August 04, 2012

Save Balochistan

Rustam Shah Mohmand
Saturday, August 04, 2012

The breakup of Pakistan would not have taken place if the Pakistani state had not unleashed a reign of terror on Bengalis after its refusing to accept the results of the 1970 general elections. There is no point blaming an external force when conditions are deliberately created for foreign interference to become inevitable. Some such drama is being enacted in Balochistan. The story of Baloch deprivation goes back to 1948 when Qalat was invaded in contravention of the agreement that had been reached with the Khan of Kalat. From then on, it is a lamentable account of a state which seems bent upon forcing its will on a population it has never taken into confidence.

The death of Nawab Bugti added a dangerous dimension to the Baloch demand for independence. The Pakistani state began to use terror as its principal weapon of repression. Kidnappings, torture and killings became the weapon of choice. How could the US or its proxies stay aloof when so much is at stake? The US interest in the area is obvious. The Baloch also have slices of territory in Iran and Afghanistan. All three countries are of tremendous interest to the US for different reasons. Then there is the China factor. Gwadar, a port developed with China’s assistance, could link China to the Arabian Sea. This could significantly enhance China’s clout and importance in the Indian Ocean area. Besides, the opening of trade routes would provide China with enormous economic leverage.

For obvious reasons, the US would not be happy if its arch adversary acquires strategic foothold in an important region. The natural resources of the area are another factor. Balochistan sits on huge deposits of copper, gold, gas and many minerals. The province’s proven vast mineral reserves, coupled with its strategic location and its ports and related infrastructure have the potential of converting the region into a powerful economic hub for the Gulf and the Middle East, as well as Central Asia and South Asia.

US interest in Balochistan goes back at least two decades. But now the United States clearly eyes an opportunity which the Pakistani state is inadvertently providing it. The insurgency has got to be seen in this broader perspective. The fact that the Balochistan-Iran border is infested with clandestine operatives is a matter of common knowledge. These are ominous signs for Pakistan, which seems to be oblivious to the impending gathering storm. Admittedly, independence for Balochistan is a far cry considering its small population and the fact that any attempt at secession will be firmly put down by the Pakistani state using all its resources.

But the continued existence of an insurgency supported by external forces will certainly keep the area perennially destabilised. The Pakistani military establishment must not be comforted by the assumption that Balochistan cannot break away like the former East Pakistan. Instability in an area as crucial to Pakistan’s economy as Balochistan could spell disaster for the country. Such a situation of chaos and mayhem in Balochistan could create powerful ripples of discontent in many other parts of a fragile country that plunges into crisis after crisis because of weak institutions, corruption, power outages, self-inflicted insurgency and the country’s accepting the role of a US mercenary in the area.

The solution lies in withdrawing the security forces completely from all duties in relation to security and law and order, and empowering the civil armed forces like the Levies to assume responsibility for security. The provincial government and its own forces should be strengthened and better equipped for duties which fall into their domain. The withdrawal of the military will take the steam out of the insurgency and a climate would be created for genuine engagement with the Baloch in order to mainstream them into the country’s politics. That would then set the stage for mega-developmental projects to be undertaken, like the IPI gas pipeline from Iran.

The writer is a former chief secretary of the NWFP and has served as ambassador in Kabul.

1 comment:

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