‘US will not like significant Chinese presence in Balochistan’
By Shahid Husain
KARACHI: Leading political analyst Dr Syed Jaffer Ahmed has said the United States will not appreciate “significant Chinese presence” in Balochistan and in future if an operation is conducted by the United States against Iran, it would like to have a safe haven back line in Balochistan.
In an interview with Daily Times on Friday, he said: “This time around Balochistan has again attained a strategic position in the region. The United States is fully entrenched in Iraq and has virtually occupied Afghanistan, but now Iran is out of the American influence. It appears that in future Iran will come under severe pressure and the American establishment has explicitly made it known that to it Iran is part of the ‘axis of evil.’ So in future if some operation is conducted against Iran by the US, it would like to have a safe haven back line in Balochistan like it used it against its attack on Afghanistan and the Taliban regime.”
With an area of 3,47,188 square miles that is larger than the combined area of Punjab and Sindh, Balochistan comprises 44 percent of Pakistan, and has an 800km-long coastline and the province enjoys immense geo-strategic importance since it is the hub between South Asia, West Asia (Middle East) and Central Asia and shares 1,173 km-long border with Iranian Balochistan, and 837 km-long border with Afghanistan.
“The potential for trouble for the United States if the Bush administration acts aggressively towards Iran is enormous,” warns Juan Cole, the widely-quoted Middle East historian. “It could turn the Iraqi Shiites and the Afghan Hazarahs decisively against Washington. An Iran in chaos similar to that in Iraq would be three or four times the problem for the US and the world than Iraq is,” Juan Cole has been reported to have said.
“There is another aspect of Balochistan’s strategic importance and that is the role China is playing in the construction of Gwadar Port and other similar projects. In this scenario the situation in Balochistan attains complexity and the government of Pakistan faces a gigantic challenge in containing the renewed Baloch aspirations and demands and in keeping Balochistan away from international political tussle,” Dr Ahmed said.
“There is a strong need to resolve the issues politically and starting a genuine political process, involving all the major political parties of the country. One would also suggest that a joint session of the parliament be convened at the earliest and a threadbare discussion on Balochistan issue be held there,” he said. Recalling the military operation in Balochistan in the 1970s, he said: “In the 1970s the Shah of Iran acquired an important role in the region and emerged as a regional policeman, safeguarding American interests. After the overthrow of Zahir Shah in Afghanistan, tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan grew which were aggravated by the Shah’s interests. The military operation in Balochistan in the 1970s had the full backing of Iran to the extent that Iranian helicopters were used in the operation and at one point Shah’s twin sister, Princess Ashraf Pehlavi, paid a visit to Balochistan,” Dr Ahmed said.
He said Balochistan had been always important due to its strategic importance. “Balochistan always had a very important strategic position. During the British period, it constituted the border of the British Raj and the British devised a very well thought-out policy regarding it, making Balochistan a secure borderline between itself and Russia
“As a result of this policy, military cantonments were built in Balochistan and advanced defence infrastructure was created. “After the British rule, Balochistan continued to have its strategic importance in the context of the Cold War. It was assumed to be a buffer between the Soviet Union and the Arabian Gulf. Expecting that the Soviet Union would aspire to reach the warm waters, Pakistan, at the behest of the US, accepted to play a role of containing the communist threat which also implied the containment of Baloch nationalists’ aspirations,” he pointed out.