Geopolitics of Balochistan: Stakes in the Ground

img_20150516_203301By Shyam KC —

The recent Independence Day speech of Indian Prime Minister in Red Fort in reference to the human right situation of Balochistan created the geopolitical tremor, raising the debate among political spectrum and strategic sphere. Scholars terms Modi’s remarks as the ‘game changer’ in the Indo-Pak relations and as Modi’s ‘aggressive diplomatic initiative.’

The statement was supported by Former Afghan President and the current government of Bangladesh. Pakistan rejected the Modi’s statement one the situation of Balochistan. In other side, Baloch leaders and protesters inside and outside the country are chanting slogan against the Pakistan and praising the Indians and their Prime Minister for raising the issues of Baloch people also requesting for the greater support from India. Meanwhile, China expressed its great concern regarding any sorts of Indian intervention in Balochistan. The influential scholar of China, Hu Shisheng, talked about the repercussion of Indian involvement in Balochistan. Hu, said in an interview with IANS, “China will have to get involved, if India tries to use anti-government elements in Balochistan, which can cause the damage to CPEC”. The geopolitical tussle in Balochistan is gearing up, with the possibility of turbulence in the region.

Balochistan and Insurgency                                      

Balochistan, the mountain dominated terrain of the southwestern region of Pakistan, is located amidst Afghanistan and Iran in north and Arabian Sea in South with greater geostrategic significance. With the abundance of natural resources at its disposal, Balochistan covers approximately 44 percent of the total area of Pakistan, with estimated population of 8.5 million in 2014.

Though the accession of Kalat and its other feudatory states of Balochistan has been clouded with controversy and mythology, like as written in the article “The Accession of Kalat: Myth and Reality” by Professor Dushka H. Saiyid. To overlook briefly, the press communiqué issued in 11 August, 1947 from the Viceroy’s House, New Delhi, recognized independent sovereign identity of Balochistan under Kalat independence, which stated, “The Government of Pakistan recognises Kalat as an independent sovereign state in treaty relations, with the British Government with a status different from that of Indian States.”  Subsequently, after the incursion of Pakistani army, on 27 March 1948 ‘Instrument of Accession of Kalat State” was signed.  Balochistan, erstwhile independent province became the part of Pakistan.

Since that period of time, the intermittent sort of insurgency is taking place in Balochistan. The killing of the Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the Baloch Leader by army in August 2006, sparked the insurgency in different level with civilian casualties. Baloch insurgents claim the fight is solely intended to control their right over resources and to liberate their state. Proclaimed that the Balochistan was never been the part of Pakistan and was annexed by Pakistan forcefully. But on the ground, Baloch insurgency is itself going through internal tribal division.

Pakistan accuses Indian government hand to support for Baloch rebel training and escalating the insurgency.  In official press statement 25 March, 2016, Pakistan conveyed the concern regarding the involvement of RAW officer of Indian intelligence agency in subversive activities of Balochistan. The claim was denied by New Delhi, stating “India has no interest in interfering in internal matters of any country and firmly believes that a stable and peaceful Pakistan is in the interest of all in the region.”  Amid the dichotomy of allegation and counter-allegation, separatist movement is the ground reality of Balochistan.

CPEC: Regional Balance of Power Play                           

Issue of Balochistan is directly linked with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project and the success of CPEC will be determined by the internal stability of the Balochistan.

China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), officially announced in April 20, 2015, during the state visit of Xi Jinping to Pakistan, was also included in 13th five-year development plan of China. The $46 billon project of highways, railways and pipeline will link the Gwadar Port of Balochistan to Xinjiang autonomous region of China, is the part of flagship project of  “One Road, One Belt” initiative. The ambitious project which Pakistan considers will pave the socio-economic development of all provinces of the country.

Baloch human Right Council UK (BHRC-UK) and separatists of Bloch liberation movement are condemning the CPEC project, ‘as a plan to convert them into a minority in their own homeland’. And, also denunciate federal government for ruthlessly committing gross human rights violation and extracting resources in the expense of Baloch people’s right. The protest against the CPEC is taking place inside and outside the country, like the protest on 28 August opposite of Chinese Embassy in London, which protesters called brutal implementation of CPEC.

Primarily, India has been continually opposing the CPEC, because some of its construction project is supposed to pass through the Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), the territory which India considered is illegally occupied by Pakistan. India raised the concern in diplomatic and political level with their respective counterpart, but ignored by China, stating development of the project is solely related to the economic purpose.  Strategically, India is furious about the project in Gwadar port, believing it will provide naval access for China to India Ocean. According to the Pakistan Today, Sino-Pak bilateral trade is around US$ 18.9 billion as of May 2016. So, economically with the completion of the CPEC, Sino-Pak economic partnership will be even deeper.

It is believed that to counter the increasing presence of Chinese influence in India Ocean with the CPEC project, trilateral Chabahar Port agreement was signed in May 2016, which also ultimately provides the new route for India to Afghanistan and Central Asia via Iran, circumventing Pakistan. But due to the less commercially viable economic option, instability in Afghanistan, Tehran’s response for considering Istanbul’s invitation for Joining CPEC, experts suspects the completion of Chabahar Port agreement.

In other hand, US fears the completion of CPEC will be threat to their role of regional dominant power, as it opens the new trade access route across Asia through Indian Ocean region and will be in favor of Chinese strategic interest being regional power.

“If ‘One Belt, One Road’ is like a symphony involving and benefiting every country, then construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is the sweet melody of the symphony’s first movement” ,the remarks from Wang Yi, Chinese Foreign Minister, depicts the seriousness of Chinese side regarding the accomplishment of CPEC .

It seems likely that, the issue of Balochistan is further fueling India-Pakistan conundrum, ameliorating the animosity in relations. The diplomatic aggression from New Delhi is also likely to pull Beijing by getting involved deeper in the internal politics of Pakistan. The involvement of many stakes in the ground and with sharp  discrepancy in their geopolitical interests, perceptible skepticism of each other’s intentions, look likes the Balochistan is taking the shape of one of the flashpoints of regional turmoil.

Moreover, it rely upon subsequent development on the area like, how the insurgency and the liberation movement of Balochistan will rise in the foreseeable future, how strongly India will support the movement, how deeper the Sino-Pak bilateral relations revolve, how closer will be the  US and other  international community.

(KC holds Master’s in International Relations from Warsaw University, Poland)

 

 

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