My Editorial For Balochistan Times on 17th May, 2018
Balochistan has always been at the receiving end of regional tensions being on the crossroad of many important geographic locations that connect the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. Its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf and the long coastal belt have made it all the more relevant to the regional and global politics and conflicting interests. Even before independence, it served as a strategic location for the imperial powers as the then British Raj’s sole purpose of invasion of the then Kalat State in 1839 was to have a military stronghold in this region against Tsar Regime.
The two recent past events in the history which had most devastating impact on Balochistan were the Red Army’s invasion of Afghanistan that resulted in the influx of more than 4 million Afghan refugees into this underdeveloped and poverty ridden province and the Iranian Revolution of 1979 that resulted in an ambitious Iranian regime to promote its ideology and hence a tug-of-war between two regional camps, Saudi Arabia and Iran, ensued, turning this province the battle field for their objectives of foreign policy. What Balochistan received as a result of these regional tensions was bloodshed, loss of human lives, violence and poverty. Much of the religious radicalism that manifests itself in the province is a direct corollary of these regional tensions and country’s leadership’s approach towards their management.
The American invasion of Afghanistan was also not without any consequence for Balochistan following World Trade Centre attacks. With handing over of military base to America, the federal leadership pushed Balochistan closer a mile to the disaster. All the policies of Pakistan with regard to Afghanistan from 2001 and onwards also brought death and despair in Balochistan in terms of bomb blasts, suicide attacks, lawlessness, kidnapping for ransom, militarization of society and the unfortunate list of miseries of this hapless province runs to inexhaustible lengths.
Another regional crisis that is in the making and hovering over the heads of Balochistan more than any other province of Pakistan is the US-Iran tension. Reports about Two Saudi Arabian, one Norwegian tanker and an Emirati ship that have been damaged in mysterious sabotage attacks in the Gulf amidst rising US-Iran tensions are doing rounds in the newspaper. Fortunately, there were no casualties or oil spills. Condemnation from Saudi Arabia and the UAE was expected, but surprisingly, Iran too has called for investigations, warning of adventurism by foreign players to disrupt maritime security with implications for oil flows. Also there are reports of drone attacks on two oil pumping stations west of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. In the meanwhile, US foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo has also sent a worrying message of protecting US ‘interests’ in the region, an indirect reference to the Houthi rebels support by Iran in Yemen and protection of her allies.
Pakistan shares 909 km long border with Iran and that all is adjacent to the province of Balochistan. In case of any escalation in the region Balochistan is going to suffer heavily as many families are divided between both the sides of border in Iran’s Sistan-e-Balochistan and Pakistan’s Balochistan province and influx of refugees in Pakistan is not a distant possibility. Moreover, many of the bordering districts which are dependent for their livelihood on imports from Iran are going to suffer badly and their businesses are going to be ruined. Yet another setback that Balochistan is facing owing to the tense US-Iran relations is the incompletion of Iran Pakistan Gas Pipeline for which the former has already served a notice to Pakistan. However, in the face of sanctions that US slapped on Tehran, Pakistan is unable to complete the project. Had it been completed, it would have given better chances of development in the province of Balochistan as many districts from Balochistan would benefit from the gas, leading the establishment of industries and generation of employment.
As it is rightly said that war is not the solution of any problem but a problem itself, Pakistan should us all diplomatic channels to play a part in de-escalation between US and Iran so that her own population is protected from the negative spillover of any adventurism in the region.