New Age Islam Edit Bureau
02 September 2016
Altaf Hussain’s ‘Final Mistake’
By Syed Kamran Hashmi
By Zubeida Mustafa
The Swimwear Saga
By Ozer Khalid
Politics of Flags and Nationalism
By Durdana Najam
On State Ideology, Identity and
By Saad Shaukat Chaudhry
Chaos in Balochistan: A Boon for US
and Its Allies?
By Aurangzeb Qureshi
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Altaf Hussain’s ‘Final Mistake’
By Syed Kamran Hashmi
Finally Altaf Hussein, the founder and the
controversial leader of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has made everyone’s life
easy by saying the ‘magic words’. Now it is easy for Farooq Sattar to take over
the party, at least for a little while; easy for the Pak Sur Zameen party led
by Mustafa Kamal to justify their claims against him; easy for the
establishment to launch a heavier crackdown on the MQM; easy for the federal
government to encourage Rangers to push forward, easy for the provincial
government to keep distance from the operation; and easy for the judges to
decide against the founder of the MQM and find him guilty of high treason.
In this long list of winners, the losers
are the voters of Karachi, and the Urdu speaking community of the largest city
of Pakistan; these are the people who entrusted Altaf Hussain to represent them
for three decades in the assemblies. These people cast their vote in his favour
every single time without ever evaluating a candidate or verifying his
credentials even when he was out of country for more than two decades, and half
of the time his telephonic speeches did not make any sense. For hours the
workers would sit in front of the phone, their faces down, without making a
noise, listening to the diatribe of a ‘semi madman’.
In my opinion, it was the trust of the
people that led Hussain to lose his temperament, their confidence in him that
he would not listen to anyone’s advice or calm down. Conceited, whatever came
to his mind, he would blurt it out without ever trying to filter his thoughts.
And just like an addict he continued to stretch a little more every time, till
So disappointing were those words 10 days
ago that Hussain’s own party had no choice but to disassociate with him
urgently, the time for apology was gone and every effort to put the Humpty
Dumpty back together was doomed to be unsuccessful. He had crossed the threshold,
and by doing that he has affirmed that every politician should act composed
even in a private gathering and think twice before he speaks. By keeping the
filter on you not only avoid legal trouble but also stay true to your
profession of serving the country and its people.
Was it planned or spontaneous? Was it to
save the MQM from Altaf Hussain or to protect Altaf Hussain from criminal
investigations and the on-going media trial? Or was it to provide a way out to
workers who wanted to avoid torture?
Everyone has a different opinion about it
while no one knows the truth. Speculations hence fill the ears, and gossip
takes over the water-cooler discussions. However, there are a few things that
go beyond speculations. First, a mass confusion surrounds the mohajir community
about the future of their party, their united strength in the assemblies.
Second, the fear that political vultures would attack and fight for each and
every morsel of the pie consumes them. They worry that the party that was once
known for its unity would be divided into smaller groups. Some would favour the
MQM Pakistan; the others would vote for the faction led by Mustafa Kamal; a few
would stand with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf; and many would find refuge in
the Jamaat-e-Islami. On top, the establishment would choose its own favourites.
In the end, everyone would win a few seats. Yet the community would lose as a
whole. And even after choosing members for the assemblies they would still lose
While black clouds of despair loom over the
MQM workers, people from other ethnicities are flaunting their patriotism in
every form possible, as if one of the enemies of the state, like Mullah
Fazlullah, has been killed, or Pakistan has won a military battle against
India. To understand how deep this bias is ask people in Lahore or Sahiwal who
they hate more. My guess: more than half would name Altaf Hussain over the
former leaders of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan like Baitullah Mehsud or his
successor Hakeemullah Mehsud. It is scary.
True, what Hussain said cannot be defended
in the current situation, but it is also true that hatred towards him is not
only because of his association with violence and crime, or because of his
loose talk and over-the-top speeches. It is also partly towards his political
strength, and his absolute control on the vote bank of a community. And whoever
replaces him — if he becomes as powerful and as effective as he was — would
have to go through the same public relations dilemma that he had to go through.
He would also be promoted as an ‘Indian agent’ like the founder of the MQM was
projected. In response if that leader — be it Farooq Sattar or Mustafa Kamal —
also shows less control in his expression, and in case has not opted to stay
out of Pakistan, he would definitely be judged and penalised, as his
second-in-command sits in front of cameras announcing his disassociation.
September 2nd, 2016
ABDUL Sattar Edhi, the iconic humanitarian,
who passed on recently, has been highly eulogised all over Pakistan and beyond.
He has also received accolades for something more. He donated his corneas after
death which bestowed the gift of sight on two visually impaired people.
Edhi’s donation was of immense importance.
Coming from a person held in such admiration by all, his example has inspired
many. That is what we need today — heroes who lead by example and not words
alone. As it is, Edhi was a man of few words.
Dr Naqi Zafar, the secretary of the
Transplantation Society of Pakistan, tells us that after the public learnt of
Edhi’s eye donation, 504 people came forward to sign organ donor cards. This
was a steep rise in a short period considering 1,390 people had become donors
in four years since the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation
computerised its donor database and launched a campaign to mobilise people to
will their organs posthumously to give patients with end-stage renal failure a
new lease of life.
To many of us who have signed donor cards,
it appears strange and incomprehensible why people are reluctant to part with
their organs when they will no longer be needed. One mufti actually condemned
Edhi for his noble act saying blindness was something given by God and should
be accepted as such by the one afflicted by it. Strange logic — should science
and medical research shut up shop? A wit responded by saying it was nature’s
doing that babies were born without clothes.
The Challenge Is To Motivate People To
Sign Donor Cards
The few muftis who oppose organ donation
would do well to read up Majmua Khutabat edited by Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rahman. It
records the proceedings of a seminar organised by the SIUT that brought a large
number of religious scholars together to discuss the issue of deceased organ
donation. Practically all of them agreed with their colleagues from Al Azhar,
Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iran who quote religious scriptures to prove that
Islam recognises organ donation and brain death.
Dr Naqi Zafar tells me that in Pakistan,
30,000 people die of renal failure (as Edhi did) and 100,000 go down with liver
failure. In 2015, only 900 kidney and 139 liver transplantations were performed
in Pakistan. In every case, the organs were taken from live donors. The figures
for organ failure can be expected to go up because our population is growing
fast. Precious little is being done to promote preventive medicine, sanitation
and potable water supply that alone can reduce morbidity by millions.
How urgent is the need to enhance the
number of donors is pretty obvious from the resurgence of the illegal organ
trade and tourism in the country that had virtually been wiped out after the
Transplantation of Human Tissues and Organs Act 2010 had been enacted and many unscrupulous
persons involved had been brought to court. Now it is reported that the trade
is on the rise again.
Hence the need to give a fillip to the
campaign. We need more humanists like Navid Anwer, the young man who lost his
life in a road accident and became Pakistan’s first deceased organ donor in
1998 even before the programme had been institutionalised. Pakistan has had
only five deceased organ donors so far, who are shining examples in a
population of over 190 million.
The main practical constraint in promoting
deceased organ donation is that organs can be used for transplantation only
when the donor suffers brain death that usually occurs in an ICU setting. Only
1,014 brain deaths were recorded in 2007. The challenge is to make the concept
of brain death understandable to all and motivate people to sign donor cards.
Although Islamic scholars have issued Fatwas accepting brain death and deceased
organ donation, cultural resistance and misunderstandings persist.
The SIUT, the premier transplantation institution
in the country, has provided laudable holistic services free of charge to
millions of patients for 40 years. Headed by another iconic figure, Dr Adib
Rizvi, the institute treats healthcare as a basic right with its governing
philosophy being compassion and ethics. Its public awareness campaigns have
helped but mainly in live related donations.
One would have believed that corneal
donation would meet less resistance since it is not as complicated and a donor
doesn’t have to die in an ICU setting. In spite of the high incidence of
corneal blindness in the country, people have not been generous. Corneas have
had to be imported.
One hopes that people will understand the
importance of organ donation for saving lives. Clerics can play a pivotal role
in this regard. It is more important that we shed some of our cultural
inhibitions and talk about issues such as health and terminal illness. More
importantly, there is need for a discourse on life and death, and not simply
life after death, a popular theme in sermons from the pulpit.
September 02, 2016
Sadly, but not surprisingly, in the summer
of 2016, it is not stealthy sharks but harmless Burkini-clad Muslim women who
have been thrust as the fiercest assault on the fragile French secular
dinosaurs. On the pristine French Riviera, the lines between fashion, politics,
rights and religion are being exploited as never before.
The Burkini saga is deeply dividing
France’s fragile democracy. This is a sad travesty of political opportunism
strangling French secularism under its own weighty contradictions at the altar
of morality-policing the female form, whose ‘modesty’ to this very day is
tragically dictated predominantly by men. What a woman wears is her business
The Burkini debacle has (partially) and
rightfully been reversed in a victory for common sense, a triumph for women’s
rights as France’s supreme administrative court, Le Conseil d’État (the State
Council), suspended the ‘Burkini’ ban. The State Council was positively swayed
by the testimony of human rights organisations.
The State Council asserted that the
anti-Burkini edict is an “illegal infringement of fundamental freedoms” and
that local authorities could only limit individual liberties if wearing the
Burkini was a “proven risk” to public order. The judges reasoned that there was
no such risk.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith
(CFCM), the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) and Amnesty
International all welcomed the Conseil d’État verdict. Though this might just
be a Pyrrhic victory for there is a much deeper prejudice pervading French
The Burkini ban places the mantra of
multiculturalism on trial. It segregates societies, castrates cultures, it is a
pointless Orientalist top-down hegemonic sermonising of what a woman should and
should not wear. The French Burkini ban over-ruling takes place “legally” but
not “psychologically” in French political “mindsets” who still have a long
journey to go in unreservedly accepting “the other”.
Witnessing cops in Nice forcibly compelling
a Muslim woman to strip off her Burkini at Gun-Point was a stain on humanity. A
draconian measure defeating the founding principles of France’s 1789
Revolution: Liberté, égalité and fraternité.
Misguided misogynists are under a faux
illusion that ‘secularism’ is to be imposed from the barrel of a gun over a
peaceful woman on a beach. Has the very ethos of French secularism descended
down to mere draconian dress code policing? Has French secularism (laïcité)
come down to patronisingly body-shaming women? Is that where secularism draws
its inspiration from? This is neither the secularism Robespierre nor what the
Founding Fathers sacrificed their lives for.
France famously boasts ‘freedom of
expression’ on Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures. How about when a Muslim woman seeks
sovereignty over her body? Why then does ‘freedom of expression’ selectively go
out the window?
With the April 2017 presidential election,
and a Republic reeling from a sequence of extremist attacks, French politicians
of all hues are clamouring over the Burkini debate boasting their stringent
secular credentials. Majority parties are horrified at the rise of the Far
Right in France, and are predictably exploiting the Burkini issue to score
Contrary to popular belief, in France the
Burkini ban is not merely an extremist Far-right phenomena, even the socialist
Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, maintained that the Burkini was “a political sign
of religious proselytising” and that the bans were necessary to maintain
“public order”, deriding the Burkini as “the enslavement of women”. Suddenly
the primeval patriarchy have self-appointed themselves as moral arbiters of
Marine Le Pen, of the xenophobic Front
National, echoed her staunch support of the Burkini ban: “The soul of France is
in question... France does not lock away a woman’s body”. So is the ‘soul’ of
France that fragile? Such a Westernised hegemonic view of a woman’s body
delegitimises the very nuance of the rich diversity inherent within feminism.
Conservative mayors such as those of Le
Touquet and Daniel Fasquelle oppose the Burkini and vow to try their utmost to
maintain a ban. Fasquelle even stated that the Burkini “enslaves women”,
Nothing could be more misleading. Linking
the Burkini to terrorism is extreme naïveté. Should all French women in
Burkinis and men in beards be subjugated to alarming scrutiny by the security
services? Superficial skin-deep religious Burkini profiling never works. This
is exactly what Isis relishes as it makes terrorism easier. By declaring what
to look for in advance we give terrorists free reign in knowing what not to
If authorities profile people of brown
colour or men sporting beards, Isis will simply recruit white Caucasians like
the Tsarnaev brothers of Boston Marathon fame. If authorities screen women with
head scarves Isis will head-hunt women like the Paris 2015 Bataclan bomber who
was a bikini-clad, alcohol-drinking Westernised woman. We cannot
over-simplistically stereotype our way into surveillance.
In fact, radicals deploy outward hedonism
just to avoid being detected.
France needs to be more intelligent about
its application of secularism. Secularism is not a rigid top-down dogma but an
accommodating spirit, especially in a multi-religious society which houses five
France needs to intelligently balance
secularism with individual freedom(s) of expression. One fails to understand
how the Burkini (a body-suit) worn not in a state building but on a beach can
ever be an affront to secularism.
Despite overturning the ban, an
increasingly intolerant French political class of all stripes will refuse to
swim (pun intended) with the Muslim Burkini tide.
Policy promulgations do not alter
prejudice. Regulations do not reverse racism. Laws do not change mindsets. The
Conseil d’État is a drop on a still very prejudiced French beach.
The moment Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM)
chief, Altaf Hussain, called Pakistan an epicentre of terrorism and requested
India and the US to invade Pakistan, Pakistani flags began appearing in hoards
across the country. Sentiments of every Pakistani were hurt when Hussain showed
his disdain for Pakistan to the extent of seeing it disappear from the world
map. The uproar against Hussain and, consequently, the MQM was natural. The
matter was worsened when on Hussain’s call some media houses were ransacked.
These became twin attacks: one on Pakistan, and the other on the independence
The ensuing crackdown on the MQM head
office Nine-Zero, its sectors and the arrest of its party leaders and sector
in-charge threw the city in doldrums. Many people had already predicted the end
of the MQM. People waited to hear something from the government or the army
chief that would prove a last nail in the MQM political coffin. Most of all,
there was a demand to ban the MQM. It was also expected that the mayoral
elections in Karachi would be postponed to keep the MQM out of the election
loop. None of this happened. Suddenly the contours of the protest changed.
Social media that had been fuming with anti-MQM slogans turned tack, and began
heaping blame on the government for its complacency. Rangers too were looked at
with anguish for not showing its teeth. It was as if a golden opportunity had
been lost to ‘delete’ the existence of the MQM.
All along one thing that occurred with
consistent frequency was the hoisting of Pakistani flag on anything that bore
the MQM mark. Rangers disturbed flags among the people of Karachi to put up on
vehicles, bicycles, shops, homes and other places. The slogan of ‘Long live
Pakistan’ was chanted everywhere.
The question is why Pakistan’s sovereignty
is thrown into peril at the mere reference that the country deserves to be
taken off the world map. What is so vulnerable about Pakistan that its image
needs reinforcement at a slight attack to its existence? We have seen this
displayed in Balochistan. In fact, a particular spectacle is arranged on every
August 14 where flags are put up at every nook and cranny of the province to
Whatever Altaf Hussain said deserved
denouement. Balochistan has been infiltrated by the foreign element, and has
remained a sticking point in the political milieu of the country. The malice,
however, runs deeper than what meets the eye.
Hussain’s diatribe was not new. What had
been new was the reaction to his hatred against Pakistan. There was no shutdown
or strike by the business community or transporters. Mayhem was limited to the
attack carried out on the media houses. No targeted killing followed. It
remained peaceful, mostly. In time to come, Hussain’s pictures were taken off
Karachi’s streets coupled with anything that was of reminiscence of him: the
famous Mukka (fist) Chowk was renamed Liaquat Chowk. There was relief that
Pakistan’s ‘dignity’ had been restored.
Has it happened? Has the world started
taking us seriously since? Are we better off renaming the MQM as MQM Pakistan?
Have the efforts to bring the Pak Ser Zameen party as an alternative to the MQM
started bearing results? Will Pakistan be a better place to live in?
In all seriousness, these questions are
still difficult to answer. Nationalism is a solemn matter left to the optics.
And 2008 onward, after Barack Obama became the president of the US, and
accelerated drone attacks in Pakistan, we cried hoarse over the breach of our
sovereignty. However, as revealed later by Bob Woodward in his book Obama’s
Wars, Pakistan and the US had an arrangement whereby Pakistan would protest
against the drone attacks, while the US would keep bombing terrorists in the
tribal areas of Pakistan.
Whether we bolster nationalism or not,
Pakistanis love this country. Many have already given their lives in
terror-related incidents that include civil society and law enforcement
agencies. However, nationalism or the mere promotion of it does not make any
country livable or bearable for its people.
In his farewell analysis on Pakistan, the
outgoing director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),
Marc-Andre Franche says that Pakistan has antiquated and non-functioning public
institutions. Critical of Pakistan’s elite he points out how public funds never
reach the constituencies, especially in the rural areas, perpetuating poverty.
He comments on politicians who plunder public money but reach out to the United
Nations for funds to improve sanitation, state of education and water-related
issues back home. Franche goes on to say that Pakistan’s future is being
compromised with 38.8 percent poverty rate. He does not fail to mention that
due to “apartheid of opportunities” young people in Pakistan want to leave this
country at first instance. About media Franche observes that the powerful use
it to their advantage adding to the erosion of democracy and institutions.
At the other end, in a conference organised
by the ministry of planning and development on “Early Childhood Development,”
it was revealed that Pakistan, globally, has one of the highest rates of child
mortality. Of every 1000 children 40.7 dies before reaching age five.
With these facts in hand, does putting flag
on every vehicle, building or house lends hope that Pakistan is a place where
its people are provided with equal opportunities, and where the rule of law
does not differentiate between the rich and the poor?
Balochistan can be decorated with flags on
every August 14, but to carve Pakistan in the hearts of the Baloch require
eliminating poverty and giving the people of Balochistan the right to use its
resources. Balochistan is the most impoverished province of the country even
today. We may argue with evidence that volatility in Balochistan is the result
of the mischief of foreign hands. However, we cannot support with any evidence
the sincerity of any government including the military to modernise the
province. The dearth of education, clean drinking water and health facilities
are still in need of redressal. Almost other 85 percent of the area in the
country is in equal disarray.
When Angelina Jolie came to Pakistan after
the 2005 earthquake, she was shocked to see the insensitivity of Pakistan’s
elite after attending the reception that was thrown in her honour at the Prime
Minister House. When half the country was submerged in water, and when
thousands of people were dying of hunger and insufficient medical facilities,
the elites were busy impressing a woman who had come to donate five million dollars
to rehabilitate what the actress thought was one of the worst calamities to hit
the country. It hardly ashamed the elite though. And 11 years later, the report
by the former UNDP Director Marc-Andre Franche has the same story to tell: the
elites of Pakistan have usurped the rights of the taxpayers and the poor alike.
Whether we like it or not, there is an
Altaf Hussain in each of our politicians. While he intimidated, harmed and
plundered the people of Karachi, the political elite did the same by keeping
those who sent them to the assemblies impoverished, uneducated and physically
malnourished. A poor man with no self-esteem and control over his destiny is as
good as killed, extorted, intimidated, and plundered.
Nationalism sans equal opportunity and sincere
leadership is just an illusion and a gimmick for the political elites.
On State Ideology, Identity and National
Pakistan’s existence is an inimitable
phenomenon of the 20th century. The circumstances in which it was made, and the
political expediency exercised in the engineering of its state narratives in
its formative years all but point to the fact that it had been a creation
beyond ordinary. Perhaps that is the reason why the argument of its ‘saalmiyat’
(integrity) being in jeopardy every now and then is not an uncommon subject if
we closely follow political entertainment offered by evening talk shows. The
extraordinary aspect of such an argument, however, lies not exclusively in the
usual and somewhat clichéd concerns i.e. existential threats posed by hostile
neighbours, or the threat from religious fanaticism that has crept into our
society, but interestingly, in the evolution of our understanding of the
ideology that we were taught became the basis of the birth of this great
Though an open discussion on ideology and
national identity now dangles on the borderline of the Article six realm,
however, this wasn’t always necessarily the case. An interesting anecdote that
is oft quoted is the discussion that took place on this question in the
National Assembly in 1962. While discussing the Political Parties Bill, Maulana
Abdul Bari of Jamaat-e-Islami used the term “Ideology of Pakistan” for the
first time. Chaudhry Fazal Elahi, who later became the president of Pakistan,
objected to the term and asked for clarification on its meaning. The member who
had moved the bill replied, “The ideology of Pakistan is Islam.” To this, no
one further objected. One can quite well imagine the construction of narratives
that was taking place in the guise of nation-building at that time.
The Pakistan Studies book for Class 10 of
the Punjab Textbook Board has its first chapter dedicated to an exposition of
the ideology of Pakistan. It traces the lineage of Muslim nationalist struggle
in India to the day when the first Hindu of the sub-continent converted to
Islam. Nothing more on that. The next chapters take students a millennium later
in time to urge upon them the contributions of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan towards the
Two Nation Theory. A young mind, however, usually fails to crtically question the
theory and its implications for the primary reason that asking such questions
is rarely encouraged by the teacher. However, the seeds of confusion that could
later transform into a life-long identity crisis are sown at this stage of
This identity crisis is not difficult to
observe in the life of a common Pakistani. I have personally witnessed
countless occasions where people on being questioned about their identity
recognise themselves as a Muslim first and a Pakistani thereafter. Sometimes, a
third category of regional association i.e. Punjabi, Sindhi, etc. does exist
for some, but mostly, the conversation just ends on being a Pakistani and
nothing more. No wonder, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was branded a traitor when he
replied to the same question in quite the opposite order.
The concept of national identity in
Pakistan has, therefore, always taken strength from a complete divorce from the
indigenous or regional associations of the people. It is not uncommon to see
people questioning the loyalty of Bacha Khan, or G M Syed towards the state of
Pakistan for the only reason that any association with anything that might come
into conflict with our Pakistani identity is deemed to be a treasonous act. Why
is it that I belonging to the region of Punjab cannot appreciate the resistance
offered by Maharaja Ranjit Singh towards British India without attracting any
particular label on me? For the only reason that associating with the
administrative brilliance and military genius of a Sikh ruler, though hailing
from the same region that now forms one of the provinces of Pakistan, goes
against the inherent idea of Muslim nationalism by which I am supposed to
understand the historical roots of this nation.
These engineered notions that form a
significant aspect of our understanding of the state of Pakistan, however, have
paved the way to another form of identity crisis, one that was never a matter
of concern before. The analogy of Islam being the essence of the ideology of
Pakistan might not have raised any questions in the National Assembly of 1962.
However, it now surely does when the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan rejects the
existence of Pakistan on the basis of the ‘un-Islamic’ nature of the republic
that we live in. How can a young suicide bomber be convinced to believe that
the republic that he is living in is actually an Islamic republic?
These are the questions that should be of
prime concern to the present policy-makers of this country. The
hyper-nationalism and the physical expression of our love for our country on
national holidays won’t do the job anymore unless the nationalistic dogmas
created by our skewed understanding of the ideology of Pakistan are effectively
done away with.
Chaos In Balochistan: A Boon For US And
For Balochistan, its strategic location is
both a blessing and a curse. With its vast natural resource wealth along with
being South Asia’s gateway to the Middle East, Balochistan holds the keys to
Pakistan’s next phase of economic development. However, given its vast mineral
reserve, geostrategic location and geo-economic potential, Balochistan finds
itself at the very epicentre of a conflict being fought by various actors at
Terrorism and regional dynamics: Separatist
Baloch groups waging war with the state along with terrorist elements including
offshoots of the al-Qaeda, ISIS and Taliban has only ensured greater
instability, unpredictability and a tragic loss of life.
Meanwhile, India’s interests in achieving
commercial access to the Middle East and Central Asia are in direct competition
with Pakistan’s goal of achieving trade access through the Balochi port of
Gwadar. With an Indian port in the southern Iranian city of Chabahar set to be
operational in two years time according to the Indian government, it is not
inconceivable that it would be in India’s interest to thwart Pakistan’s access
and allow China to indirectly benefit. The capture and subsequent arrest of the
alleged RAW agent Kulbushan Yadav in Balochistan earlier this year would lend
credence to Indian operations in the region.
It would also be in Iran’s interest to
ensure the success of Chabahar and become the gateway for India rather than
allow its ‘Sunni neighbour’ to capitalise through Gwadar. It may also explain
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s refusal to discuss India’s potential
involvement in Balochistan so as not to irk its regional ally. Iran also has a
Balochi insurgency on its side of the border, and any economic prosperity
through Gwadar in Pakistani Balochistan could energise and amplify the desires
of the Iranian Baloch.
Yet these aren’t the only factors
influencing and driving the conflict alone. Balochistan also finds itself at
the centre of a greater war over global trade routes.
The China-US-Russia connection: To avoid
ruffling the feathers of the US and its western-backed allies by challenging US
maritime supremacy, China has opted for a strategy it has dubbed the “New Silk
Road” -- a vast network of highways, railways, pipelines and ports that will
reduce China’s dependence on long sea routes. China currently relies on the
Straits of Malacca, a narrow, 805-kilometre stretch of water between the Malay
Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, to supply close to 40 percent
of its oil. Given the US Navy presence in the region and the threat of piracy,
diversification of those trade routes is essential.
Enter Balochistan and $46 billion worth of
Chinese investment into the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which will
enable China to import Middle East oil through Gwadar port, and up to its
western-most Xinjiang province. Not only would this strategy lead to greater
development in a province prone to secessionist tendencies, it would also
reduce China’s reliance on the South China Sea. Any potential extension of CPEC
northwards could tie South Asia, Western China with Central Asia and Russia — a
nightmare scenario for US interests.
It is no surprise, therefore that the US
has been active in Balochistan. A 2009 article in UK’s The Guardian stated that
Blackwater, the notorious US private mercenary firm, was operating in
Balochistan based on the claims of an ex-US official. The killing of Taliban
leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour by a drone strike in Balochistan earlier this year
indicates continued US surveillance and involvement in the region. Hawks inside
US military circles also do no make any secret of their hopes of redrawing the
Middle East and South Asia, which is perhaps best reflected in the “Blood
Borders” map published in the Armed Forces Journal that depicts a “Free
Balochistan.” For the US, a Balochistan in turmoil is in its best interest to
ensure China remains on the back foot.
Connecting the Dots:
Based on this analysis, a simple pattern
emerges. The US, India and post-nuclear deal Iran stand on one side, and
Pakistan, China and Russia on the other. with Gwadar being at the focal point.
The almost 160 people killed in Balochistan so far in 2016 due to
terrorism-related incidents may seem, on the surface, as a local conflict
between the Pakistani military establishment against a lawless, backward area
festering with homegrown terrorism, and although that might be partly true, it
is also true that various regional and international players benefit from the
same chaos that helps further their own geopolitical designs.