October 16, 2007

Sources of Iran’s Terror Campaign in Balochistan

Beyond the Wall: Sources of Iran’s Terror Campaign in Balochistan

Guest Column by Belaar Baloch

(The views expressed by the author are his own)
Source: SAAG.ORG


The decades-old and artificial division of Balochistan between Iran and Pakistan is bringing yet new grief to its population. Amid speculation that the United States may take coercive measures to forestall Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, the regime in Tehran is heavily fortifying its border regions, especially its “vulnerable” southeastern frontier known as Sistan-va-Balochistan, where it connects with Pakistani-controlled eastern Balochistan, its other half. While the international community is focused upon the most pressing issues, i.e., the war on terror and the boiling crisis over Iran’s nuclear activities, the voice of the Baloch people—repressed by both Iran and Pakistan—is either unheard or, for political reasons, deliberately ignored.

Unlike other ethno-national groups that fell victim to the decolonization process, Baloch miseries began early, when rival imperial forces confronted each other in a long game of geopolitics. This game ultimately cost the Baloch people their sovereign statehood and resulted in the arbitrary division of their homeland. Those who are familiar with the history of the “Great Game” will know how imperial Britain appeased Iran by serving up the western part of Balochistan in an effort to stem the feared Russian advance towards the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. Locked in its intense geopolitical rivalry with Russia, Britain had left untouched the semi-sovereign status of the eastern part of Balochistan, hoping eastern Balochistan would serve as a buffer to help preserve its richest colony, India. In the aftermath of the First World War, a confident British foreign secretary Lord Curzon, then assuming the control of Iraq as a protectorate under the League’s mandate, and realising the great importance of this region, summed up the Imperial forward strategy in this way:

“Now, that we are about to assume the mandate for Mesopotamia, which will make us conterminous with the western frontiers of Asia, we cannot permit the existence between the frontiers of our Indian Empire and Balochistan and those of our new protectorate, a hotbed of misrule, enemy intrigue, financial chaos and political disorder. Further, if Persia were to be alone, there is every reason to fear that she would be overrun by Bolshevik influence from the north. Lastly, we possess in the south-western corner of Persia great assets in the shape of oil fields, which are worked for the British navy and which give us a commanding interest in that part of the world.”

With partition of the subcontinent in 1947, however, Britain colluded with the founders of the newly created state of Pakistan to force eastern Balochistan to join Pakistan.

The Baloch living in these forcibly annexed territories, however, never accepted the new status quo. From the outset, the Baloch perceived this division and arbitrary rule of their homeland by the Persians and Punjabis as illegitimate. The Baloch refused to abandon their socio-cultural identity and adopt the alien values imposed by the Persians. Despite the creation of the unnatural border known as the Goldsmith Line, the Baloch from both sides not only maintained their socio-cultural ties, but even strengthened these links in order to counter the threats of assimilation they felt emanate from both Pakistan and Iran.

Iran’s recent decision to physically separate Balochistan with a hundreds of kilometre-long wall, turning it into two non-communicating halves, is an extraordinary affirmation of state power and one that reflects Iran’s general readiness to aggressively control the Baloch population. In justifying this move, Iran uses border infiltrations as a pretext.

From the Qajars to the Pahlavis and, in recent times, under its revolutionary idealogues, Persians have claimed jurisdiction over ethnic minorities on the basis of their racial “supremacy” and the “higher” values of their civilisation. These xenophobic attitudes towards ethnic minorities have a long history. In the heyday of his rule, Reza Shah who was desperately seeking an ideology to unite the “nation” chose fascism. Describing Shah’s fascination with fascist ideology, Stephen Kinzer notes in his book “All The Shah’s Men” that Mussolini, Franco and Hitler “seemed to him to be embarked on the same path he had chosen, purifying and uniting weak, undisciplined nations. He launched an oppressive campaign to obliterate the identity of minority groups, especially Kurds and Azeris and glorify his ideas and person.”

Unfortunately, this history of terror against minority populations does not end with Reza Shah. His son Muhammad Reza Shah chose to reinforce his father’s mission by giving a free hand to SAVAK, one of the most dreaded intelligence organizations of its time. SAVAK’s death squads conducted numerous overt and covert operations in Balochistan, driving ordinary people out of settled areas. Eventually facing a revolt by the Baloch, Iran became the first country to establish formal diplomatic ties with Pakistan in order to legitimize the Goldsmith Line—the border dividing Baloch territory into Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. The Baloch members of the West Pakistan Assembly, however, did not recognize the conclusion of the boundary commission and challenged its recommendations in Pakistan’s apex court. Fears related to the integrity of the Iranian borders led Muhammad Reza to send a large contingent of Iranian forces armed with Huey Cobra attack helicopters to support the Pakistani army in its efforts to crush the Baloch insurgency in 1973 in eastern Balochistan.

In the aftermath of its recent revolution, the theocratic regime in Tehran became even more aggressive, particularly against its non-Shi’ite minorities. Soon after consolidating their grip on power, the revolutionary zealots embarked on a plan to accomplish “Imam’s” mission: “purifying” and “enlightening” the Sunni Baloch population. The revolutionary utopians were in search of an enemy and revenge. Just as Khomeini and his lieutenants found an external enemy, i.e., the United States—the most formidable “enemy” of Islam and its revolution, so did they identify an internal one, depicting the Baloch as a “proxy” of Iraq, bent on the destabilization of the revolutionary state. Under the Shah, as one astute observer put it, “Iranian sense of excellence and racial pride had expressed itself in snobbery and hauteur. In Khomeini’s crusade, and in the magnificent isolation of its embattled position, Iran evoked—and Khomeini has insisted on this—the solitude of the Prophet Mohammad’s mission donned a religious guise.” Nevertheless, the ideals of a modern-day Mahdi had serious limits; his appeal did not extend beyond the Persian realm as non-Shi’ite minorities rejected his design to establish a more “authentic” and “pure” social order based on the repressive Shi’ite sectarian doctrine invented by Khomeini and his faithful ideologues. Since then, Tehran has perceived the Baloch as a threat to its national security and has employed various methods—from state-led terror to the policy of assimilation—to counter this perceived threat.

At present, the Baloch are suffering a “second revolution.” Under the leadership of Khomeini’s faithful followers, there are those who vow to take the revolution back to its roots. This new generation of followers has recently renewed their hostility towards the Baloch and other ethnic groups, particularly those concentrated in bordering regions. This time Shi’ite totalitarian ideology is not the sole source of adventurism, but also a recently revived Persian nationalism. These two aggressive impulses derive from the regime’s increasing paranoia: that Baloch political groups are being “aided” by western states in order to create internal instability.

In search of the “enemy within,” the new revolutionaries, under the banner of Shi’ite authenticity and Persian nationalism, have reinforced their terror campaign in the towns and villages across the Baloch region. After a long and unsuccessful campaign to indoctrinate ordinary Baloch into Shi’itism, the regime recently revived old terror tactics used to intimidate innocent civilians. During the shah’s despotic rule, SAVAK’s clandestine agents ruled Baloch streets; under Khamenai, the task was given to the thugs of Marsad (Ambush). But methods and tactics remain the same and these include: systematic use of violence to eliminate political activists, extrajudicial killing of Baloch political activists and religious clerics, forced eviction of ordinary people, the destruction of houses and agricultural farms, thereby creating a general climate of fear in order to force the Sunni Baloch into submission.

With its failed attempt to garner support from the non-Persian population for its nuclear quest, the regime has also employed violent means to silence those who are unwilling to share in its euphoria over its nuclear program. Following a chilling defeat at the hands of the Baloch resistance fighters in the heart of Zahedan city, the elite Revolutionary Guards Corps turned their guns on innocent civilians and conducted barbaric public executions. In so doing, the Persian leadership proved to the world that even in this modern age, they are not ashamed to carry out the medieval and ruthless purges characteristic of their past.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the subject of moral stature, the Persian leadership never forgoes an opportunity to teach Persian “moral” values to the world. On the eve of releasing the British sailors the President of Iran, addressing a large media audience, seized this opportunity to deliver a lecture to a western audience, trying to claim the moral high ground. In his hypocritical speech, he demonised the western system, depicting it as unfair and unjust, especially with regards to women’s rights, notwithstanding the fact that the Islamic Republic is the only state in the world that permits the execution of children, most recently the barbaric hanging of Said Qmabarzai, a seventeen-year old teenager.

For the Baloch, Kurds, Awazis, Turkomen and Azeris, the sky will not fall when U.S. cruise missiles overwhelm Iranian nuclear sites, because the subjugated minorities do not share the agenda of the Persians: to make this state a regional hegemon. For generations, these minorities have been denied their basic rights under Persian rule. And the Baloch, with a distinctive history and character, were never, after all, a part of “Greater Persia.” Nor will they benefit if they choose to become a component of this Persian megalomaniac state. Similarly, the Baloch in Pakistan have no incentive to embrace a Punjabi regime that has converted Baloch eastern territory into a nuclear dumping ground: its hills are still covered with radioactive dust and its soil contaminated.

Now obsessed with Iran’s nuclear program, the West has failed to condemn the regime over its human rights abuses against the Baloch and other ethnic minorities. The strategic considerations of the West take priority over human suffering. It is true that the notion of justice has never been a popular feature in the realm of international politics, especially in that part of the world where hydrocarbon politics is central to the shrewd practitioners of realpolitik, who in their very tradition, are willing to overlook human suffering at the cost of “stability” and “order.” However, the obsession to preserve this order at the expense of human catastrophe has blinded policymakers to the fact that it is this very international order that is threatened by both Pakistan and Iran.

The former is armed with nuclear weapons and employs jihadi groups as a foreign policy tool in its efforts to gain strategic depth. It regards Afghanistan as part of its strategy to gain an economic foothold in the Central Asian republics. The later is vigorously meddling in an unstable Iraq, as well as pursuing the development of nuclear arsenals to dominate the region. Imagine a world with these two rogue states, both armed with nuclear weapons, and their foreign policies driven by militant Shi’ite and Wahabi ideologies.

Ironically, Washington has rediscovered its “reliable” ally in the war on terror. The nature of its “cooperation” with the Punjabi military regime provides the answer as to why the West is overlooking Pakistan’s policy of repression in eastern Balochistan. While America pours billions of dollars into Pakistan to appease its army, the whole region has been transformed into a military garrison, one in which the local Baloch have been driven out of their towns and villages and compelled to live as refugees on their own soil. America’s policy has brought neither stability to Afghanistan , nor has it helped dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.

Facing state-led ethnic cleansing by both Iran and Pakistan, the Baloch demand protection from the international society. While moral rhetoric in the foreign policy of civilized nations rarely overrides strategic interest, in this case, it is in their own interest to save the secular and tolerant Baloch, who are at present besieged in a heartland of extremists and fanatics.

(The writer is a Baloch academic living abroad. He is working in areas related to strategic and security issues. His E-mail address is: belaar3@yahoo.com)

1 comment:

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