Originally Published 2006-01-04 08:58:23 Published on Jan 04, 2006
Of all the reasons, there is one reason why the world must pay immediate attention to what is happening in Balochistan. Here, a military dictator ruling without any political legitimacy for more than five years has now launched an ethnic cleansing which, to say the least, is colossally retrogressive and inhuman.
Gwadar and the China angle
Of all the reasons, there is one reason why the world must pay immediate attention to what is happening in Balochistan. Here, a military dictator ruling without any political legitimacy for more than five years has now launched an ethnic cleansing which, to say the least, is colossally retrogressive and inhuman.

There are two reasons why President Pervez Musharraf, a favourite dictator of Washington and its allies, has decided to take this course. On December 14, 2005, when he went visiting a Frontier Corps camp in Kohlu, unknown men fired eight rockets at him, three falling near the camp where he was supposed to address the paramilitary troops engaged in a systematic military operation against tribals who refuse to kneel before the military rule in Islamabad.

A couple of days later, an Army helicopter with the Inspector-General, Frontier Corps (IGFC), Maj-Gen Shujaat Zamir Dar, and his deputy Brig Saleem Nawaz, was fired at, the first reported incident of its kind targeting a general officer and his deputy in their own area of command.

Besides the personal angle, the latest military action in Balochistan has an economic angle. Balochistan, with it enormous natural gas and mineral deposits, for long, has been viewed as Pakistan's answer to Dubai, becoming a regional trading hub with a mega deep sea port at Gwadar, being built with Chinese cooperation, and the Makran coastal highway to link the rest of the region with the outside world. The entire project, running into several years, if not decades, and billions of dollars of investment, rests on keeping the fires of insurgency in Balochistan quiet. 

A brief look at what has been planned in Gwadar, known as the Greater Gwadar Plan of which the port is only one component, will reveal Gen Musharraf's urgency in cleaning up the area of tribals whose only fault is in demanding a fair share in the prosperity and development, and justice. Under this plan, the Gwadar Development Authority, in addition to Gwadar port, is planning a network of roads, connecting Gwadar with Karachi, Pasni, Ormara and Turbat.

The Coastal Highway linking Karachi with Gwadar (675 km) is being built simultaneously with the port along with other highways, from Pasni to Gwadar (135km), Ormara-Gwadar (275km) and Gwadar-Turbat (188 km), one of the links finally reaching the Iranian border at Gupt.

This network of roads will finally be connected with China through the Indus Highway. Under an agreement, Pakistan, China, Kazakhistan, Kyrgizstan and Uzbekistan are already committed to developing extensive railroad links from Central Asia and the Chinese province of Sinkiang to the Arabian Sea Coast. The completion of this communication network will not only facilitate the movement of goods from China and Central Asian Republics to the countries of the Persian Gulf, West Asia, East Africa, the Indian Ocean and beyond through Gwadar, the countries of these regions will also have an easy and short route for access to Central Asia for trade and economic co-operation.

Besides the road network, there are plans to set up an international airport equipped with all modern aviation facilities, including runways to handle landing of wide-bodied 747 aircraft. 

Likewise, plans are afoot to lay a railway network to complement the road network extending across Pakistan; the first of the proposed route is 550 km long, linking Gwadar to Quetta-Zahidan.

The master plan for Gwadar reveals that it will be based on development of about 45,000 acres that would comprise airport, industrial zones, export processing zones, beach development, resorts, housing facilities and all civic amenities like schools and hospitals over the next 50 years. Thus, it can be seen that Gwadar will, in the next decade or so, become a place of great strategic value for Pakistan, extending its reach from the Persian Gulf through the Indian Ocean to South-East Asia and the Far East.

Another dimension to the region's critical importance to Gen Musharraf's future plans is its global potential as a energy transmission and distribution hub, linking West Asia and Central Asia with energy-starved Asia. Clear indications are on the ground. In the last week of November 2005, Pakistan began constructing a 42-inch diameter natural gas pipeline, the largest in the country, linking Sui Southern Gas Company's main transmission and distribution line to Karachi. The pipeline will also form part of the company's integrated liquefied natural gas import project due to be completed in 2009.

Islamabad views this pipeline as a pilot project for taking up large-scale infrastructure projects, such as transnational pipelines like the $4 billion-Iran-India-Pakistan 1,700-mile gas pipeline. About 475 miles of the pipeline will pass through Balochistan and Pakistan expects to earn about $700 million a year in transit fees alone. An indication of what such a project might mean for Pakistan in the near future is the offer made by Trans-Asia of UAE to invest in the $4.2 billion Turkmenistan-Pakistan-India pipeline.

Much has been written about the investment by China and Islamic Development Bank in the Gwadar project. Least talked about is American interest in the region. According to the leader of Jamhoori Watan Party (Balochistan), Nawab Akbar Bugti, as quoted in the Pakistani newspapers Nawa-e-Waqt and Jung, Pakistan was developing the deep sea port to provide facilities to the US Central Command. He alleged that the American plan was to "control the maritime oil and international shipping and all other trade, in addition to challenging Iran".

Another Baloch leader, Sardar Attaullah Mengal, speaking at a conference in Washington organised by the World Sindhi Institute on May 18, 2001, repeated the same sentiments and said the West was keen to have free access in the coastal areas of Balochistan for the export of Central Asian raw material and for the safety of its oil interests in the Arabian peninsula. Even if one were to discount these claims, one geographical fact cannot be forgotten: Next door to Balochistan is Iran, the latest axis of evil for President George W Bush and his advisers.

It is not difficult to see that there are quite a few compelling reasons for Gen Musharraf to have the "troublesome" tribals out of the way at the earliest. As an anonymous Pakistani official told Asiatimes online recently, "Next year is the target date to eliminate all tribal areas in Balochistan and convert them into settled areas." In other words, suppress an indigenous community to make way for a new globalised Pakistan.

The author is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi, January 4, 2005.

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