The usual suspects have good alibis
Now that the foreign hand has been blamed for the mess Gen Musharraf has gotten himself into in Balochistan, a quick roll call of the usual suspects is in order.
India, of course, is everyone’s favourite suspect, and many Indians are nursing hopes that perhaps the Indian government has finally decided to repay Pakistan in its own coin. But an implosion of a nuclear-armed Pakistan is not in India’s interests, and this fact is not lost on India’s national security establishment. A case could be made that Indian intelligence is helping some Baloch insurgents create mischief in order to keep the Pakistani army busy on the western front. But the risks of the insurgency spiralling into a major civil war in Pakistan are real. So calibrating support for the insurgency such that it remains nothing more than a boil of the Pakistani army’s posterior requires tremendous skill, control and a pro-risk forward policy. It is very unlikely that the Manmohan Singh government has the appetite for this.
And then there is the angle of the pipeline: if anything, the outbreak of violence in Balochistan makes the proposal of the Iran to India overland pipeline even less feasible. India could, of course, wave the green flag to the Baloch insurgents in an attempt to squeeze Pakistan’s negotiating position. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that India has any kind of a red flag to get the insurgents to stop taking potshots at the pipeline, in case such a devious strategy were to ever succeed.
Iran shares a long rugged border with Pakistan and is well placed to stoke the fires in Balochistan. The problem is that the ayatollahs of Iran have their own fair share of restive Balochis, and any surge in Baloch nationalism will give them cause for worry. And the last time the Balochis decided to rebel, Iran loaned its helicopters to the Pakistani army to help put them down. From an economic standpoint too, a disturbed Balochistan works against Iranian interests, not least because that pipeline across Pakistan would become impossible to build and operate.
China is building a strategic gateway to the western Indian Ocean at Gwadar in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. It has bankrolled the construction of a deep-water port at Gwadar and a modern highway connecting its own underdeveloped south-western provinces. Investing in Balochistan not only allows China access to the Persian Gulf region, but also allows it to accelerate economic development in Xinjiang, Tibet and other provinces. China’s interests, therefore, are stacked up against those of the Baloch nationalists.
Hamid Karzai’s Afghanistan is too caught up in its own troubles to be interested or capable of helping the Baloch insurgents. Individual warlords, of course, have traditionally made a good living by allowing illicit cross-border trade, including the smuggling of guns, drugs and people (of late, the al Qaeda sorts). But it is all business and the Baloch insurgents need to pay.
The rulers of Oman or UAE may see an incipient economic threat from Gwadar port, but so far there is little evidence that they have translated this fear into support for an armed rebellion. Besides, these states would not risk angering Saudi Arabia, the regional power, which remains firmly allied with Pakistan’s ruling establishment.
That leaves the United States — as a superpower, it has the means, resources and potential to give the Baloch rebels a hand. Its motive perhaps, could be to disrupt the pipeline the Iranians want to build, and geostrategically, to prevent the Chinese from building influence in the Persian Gulf region. But like India, the United States would be more wary of Pakistan disintegrating. Besides, the Bush administration needs Musharraf to remain focused on the war on terror and in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Therefore the Baloch insurgency is both a short-term distraction from its Afghanistan agenda and a long-term worry over Pakistan’s stability. The American Pandora is not about to open the Pakistan’s box.
Non-state actors (all right, al Qaeda and its related organisations) have not been major players in the Baloch insurgency, and jihad has not entered the vocabulary of the Baloch nationalists. The Baloch sardars find themselves left out of the political structure which has been divvied out between the army and the mullahs. While Musharraf would be keen to connect the Baloch insurgency to al Qaeda, especially if the situation worsens, the two are pursuing very different agendas.
Unfortunately for the Baloch nationalists, all the foreign hands are either full or unwilling to help; leaving them to finance their rebellion almost entirely out of internal accruals. And for that reason, the insurgents will not be able to take on the might of the Pakistani army for long.