Emerging Balochistan threat —Shaukat Qadir

Over the last few months there has also been a steady flow of Afghan ‘refugees’ into Balochistan, who have been welcomed by the Baloch Pashtuns, resulting in a shift in the demographic balance in favour of the Pashtuns in the province

While the attention of the world is focused on the deteriorating situation in FATA, there are developments taking place in Balochistan that could, in the long run, pose a far greater threat to the federation of Pakistan, particularly in view of the strategic significance of this province that I have highlighted earlier. (“Strategic significance of Balochistan”, August 16)

The disillusionment of the ethnic Baloch in this province with the federation of Pakistan and the feeling of being exploited by Punjab have been steadily on the increase for decades. In fact, Baloch nationalism and an increasing desire for independence from the Pakistani federation have never before been as vocal or visible as today. It has reached its boiling point and, unless the grievances of the Baloch are addressed with great urgency, there is more than a likelihood that Pakistan may find itself hemmed by two insurgencies; one at each extremity.

Since the peace initiative with India began to make progress after 2002, there was a growing view among Indian analysts and an acknowledgement among Pakistani analysts that India has realised that a stable Pakistan is in its interest. However, there now appears incontrovertible evidence that India is promoting unrest in Balochistan. Perhaps, while India is still keen to see a stable Pakistan, it is not prepared to see one making the kind of economic progress with which it could outpace India, or one that is capitalising on the ‘strategic geographic location’ possible if Balochistan were at peace.

What India perhaps fails to appreciate is that not only are there other, more powerful actors in this game, even if it were to succeed in liberating Balochistan from Pakistan, Balochistan is not in itself a politically and economically viable entity. If severed from Pakistan, without the support from a more powerful and reliable ally than India, it is most likely to seek a union with Iran with which it has historical and ethnic linkages; and Iran is definitely an interested party in the ongoing geo-strategic game.

What is more, Balochistan falling into Iranian hands would create a far more competitive regional power that could threaten Indian interests in the long run, more than Pakistan ever could. It would raise eyebrows not only in China but would be unacceptable to the US as well.

Let us also not forget that the US is also not an uninterested party in this game that threatens Pakistan. The last thing that the US would like to see is Balochistan forming a union with Iran. However, it will not be averse to an independent Balochistan, dependent on the US. In which eventuality, it will also effectively scuttle China’s hopes of entering the Indian Ocean and having a naval presence at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. It will also deprive China of the economic growth that could result from the flow of commerce and energy from Central Asia through China and Pakistan.

As a matter of fact, a large number of Baloch nationalists are openly saying, ‘America is coming’ and ‘we are waiting for it’. Unfortunately, if the Americans do come, the Baloch will suffer far more at their hands than they have within the Pakistani union. But they don’t know this to be fact, and who can blame them for wanting a change?

Over the last few months there has also been a steady flow of Afghan ‘refugees’ into Balochistan, who have been welcomed by the Baloch Pashtuns, resulting in a shift in the demographic balance in favour of the Pashtuns in the province. These ‘refugees’ are also Taliban who have already formed a Shoora, the council of elders along the lines of the Islamic Caliphate in the times of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH.

However, they are not preaching the Islam of yore or that of peace, one of the meanings of the word ‘Islam’; they are breeding hate, and are lying low, biding their time. I have no doubt that the Pakistani authorities are aware of this looming threat, but no one is prepared to voice it at a time when the newly elected government is looking increasingly incompetent.

Ironically, the only ray of hope for saving the Pakistani federation lies in the diverse aims of the two sources of threat to the federation posed by the Balochistan situation.

If they are not appeased in time, the Baloch will be looking for an independent homeland, in a loose union with the US or Iran; while the Taliban will be looking for a safe haven in the inaccessible regions of Balochistan, but within the union of Pakistan. The latter are fully conscious of how helpless they will be against American might if they no longer enjoy the protection of Pakistan; even if that protection is steadily eroding its ability to defend its citizens against American incursions.

The tragedy is that whichever way the wind blows in Balochistan, even if the diversity of the aims of the two parties results in keeping the union intact, once unrest starts, it can only result in hampering Pakistan’s hopes for a bright economic future. Perhaps that is the limited aim India has set for itself.

If so, I will repeat my submission of a couple of years ago that whatever economic growth India achieves through its ‘Silicon Valley’, it will remain a third world country without access to substantial sources of cheap energy. So far, wherever possible, the cheapest means of access to oil or gas is through overland pipelines, for which India is dependant on a peaceful Pakistan, particularly Balochistan. Perhaps India feels complacent with its nuclear deal with the US, which might result in fulfilling India’s energy needs through nuclear energy. However, Pakistan can redress this problem if, in this case, it acts quickly and decisively.

This article is a modified version of the original written for the daily National

Source: Daily Times, 30/8/2008

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