Baluchistan and the Coming Iran War
By Luciana Bohne
08/31/06 â€œThe Digestâ€â€”Akhbar Khan, a nationalist/independence leader in Baluchistan, has been killed by the Pakistani military in a massive operation that is seriously destabilizing military dictator Pervez Musharrafâ€™s regime.
Baluchistan is natural gas country, where China is helping to build a pipeline that is opposed by Bush. From this area commandos are penetrating Iran (according to Seymour Hersh). This is where the â€œwestâ€ has been stoking up separatist fires, probably to get Musharrafâ€™s army to intervene, to put boots on the ground to encircle Iran. Quetta is Baluchistanâ€™s capital, and is said to be in â€˜Talibanâ€™ control. Nevertheless, the killing of Akhbar Khan is really upsetting the countryâ€”the whole of Pakistan. Meanwhile, Waziristan is off limits to the Pakistani army despite aerially bombardmentâ€“mostly by the US.
Why should the news from Baluchistan interest us? Iâ€™ll let you connect the dots by presenting a bit of context and concluding with an article from the Carnegie Endowment, which I think will underline the significance of the event for the prospected US attack on Iran.
Musharraf, as Bushâ€™s ally on the â€œwar on terror,â€ has had to do unpopular things, like deploying 70,000 troops to the North-West autonomous tribal regions (among them Waziristan) to hunt down â€œterroristsâ€ and such.
He hasnâ€™t been successful, but American aerial attacks from nearby Afghanistan have killed alleged â€œleadersâ€ and sundry civilians, causing a flood of refuges and displacements. Serious Pakistani military casualties have not increased his popularity and neither has the charge that heâ€™s allowing American forces to violate Pakistani sovereignty. Musharrafâ€™s campaign in Waziristan has failed so thoroughly that the region is now virtually off-limits to government forces.
Baluchistan is contiguous with the Waziristan region, a western province of Pakistan, comprising about 40% of Pakistanâ€™s national surface. Its capital is Quetta, accused by Afghanistanâ€™s Karzai (the Afghan voice of Washington) of being a Taliban stronghold supplying and fueling the Taliban armed resurgence in southern Afghanistan. Musharrafâ€™s regime denies this, but nevertheless Musharraf has re-opened hostilities in Baluchistan against the decades-old independence forces, which heâ€™s accused of provoking into taking up arms again. Musharraf, through the spring of 2006, has come under intense criticism by British, American, and Afghan officials for not doing enough for the â€œwar on terror.â€ The trouble is that if he complies with his allies in the â€œwar on terror,â€ he thereby opens himself to attack from his legion domestic critics, including the majority of the people.
The latest developments in the murder of the Baluch leader, Bugti, is a case in point: Pakistan is in an uproar and calling for his resignation.
Why would the US want to destabilize a crucial ally? They donâ€™t â€œwantâ€ to, but they have bigger plans.
The US has three military bases in Baluchistan. They say they are fighting Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the region. Perhaps. But Baluchistan borders Iran to the west. Baluchistan, too, is rich in natural gas and minerals. China is helping the Pakistani government to build a natural gas pipeline from Baluchistanâ€™s port of Gwadar to China, a project the Bush administration opposes. The port of Gwadar just happens to be geographically located to overlook the Straits of Hormuz, which the Iranians intend to block if they are attacked. Hormuz is the crucial sea route for international oil distribution.
Is it a coincidence that the US should be interested in â€œterrorismâ€ in Baluchistan and in urging Musharraf to be more zealous at the same time that it is planning an attack on Iran?
An article by the Carnegie Endowment entertains (and then discards) the same thought: â€œThe Baluch and the Pakistanis think that Washington would like to use Baluchistan as a rear-guard base for an attack on Iran, and Iran is suspected of supporting Baluch [independence] activists in order to counter such a Pakistani-US plot. . . . Some Pakistanis perceive the US as using its Greater Middle East initiative to dismantle the major Muslim states and redefine the borders of the region. Some Baluch nationalists charge the US with conspiring with the Pakistani government to put an end to Baluch claims. So far nobody has been able to prove any of these accusations.â€
No? No matter, the Iranians have been mining their side of the Baluch borders, just in caseâ€”and Bugti, the Baluch independence leader, has been killed by the diplomatically besieged Musharraf, catapulting the country into a political crisis.
Coincidence? Or are plans for an Iranian attack well under way?
Whatever you choose to believe, I remind you that Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker has confirmed that US commandos have launched penetration initiatives across Pakistani Baluchistan into Iran.
Luciana Bohne teaches film and literature at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.