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‘Balochistan’ As A Strategic Issue Vs The ‘Baloch’ As A Political Problem – Analysis

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By D Suba Chandran

Immediately after the introduction of the Balochistan resolution in the US Congress, there has been an increased discussion within Pakistan and amongst the Baloch intellectuals/political elite on the problems being faced in Balochistan and its future. Until now, the Baloch have always complained of there not being much of an international interest in their problems. The current debate involved the US Congress listening to the testimony of scholars, activists and human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch. What is the end game of this international interest? Is Balochistan as a geographic territory of international strategic importance? Or is it seen as a political problem, where the Balochis are struggling for autonomy, better governance, and perhaps even independence?

Location of Balochistan in Pakistan
Location of Balochistan in Pakistan

Unfortunately for the people of Balochistan, international interest starting from the 19th century has always primarily remained strategic due to the region’s location, rather than its people or its rights. Balochistan gained international significance primarily in the 19th century, as a part of the larger interests of colonial powers: the British, Russians, and surprisingly even the Germans.

While there is ample discussions and literature on Afghanistan as a part of the Great Game debate, the significance once attached to Balochistan by British India as a part of their efforts to create buffer zones in the north west of the Indian subcontinent has gone under noticed. The summaries of Henry Pottinger (Travels in Beloochistan and Sinde, 1816), Thomas Henry Thornton (Colonel Sir Robert Sandeman: His Life and Work on our Indian Frontier, 1895), Sir Edward Wakefield (Past Imperative: My Life in India, 1927-1947, 1966) and the numerous Administration Reports of the Baluchistan Agency of the British Indian government would highlight that the policies and strategies adopted by the British government vis-à-vis the Khan of Kalat and the various tribal Sardars was primarily aimed at the sole objective of keeping Balochistan as a frontier region and protect the interests of the empire.

Though the Russian empire was primarily concentrated on Afghanistan, the German empire sent few missions (political and intelligence) up to Afghanistan and Balochistan to explore the possibility of exploiting the religious sentiments of the people to revolt against the British empire.

During the Cold War, the US and the former Soviet Union took over the strategic importance of this region from the British and the Russians, and started viewing this region (comprising Afghanistan and Balochistan) with the same perspective: Balochistan would provide an access to sea via Afghanistan. While the former wanted it, the latter aimed to block such an access.

The current interest of the international community should be seen from this perspective. While the resolution in the US Congress has a humanitarian angle to it, the real intentions seem to be strategic. This is especially in the wake of declined US-Pak relations, and the reluctance of Pakistan to reopen the NATO supply lines from Karachi into Afghanistan, which is extremely important for American troops and its efforts in their ‘war against terrorism’. If it a coincidence that the introduction of the resolution in February 2012 on Balochistan follows in the heels of the American failure to reopen the NATO supply route, then it should be a strange one. If the resolution is guided by American philanthropic interests and Washington’s role as a champion of the human rights and defender of democratic values, it would be another coincidence because that the same values did not apply during the last decade when the Balochis were being massacred.

The real intentions of the US could be seen from the writings of Peter Ralphs and his testimony to the US Congress in February 2012. Though the US administration has distanced itself officially from both the resolution initiative and that of Peter Ralph’s idea of redrawing the map of the Middle East with a Greater Balochistan, there is no reason to believe that the administration would fight for the democratic rights and human values of the Balochis in Pakistan.

Unlike the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Kashmiris, the Baloch diaspora is yet to become an effective instrument. Except for a few individuals and journalists, there are very few Balochis who are seriously engaged with the international community. Even in the blogosphere, the Balochi presence is limited. Except for a few websites such as Baloch Unity and online portals such as Baloch Hall, there is a lack of any serious online presence of the Balochis and their problems.

As a result, the Baloch political issue will always been seen as a collateral, rather than the primary issue. The strategic importance of Balochistan will subsume the human and political problems faced by the people. Unless history stops repeating itself. Unless the Balochis garner more interest in their day-to-day problems, rather than the strategic location of their land.

D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS & Visiting Professor, Pakistan Studies Programme, Jamia Millia Islamia
email: [email protected]

IPCS

IPCS

IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

5 thoughts on “‘Balochistan’ As A Strategic Issue Vs The ‘Baloch’ As A Political Problem – Analysis

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    April 9, 2012 at 8:33 pm
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    Thank you for this informative article. The Baloch nation problem is purely a political one. 90% don’t have access to education, so how can they be active online?! They need the civilized world to stand for their rights as the indigenous people of Balochistan. They never wanted to be part of Iran or Pakistan, they constitute a nation and deserve a nation-state.

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    April 10, 2012 at 6:26 am
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    thanks for giving ur time to a nation who is already facing historical genocide killing by the occupiers. . . as much u discuss its true and defiantly as a baloch we welcome this effort. the main problem is still the same that international community is still not able to understand the problem of balochistan. . . since 1948 baloch area is created as torch er cell and every facility of life is being snatched by the people… but from the very beginning balochs never accepted the occupying forces in shape of pakistan, this new raise of baloch is the continuity of series of last 4 revolutionary movement in balochistan.. as balochistan is hiden from the eyes of international community and baloch being a slave nation don’t have that much resources so that they can keep a relation to the international community. . . in the same time in these movements thousands of balochs have lost their lives. . . we defiantly know that with out support of international community it will take time to get our goal of free balochistan. . . but it is also conformed that until that time comes balochs will keep on struggling and thousands more ready to die for their cause. so the individuals and groups who think of humanity and respect basic right of freedom they should continue their efforts to solve this burning issue…once again thank you so much.

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    April 10, 2012 at 4:41 pm
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    I would like to thank Mr. D Suba Chandran for this brief and analytically informative article, yes it is fact that US have been ignoring Baloch issues for long time due to the misleading importance they gave to Pakistan, while Pakistan exploits Balochistan strategically importance position and enhances herself at the cost of Baluchistan.

    US interests will be better served if they get Balochistan free from illegal Pakistani occupation, you have rightly pointed out the missing Baloch Diaspora, Baloch are unfortunately not only missing in international forums but are very much divided it is time the large Baloch Diaspora plays an active and united role for an independent Baloch homeland.

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    April 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm
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    Thanks for Doctor Suba Chandran for his analys and golden advices. Baloch Docters, lawyers, Engineers were killed by Paki ISI and some of them left country. There are still some Balochi blogs which can be found by googling.

    The big problem is the non-availibality of finance at home and in abroad to cope with the brutality of Pakistani Army of which even India and United Nations is afraid of.

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    April 13, 2012 at 11:53 pm
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    The writer has provided a typical Indian leftist opinion on Balochistan. By nature this view is supposed to be critical of the United States and its intentions but not so hard on Pakistan. Of course, Indian liberals want to have good relations with their Punjabi counterparts over the border.

    The writer does not recognize the Baloch struggle as a national liberation movement against an occupying power. He so rudely uses the expression “and perhaps even independence?” It shows that he is either ignorant of or does not want to recognize the Baloch Freedom Movement which is going on for last many decades.

    He fails to mention the genocide of the Baloch people, instead it is just a massacre for him. I think Baloch Nationalists do have a “strong” presence on the Internet. But the problem is neither the world nor India care about them. The international community didn’t intervene in the Rawandan genocide either because they had no interests in Rawanda. But Balochistan could prove to be a different case. Because now the world is against Pakistan and its support to terrorism and Taliban.

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