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Balochistan: Convenient silence

New Delhi , Mon, 11 Apr 2011 ANI

New Delhi, Apr. 11 (ANI): In recent months, our media, that usually follows the western media when it comes to covering world events, has been concentrating on Egypt and Libya as if our world and existence was dependent solely on the outcomes there. There wasn't much original coverage either as it was either agency reports, or articles by western journalists. In this massive deluge, Afghanistan, which had been forgotten long ago, receded further and even Pakistan receded for want of space.


We also feared, one imagines, that if we wrote about Balochistan or talked about the atrocities, we would be accused of interference, never mind that Mirwaiz Omar Farooq (he is an Indian, isn't he?) met the Pak High Commissioner a few days ago. We don't mind separatists meeting the chief envoy of the country that encourages separatism and that too on our soil.


Reverting to Balochistan and Pakistan, there are several issues that should interest any Indian. One is the issue of ethnic Baloch nationalism pitted against Punjabi chauvinism and Islamabad's attempts to control ruthless suppression. The second issue is the geo-strategic interests of China in the strategically located port of Gwadar and the minerals in Balochistan.


The latter which includes billions of dollar worth of copper and gold reserves have been of immense interest to western companies prospecting there; this is in addition to the estimated US three trillion dollars mineral reserves recently discovered in Afghanistan which makes the entire region extremely precious for all these reasons. aloch nationalism


Although Balochistan is kept hermitically sealed from the outside world, there are some intrepid reporters and writers who manage to publish reports about what has been happening there. Disappearances of the young men especially those suspected or actually involved with Baloch nationalism are common place. The pattern is familiar where these young men are picked up and after a few days their bodies are found in some roadside ditch mutilated and with obvious marks of torture.


The message is horrific and intended to deter the young. Apparently this does not work and the disappearances and torture continue. It is a reflection of the state of affairs in Balochistan that none of the 65 members of the provincial assembly thought it fit to raise this issue in the assembly. Either helpless, unwilling, complicit or just frightened, this is hardly an edifying reflection of the state of affairs in that province.


The Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, asserts that Balochistan had the highest number of militant, insurgent and sectarian attacks of any province in 2010, 43 percent more than in 2009. Apart from Baloch separatist organisations demanding secession and attacking the state, there were sectarian attacks on Shias by Sunni extremist groups, ethnic attacks on Punjabis settled in the province, the growing Pushtun (Talibanised)-Baloch tensions, and crime, including kidnapping for ransom.


Teachers and administrators in education have been targeted by nationalists because they are seen as a part of the state while religious extremists accuse them of imparting secular education. Journalists in Pakistan find Quetta more dangerous than Peshawar and some agencies in the tribal areas even though these areas have Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Haqqani network, foreign militants, and other local insurgent groups located there.


There are various estimates of the number of enforced disappearances of Baloch activists, who have been abducted by Pakistani security forces in the last decade. In their March 2010 report, the Asian Human Rights Commission estimated the number to be about 4000 individuals. Most Baloch human rights sources and political organisations however believe there were between 8000 to 12000 victims.


Amnesty International in its report of October 26, 2010 and later, the Asian Human Rights Commission in its November 2010 confirmed that Pakistan security forces had abducted and killed a number of Baloch political and human rights activists. Despite coercive actions by the security forces Baloch students and activists participated in 713 demonstrations both inside and outside of Balochistan against Pakistan's atrocities. There were a total of 225 days of hunger strikes, 47 days' shut downs and 95 rallies in different parts of the province.


The Iran-Pakistan-China (IPC) pipeline is planned to be taken through the Khunjerab pass to Xinjiang. This would reduce travel time from six weeks to 48 hours, technically speaking once the routes and pipelines are laid. Both the Chinese and the private western companies and their governments are equally interested in a pacified Balochistan. Pakistan, and in particular Balochistan, is China's physical link to its sizable investments in Iranian gas, Afghan hydropower and Gulf oil.


Chinese companies have poured at least 15 billion dollars into Baloch projects: an oil refinery, copper and zinc mines and a deepwater port at Gwadar, close to the Straits of Hormuz. The idea is to transform Gwadar into another Dubai to control transit trade into landlocked Afghanistan and to encourage trans-shipment trade from the Persian Gulf to East Africa.


A highway from Gwadar to Quetta, travelling north will ultimately connect with Pakistan's national highway network and from there on to the Karakoram Highway and into Xinjiang. China is also working on a new airport at Gwadar, due to open in 2013. Aware that there is a nationalist movement in the smaller towns of Balochistan, yet the Chinese are confident that the Pakistan army will take care of their security concerns.


Lobbyists of western gold mining companies have had been keenly interested in acquiring one of the world's biggest gold and copper treasures at Reko Diq, Chagai estimated to be worth over 260 billion dollars. These mines could be a bonanza for Pakistan provided that the deals worked out are equitable for Pakistan. There are some claims that, if Pakistan gets its fair share from the gold and copper mines, Balochistan would provide more riches than any of the present oil producing Gulf countries, many times over.


The Reko Diq area is part of the same geological belt discovered in Afghanistan, which the Pentagon estimated was worth one trillion dollars, though President Hamid Karzai claimed it was worth more than 3 trillion dollars. Pakistan, it is estimated in mining circles, has more deposits than Afghanistan, so the enormity of the prospective private riches is enormous. Many suspect that back door deals have already been made.


This desire to prospect and control may be one of the reasons why silence about the troubles and repression in Balochistan is convenient. Western commercial interests along with the well known US/NATO interests in Balochistan because of the Afghan war and Chinese geo-strategic interests provide the strongest coalition of interests.


Alongside is the Iranian worry that the centrifugal ethnic forces in Balochistan and the Wahabbised Taliban movement based in Quetta, could affect stability in Iran. Meanwhile, Balochistan will continue to bleed as the West rescues Libya in the name of democracy and does deals with the Taliban in Afghanistan also in the name of democracy.


It is a remarkable arrangement under which Pakistan continues to be delinquent and takes rewards for this from the west, then offers its territory to the west and China for mineral exploitation and strategic use. In return buys their silence while it suppresses movements in Balochistan. (ANI)


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