By S. M. Hali

Balochistan continues to be in the eye of the storm and the bloody trail of bomb attacks, ethnic/sectarian violence and wave of missing persons persistently rock the turbulent province. Much has been commented regarding what ails the province: deprivation, neglect, missing persons’ issues, human rights’ abuse, insurgencies, repressive military action, corruption of successive provincial regimes, lack of royalty for mineral resources, feudal lords’ suppression of their serfs and minions. All of these may be contributory to the turmoil and strife in Balochistan but a root cause of the problem is Balochistan’s location.  The troubled province is situated at the locus of numerous international conflict zones. To its west lies Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province, in the northwest, the Helmand province of Afghanistan, while to the south lies the coastal region of Makran, through whose desert, Alexander the Great’s 80,000-man army marched westward in its disastrous retreat from India in 325 B.C. All three bordering regions form part of the current great game. Afghanistan continues to be occupied by US-led NATO and ISAF forces, whose horns are locked with the Taliban, whom they had displaced in 2001, but since then have regrouped and are challenging the war-weary US-led alliance, which is contemplating an exit strategy. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s northwest tribal belt and Balochistan’s region adjoining Afghanistan is suspected of harbouring Taliban “insurgents”.

Simultaneously, Iran, a target of US and Israeli allegations of developing nuclear weapons, is being intimidating by Israel on a weekly basis while the Obama administration has reportedly drawn up an attack plan. In its grand strategy, Iran’s access via Balochistan is a promising possibility. Coming south, the 400-mile-long Makran coast, running from Iran eastward along the Arabian Sea, constitutes an area of immense strategic importance. The newly-constructed port of Gawadar offers immense opportunities. The Soviets had eyed Gawadar as the ultimate prize during their decade-long occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s as the fabled warm-water outlet—Peter the Great’s ultimate dream. The Soviet agenda was to overrun Balochistan and export the hydrocarbon wealth of Central Asia through the port of Gawadar. Destiny had other plans; the Soviets were denied the fruition of their imperial visions. In the wake of the Soviet retreat, US giants like Unocal and other oil firms, intrigued by the idea of building energy pipelines from the Caspian Sea across Afghanistan to Indian Ocean energy hubs like Gawadar, toyed with the plan of establishing their base in the region. Time will tell whether the rationale behind 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan was the control of the energy routes or not but ample evidence points towards it, in which Balochistan holds the key. In 2000, Pakistan’s military ruler General Pervez Musharraf had invited the Chinese to fund a deepwater port at Gawadar. A few weeks before 9/11, the Chinese consented, while their commitment to the project intensified after the US invasion of Afghanistan. Although the Chinese spent $200 million on the first phase of the port project, which was completed on schedule in 2005, apparently owing to US pressure, in 2007, Pakistan gave PSA International of Singapore a 40-year contract to run Gawadar port.

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The Balochis comprise less than 4 percent of Pakistan’s 18 million’ population, yet Pakistan’s natural resources, including copper, iron, uranium, gold and potentially rich oil reserves, and natural gas, abound in Baluchistan. The province produces more than a third of the country’s natural gas, but remains submerged in poverty.

Certainly subsequent governments including the current political dispensation are to be blamed for the Balochistan imbroglio but there is a method in the madness as various powers are vying for control of the strife-torn province and shift the blame on the Frontier Constabulary (FC) primarily consisting of personnel drawn from Pakistan Army. The gambit appears to be: “give a dog a bad name and hang him!” Take the recent spate of violence involving the miners’ massacre, the carnage at the ANP rally and other bloody incidents, which have occurred at a time when the entire national focus is on the law and order situation in Balochistan; where the Chief Justice Supreme Court is personally addressing the issue of the missing person’s case and the Prime Minister was visiting the troubled province. The Baloch nationalists, perhaps driven by their foreign masters, have chosen this particular moment to drive home their nefarious agenda and hold the FC responsible for the missing persons’ issue and demand the withdrawal of FC from Balochistan thus removing the last impediment in the fulfillment of their heinous agenda.