Friday, 15 May 2015

Understanding Balochistan’s importance - A complex issue with a simple solution, BY YASMEEN AFTAB ALI

Understanding Balochistan’s importance - A complex issue with a simple solution, BY YASMEEN AFTAB ALI
 The fuss over the prospective economic corridor to be built with Chinese help is better understood in light of the geographical layout of Gwader, the benefits and threats it offers and the dynamics of Balochistan. I quote excerpts from my article published October 1, 2013:
‘Gwadar port, located at the entrance of Strait of Hormuz, offers huge economic opportunities not only to Pakistan but to others too i.e., the Central Asian Republics, Middle East, South Asia and the Gulf States. By the very virtue of this strategic geographical location, it creates a conflict of interests between nations deeply influenced by its development. Gwadar provides the shortest possible access for Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean and is the most cost effective.’
“Fazl-e-Haider in The National, UAE, states, “The port has the potential to serve as a secure outlet as well as a storage and transshipment hub for the Middle East and Central Asia oil and gas supplies through a well-defined corridor passing through Pakistan. Gwadar gives China a land-based oil supply port that is not controlled by superior US naval power. Gwadar port, through the proposed energy and trade corridors, gives western China access to the sea. Crude oil imports from Iran, the Arab Gulf states and Africa could be transported overland to north-west China through the port.” (October 7, 2012)
“In my opinion, militarily, Gwadar will offer an immediate strategic advantage to Pakistan in case of any future armed conflict by not being held hostage to Karachi. It also compliments China’s ‘String of Pearls’ strategy offering maritime access points to Chinese navy within the area of Indian Ocean. India feels most threatened by Gwadar agreement between China and Pakistan, writes Farooq Yousuf in a national local daily. “Among its critics, India is the most prominent that raised concerns over Gwadar agreement calling it a threat to India’s maritime security. Indian military analysts are of the opinion that the port’s only objective for China is to encircle India in the sea through the famously known concept of String of Pearlsor the Chinese ally ports encircling India. Such concerns apparently are exaggerated and uncalled for as, first, Pakistan is in need of an economic push to save its dwindling economy. Moreover, Pakistan has rarely expressed concerns on India purchasing state of the art weaponry from its friends, such as Israel.” (February 22, 2013)
“The view by Robert D Kaplana world renowned journalist, is forthright, “The world’s “busiest and most important interstate, is the Indian Ocean, with 50 per cent of all container traffic and 70 per cent of all petroleum traffic traversing its waters. It is this region — with China and India jockeying for dominance, the United States trying to maintain its influence and unstable regimes threatening the flow of resources — that will be the setting for most of the global conflicts in the coming decades.” (New York Post, October 2010) India, on heels of the MoU signed between Pakistan and China has gone ahead to sign a port deal with Iran. The cargo terminal at Chahbahar, will give India a better chance to embed herself in Afghanistan, as well as offering an alternate route to land locked Afghanistan presently very much reliant upon Pakistan for this. India has ignored in their haste, tripping over their shoelaces to get the deal cut, dried and in the bag, warning by the US before final nuclear terms be settled with Tehran.
“Therefore, with China’s commitment to invest another $1.62 billion for development of Gwadar with an aim to connect Gwadar to Xinjiang thereby acting as a corridor for China’s Maritime Silk Route that is going to link up many countries, some of them currently landlocked as a part of this project, is not sitting well with those who rule the roost presently.”
The stakes are high and upsetting of the apple cart will hurt many. Mian Abrarin his recent op-ed in Pakistan Today points out; “Balochistan has once again come under media spotlight. However, the timing of the media focus returning to Balochistan is not only significant but its nature has also changed. With landmark agreements signed between China and Pakistan for investment of $46 billion in Pakistan, the Balochistan problem is resurfacing — suggesting that something has been cooking elsewhere. The sequence of the recent events also suggests that the brutal murder of the civil society activist Sabeen Mahmud has something to do with these developments.” (May 2, 2015)
If one recalls, a report released to the parliamentarians sometime in early December 2010, by former Director General Military Operations Ahmed Shuja Pasha, shared that Russia and India were also involved in the insurgency in Balochistan. Pasha had shared the presence of nine training camps dotting the Afghan border for the training of members of BLA. “He also claimed, “India and the UAE (reportedly due to opposition to construction of the Gwadar port) were funding and arming the Baloch. Pasha also claimed that the Russian government was directly involved in funding/training/supporting the insurgency.” (Newspaper report published December 3, 2010) The mention of UAE is interesting as Dubai Port’s strategic interests may be hurt with a fully functional Gwadar Port.
To jog a few memories here, US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher had tabled a resolution in the House of Representatives that called upon Pakistan to accept the right of Baloch self-determination. This was followed a week later of chairing a Congressional Meeting on Balochistan, and reported in local newspapers on February 18th, 2012.
To get a bigger picture, situation in Balochistan must be analysed. I quote Khan Zia from his latest piece, ‘Balochistan – facts and fiction’, “Any claim that these few individuals represent the desires and aspirations of all the people of Balochistan is manifestly mischievous. Ethnic Balochis are in a minority in the province itself. In a total population of around eight million, their number is about three million, divided among eighty-two or so tribes. Out of these only parts of three tribes are active in revolt. Economic development depends upon a host of factors that include the starting base, existing infrastructure, environmental conditions that can support concentrations of population, availability of trained workforce, managerial talent, state of security and recourse to justice, access to education and health institutions, etc. All of these subjects fall under provincial jurisdiction and the blame for their unsatisfactory state in Balochistan cannot be laid on rest of the country. If anything, the per capita share of federal funds is much greater for Balochistan than any other province.” (The writer is author of ‘Muslims and the West: A Muslim Perspective and ‘Pakistan: Roots, Perspective and Genesis’)
I completely concur on the provincial nature of the elements quoted, emotional rhetoric by some notwithstanding.
The government plans to make Gwadar a free port thereby exempt from excise duty. One need to be reminded here that the Jabal Ali Port in Dubai is also a free port. The completion of Gwadar Port will be an economic elixir not only for the country but also for Balochistan that will provide jobs for the locals thereby improving their economic condition.
Any government that actively seeks to complete the Gwadar project and achieves the goal can look forward to another five years in office, with ease. Can PML-N deliver?

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