Material World: Balochistan – Redrawing the Map of Southwest Asia
“There will be no peace… For the rest of our lifetimes, there will be multiple conflicts in mutating forms around the globe… The role of the U.S. armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing” (Lieut. Col. Ralph Peters (Ret’d) in summer 1997 issue of Parameters (published by the U.S. Army War College).
In January, the U.S. State Department expressed “concern” at the human rights situation in Pakistan’s province of Balochistan, where the government is fighting a secessionist insurgency. There have been atrocious violations of human rights in Balochistan for many years, but the U.S. had never complained about it before (at least in public). Then in early February there were congressional hearings on Balochistan.
Why this sudden burst of interest in a previously ignored region?
The Baloch are an ancient people, thought to be mainly of Persian origin. They live in southwest Pakistan and southeast Iran, scattered over a vast expanse of mostly desert and mountain terrain. Balochistan is the largest of Pakistan’s provinces, covering 44 percent of the country’s area.
The economy and society of Balochistan are very underdeveloped. It is, however, rich in gas, coal and metals. Most of these resources have yet to be exploited. Four foreign companies are mining copper and gold – the Metallurgical Corporation of China, Antofagasta Minerals (Chile), Barrick Gold (Canada) and BHP Billiton (Britain and Australia). American companies do not appear to have a foothold. A new deep sea port at Gwadar began operations in 2008, its management entrusted to the Port of Singapore Authority.
When the British Raj was partitioned in 1947 the Baloch rulers wanted to join India, but geographical location forced them to accept incorporation into Pakistan. Initial promises of autonomy were later broken. Insurgencies against both the Pakistani and the Iranian government have continued intermittently ever since but grew in intensity in the 1990s and 2000s.
The Baloch lobby
So long as Pakistan remained a reliable client state of the U.S., the Americans turned a blind eye to Balochistan. Now, however, Pakistan is moving out of the U.S. sphere of influence, which in turn makes continued U.S. occupation of Afghanistan untenable (see Material World, March 2012). In this context, the ‘Baloch card’ is a way to exert pressure on Pakistan.
The official U.S. position stops short of support for an ‘independent’ Balochistan, but a lobby in favour of such a policy has appeared in Washington (see Eddie Walsh in Al-Jazeera, Feb. 2012). It is possible that the options openly advocated by this ‘Baloch lobby’ are being secretly considered inside the U.S. government bureaucracy.
The Baloch lobby includes a group of members of congress that is said to be bipartisan, although its main spokesmen – Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (California), Louie Gohmert (Texas) and Steve King (Iowa) – are Republicans. Other active participants are Ralph Peters, the retired army officer and novelist quoted above, and M. Hossein Bor.
The key role in liaising between the lobby and its regional clients is probably played by M. Hossein Bor, an Iranian-American corporate lawyer at the New York law firm of Entwistle & Capucci and a former adviser to the governments of the United States, Afghanistan and Qatar. It would be relevant to know whether among his corporate clients there are any companies interested in investing in Balochistan.
Redrawing the map
The Baloch lobby accepts that the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan can no longer be considered allies of the United States. Accordingly, they seek to re-establish American influence in Southwest Asia by undermining and breaking up the three neighbouring“enemy” states – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran – and creating a new state (or possibly more than one) that would be totally dependent on the U.S.
Political, financial and military support for the Baloch secessionist cause is an important part of such a strategy. As the Baloch homeland straddles the border between Pakistan and Iran, this policy would be directed against Iran as well as Pakistan.
Iran might also be targeted by support for other secessionist movements inside that country – in the Arab southwest, the Azeri northwest and the Kurdish west.
With regard to Afghanistan, the Baloch lobby advocates shifting support (including the provision of arms) from the Karzai government back to the Northern Alliance – the Uzbek and Tajik warlords in northern Afghanistan whose ground forces helped the U.S. defeat the Taliban regime at the beginning of the intervention. This policy, which would be feasible only with the full cooperation of Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, points in the direction of a north-south partition of Afghanistan.
It is very doubtful whether Pakistan as a state could survive the loss of Balochistan. A unified Pashtunistan, controlled by the Taliban and its allies, may emerge in northern Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. The provinces of Punjab and Sindh may then draw closer to India. This would more or less complete the redrawing of the map of southwest Asia along ethnic lines.
What about Pakistan’s nukes?
Whatever advantages the U.S. might conceivably obtain from the strategy pushed by the Baloch lobby, it would entail enormous dangers. Dismantling Pakistan raises the question: what happens to the country’s nuclear weapons? Will U.S. Special Forces seize and disable them? Hopefully, caution will deter the U.S. from embarking on such adventures.
Hopefully too, all those well-intentioned people who think that ‘we’ should act to ‘free oppressed peoples threatened by genocide’ will ponder the real considerations that guide the foreign policy of capitalist states.