Baluchistan is more than just a wasteland

by UmairJ on 1/31/2011 · 21 comments

A recent trend concerning studies on Pakistan amongst researchers and think tank operators has been the use of hyperboles to explain the current and future prospects of the country. They are not really hyperboles though – they are meant to be taken literally. But in truth, they are indeed exaggerated, and at times very inaccurate. Some scholars, whose names shall not be mentioned, exaggerate the danger Al-Qaeda poses to Pakistan, and at times seem unable to differentiate between said terrorist group or the Afghan Taliban. Though Al-Qaeda and security threats posed by India and its allies are no doubt high, a great deal of Pakistan’s misery can very well be put on the shoulders of their own incompetency. Military and civilian leaders have shown a shocking amount of parochial thinking  along implementation of ideas and plans that they deem of high priority to the country.

One prominent example is the education system, and the central government’s failure in reforming it. According to Christine Fair, 70% of Pakistan’s students still attend the public school system that is in utter shambles – a combination of inadequate teachers coupled with mismanaged or limited available funding are commonplace contributors to the system’s failures. If this arrangement was reformed (properly, with a honest mindset to help the people), even as late the 80’s, there is no doubt that some of its fruits would have been felt presently.

The United States’ short-term policy in Pakistan concerning their drone attacks in Northern Pakistan, and the country’s compliance with these actions (not to mention their alliance with the Taliban vis-à-vis the Quetta shura and LeT in Kashmir) will in the long run backfire. Using militants against India will no doubt witness the same sort of result, consequently allowing the genesis of such a large number of groups by the ISI.  The end result – Pakistan will lose track of their funding and activities,  while terrorist attacks will certainly increase.

The Lonely province:

Baluchistan is yet another example where the government could have in the past (and can presently) done more to certainly assist the area. It is the poorest province in the country, far exceeding Khyber Pakhtun khwa, and has the lowest gross domestic product (GDP) in terms of provincial components. There is a ‘north-southern’ divide in Pakistan, and the ‘Punjabi chauvinistic’ federal government has been blamed for much of the turbulence among the Baloch, who experience segregation and economic disenfranchisement.

Baluchistan, the southwestern province of Pakistan, is the largest province and also holds a huge influx of natural resources, which include, oil, natural gas and uranium. It is also geographically situated at the Arabian Sea, and finds itself dead-center between trade routes of East Asia and the Middle East. The importance of Baluchistan has increased greatly with the completion of the Gwadar port with Chinese assistance; Pakistan will surely want it to become a major trading port that will compete with Iran’s Chahbar port. However, Baluchistan has a very poor literacy rate – whereas the national literacy rate rests around 30%, Baluchistan’s rate is an astonishing 16%!  The Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA, an insurgency group) believes the central government wants to keep the people ‘backward,’ so that most of the revenue from the natural resources can keep flowing to the northern provinces.

Gwadar is also important to both the United States and China. China’s primary motivation for building the port was to create a base that could be used to pump gas through a very long pipeline to China in the north. The United States on the other hand, would want Gwadar to become the next Dubai, which could also serve as a base for the United States navy (the United States already runs an airbase in Jacobabad), as well as a commercial port to trade oil, sidelining Iran’s importance within the region.

Baluchistan is strategically important to many states – the United States, China, India, Iran, Afghanistan/Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Pakistan itself hold an invested interest in the region. Therefore, to further discuss the importance of Baluchistan, I will analyze each nation and discuss why Baluchistan is so important to their economic and geographical importance.

United States of America:

It’s safe to say that the United States is quite keen on Gwadar’s deep-sea port, especially as it’s seen as something they could benefit commercially from. The United States has been a strong advocate for TAPI, advising Pakistan to initiate the pipeline agreement, which would run an oil pipeline starting in Tajikistan and take it all the way to India. This pipeline would run through Baluchistan, and the United States believes that Baluchistan (via Gwadar) could be used to transport goods and equipment for their troops stationed primarily in Afghanistan. Pakistan has huge leverage over the United States with the Khyber Pass – Gwadar could potentially give the US an alternative route into south Afghanistan.

The government must also be watching Iran’s southern port of Chabahar very closely, naturally propping up Gwadar’s importance will be very important for them. The United States also runs covert operations in Baluchistan (which they have denied) against Iran. Sistan va Baluchistan borders Pakistan’s Baluchistan and is a hot bed for insurgency, which makes both Iran and Pakistan very nervous. The US cables also go a long way in discussing the persecution of Sunni-Muslims in this region by Iran, primarily because of the CIA’s assistance to insurgency forces (Jandallah).

Even if Baluchistan were to break up from Pakistan, the United States would vigorously push forward in obtaining access to natural resources in the region.  However, it is in the United States’ interest that Pakistan remains intact and Baluchistan remains only a province.

Some though are pushing for the United States to take over the province themselves.  With their troops already pushing in south Afghanistan, skeptics have reason to believe that they could possibly go as far as Baluchistan! I personally cannot see this happening, especially with the problems they continually face in Afghanistan. Anyone who believes that the United States will push into Baluchistan is giving much more credit to the American military than they probably should. The fact is, the United States is already wearing thin, and there have been a large number of calls wanting for the troops to come back home. Besides that, it is in the interest of the United States for Pakistan to remain a single entity, especially since they have nuclear weapons.

TAPI an IPI pipeline


For China, Baluchistan’s cessation from Pakistan would be a disaster, especially after all the efforts and funds they have put into Gwadar. Gwadar is exactly what China needs – a route to the Arabian Sea, and another venue capable of supplying the country with oil in an age where there is a growing need for it.  Considering China and Russia are already being scrutinized for their reliance on Iranian oil (China does not want to depend on American backed Saudi oil), a supply route straight from an ally is probably the best option for them right now. There is also heavy speculation that the Pentagon worried at the prospect of Gwadar becoming a naval base for the Chinese, especially since this could threaten their supply of oil from the Persian Gulf.

The BLA is also targeting many Chinese workers in Baluchistan, and there is almost no way that Pakistan can effectively guarantee their security without creating more military cantonment’s in the province. Seemingly, China’s best option now is to try and assist Pakistan in creating schools and higher institutions for educating the Baloch. China whole-heartedly believes that Gwadar can overtake Iran’s Chahbar port, and will be welcoming its speedy development.


Baluchistan to India is what Kashmir is to Pakistan, in terms of funding and training insurgents that is. Although India denies any assistance, and Pakistan continuously criticizes its neighbour to the East, there are some obvious advantages for India in terms of covert operations in Baluchistan.

India has really never accepted Pakistan as an independent sovereign nation, and should (at least I think) take a bit of responsibility for the break up of East Pakistan in 1970. India does not have any natural gas reserves – the majority of gas it does export comes from Iran. The completion of the Zaranaj-Delaram highway in southwestern Afghanistan though clearly shows India’s intent in creating better political and economic relations with CARs.

Gwadar does worry India on a few fronts though. First off, from a military point of view, Gwadar gives Pakistan’s navy a strategic advantage. Musharraf  exclaimed that Gwadar will (one day) be one of several naval bases that are to be set up to create a larger and better-defended presence of the Pakistan navy in the Indian ocean.

Secondly, Gwadar is a connecting point to warm water for Pakistan in its attempts to create better relations with CARs. The port-city can also help increase its influence in Afghanistan (something Pakistan will undoubtedly welcome). Already being a member of the Economic Cooperation Organization since 1985 (entirely Muslim nations), Pakistan will also want to also increase its economic ties with both Turkey and Iran.

Thirdly, (as already mentioned) China has a significant strategic advantage in Gwadar’s viability, and success will mean trouble for India. India simply does not want China to increase its military and economic ties with Pakistan, and barricading any possibilities would be in India’s best intersts.

According to Bharat Verma, a stable Pakistan will never be in the interest of India, and therefore it is necessary to promote and ensure its disintegration. These are pretty provocative words from the retired army official. Writing for the Indian Defence Review he says:

The self-destructive path that Islamabad chose will either splinter the state into many parts or it will wither away-a case of natural progression to its logical conclusion. In either case Baluchistan will achieve independence. For New Delhi this opens a window of opportunity to ensure that the Gwadar port does not fall into the hands of the Chinese. In this, there is synergy between the political objectives of the Americans and the Indians. Our existing goodwill in Baluchistan requires intelligent leveraging.

He goes on to state that:

With China’s one arm, i.e. Pakistan disabled, its expansionist plans will receive a severe jolt. Beijing continues to pose primary threat to New Delhi. Even as we continue to engage with it as constructively as possible, we must strive to remove the proxy. At the same time, it is prudent to extend moral support to the people of Tibet to sink Chinese expansionism in the morass of insurgency.

What India should be working towards

Pretty ambitious if you ask me. India seems to be deliberating over what actions it should (or should not) take concerning the insurgency in Baluchistan.  There is no doubt that in order to increase its influence in the region, the government will fund the BLA, as it did the Northern Alliance in the past.

In the next few years India will surely increase its influence in the CARs. As far as the BLA goes, so far its support has been minimal, but is growing in the province itself, and anything is really possible.


With the Taliban in power, Pakistan did not have to worry about its border with Afghanistan. However, since the Taliban have been ousted of power and the Northern Alliance has joined Karzai’s government, its only natural for Pakistan to feel more anxious about the happenings on its western borders. According to Christine Fair, Indian (and Iranian) officials have been visiting Afghanistan regularly to assist in pumping funds towards insurgency movement in Balouchistan. How does Kabul fit in all this? Well Fair also states:

Kabul has encouraged India to engage in provocative activities such as using the Border Roads Organization to build sensitive parts of the Ring Road and use the Indo-Tibetan police force for security. It is also building schools on a sensitive part of the border in Kunar–across from Bajaur


Before Iran became an Islamic Republic it had great ties with Pakistan and the rest of the Arab world. However, since the revolution, Pakistan has sided with the United States, and relations have somewhat been strained. The CIA (through Pakistan) has been funding insurgency groups in Iran from Baluchistan. The Jandullah group, which is one such group, is responsible for many uprisings in Sistan va Baluchistan, and is also the reason why Iran has been persecuting its Sunni minority on the outskirts of this Pakistani border.

Iran has also spent a great share of cash on developing the Chabahar port – it does not want it to be ignored because of the importance of Gwadar. Both ports are only a hundred miles away from one another, and the last thing Iran probably wants to worry about is their port being isolated (especially when a lot of pressure is spewing due to their ongoing nuclear ambitions).

Iran is also very interested in the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline, which would certainly increase their revenue and also give them more control of their financial affairs. By setting up the pipeline, they will be able to directly trade with their key ally India. Iran will certainly wish for such a conclusion, as a TAPI pipeline will certainly kill their ability to trade with CAR’s and with India and Pakistan.

Pakistani officials are the ones to blame

As mentioned earlier, it really is the influx of incompetent leaders and officials that is leading Pakistan to its demise. The issue of Baluchistan may not be a simple, but it certainly is one that could have been taken care of a long time ago.  By selling Baluchistan short of revenue from the natural resources used, the central government is just increasing the animosity amongst the residence of the province. Instead of including the Baluch in the building of their province, they have just alienated them by building military cantonments and persecuting both adults and students that demand equal economic rights and freedoms (as those in Punjab and northern Pakistan). There is so, so, so much potential in Baluchistan, especially with the creation of Gwadar on its own, according to an official of Pakistan’s Ministry of Ports and Shipping asserted,

…that Gwadar would within a few years rank among the world’s biggest, best, and busiest deep sea ports.It had at the time of the inaugural event three functional berths, with space for at least 14 more. It had enormous advantages, over its rivals in the region, including Iran’s port of Chabahar, located in the provinces of Balochstan and Sistan near the Pakistan border on the coast of the Gulf of Oman… In contrast to Chabahar, however, Gwadar, is an all-year, all-weather, deep channel port that will eventually be able to offer accommodations for the largest oil tankers, along with ease of access to the docking area and unusually short turn-around times. (Baloch Nationalism and the Geopolitics of Energy Resources: The Changing Context of separatism in Pakistan, by Robert G. Wirsing)

The longer Islamabad takes part in such actions the more resentment there will be, and the more anger insurgent groups and even India (not a conspiracy) will have to exploit.

Jamil Bugti, the son of the slain Nawab Akbar Khan Bugt (BLA leader) has even more gloomy news for Pakistan:

The next generation is all in the mountains, and they’re not willing to talk to anyone. People like me, and others, like the different nationalist parties that are in Parliament, they don’t have any role to play. They look very good on TV. That’s about it.

Baluchistan will surely be the epicentre of Pakistan’s future, and it can surely revive Pakistan. For a country that virtually has no more room for failure, Pakistan should diligently work towards ensuring that Baluchistan becomes (and remains) an integral and united province under one country.

P.S this is the guy that Baluchistan has as Chief Minister- … just ridiculous

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– author of 22 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Undergrad in Political Science and History. Main area of interest include, Kashmir, Pakistan and Islam and contemporary Middle East in general.

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AJK January 31, 2011 at 11:25 am

Great article, interesting stuff.

Just make sure this doesn’t get co-opted by a nationalist party without request, like something mine did.

Charles January 31, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Although I have heard the accusations, I’ve never read any convincing accounts of the CIA funding Jundallah. What is the most convincing proof of this in your eyes?

Umair January 31, 2011 at 12:29 pm

I did read a US cable report on the issue from wikileaks…now i cant find it but i will continue to look for it and post it here..

Vidyut January 31, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I think you underestimate the risk from US and overestimate the risk from India.

Like you rightly said, the US is wearing thin in Afghanistan and has a lot of trouble with Pakistan’s shaky support, while it literally depends on Pakistan for transport of supplies. Throwing in support to Balochistan will kill so many birds with one stone that its difficult to list them out. For one, America will have a friendly government that it has supported for direct and secure transport of supplies (not to mention shorter). It will have greater freedom in the region with regard to its operations. The long term interest in the port you have already mentioned. But a huge advantage is in frustrating China’s increasing presence in the region. In fact, it will likely be far more direct an undermining of China than propping up an unambitious India.

As for India, its eyes are solidly on its economy (much to the detriment of many other essentials for the nation, even). For India, Pakistan is a largely insane factor. Nothing is the right thing to do, and the only hope they have is ignoring Pakistan as much as they can and continuing with their agenda of progress. Becoming active in Balochistan will defeat the entire purpose by igniting further anti-India sentiment. I can’t imagine India doing that. They are keen on Pakistan leaving them alone. The Northern Alliance was already an ally, not something they propped up against the Taliban or Pakistan. On the other hand, supporting Balochistan will need the creation of a fresh alliance. Frankly, I don’t think India pays that level of attention to strategic matters at all, which is actually a security risk for India and has been pointed out consistently. While India couldn’t care less whether Balochistan becomes independent or not, and its likely they will have good relations with an independent Balochistan, the last thing they want is an unstable Pakistan, and they will not be contributing to the process, no matter what the ISI says. If the ISI had actually found evidence against India, it would have been plastered on every newspaper in the world forever.

China is a threat, but I can’t imagine the Baloch people aligning with China. Nor can I imagine Iran or Afghanistan promoting Baloch freedom, because they would stand to lose territory if this thing picks up momentum.

Umair January 31, 2011 at 12:34 pm

“For India, Pakistan is a largely insane factor. Nothing is the right thing to do, and the only hope they have is ignoring Pakistan as much as they can and continuing with their agenda of progress.”

I think that sums up India’s dilemma concerning Pakistan very well.. My take was only take one of the views on the issue. Bharat Verma wrote this article on the disintegration of Pakistan in the Indian Defence Review! I am not saying that is what India is going to do, but its a big deal when such a provocative article is written in think tank website, thats all.

Vidyut January 31, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Yeah, but not even Bharat Verma was crazy enough to recommend that India should encourage this. 😀 He only said that this was on the horizon, which is pretty much evident going by how things are.

Just saying.

Vidyut January 31, 2011 at 1:01 pm

I forgot one big American factor. You think the much wanted Bugti could find refuge in Afghanistan if America didn’t want it?

China can build all the tunnels it wants in PoK, Balochistan is America’s ace in the hole. The flirting with India is business. Sales. Economy. India has actually come out of the recession pouring money. It has woken up to the fact that its military hardware is museum quality and that America is soon walking our of the neighbourhood when it will find itself alone in bed with its twin separated at birth. Bravely, its overcoming the abrupt halt after the Bofors scandal and venturing shopping again. America wants some of that. There is no love between India and US on a political level. India countering China is possible for Indian agendas, that too if China is the aggressor. India countering China for US is nothing more than a fantasy.

CaoMengDe February 1, 2011 at 5:46 pm

“Frankly, I don’t think India pays that level of attention to strategic matters at all”

That’s not the impression I got when Indian armed forces are conducting “Nomadic Elephant” exercises with Mongolian military.

Yes, Mongolia! a landlocked country entirely sandwiched between Russia and China.

Oh, not to mention attempts of Indian military to shore up its “alliance” with Vietnam.

Who knows maybe Indian strategic planner are really way ahead of their time, could foresee the days when Indian Navy would dominate South China Sea (thus breaking a trend for last 4000 years and ushering in a brand new era) and supply Mongolia via airdrop ,um actually via outer space (to avoid Russian and Chinese airspace).

Vidyut February 3, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Oh, the Indian Army is good like that. They are professional, well trained. The problem is not with the Army, but with the government driving it. The government is distinctly pacifist and there is not a chance for India initiating an attack, because it isn’t the policy to use force. Don’t believe me, look at the news after 26/11. There was much noise, but to someone who follows news, there never was a question that India was even taking the attack option seriously beyond discussing possibilities briefly.

Particularly when it comes to Pakistan, India doesn’t believe that attacking will be any use at all. It will only help the jihadi recruitment propaganda of “evil Hindoo India”. I could be wrong, of course, but living here, I don’t imagine the general population of India allowing politicians to take the country to war, and I don’t imagine politicians ever working in that direction, unless there is a terror attack when the BJP is in power, which seems to be off the table forever now, since BJP’s extra curricular communal activities devastated the country.

The Army is trained well enough, but the political will is not for using it for war. It is more a defense measure. This is also reflected in the overall political neglect of the Army in terms of budget. Its only more now, when there was a ruckus created over the state of the equipment and still its 3% (was more around 2% before – including Kashmir – the mega expense). The neglect of the Army in the sense of not investing in equipment for a long time after the embarrasment of the bofors scandal…. there were in fact headlines a while ago when a batch of IAF cadets was due to arrive and the ancient trainer aircraft were all grounded because pilots refused to fly them for their lack of safety and accidents. Part of not doing a war post 26/11 was that our defense equipment was not at peak – enough for war with Pakistan, but could leave us vulnerable against China afterwards. The massive shopping now is not expansion, but replacing and updating.

Basically, India is more of a scientist/engineer/philosopher around politics of defense than a strategist. And the Army does what it is told – doesn’t make decisions. We are just wired differently, I guess.

It is not that we are not capable, but that I don’t imagine anyone wanting to do it. Of course, I could be wrong – often it is someone not from the country able to see matters more clearly.

Vidyut January 31, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Uh… about China, I can’t imagine China promoting Baloch freedom, because it needs to go through the rest of Pakistan before it reaches Balochistan, and Pakistan isn’t famous for forgetting.

Jade Iqbal January 31, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Interesting piece. Not that I entirely agree with it, though. The only part that I had a major problem with was this:

“India has really never accepted Pakistan as an independent sovereign nation, and should (at least I think) take a bit of responsibility for the break up of East Pakistan in 1970.”

Seriously? No mention of the genocide that Pakistan committed against the people of East Bengal? No mention of the systematic discrimination that Bengalis were faced with while East Bengal was a part of Pakistan? Sigh.

Umair January 31, 2011 at 10:42 pm

the only reason i didnt add that was because that was quite obvious and also why i said india ‘should take a bit of the responsibility…’ not the entire thing.

Randy McDonald February 1, 2011 at 3:33 am

But why should India ‘take responsibility’ for Bangladeshi independence? Bangladesh became independent because the central Pakistani state was doing terrible things to Bangladeshis, and India liberated it. What is there for India to apologize for?

Grant February 1, 2011 at 7:19 pm

He doesn’t mean “take responsibility” as in “apologize” but rather “admit that India played a role in causing the break up” (or at least that was my interpretation).

Vidyut February 1, 2011 at 1:01 pm

As far as I know, India has never attacked Pakistan. Mukti Bahini support was on request for assistance by the government of Bangladesh, which had declared freedom and was trying to fight off the forces from Pakistan. It was never Indians, but Bangladeshi nationals from among the refugees who had escaped the atrocities into India and were trained by RAW in India. When the Indian Army entered Bangladesh, it wasn’t an attack, they had ENTERED BANGLADESH to fight on behalf of the people against the Pakistani forces that were killing people left right and center. There were over ten million refugees in India – a country struggling to develop – a humanitarian crisis.

I don’t see how India should take a bit of the responsibility other than not sitting quiet and allowing Pakistan to recapture Bangladesh and destroy itself in the process with the unmanageable flood of refugees.

Grant February 1, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Legally speaking you can still call that an attack. It doesn’t really matter if it was moral or not, what matters are the laws, precedents and norms.

Vidyut February 2, 2011 at 4:03 am

Even if legally speaking it were an attack (which is surprising, since the local government had no problem with it), it can’t be called an attack on Pakistan, because it happened after Bangladesh’s declaration of independence, not before.

Grant February 3, 2011 at 2:54 am

That really depends on whether you’re from Pakistan or Bangladesh and India. The end result is still the same. Bangladesh gained independence with Indian help and the Pakistani military has become determined to never allow that sort of thing to happen again.

Grant February 1, 2011 at 7:27 pm

People are actually calling for the U.S to enter Pakistani Baluchistan? I don’t think they have a good understanding of American politics. It’s one thing for us to use drones to kill insurgents (and unfortunate civilians) on Pakistani soil, it’s quite another to send soldiers into a Pakistani province.
Also I imagine that India would quickly learn to regret it if Pakistan were to break up. That sort of thing rarely seems to have good results.

Grant February 1, 2011 at 8:43 pm

I hate to double post but I thought I should mention that the link for this seems to be broken: Baloch Nationalism and the Geopolitics of Energy Resources: The Changing Context of separatism in Pakistan, by Robert G. Wirsing

Fortunately I can still find it easily enough just by searching Google (It’s available at the Strategic Studies Institute).

UmairJ February 2, 2011 at 12:48 am


I re-added the link.

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