Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Balochistan Forever!

Balochistan is another "phantom stan", along with Kurdistan and Pushtunistan. Before the days of the United Nations and fixed national borders, we had tribes and tribal areas of control. As the strength of the tribe ebbed and flowed, its area of control would expand and contract -- like a beating heart. Observe B-stan, in the middle of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. And yet Balochistan has no UN representative, no army, navy, diplomatic service. Just like Kurdistan and Pushtunistan. But B-stan is considered important in the halls of power, like the other phantom stans.
Strategically, Balochistan is mouth-watering: east of Iran, south of Afghanistan, and boasting three Arabian sea ports, including Gwadar, practically at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz.

Gwadar - a port built by China - is the absolute key. It is the essential node in the crucial, ongoing, and still virtual Pipelineistan war between IPI and TAPI. IPI is the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, also known as the "peace pipeline", which is planned to cross from Iranian to Pakistani Balochistan - an anathema to Washington. TAPI is the perennially troubled, US-backed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, which is planned to cross western Afghanistan via Herat and branch out to Kandahar and Gwadar.

Washington's dream scenario is Gwadar as the new Dubai - while China would need Gwadar as a port and also as a base for pumping gas via a long pipeline to China. One way or another, it will all depend on local grievances being taken very seriously. Islamabad pays a pittance in royalties for the Balochis, and development aid is negligible; Balochistan is treated as a backwater. Gwadar as the new Dubai would not necessarily mean local Balochis benefiting from the boom; in many cases they could even be stripped of their local land.

To top it all, there's the New Great Game in Eurasia fact that Pakistan is a key pivot to both NATO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), of which Pakistan is an observer. So whoever "wins" Balochistan incorporates Pakistan as a key transit corridor to either Iranian gas from the monster South Pars field or a great deal of the Caspian wealth of "gas republic" Turkmenistan.
Pepe "the punk" Escobar envisions Baluchistan as the object of another US expeditionary force, led by Barak Obama. Of course, Escobar is not thinking clearly, which is more the norm than not it seems. And yet, such visions are useful for writers of pulp fiction and journalists of minimal realism. Something to think about when you are high, and lacking in anything important to discuss or cogitate upon.

The serious fact is the state of the tribal areas of the planet -- unstable. From Africa to Asia to parts of South America and the Pacific, the thought of tribal insurgencies can ruin the digestions of many a regional and global leader.

Will we ever see a nation called Balochistan? Probably not of any consequence. And yet, some very pivotal battles over access to energy may happen not far from B-stan. China is there. Pakistan is there. Iran is there. The US and NATO are not actually that far away.

Whether Pepe the punk is correct about the future of B-stan has more to do with the incompetence of Obama than anything else. Only a very incompetent Obama could make Escobar's paranoid visions come true.

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