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by James Corbett
April 24, 2012
To the residents of Baluchistan it must be puzzling that this remote, sparsely populated region in Pakistan’s southwest is increasingly gaining the attention of far-flung corners of the globe, from Beijing to Moscow to Tel Aviv to Washington. A rugged, arid region dominated by the ethnic minority Baluch tribes, Baluchistan straddles parts of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Its rugged, mountainous landscape has historically sheltered it from the various imperial, regional and national powers that have claimed authority over it, from the Persians and Indo-Parthians thousands of years ago to Iran and Pakistan in more recent times.
Now, however, the region is suddenly gaining attention on the geopolitical stage as a strategic area in one of the most hotly-contested regions of the globe. Along with this newfound attention has come the sudden attention of human rights groups and even Congressmen who now claim to be deeply concerned with the struggle for independence of the Baluch peoples.
Exactly as in Sudan, Libya, Uganda and other flavours-of-the-week in the great game that has defined global geopolitics for decades, however, this newfound attention on Baluchistan has very little to do with grievances about the plight of the long-suffering locals and much more to do with the region’s vast, untapped mineral and resource wealth, its geostrategic location on a proposed pipeline route that threatens to undermine Western influence in the region, and its role as a base of operations for terror groups that Mossad and the CIA have been using to wage a proxy terror campaign on Iran.
That the region contains important minerals and resources is openly acknowledged by people like Congressman Rohrbacher, even while making their case for humanitarian intervention in the area.
Perhaps of even greater importance than its raw natural resources, however, is Baluchistan’s key location. Sitting as it does in the border region between Iran and Pakistan, the Sistan-Baluchistan region is central to a proposed pipeline connecting the Assaluyen Gas Field in southern Iran to Pakistan. Known as the IP pipeline for the two countries it would straddle, the project has been on the drawing board for decades and at various times has also included the possibility that India would be the pipeline’s ultimate endpoint.
Bisecting as it does a proposed logistical corridor connecting the port of Gwadar in the south and China’s Xinjiang region in the north, the pipeline has also attracted the interest and investment of both China and Russia, who are keen to protect their oil interests in the Middle East and counter the US presence in Central Asia. Earlier this month, Russia proposed a $1.5 billion financial and technical aid scheme to help finish the project, which is already mostly completed on the Iranian side.
One of the most troubling aspects of the outside influence in the region, however, is the admitted use of the area as a staging ground for terror operations against Iran, operations that have been puppeteered by both American and Israeli intelligence.
Baluchistan is home to Jundallah, a Sunni terror group founded by Abdolmalek Rigi to fight against the Shiite government of Iran. It has been conducting operations in Iran since 2003, and is estimated to have killed between 150 and 300 Iranian citizens in a series of deadly attacks. In 2010, the US State Department added Jundallah to a list of designated terrorist organizations, citing the group’s reliance on “suicide bombings, ambushes, kidnappings and targeted assassinations.”
In 2007, however, ABC News reported that the group was being advised and encouraged by American officials, reports that were subsequently repeated by the London Telegraph and the New Yorker. These reports were confirmed by Rigi himself, who was captured by Iranian authorities en route to Kyrgyzstan from Dubai in 2010.
The US continues to deny involvement with the group, however, and earlier this year Foreign Policy magazine floated a story indicating that Israeli Mossad agents had in fact posed as CIA officers in order to recruit Jundallah operatives for strikes against Tehran.
The persistent reports of American involvement with Baluchi terror groups sheds further light on an announcement earlier this year that the CIA has been involved in a heavy recruitment of Baluchis since at least March 2011, paying each agent $500 a month for help in its operations in the area. In fact, the use of American intelligence informants dates back at least to the 1990s, when FBI whistleblower Behrooz Sarshar indicates a high-ranking Iranian informant was used in intelligence gathering operations in the region. Interestingly, the area was also the birthplace of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the supposed mastermind of 9/11, and the area where US officials gained intelligence that led to his capture in Rawalpindi.
Now, under the banner of “Free Baluchistan,” a number of think tanks, policy “experts,” human rights groups and Washington insiders are calling for support of terror groups in the region that are fighting against the Pakistani government itself, which is drifting further and further from Washington as it begins to cement ties with Iran, formalize its membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and draw closer to Beijing. The repeated attacks in the area by Baluchi independence groups provide a way for the Americans to help stop the strategic port of Gwadar from falling under China’s sway and helps to keep Islamabad on its toes.
It will come as no surprise to keen observers of geopolitics that yet another independence struggle is being used as an excuse for outside powers to become embroiled in a geostrategic corner of the globe. In fact, in the wake of numerous such interventions, from CIA involvement in Afghanistan in the 80s to American and Israeli involvement in the creation of South Sudan to the NATO-led humanitarian love bombing of Libya, it would be foolish for the public not to question the hidden motivation behind such interventions in the name of peace and freedom.
Much is up for grabs in this volatile region and it is far from clear which side of the global power struggle will gain the upper hand in the area, but one thing is certain. With this intervention, as in every such cynical manipulation of regional difference and grievance, it is the people who will be divided and conquered, paying with their blood for the imperial avarice of those who are content to chew them up and spit them out as it suits the grander geopolitical agenda.