It is essential to have an overview of the geographic location of Balochistan to understand the root cause of the purpose of intervention of foreign powers in the region. Balochistan shares a border with Iran in the West which acts as a gateway to the Middle East. It also shares a border with Afghanistan in the Northwest which acts as an inlet to Central Asia. In other words, it can be said that Balochistan as a province plays the role of a junction that joins the Middle East, South Asia, and Central Asia.
It also has access to the Arabian Sea because its Southern border is shared with Sindh. The contiguity of Balochistan with the Indian Ocean via the Arabian Sea enhances its position strategically multiple times. Access to sea routes has always been the topmost priority of big powers and the countries that aim to establish themselves as the alpha and omega in international politics.
Due to this reason, the Indian Ocean has been a hotspot where China and India are already in competition to formulate their dominance. Almost 70% of the total trade of petroleum is carried out through the route of the Indian Ocean as it acts as a link between the East and the West. In terms of being an essential hub for trading, the US has also not hesitated in imprinting its impressions in the region.
Having its borders close to the mountainous landscape of Afghanistan and Iran, Balochistan also has a way into the Strait of Hormuz, which again has supreme importance from the point of view of oil transportation from the Gulf countries. It’s not only the unique location of the province that makes it the apple of the eye for the international actors but also the abundance of natural resources and minerals in the province.
The largest gas reserves in Pakistan are present in Sui, Balochistan and the presence of coal and other metals has allured surrounding states and big powers. Besides the innate and naturally owned blessings that the province owns, the events taking place internationally have also highlighted the province and its geostrategic importance. After 9/11, Balochistan became an important spot for the US because it became a crossroad for the entrance of NATO forces in Afghanistan (Sial and Basit, 2010 as cited in Mariam Asif, 2018).
This had spillover effects in the province, and the land became a playground for religious fanaticism and militant activities funded by big powers and the adversaries of Pakistan. In contemporary times, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), one of the projects of the multi-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has sparked the position of Balochistan once again.
The interest of China in Balochistan, specifically Gwadar, has created insecurity amongst the international community especially India and US, because this will provide opportunities for China to conduct trade in the Middle East, Central Asia, and consequently to Africa, at low cost and in less time.
Foreign Powers in Balochistan
Javaid (2015) states that the land of Balochistan is crucial to the US to counter the power of Iran because resources of the Middle East and China will be exhausted in the next 30 to 40 years which will make the US rely on the Central Asian states as well as Iran and Afghanistan. After the end of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001, millions of Taliban fled to Balochistan and started mobilizing themselves against the hostile US forces present in their land.
Hence, the future developments of Balochistan, the rising power of China in the region, and the rising Baloch militants are all the reasons of concern for the US. Bansal (2008) states that the CIA provided financial assistance to the locals of Balochistan to help them track down the commanders of Quetta Shura. The arrest of Raymond Davis is one such incident that accentuated the tensions in Pak-US relations and also highlighted the immoral activities of the CIA in Pakistan.
China’s achievement to develop CPEC would be an economic threat to the US and its dominance in the region. Hassan (2011) says that creating insurgency in Balochistan is the only possible way to counter the Chinese investment in the land and that elements of the CIA are working in full cooperation with big powers and adversaries of Pakistan like India. Khan (2012), states that the involvement of Jundullah, a Pakistan-based organization of Baloch nationalists, have been causing insurgencies and deterioration in Iran via the Balochistan border.
The increasing interest of India in the Chabahar port in Iran is also a source of rivalry between India and Pakistan. CPEC and the Chabahar project are developed on a similar footing with similar prospects regarding economic gains, but Chabahar is not facing any kind of terror in the region as CPEC is. India has the ambitions to spread its trade along with reducing the tariffs on its goods by creating economic dependency with Iran and Afghanistan via the Chabahar port.
Gwadar port has an additional advantage of being closer to the strait of Hormuz, which, if it turns out to be successful, can cause serious implications to the economic development of India and its plan to dominate the region. Khetran (2017) highlights that the role of India cannot be ignored especially in recent times when very obvious evidence was found on Kulbhushan Yadav being an Indian spy funded by RAW.
India is insecure about the developments taking place in Balochistan because China could be the only power with the capability to curb the increasing Indian hegemonic power in the region. India perceives this as a threat, and according to Khan (2018), China has been strictly invigilating the Indian interruption in the region. Hanif (2018) remarked that the Indian involvement in Balochistan has been at its peak since it has been supporting the nationalists’ movements in Balochistan and the establishment of forums like the Hind Baloch Forum.
Inauguration of the office of ‘Free Balochistan’ in New Delhi is such evidence to the statement. The Indian role in Balochistan is also obvious through the presence of Indian consulates on the border of Iran and Afghanistan that are being used as special headquarters to cause the Baloch insurgency. Haqqani (2018) stated that the speech delivered by Modi on Independence Day in 2015 raised apprehensions about the security of Balochistan as Modi spoke about the involvement of India in the separation of Pakistan by funding the Mukti Bani.
Weinstein (2017) states that as a result of Pakistan’s war on terror, the province of Balochistan had to suffer the most because of its proximity with Afghanistan and Iran. Shahid (2018), states that efforts to improve the security situation in Balochistan have been initiated by the Pakistan Army and the fencing between Afghanistan and Pakistan has begun. According to the report of Pakistan Defense (2012), multiple leaders of the Balochistan Liberation Army fled to Afghanistan.
For the longest time, the province of Balochistan has been the most neglected and ignored federating unit of Pakistan. Poor infrastructure, low education rate, and minimum career opportunities are some of the characteristics that define the living conditions in Balochistan. This insecurity has been used by India and US as a huge opportunity to exploit the land and to hamper its harmony with Islamabad.
Indian intentions are not only driven by the long-standing Pakistan-India enmity, it also has a lot to do with the changing geopolitical dynamics. Balochistan’s separation would benefit India as Balochistan is not only rich in minerals and resources but the city of Gwadar can also act as a game-changer for Pakistan by enhancing its trade opportunities.
India would never accept the presence of an economically sound Pakistan in its region; hence, the breaking up of Balochistan is a prime vision for India. Besides this, the factor of China cannot be ignored. China’s huge investment in Balochistan has enhanced the future growth in the province, specifically in the city of Gwadar. It is seen that whenever a country marginalizes a certain class of its society or a certain region or ethnicity, they tend to become insecure.
In the context of Pakistan, the example of East Pakistan is very relevant as it had been a victim of injustice and poor governance, and as a result, the people of East Pakistan turned against the central government and India took advantage of the situation and started funding the Bengali freedom fighters. A similar pattern is seen in Balochistan where India is providing logistics to the Baloch Liberation Army and is ingraining militancy in their minds.
India provides them with weapons and training, and encourages them to strive for the demands of a separate state which is normally known as the ‘Greater Balochistan’. The governments of Iran and Pakistan wish to establish cordial relations and work on the development projects of CPEC, but the militant groups in Iran funded by India are very much against it. This brings into the spotlight the Shia-Sunni rivalry that sprung at the time of the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan when the Haqqani network was adamant about spending the funds given by Saudi Arabia on the Sunni Taliban.
Implications for Pakistan
Without any doubt, the province of Balochistan has always been a golden sparrow for the big powers. Be it the Soviet Union during the cold war and its ambitions to have access to warm waters or the US intentions to create its dominance in the region for its ease during the war on terror, the province of Balochistan has always been the eye candy in international politics.
However, back at home, Pakistan as an independent sovereign state has serious repercussions for the ongoing participation of global actors in the province. Unending efforts on the part of the US and India have hampered the development and success of the CPEC. India and US intervention through their intelligence agencies, RAW and CIA respectively, are not in favor of the Chinese involvement in the region and as a result, both states are assisting the militant groups and the members of the Balochistan Liberation Army.
Due to the increased participation of global actors, Pakistan has not been able to secure an independent foreign policy towards Muslim countries; it experiences itself being split between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The increased Sunni-Shia rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran has become an issue in the land of Balochistan, as the funds by Saudi Arabia and the US were spent on Sunni Mujahedeen.
In return, the Shia Mujahedeen were supported by India which paved the way for destabilizing the province of Balochistan and turning the militant jihadist groups of Iran against the people of Balochistan. This has widely impacted the Pak-Iran relationship, and although Pakistan has geographic proximity with Iran, the country is seen tilting towards Saudi Arabia.
Although Saudi Arabia has never openly supported Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir, Pakistan has to mould its decisions on the past partnership and funds being provided to Pakistan by Saudi Arabia. The pact between Pakistan and China that grants China the authority to establish infrastructure in Gwadar for the next 40 years is a red flag for the people of Balochistan. They believe this would eventually pave the way for the economic colonialism of the Chinese in Balochistan.
Pakistan cannot afford to turn its head from China due to the economic dependency and the Chinese influence on the state machinery. However, it can’t completely ignore the West because that will isolate the state in global politics. Similarly, Pakistan always finds it difficult to choose between Iran and Saudi Arabia. This, in turn, has made the foundation of domestic politics in Balochistan very brittle. India is the biggest threat to Pakistan, for the former has been sowing the seeds of separatism in the hearts and minds of the locals of the province.
- The government of Pakistan should discuss the issue of Balochistan at the national level.
- Adequate steps should be taken to mitigate the rising unrest in Balochistan.
- Proper representation of Balochi people should be made possible in all government forums.
- The grievances of the people of the Balochistan Liberation Army should be taken into consideration to create peaceful living conditions.
- Healthcare, education, and employment avenues should be made available to the people of Balochistan.
- The government should not impose its decision on the traditional setup of the province, rather it should resolve the problems through reformation and negotiations.
- At the global level, Pakistan needs to be mindful of its association and reliance on China.
- Projects that increase the overall prosperity of the people of Balochistan whilst ensuring their freedom should be introduced in the province.
- Border fencing should be done rapidly to stop the entry of spies and militants.
- The issue of Balochistan and the presence of India and RAW must be discussed by Pakistan at international forums especially in India-Pakistan Summits and diplomatic meetings.
- Pakistan needs to redefine its preferences without getting into the cold war of Iran and Saudi Arabia due to the matter of Balochistan.
- The militant groups of Iran and Saudi Arbia operating in Pakistan should be rooted out.
- Asif, M. Minhas, A. Ahmad, B. (2018). Evaluating Role of International Actors in the Balochistan’s. Global Social Sciences Review (GSSR), 395-410.
- Bansal, A. (2008). Factors leading to insurgency in Balochistan, Small Wars & Insurgencies,. Taylor and Francis Online , 182-200.
- Hanif, M. (2018, August 21). India’s renewed strategy of destabilising Balochistan. Retrieved from Daily Times: https://dailytimes.com.pk/286526/indias-renewed-strategy-of-destabilising-balochistan/
- Haqqani, H. (2018, August 14). India celebrated Modi’s ill-thought Independence Day speech but it hurt Balochistan badly. Retrieved from The Print:
- Javaid, U. (2015). Balochistan: A Key Factor in Global Politics. A research Journal of South Asian Studies , 91-105
- Khan, Z. A. (2012). Balochistan Factor in Pak-Iran Relations: Opportunities. A Research Journal of South Asian Studies , 27, 121-140
- Khetran, M. S. (2017). Indian Interference in Balochistan: Analysing the Evidence and Implications for Pakistan. Strategic Studies , 112-125 (14 pages).
- Pakistan Defense. (2012, November 4). American and Indian interest in Balochistan.
- Shahid, S. (2018, February 9). Bajwa inaugurates fencing of Pak-Afghan border in Balochistan. Retrieved from Dawn: https://www.dawn.com/news/1406534/bajwa-inaugurates-fencing-of-pak-afghan-border-in-balochistan
- Weinstein, A. (2017, June 01). Afghanistan’s Long Ignored Second Front in Balochistan. Retrieved from Atlantic Council: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/iransource/afghanistan-s-long-ignored-second-front-in-balochistan/
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