A stable and peaceful Balochistan will utilise its own natural resources, and create the right circumstances for building pipelines to transport oil and Gas to the international market, which in turn will help economic growth and bring stability to the region and the world
Balochistan Geopolitical Location and Region Stability
By Nasser Boladai
Balochistan, “the country of the Baloch” is presently formed of three territorial states in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan . The country is strategically situated at the eastern flank of the Middle East, linking Central Asian states with the Indian subcontinent and the Indian Ocean. The Baloch land in all practical and strategic purposes has served as a buffer zone between ancient empires and during the last few centuries between the Russian central Asia and British India. The country has been a trade route for ancient peoples of central Asia and India and the Middle East.
Balochistan’s geopolitical location in Iran has made it interesting for regional and international powers and interest groups from drug Mafia and drug traffickers to Islamic extremist groups with international ambitions.
Iran uses Balochistan as a ground for all types of experiments ranging from missile tests to constructing naval bases, to training camps for extremist groups, and to transport extremists from Afghanistan to the Gulf region and to other countries. There is also drug trafficking.
Central government policy in Balochistan that is to say treatment of Balochistan as colony has led to internal insecurity in Balochistan with destabilising implication for the region and internationally.
Balochistan Rich in natural resources
Balochistan is rich in natural resources. In addition it has a long coast line. Balochistan’s geopolitical location makes it the crossroads for oil and gas pipelines.
In 2004 the Iranian newspapers announced that 16 Oil blocks have attracted interest of major companies including American ones. Most of those Blocks were in Balochistan. “the names of the 16 blocks include Moghan (two blocks), Kuhdasht, Khorramabad, Kermanshah, Bijar, East and West Mokran in the Sea of Oman, Zabol, East Jazmourian, Saravan, Tabas, Garmsar, Saveh, Raz and Maruh Tappeh” , [emphasis is mine].
In December 2012, the RIPI project manager for exploration of hydrate gas reserves in Sea of Oman, Naser Keshavarz, said: “Based on the latest surveys conducted in the Sea of Oman…we have discovered gas hydrate reserves equalling the country’s total conventional oil and gas reserves,” .
Beside those there are other major natural resources in Balochistan including Gold and Copper and other valuable natural resources.
The Iranian and Chinese borders move closer
After the confirmation of the discovery of the natural resources in December 2012, in February 2013 the regime’s Army and the revolutionary guard started a naval manoeuvre in Sea of Makoran. At the inauguration ceremony the Iranian president Mr. Ahmadinezhad said that Balochistan, with it vast resources, could feed all of Iran . At the end of the manoeuvre, Navy Commander Rar Admiral Habibullah Sayyari on Sunday 17 Febraury 2013 said that “The Iranian Navy is establishing a new naval base on its coast of the Gulf of Oman. The location is Pasabandar, near Iran’s border with Pakistan, reported Fars news agency” .
When the regime announced the building of this new naval base in Gwatr, (PassaBandar) which is close to Gwadar, a port city in Balochistan, in Pakistan the Pakistani Presindent Mr Zardary announced that: “The contract of operation of Gwadar port is formally given to China. Today, the agreement is transferred from the Port of Singapore Authority to China Overseas Ports Holding Company Limited,”
Iran is expanding its military presence in Balochistan in order to plan the exploitation of Balochistan’s natural resources. At the same time they want to expand it military and security cooperation with Pakistan and China.
February 2013 was an eventful month concerning the relationship between China, Iran and Pakistan. Pakistan and Iran signed a security pact on February 20, 2013, ” Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar pointed out that: “The two countries are seriously interested in increasing the level of bilateral cooperation and the Iranian and Pakistani governments and officials must therefore prepare the ground for comprehensive expansion of ties,” .
This coordinated move by Iran, Pakistan and China shows that the three countries are trying to control Balochistan, as a geostrategic area to control its natural resources in both sides of the border, without any benefits to Baloch people. They want to control the flow of natural resources from the land locked Central Asian countries to international waters, and from Iran and the Gulf to china.
Islamic Extremism and the Influence of Neighbouring Countries
Historically, the Baloch never gave either Zoroastrianism or Islam primacy in their social or political life. Instead, they have been guided by centuries-old cultural and traditional values in their national behavior. A liberal and tolerant mindset has evolved among the Baloch people over the centuries. In the early 18th century, when British entered the region and asked the people how civil cases should be decided, the Baloch, unlike their neighbors, who had replied “Sharia,” replied “Rawaj”[ ] (which is a Baloch customary law). E. Oliver, a British officer in the area in the 18th century, mentions in his book that the Baloch “have less of God in their heads and less of the devil in their nature”[ ]. However, the secular Baloch tradition is in danger, mostly due to developments in neighboring societies, namely Punjabi, Pashtun, and Persia – the three dominant nationalities in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, the three countries among which the Baloch are divided.
The regime eliminates moderate religious leaders who enjoy popular support and nationalistic credentials. Meanwhile the regime lets many extremist groups that work under the guise of Tabligh Jamait (which are Religious Missionary Groups) propagate a radical interpretation of Islam.
The theocratic regime indirectly supports extremist religious forces and at the same time manipulates them to control and deter them from becoming moderate and uniting with moderate religious, liberal or democratic forces in Iran. This hinders democratic development in Balochistan and weakens the democratic forces in the whole country, and wider region.
Iranian and Pakistani authorities cooperate in supporting religious extremists in Balochistan. The extremist groups, that are sponsored by Iran and Pakistan, share some similar characteristics:
1- Most of the Islamic groups in Balochistan have their counterpart or mother organization in Pakistan, which in some cases are also involved in terrorist acts against Baloch nationalist and democratic forces.
2- Although these groups have the same ideology and common aims, they are mainly consisted of small groups. They often have same tactics, indiscriminate killing, methods which are used by both Iran and Pakistan in their response to nationalist and opposition groups.
3- These groups are often temporary, after some time they either change their name or disappear, in some cases their leaders are killed or they disappear mysteriously.
4- Members of these groups stroll the border regions of Iran and Pakistan freely, without any fear, their movements apparently unchecked, therefore they can hit from Zahidan to Quetta to Zaranj, which are the three capital cities in the divided Balochistan.
This cooperation between Iran and Pakistan in supporting the extremist groups has made Balochistan a heaven for suicide bombers and other terror activities. For instance on 14th of August 2012 a coordinated suicide bomb attack took place in Zaranj, the largest Baloch town, in Nimroos province in Afghanistan. More than 30 people were killed. This attack, according to the Afghan Intelligence Services, was planned and directed from Iran. Another attack happened on 20th October in Chabhar, which is a port city in a Balochistan Province in Iran. The suicide bomber was not local, not even a Baloch. The suicide bomber most probably was sent to Chabhar with the help of Pakistani authorities and had the possibility to move about in Iran before it strike.
Two recent deadly bomb explosions and suicide attacks on the 10th of January and 16th of February in Quetta that targeted the Hazara community are another indication of the two regimes cooperation in using religion extremism as a tool to destabilise Balochistan.
All this indicates that the Iranian and Pakistani Governments cooperate in the building and using of the extremist groups to: 1) create controlled instability in Balochistan, and 2) To create false artificial political dynamics in the form of Islamic extremists to obstruct and distort Baloch struggles for sovereignty and self-determination. They also try to change the Baloch liberal and secular culture, which is based on moderate Islam, into an extremist version of their own creation of fundamentalist Islam.
Balochistan’s geopolitical location allows access to the sea, something that the Islamic groups need. Balochistan’s division between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan enables the groups to communicate with each other across the borders and move to and from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran to the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. They also use the region to transport fighters and suicide bombers to the Arab countries and other locations in the world. From there, financial help is brought to extremist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
By the time Balochistan was annexed to Iran, the British had long since introduced opium to the Balochistan region. However, compared to other areas of Iran, its use was limited to a handful of tribal leaders, mostly in the Sistan area of Balochistan [ ]. Maghruldin Mahdavi, in an assessment of the education situation in Balochistan, Hormozgan, and Kerman regions in early 1960, pointed out that the drug was less used and relatively unknown in Balochistan, compared to other areas of Iran[ ]. When the Pahlavi regime was forced out of power by the Islamic Revolution, drugs were a growing problem in Balochistan and heroin had already been introduced to the society.
The Islamic Revolution and the new rulers, many of whom were newcomers to power and set out to become rich quickly, saw drug trafficking in Balochistan as a fast and easy way to make a fortune. Balochistan’s geographic location next to Afghanistan, where opium was grown, and Pakistan, where heroin was produced, made it ideal for these new officials, none of whom were local or Baloch.
The new rulers in Tehran turned a blind eye to these drug lords, who were government officials or their close associates, and concentrated their fight on petty drug dealers. They deliberately mixed the fight against drugs with the suppression of the Baloch national movement. Amnesty International reported in 1991 that “in Balochistan a clamp down on the Balochi national movement appears to have been coupled with the continuing campaign against drug-trafficking, blurring the distinction between prisoners detained for political activities and those arrested for participation in illegal smuggling activities.” The regime still deliberately mixes the fight against drug trafficking with its operations against Baloch dissidents, political forces, and armed resistance. It continues to execute, hang, or shoot to kill Baloch political activists, accusing them of drug trafficking and executing them without any trial.
In the recent year drug smuggling from Afghanistan to Iran has draped from 62 % to 28%, . Drugs are a lucrative trade for the Iranian government, to compensate for the loss of the drug trade from Afghanistan it has started producing drugs from chemical process, the chemical called “Crystal” (=Shisha) “. This drug is produced mostly in Tehran and Islamshahr , which is a town near Tehran. According BBC Radio’s Persian Service, Iran has become exporter of Shisha to neighbouring countries, some countries like Armenia and Turkey have already protested to the Iranian government for smuggling Shisha to their countries.
According to wikipedia Methamphetamine also known as metamfetamine, meth, ice, crystal, glass, tik, methylamphetamine, methylamphetamine, and desoxyephedrine, is a psychostimulant of the phenethylamine and amphetamine class of psychoactive drugs.
REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS TAKE CHARGE IN BALOCHISTAN
In 2009 the regime ‘gave’ the Revolutionary Guards complete decision making power, including security and governance authority in Balochistan. The Revolutionary Guards govern Balochistan like an occupied territory, and treat the Baloch people as occupied people and Balochistan as a colony.
The Revolutionary Guard, in its endeavours to increase their political and economic power in Iran, has established more than 60 illegal unregistered ports in Iran. This fact was revealed by Mr. Karoubi, while he was the head of Iranian Majlis, during Khatami’s presidency . Large numbers of these ports are in Balochistan, by the Makoran Sea (also known as the Arabian Sea) and the Gulf. The Guard’s economic interests make it very important for them to increase their presence and control over Balochistan.
Since unemployment is high in Balochistan, unemployed youths are vulnerable. The regime takes advantage of this deplorable situation by recruiting unemployed young men and women into the Baseej, which is an armed militia group. This is to confront the national movement with a local force and to divide the Baloch amongst themselves. Iran’s regime pursues a colonial policy of “divide and rule” in Balochistan. In some areas it has outsourced the security to local people and has armed them to oppose each other.
With the Revolutionary Guard’s increased control and governance in Balochistan, the Iranian government demonstrates that they do not consider the Baloch as Iranian citizens, and that they regard Balochistan as a colony of Iran. The regime’s contempt is mirrored in its indiscriminate policies of killing Baloch.
The Iranian chauvinistic policies have been manifested in the militarization of Balochistan. In the recent years the Revolutionary Guards has taken complete control over Balochistan. This has resulted in insecurity in all spheres: in physical, cultural, economic, social, and political life.
Iran has not shown any concern for the well-being of the Baloch people. They have treated Balochistan as a colony. Despite Balochistan’s richness, these policies have seen Balochistan become the poorest and most neglected region in Iran.
At the same time, the Iranian regime uses Balochistan’s geo-strategic location as tool to pursue extremist and hegemonic policies. In this way, they threaten the international peace by intimidating to close Strait of Homoz, which to most part is situated in the Makran Sea in Balochistan.
Iran uses Balochistan’s location to support and export terrorists to the world and at same time they are working with countries like Pakistan to suppress Baloch people, and exploit Baloch natural resources without any benefit for the Baloch people.
Baloch people have common interests in democratic and moderate forces in the region and in the world. They want a peaceful and stable Balochistan. The attainment of Baloch peoples’ undeniable rights will result in the breaking of the contact chains between extremist groups on the both sides of the Gulf, which will make their international co-operation more difficult. It will deprive extremist groups from using international borders to destabilise Balochistan and wider region from central Asia to South East Asian and Middle East.
A stable and peaceful Balochistan will utilise its own natural resources, and create the right circumstances for building pipelines to transport oil and Gas to the international market, which in turn will help economic growth and bring stability to the region and the world.
This document was presented in the conference on Global And Regional Security Challenges in South Asia: What Future For Balochistan, at the Royal Society In London on Sunday 24 February 2013. The conference was organized by UNPO.