Monday, December 16, 2013

The Great Game of Baluchistan

In the remotest corner of Pakistan there is a conflict going on, a conflict where people are fighting for their Independence, a conflict which has involved Asian powers like China and India, a conflict which may soon involve the World Power of USA, a conflict which can fit into many of the global power games, this region which in history was a empty corner will now become the center of the great game, this area is the region of Baluchistan located in the western part of Pakistan, Southern Afghanistan and South Eastern Iran.

Baluchistan and it's strategic location. It is spread around 3 countries presently

The history of this region is as old as this region. The first proof of wheat being grown was found in Mehrgarh located in Baluchistan. The Baluch like the Pashtun have been fiercely independent people. The British realizing this fact did not try to capture the area but rather ruled them through the Khan of Kalat and various Sardars just directly ruling a area between Baluchistan and Afghanistan cutting the latter's access to sea. Even before the British in the power struggle between Indian, Persian and then later Afghan rulers this area was a buffer between various kingdom of these areas. This area which is one of the most barren regions did not have the return of investment to capture and every kingdom was happy to keep it as their buffer.

However things changed when the British left India. The rulers of Baluchistan site historical references to prove that they were recognized as de jure independent by the British like Nepal. In the confusing times that were prevalent the Pakistani's finally captured Baluchistan in 1948. Pakistan was always skeptic of India and the Kashmir conflict immediately after Independence created a narrative in Pakistan that they are a thin strip of plain land which needs Baluchistan and Afghanistan as it's strategic depth in times of a attach from it's eastern neighbour. The discovery of various minerals, oil and gas has made this land even more valuable for it.

Due to these reasons Baluchistan is too valuable for Pakistan. It will try to keep it at any cost. It has been suppressing the freedom movements in Baluchistan very violently. There is virtually a martial rule in this state. Pakistan has also kept Baluchistan province with a lot of Pashtun population areas. It serves twin objectives. Firstly it has ensured that the Baluch are a minority in it's own province. Secondly it also ensures that the Pashtun in Pakistan are divided between the province of Khyber Pakthunwa, Baluchistan and FATA. This also helps it to address the Pashtunistan movement that may emerge in it's other eastern province.The province is now also critical for Pakistan as it's second deep sea port has been built at Gwadar, which relieves it from a situation it faced in previous wars where it's only port of Karachi was blocked by Indian Navy. Hence in this great game whatever be the aspirations of the people of Baluchistan, Pakistan will never let it go and use it's last of resources. Losing this state might be the end of this nation and it knows that.

The Chinese have also made huge investments in this province. The Chinese are hungry for minerals due to the huge demand back at home. Also China wants to secure it's oil supply routes and Gwadar forms a key port in its string of pearls which it is creating in Indian Ocean to secure it's routes. It has made huge investments in Gwadar. Also Chinese are also creating a Road, Rail line and a Pipeline through Pakistan linking Western China. These all lines meet the warm water of Indian ocean at Gwadar. As already stated Pakistan losing Baluchistan might mean the end of Pakistan and which is the last thing China wants. Pakistan is virtually a military and transit country for them and would preserve it at any cost. Hence an Independent Baluchistan will be as seriously defended by China as it would defend North Korea

The third big player in this game is India. India has it's eye of vast oil resources in Central Asia, Afghanistan. It also wants to trade with these countries. Till now it's access has been blocked by Pakistan. It does not trust Pakistan and hence cancelled it's share from the Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline. Also India would ultimately like Pakistan to be broken into 4 to 6 countries. This will ensure that all the threats from the neighbourhood are removed and then can focus it's energies on development and tackling China a large part of it which now it has to divert on defense and terrorism. It is also playing limited role in supporting the Baluch insurgency from it's consulates in Afghanistan. A free Baluchistan will help India in addressing both it's enemy neighbours of Pakistan and China. It will give a serious dent to Chinese plans using Pakistan and again would have to depend on routes from Indian Ocean which India can tackle if it requires.

USA is a new entrant in this great game. It has just started to enter into it and it's role is presently like a jelly which will take its shape as the time passes and certain confusions are cleared out. USA wants to stay in Afghanistan via it's bases for a long term. It has its eye on the vast resources in Central Asia and would like to challenge the dependency of these nations of Russia. It also wants to stop the access of Russia to the warm waters. However to fulfill this aim it has to depend on a unstable Pakistan, a country where the hate of for USA is growing day by day. For maintaining access to Afghanistan the only choice present for USA is through Afghanistan with other routes either too costly or are closed for it. A free Baluchistan will give direct access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Sitting in Baluchistan it can also put pressure on Iran and take decisive action if required. It also gives it a chance to create Baluch Insurgency in the Iranian Baluch area and create instability in Iran. However USA cannot directly go for proclaiming an Independent Baluchistan. It needs Pakistan to counter upcoming countries of India and China too. USA is playing a murky game where presently the Baluchistan card will be used to counter Pakistan and put it in line. However going by the conditions in this unstable country it will be no surprise that USA might dump it if it finds the right condition and create an Independent Baluchistan

Iran would be another country which would oppose Baluchistan. It's Baluch area are located strategically over the strait of Hormuz, and over Indian Ocean the route from where trade of Suez Canal passes. This is of immense strategic interest which it will not lose at any cost. It has been encouraging India to build the Chah Bahar port in it's Baluch area hoping that this would help it get the trade of Afghanistan and Central Asia and create some development in it's least developed region which will help it quell the insurgency going on there.

Afghanistan would overall want an Independent Baluchistan. A much more ideal situation for them would be to merge this country in "Greater Pashtunistan" no longer making it landlocked. Many Pashtun take Baluch as Pashtuns only but it is too much wishful thinking by them. Overall Afghanistan wants to remove it's dependency on Pakistan and this would be the way. However they might not be happy to lose some areas to Baluchistan even if these are one of the most barren areas.

Central Asia presently is very neutral to this. If it helps to create peace in Afghanistan and open the land routes they would be more than willing to support it. However most of these countries are in so state presently to dictate any terms and would be mere spectators.

Baluchistan if free would make one of the most sort after country which can change the fortune of it's people and turn it into another Saudi Arabia. It would be a country which would be very rich in Oil, Gas and Minerals having a very small population. It would be a country sitting on the 2 biggest trade route and with Asia becoming the future it could become the heart of it. It is a country which formed can turn out to create all right conditions for some countries and misery for some other.

It is hence to no surprise that the "Great Game of Baluchistan" has begun and it will be very intensely fought. Which way it tilts will decide which way the power of the world tilts.

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