Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan and covers an area of 347,190 sq-km with a population around 7,914,000. It shares border with Afghanistan to the north, Iran to the north-west, the Arabian Sea to the south, spreading on almost 760km long coastal-line, Punjab and Sindh to the east and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the north-east.
Balochistan enjoys being located on a geo-strategic position in the region, particularly Pakistan, with a lucrative deep-sea port at Gawader in the south and untapped resources like gold, copper, oil, lead, zinc and tapped resources like gas, coal, chromites, baryte, marble, iron ore, quartzite, limestone and sulphur with abundance.
It was Musharraf’s government that pushed Balochistan into further political abyss without sensing the fallout of Nawab Bugti’s murder in 2006, who was allegedly charged with running a state within a state. Soon after his death, separatist movement stepped up and Balochistan got engulfed in political revolt. Baloch nationalist political parties boycotted the election held in March 2008 which caused further political vacuum in the province. During past five years, law and order situation got worst and reached to its extreme level. The government figure says that over 2100 were killed and 3845 injured in 3232 incidents of bomb blasts and rocket attacks in the province. 338 Hazaras were killed from 2008 to 2012 without the last two major blasts in January 9th and February 16th, 2013, which claimed over 210 lives of Hazaras and over 250 were left injured in Quetta City. However, non-official figure reports 14,000 people missing in Balochistan alone. Hundreds of Baloch political activists were reported to have either been killed or abducted while on other hand 340 Frontier Corps personnel and 380 Policemen along with 402 settlers were also reported to have been gunned down. Thousands of skilled settlers who were working in different fields either got themselves transferred to other provinces or voluntarily left their jobs and moved to other provinces especially Punjab. Several Chinese engineers who were working in the Gawadar seaport, cement plant and Sandak project were also shot dead. Pakistan regularly accuses Afghanistan and India for their alleged “involvement” in Balochistan. Iran in the meantime, has raised its concern to Pakistan regarding opening of US consulate in Balochistan.
Moreover, Baloch political parties allege the elite ruling class for promoting extreme religious groups in the province and human rights organizations indict the state establishments for their alleged involvement in providing full impunity to religious militants in line with killings of Hazaras and countering Baloch nationalism in the province.
Afghanistan’s alleged involvement in Balochistan is assumed to exert pressure on the government of Pakistan to bar “supposed” activities of Taliban in Afghanistan while India tends to develop pressure on Pakistan firstly to belittle the suspected activities of religious militants in Indian “held” Kashmir and secondly to disrupt the construction of Gawader Seaport which is 400km away from India — deems to be used as Chinese base to observe Indian Naval activities in the gulf region.
Gawader Seaport will likely pose serious economic challenges to Iran’s monopoly to dish up a significant route to Central Asia plus rest of the world—is 72km away from Chabahar port situated in the south of Iran. Iran in the past has blamed Pakistan for alleged activities of a Sunni militant group however Iran fully supports Pakistan to supply gas from Iran and even agreed to lend Islamabad $500 million to construct 750 km Pakistani section of the pipeline just to keep Gawader port out of the competition.
Gawader Seaport is also believed to reportedly undermine the commercial interests of UAE, which will of course bring some serious negative effects on the economic boom of the Arab states especially Dubai in coming years. In order to keep Gawader Seaport out of the contest, UAE Sheikhs are reported to have allegedly involved in funding and arming the Baloch separatists.
In addition, we should not forget that Chinese presence in Gawader will likely establish serious strategic and energy security threats to US, which will enable the Chinese to intercept US military and financial communications on the Arabian Peninsula.
Past five years, PPP led government didn’t take serious measures to address issues relating to the political chaos in Balochistan rather rubbed the salt on the open wounds by giving full impunity to targeted killings, bullet-riddled bodies, kidnapping, lawlessness, corruption, blasts, suicide bombing, rocket attacks, political victimization and squandering Rupees in billions received from 2008 to 2013.
Now, Balochistan nationalist political parties including Akhtar Mengal President Balochistan National Party (Mengal Group) has expressed his readiness to actively participate in the upcoming elections to be held in May 2013. The willingness of the Baloch nationalists for election 2013 seems the ice is melting down, however the ball still seems to be in the court of the elite ruling class to either play well in the great interest of the region particularly Pakistan or face further political cauldron in Balochistan in coming days.
Originally published on Outlook Afghanistan newspaper on 13th of April 2013.