On July 3, 2012, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, called her Pakistani counterpart, Hina Rabbani Khar, to tender her apology and condolence for the loss of lives Pakistan had to bear in Salala Checkpost attack by the NATO forces on November 26, 2011. “We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military,” said Clinton, recounting her discussion with Khar.
Although Clinton was of the view that the incident occurred as a result of errors from both sides, the Pakistani government was generous enough to deem it as an unconditional apology that fit in its demand for reopening the NATO Supply Line or GLOCs (Ground Lines of Communication).
The Salala incident had badly damaged the already withering Pak US relations leading to a seven month closure of these GLOCs forcing the NATO forces to use the much costlier Northern routes for supplying goods into Afghanistan.
The resumption of NATO supplies is an apparent gain for the US but what does Pakistan get? A mere 1.2 billion dollars withheld in the Coalition Support Funds (CSF) from last year coupled with a refreshed wave of militant attacks and political instability. The situation has not changed for Pakistan as violence has escalated in border regions as well as various parts of Pakistan.
With all the seven month fuss and the apparent victory declared by the Pakistani policy makers over the US, one fails to grasp the notion as what benefit would GLOCs reap for the common man, or even for Pakistan in the longer run? US is using situation in Pakistan for its own geo-political objectives. It is not helping Pakistan but promoting its own agenda. Through funding the NATO supplies and giving peanuts in aid, the US is dictating the internal as well the external affairs of the country. When an energy stricken Pakistan is in dire need of natural resources such as Oil and Gas, and neighbors like Iran are ready to fund the possible projects, Washington is dictating and warning Pakistan for declining such offers.
US, can and, is possibly using Balochistan for denying Iran regional economic cooperation. Hillary Clinton and Cameron Munter, the US ambassador to Pakistan, have expressed open opposition to Pak Iran gas pipeline. “[This] would be particularly damaging to Pakistan because their economy is already quite shaky,” Clinton said in March referring to the Iran-Pakistan pipeline. “This additional pressure that the United States would be compelled to apply would further undermine their economic status. We have been very clear in pointing out the consequences of building this pipeline,” she further said, adding that sanctions could be triggered if the pipeline is constructed either as an Iranian project or a joint project with Islamabad. This was clearly a provocative statement, but given the nature of Pak US relationship, Pakistan could do little to protest against the statement.
The situation on ground in Balochistan is, without a doubt, a lucrative affair for the US. The persisting instability can serve long term for Washington’s objective of keeping Iran at bay. Radical anti-shia groups such as Jundullah, for Iran, and Lashkare Jhangvi, for Pakistan, fit into those objectives which mean that,
a) Iran could easily be isolated,
b) the groups can be used as scare-crows for smaller Gulf States, and
c) the Balochistan situation could be used as a justification for the larger American presence in the Gulf region.
The initial attempts to bully Pakistan on Balohcistan came when US Congressman Dana Rohracbacher introduced a resolution in the US House of Representatives calling upon Pakistan to recognise the Baloch right to self determination. This was may be a signal to Pakistan that Washington can use this option as well. It is easy to exploit religious, political or ethnic tensions in a region to peddle your own objectives, which is why Balochistan may be seen as easy prey.
Historically speaking, when the US sees its interests under threat, they create instability as they did in Baltics and Central Asia. Soviet Union is an example. Now the US is starting to support smaller regional minorities and nationalistic movements in order to pressurize Pakistan to give into its demands. President Obama signed a kill list, and a programme of activities, of militants who need to be targeted and the main threat, with presence of majority of militant leaders, they think is from Pakistan. This also justifies Washington’s engagement with Pakistan.
Traces of the Baloch situation could be found back in Chechnya where Moscow accused foreign NGOs of supporting insurgencies in Chechnya, as a result, two prominent Humanitarian organizations were banned from working in the region. Although Europeans never believed that the NGOs were involved in fuelling the Chechen war in the Northern Caucasus.
Islamabad has to realize that it needs to fix the nationalist militancy issues in Balochistan on a war-footing to avoid long-term political and financial attrition. It has to be realized the Balochistan is Pakistan’s most important asset not only in terms of its geography and borders, but also the natural resources it possesses. The attention it draws from the Western powers is solely linked to the aforementioned importance coupled with how its division would weaken Pakistan as a whole. Therefore, keeping Balochistan as a priority is what Pakistan needs. For over five decades, the Balochs have suffered and it is about time the ruling elites start giving due consideration to the region as it holds the key to solving major problems faced by Pakistan.
Regional stakeholders need to watch out that in the name of security, protection of democracy and international trading routes, the US usually, and has traditionally, occupied spaces in the name of strategic partnerships. It pushes for agreements that favour it but go against internal interests of the target country, resulting in political chaos and instability, something very explicitly faced by Pakistan.