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Life on the Geopolitical Fault Lines: Does Contemporary History of Balochistan Reflect Poland’s Past? – Part II

July 14, 2010

Belaar Baloch

Pakistan has entered into negotiations with Kalat on the basis of recognising the state’s claim to independence and of treating the previous agreements between the Crown and Kalat providing for the lease of Quetta and other areas, which would otherwise lapse under section 7 (I) (6) of the Indian independence Act, as international agreements untouched by the termination of paramountcy. The Khan of Kalat whose territories marches with Persia of course in no position to undertake the international responsibility of an independent state, and Lord Mountbatten, who before the transfer of power, was warned of the dangers of such a development doubtless passed on this warning to the Pakistani Government. The United Kingdom High Commissioner in Pakistan is being informed of the position and asked to do what he can to guide the Pakistani Government away from making agreement with Kalat which would involve recognition of the state as a separate international entity [Baloch 1987:257] & [IOR: L-P+S/13/1846].

(The above extract is taken from a secret memorandum, prepared by the minister of state for Commonwealth relations of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland dated 12 September, 1947)

With its harsh climate, unproductive soil, and negligible levels of commerce, Balochistan – except for the Indo-Perso trade corridor – offered far fewer tangible benefits than other British colonies on the sub-continent. So, what led Britain to retain control of this unappealing country for so long?

The answer relates broadly to Britain’s colonial interests in India, which fall into two main categories: commerce and security. First, India’s huge population presented an ideal market for British manufacturers and traders alike. And second, a large Indian army under British command – yet maintained with Indian taxpayers’ money – represented an attractive means of projecting British power into Asia and Africa, as well as increasing Britain’s power and influence relative to its European rivals. To protect these vital economic and security interests, Britain had to keep a close watch on the most vulnerable areas of India’s western periphery, including Balochistan.

Having taken control of Balochistan in 1839, Britain made no effort over the following century to build political and security institutions in Balochistan – just as in India. The only system it developed was known as the Sandeman system. Under this arrangement, tribal chiefs were given policing powers and subsidies to maintain order in their own regions, thus diminishing the central authority of the Khanate and corrupting the traditional role of the sardar (chieftain) in Baloch society [Baloch, 1987]. Under this system, the Crown representative retained ultimate power, reinforcing this position by playing on the differences between the sardars and the Khan of Kalat.

Isolated from its vital regions and its historical neighbours, the State of Kalat, became a client state, its rulers and administrators responsive to the whims of Westminster. By the time Britain decided to transfer the sovereignty back to Kalat, the state had become so weak that it was unable even to sustain its railway system, let alone control its vast territories bordering Iran, Afghanistan and newly formed Pakistan. However, the Crown’s abrupt withdrawal of security and administrative support was a conscious ploy to depict Kalat as ‘a weak state in a dangerous neighbourhood’ that would be better off under Pakistani tutelage [IOR: L-P+S/13/1846].

This ‘weak state’ concern was not, however, the only factor in play. The emerging Cold War confrontation between the ideologically polarised east and west had significant geopolitical implications, Winston Churchill’s famous speech in March 1946 in Missouri having defined the new geographic fault lines [Kissinger, 1994:442]. Thereafter, Britain began to tackle local Marx-inspired independence movements in order to cleanse the region of any Soviet influence. On the sub-continent, too, it became increasingly apparent that Britain would not leave frontier states to their own devices for fear of jeopardising British interests following withdrawal from the region.

In supporting the fiercely independent Pashtuns in Afghanistan and creating a new Muslim state (Pakistan) along India’s western borders, Britain ensured that neither the Soviets to the north nor the potentially powerful India to the east would go on to gain a foothold in Balochistan.

In the post-colonial era, however, while Balochistan’s importance in security sphere has remained intact, the discovery of huge deposits of natural resources has added a new dimension.

Since their incorporation into Iran and Pakistan, both parts of Balochistan have been controlled in a brutal fashion. Tehran and Islamabad continued to extract resources while maintaining internal security through a crude mix of terror and inducement. To strengthen its hold on the Iranian part, Tehran systematically crushed tribal power – the last line of defence guarding against Persian domination of the people of western Balochistan. By contrast, Pakistan never succeeded in fully imposing itself on eastern Balochistan; instead, it relied on tactics redolent of earlier colonial modes of control: first, offering meagre bribes to an elite willing to collaborate daylight natural-resource robbery; and second, constant use of force or threat of force against nationalists, who opposed their plans.

Despite the relative success of this strategy in maintaining for decades their exploitative policies, these two countries now appear to bent on full-scale control of the region, transforming the native population into an aboriginal-type minority. In this, a perpetual quest for natural resources combines with an ambitious desire to turn the whole region into a transit corridor, pushing both Islamabad and Tehran into a race to achieve absolute control over the Baloch region.

Examining their everlasting quest for land and resources, in his book ‘In the Shadow of Afghanistan,’ Dr Selig S. Harrison long ago recognised the ulterior motive of two countries:

 Both Islamabad and Tehran view the sparsely settled expanses of Baluchistan as a safety valve for surplus population, a source of badly needed raw materials, and an area of vital strategic importance over which the central government should rightfully hold undisputed sway. For the ideologues of Pakistani and Iranian nationalism, the Baluch and other minorities cannot be permitted to stand in the way of modernization programs addressed to the overall development needs of the impoverished millions living in all parts of their respective countries [Harrison, 1981:04].

Tehran has already developed Chahbahar sea port, and a new highway linking this port city to land-locked Afghanistan is under construction [Wirsing, Strategic StudiesInstitute, 2008] . Furthermore, in an attempt to consolidate its control over western Balochistan, Tehran is also erecting hundreds of kilometres border walls – physically dividing the Baloch homeland between Iran and Pakistan – as a means of blocking cultural and political influences emanating from eastern Balochistan.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is looking to develop rail links between Gwadar deep-sea port, the Central Asian republics, even China’s far-flung western territories [Asia Times, 24 February 2007]. Pipeline networks would soon criss-cross Balochistan from west to east and north to south, carrying gas – and possibly oil – from Iran and Turkmenistan. Already, faced with crippling fiscal crisis, Pakistan is selling Baloch natural resources at knockdown prices, as with the multi-billion-dollar copper and gold mines of the Rakhshan region. It is, likewise, desperately seeking investments for further exploration of the gas and oil wealth hidden deep beneath Kach-Ghandawa, in the northeaster region.

With a rapidly growing economy and an unrestrained hunger for natural resources, China’s shadow looms large. For the Chinese, Balochistan, with its resources and location, would represent a significant geopolitical boon to its isolated western region.

Although the tormented histories of Poland and Balochistan may not run on completely parallel trajectories, there are, nonetheless, striking similarities between the two nations’ pasts: both were subjugated by foreign powers; both were partitioned for geopolitical reasons; and both resisted foreign occupation.

The rise and fall of the independent nation of Poland depended heavily on the moves made by the great powers in its immediate proximity [Morgenthau, 1993:190], and its survival was intimately linked to changes in the distribution of power in a wider European configuration that paid heed to the fate of minor nations.

Balochistan, with all its remoteness, became an object of the great power rivalry in a colonial setting. Given that British imperial policy looked to consolidate its colonial possessions, the region between the Persian Gulf and the River Indus became vitally important to the security of its richest colony, India. Moreover, British strategists well understood that so long as routes of possible western invasion open, true Indian security would not be achieved. Therefore, it became a geopolitical necessity for Britain to penetrate into Afghanistan and Balochistan, both to create safe buffer areas and also to deny Russia access to the Arabian Sea.

Unlike Afghanistan, Balochistan failed to maintain its independence because its society was too divided and, thus, too weak to resist; its rulers did not have national purpose around which scattered tribal power could coalesce into a national force. Furthermore, in its eventual rush to depart from the sub-continent, London, as sole security provider, gave the green light to Pakistan’s decision to reject Kalat’s sovereignty and impose a full-scale occupation.

Poland, after the Cold war, sought refuge under NATO’s security umbrella and integrated itself in the concrete institutional framework of the EU’s political and economic union. Balochistan, meanwhile, remains under stringent control of Iran and Pakistan, its natural wealth being looted, its people oppressed, and its secular socio-cultural structure coming under attack from both sides.

Given the two countries’ growing strategic interests in various spheres – driven by economic imperatives, demographic pressures and even ideological impulses – Balochistan will remain an object of oppression unless a dramatic geopolitical shift occurs.

 

ENDNOTES:

  • Adye, J. M. 1897 & 2006: Indian Frontier Policy: An Historical Sketch, London: Elibron Classics.
  • Harrison, S. S. 1981: In the Shadow of Afghanistan: Baluch Nationalism and Soviet Temptations, Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  • Baloch, I. 1987:The problem of ‘Greater Baluchistan’: a study of Baluch nationalism, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, Wiesbaden GmbH.
  • Colin, S. G. & Sloan, G. 1999: Geopolitics, Geography and Strategy, Abingdon: Frank Cass.
  • Morgenthau, J. H. 1993: Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, Boston: McGraw Hill
  • Bull, H. & Watson, A. 1984: The Expansion of International Society, Oxford: Clarendon Press
  • Kissinger, H. 1994: Diplomacy, New York: Simon & Schuster:
  • India Office Record, L-P+S/13/1846, British National Archives
  • Wirsing, G. R. Baloch Nationalism and the Geopolitics of Energy Resources: The Changing Context of Seperatism in Pakistan, April 2008, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/pub853.pdf
  • Syed Fazl-e-Haider, China-Pakistan rail link on the horizon, Asia Times, 24 February 2007.  http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/IB24Df02.html
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