have been felt presently.
The US’ short-term policy in Pakistan concerning their drone attacks in Northern Pakistan, and the country’s compliance with these actions (not to mention their alliance with the Taliban vis-à-vis the Quetta shura and LeT in Kashmir) will in the long run backfire. Using militants against India will no doubt witness the same sort of result, consequently allowing the genesis of such a large number of groups by the ISI. The end result – Pakistan will lose track of their funding and activities, while terrorist attacks will certainly increase.

The Lonely province:
Baluchistan is yet another example where the government could have in the past (and can presently) done more to certainly assist the area. It is the poorest province in the country, far exceeding Khyber Pakhtun khwa, and has the lowest gross domestic product (GDP) in terms of provincial components. There is a ‘north-southern’ divide in Pakistan, and the ‘Punjabi chauvinistic’ federal government has been blamed for much of the turbulence among the Baloch, who experience segregation and economic disenfranchisement.
Baluchistan, the south-western province of Pakistan, is the largest province and also holds a huge influx of natural resources, which include, oil, natural gas and uranium. It is also geographically situated at the Arabian Sea, and finds itself dead centre between trade routes of East Asia and the Middle East. The importance of Baluchistan has increased greatly with the completion of the Gwadar port with Chinese assistance; Pakistan will surely want it to become a major trading port that will compete with Iran’s Chahbar port. However, Baluchistan has a very poor literacy rate – whereas the national literacy rate rests around 30%, Baluchistan’s rate is an astonishing 16%! The Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA, an insurgency group) believes the central government wants to keep the people ‘backward,’ so that most of the revenue from the natural resources can keep flowing to the northern provinces.

Gwadar is also important to both the US and China. China’s primary motivation for building the port was to create a base that could be used to pump gas through a very long pipeline to China in the north. The US on the other hand, would want Gwadar to become the next Dubai, which could also serve as a base for the US navy (the US already runs an airbase in Jacobabad), as well as a commercial port to trade oil, side-lining Iran’s importance within the region.
Baluchistan is strategically important to many states – the US, China, India, Iran, Afghanistan/Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Pakistan itself hold an invested interest in the region. Therefore, to further discuss the importance of Baluchistan, I will analyse each nation and discuss why Baluchistan is so important to their economic and geographical importance.

US of America:
It’s safe to say that the US is quite keen on Gwadar’s deep-sea port, especially as it’s seen as something they could benefit commercially from. The US has been a strong advocate for TAPI, advising Pakistan to initiate the pipeline agreement, which would run an oil pipeline starting in Tajikistan and take it all the way to India. This pipeline would run through Baluchistan, and the US believes that Baluchistan (via Gwadar) could be used to transport goods and equipment for their troops stationed primarily in Afghanistan. Pakistan has huge leverage over the US with the Khyber Pass – Gwadar could potentially give the US an alternative route into south Afghanistan.

The government must also be watching Iran’s southern port of Chabahar very closely, naturally propping up Gwadar’s importance will be very important for them. The US also runs covert operations in Baluchistan (which they have denied) against Iran. Sistan va Baluchistan borders Pakistan’s Baluchistan and is a hot bed for insurgency, which makes both Iran and Pakistan very nervous. The US cables also go a long way in discussing the persecution of Sunni-Muslims in this region by Iran, primarily because of the CIA’s assistance to insurgency forces (Jandallah).
Even if Baluchistan were to break up from Pakistan, the US would vigorously push forward in obtaining access to natural resources in the region. However, it is in the US’ interest that Pakistan remains intact and Baluchistan remains only a province.

Some though are pushing for the US to take over the province themselves. With their troops already pushing in south Afghanistan, sceptics have reason to believe that they could possibly go as far as Baluchistan! I personally cannot see this happening, especially with the problems they continually face in Afghanistan. Anyone who believes that the US will push into Baluchistan is giving much more credit to the American military than they probably should. The fact is, the US is already wearing thin, and there have been a large number of calls wanting for the troops to come back home. Besides that, it is in the interest of the US for Pakistan to remain a single entity, especially since they have nuclear weapons.

pipe line over central asia

For China, Baluchistan’s cessation from Pakistan would be a disaster, especially after all the efforts and funds they have put into Gwadar. Gwadar is exactly what China needs – a route to the Arabian Sea, and another venue capable of supplying the country with oil in an age where there is a growing need for it. Considering China and Russia are already being scrutinized for their reliance on Iranian oil (China does not want to depend on American backed Saudi oil), a supply route straight from an ally is probably the best option for them right now. There is also heavy speculation that the Pentagon worried at the prospect of Gwadar becoming a naval base for the Chinese, especially since this could threaten their supply of oil from the Persian Gulf.

The BLA is also targeting many Chinese workers in Baluchistan, and there is almost no way that Pakistan can effectively guarantee their security without creating more military cantonment’s in the province. Seemingly, China’s best option now is to try and assist Pakistan in creating schools and higher institutions for educating the Baloch. China whole-heartedly believes that Gwadar can overtake Iran’s Chahbar port, and will be welcoming its speedy development.

Baluchistan to India is what Kashmir is to Pakistan, in terms of funding and training insurgents that is. Although India denies any assistance, and Pakistan continuously criticizes its neighbour to the East, there are some obvious advantages for India in terms of covert operations in Baluchistan. India has really never accepted Pakistan as an independent sovereign nation, and should (at least I think) take a bit of responsibility for the break up of East Pakistan in 1970. India does not have any natural gas reserves – the majority of gas it does export comes from Iran. The completion of the Zaranaj-Delaram highway in south-western Afghanistan though clearly shows India’s intent in creating better political and economic relations with CARs.

Gwadar does worry India on a few fronts though. First off, from a military point of view, Gwadar gives Pakistan’s navy a strategic advantage. Musharraf exclaimed that Gwadar will (one day) be one of several naval bases that are to be set up to create a larger and better-defended presence of the Pakistan navy in the Indian ocean.
Secondly, Gwadar is a connecting point to warm water for Pakistan in its attempts to create better relations with CARs. The port-city can also help increase its influence in Afghanistan (something Pakistan will undoubtedly welcome). Already being a member of the Economic Cooperation Organization since 1985 (entirely Muslim nations), Pakistan will also want to also increase its economic ties with both Turkey and Iran.
Thirdly, (as already mentioned) China has a significant strategic advantage in Gwadar’s viability, and success will mean trouble for India. India simply does not want China to increase its military and economic ties with Pakistan, and barricading any possibilities would be in India’s best interests.

According to Bharat Verma, a stable Pakistan will never be in the interest of India, and therefore it is necessary to promote and ensure its disintegration. These are pretty provocative words from the retired army official. Writing for the Indian Defence Review he says:

The self-destructive path that Islamabad chose will either splinter the state into many parts or it will wither away-a case of natural progression to its logical conclusion. In either case Baluchistan will achieve independence. For New Delhi this opens a window of opportunity to ensure that the Gwadar port does not fall into the hands of the Chinese. In this, there is synergy between the political objectives of the Americans and the Indians. Our existing goodwill in Baluchistan requires intelligent leverage.

He goes on to state that:

With China’s one arm, i.e. Pakistan disabled, its expansionist plans will receive a severe jolt. Beijing continues to pose primary threat to New Delhi. Even as we continue to engage with it as constructively as possible, we must strive to remove the proxy. At the same time, it is prudent to extend moral support to the people of Tibet to sink Chinese expansionism in the morass of insurgency.

Pakistan - India
Pretty ambitious if you ask me. India seems to be deliberating over what actions it should (or should not) take concerning the insurgency in Baluchistan. There is no doubt that in order to increase its influence in the region, the government will fund the BLA, as it did the Northern Alliance in the past.
In the next few years India will surely increase its influence in the CARs. As far as the BLA goes, so far its support has been minimal, but is growing in the province itself, and anything is really possible.

With the Taliban in power, Pakistan did not have to worry about its border with Afghanistan. However, since the Taliban have been ousted of power and the Northern Alliance has joined Karzai’s government, its only natural for Pakistan to feel more anxious about the happenings on its western borders. According to Christine Fair, Indian (and Iranian) officials have been visiting Afghanistan regularly to assist in pumping funds towards insurgency movement in Balouchistan. How does Kabul fit in all this? Well Fair also states:

Kabul has encouraged India to engage in provocative activities such as using the Border Roads Organization to build sensitive parts of the Ring Road and use the Indo-Tibetan police force for security. It is also building schools on a sensitive part of the border in Kunar–across from Bajaur

Before Iran became an Islamic Republic it had great ties with Pakistan and the rest of the Arab world. However, since the revolution, Pakistan has sided with the US, and relations have somewhat been strained. The CIA (through Pakistan) has been funding insurgency groups in Iran from Baluchistan. The Jandullah group, which is one such group, is responsible for many uprisings in Sistan va Baluchistan, and is also the reason why Iran has been persecuting its Sunni minority on the outskirts of this Pakistani border.

Iran has also spent a great share of cash on developing the Chabahar port – it does not want it to be ignored because of the importance of Gwadar. Both ports are only a hundred miles away from one another, and the last thing Iran probably wants to worry about is their port being isolated (especially when a lot of pressure is spewing due to their ongoing nuclear ambitions).
Iran is also very interested in the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline, which would certainly increase their revenue and also give them more control of their financial affairs. By setting up the pipeline, they will be able to directly trade with their key ally India. Iran will certainly wish for such a conclusion, as a TAPI pipeline will certainly kill their ability to trade with CAR’s and with India and Pakistan.

Pakistani officials are the ones to blame
As mentioned earlier, it really is the influx of incompetent leaders and officials that is leading Pakistan to its demise. The issue of Baluchistan may not be a simple, but it

Iran ethnic groups

certainly is one that could have been taken care of a long time ago. By selling Baluchistan short of revenue from the natural resources used, the central government is just increasing the animosity amongst the residence of the province. Instead of including the Baluch in the building of their province, they have just alienated them by building military cantonments and persecuting both adults and students that demand equal economic rights and freedoms (as those in Punjab and northern Pakistan). There is so, so, so much potential in Baluchistan, especially with the creation of Gwadar on its own, according to an official of Pakistan’s Ministry of Ports and Shipping asserted,

…that Gwadar would within a few years rank among the world’s biggest, best, and busiest deep sea ports. It had at the time of the inaugural event three functional berths, with space for at least 14 more. It had enormous advantages, over its rivals in the region, including Iran’s port of Chabahar, located in the provinces of Balochstan and Sistan near the Pakistan border on the coast of the Gulf of Oman… In contrast to Chabahar, however, Gwadar, is an all-year, all-weather, deep channel port that will eventually be able to offer accommodations for the largest oil tankers, along with ease of access to the docking area and unusually short turn-around times. (Baloch Nationalism and the Geopolitics of Energy Resources: The Changing Context of separatism in Pakistan, by Robert G. Wirsing)

The longer Islamabad takes part in such actions the more resentment there will be, and the more anger insurgent groups and even India (not a conspiracy) will have to exploit.
Jamil Bugti, the son of the slain Nawab Akbar Khan Bugt (BLA leader) has even more gloomy news for Pakistan:

The next generation is all in the mountains, and they’re not willing to talk to anyone. People like me, and others, like the different nationalist parties that are in Parliament, they don’t have any role to play. They look very good on TV. That’s about it.

Baluchistan will surely be the epicentre of Pakistan’s future, and it can surely revive Pakistan. For a country that virtually has no more room for failure, Pakistan should diligently work towards ensuring that Baluchistan becomes (and remains) an integral and united province under one country.


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