The Red Line
Episode 73. Balochistan and the Breaking of Belt-and-Road
Listen to this episode on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Libsyn RSS
As the Baloch separatists continue to build pressure on Islamabad with several clashes in the country's south, many in the region are beginning to unsettle that this movement may destabilise the entire regional balance of power. Iran and Afghanistan worry that the successes here may inspire Baloch in their respective territories as well, the Chinese fear the additional attacks on its Pakistani infrastructure may be the nail in the coffin for the China-Pakistan corridor, and others in the neighbourhood fret that a Baloch victory may bring about the dissolution of Pakistan itself.
Research Fellow in the Cato Institute’s Defense and Foreign Policy Department.
Her research interests include state‐sponsored militancy/terrorism, counterterrorism policies, anti‐terrorism legal regimes, and private military and security contractors. She focuses on US foreign policy in South Asia and Africa.
Khan is also the editor at Inkstick Media.
Deputy Director of the Asia Program and Senior Associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center
A leading specialist on Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan and their relations with the United States.
Columnist for Foreign Policy’s South Asia Channel and regular contributor to New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Politico, CNN.com, Bloomberg View, The Diplomat, Al Jazeera, and The National Interest, among others.
Senior Fellow and distinguished chair in Diplomacy and Security at the RAND Corporation.
He has previously served in the White House and State Department as Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, Special Assistant to the President for the Western Hemisphere, Special Adviser to the President, Secretary of State for the Balkans, and Ambassador to the European Community.
In 2013 he returned to the State Department to become the Obama Administration's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Part 1: Melting a Mosaic (6:08)
Sahar Khan provides a helpful introduction to Balochistan, noting that it more complex and less homogenous than might be assumed, despite being the most sparsely populated province within Pakistan.
Khan discusses the tensions arising from the fractious relations between the federal and provincial governments, with the federal perspective judging local efforts to crackdown on separatists and protesters as insufficient, while locally a lack of economic development, social support and infrastructure leaves many feeling the federal government has abandoned the province.
This is further complicated by suspicions about the depth of relationship between Balochis separatist movements and India, with the federal government keenly aware of India's support for Bangladesh's independence during the 1971 conflict.
Khan expands upon the impact of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) on Balochistan and how it impacts the separatist movement within the province.
We conclude by unpacking the claim that allowing more autonomy for the Baloch would lead to a Yugoslav-style balkanisation of Pakistan through others like the Punjab and Sindhi, and the ability of the Pakistani Army to suppress the separatists.
Part 2: Mowing the Neighbour's Lawn (32:32)
Michael Kugelman notes the geographical hotspot that Balochistan occupies, projecting out onto the Arabian Sea and serving as a gateway to Iran and the Middle East.
Reporting on the ground are difficult due to the heavy repression of free media in the province, creating a lack of awareness and coverage in international media. But security and intelligence agencies remain deeply concerned about the potential for disaster, including the potential of violence escalation on the Iranian border and the nuclear facilities present in the territory.
The intensity of attacks against Chinese workers has inhibited the activity and growth of CPEC, which was projected to create significant Chinese funding for infrastructure locally and generate significant trade for China. There may be a link to the ascension of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan in allowing for the escalation of planning and coordination of attacks.
These developments have led to reports that China has sought to bring in their own security to protect their assets in the area. But while Pakistan grants Chinese labourers privileges beyond other countries, it would be a significant point of tension to allow this escalation.
The US has prioritised stability in Islamabad over Balochistan but the powderkeg of factors threatening the wider region's stability has the US keenly watching the region, if remaining publicly silent.
Kugelman concludes by discussing India's hopes for the region, noting that India has more concern with the Iranian side of the border and the development of the Chabahar port, particularly in protecting it against security threats while also carefully managing the issue of sanctions in supporting the project.
Part 3: Finding the Fault Lines (1:02:33)
James Dobbins asserts that Pakistan is state dominated by a centralised army, noting the history of military coups and an opaque level of indirect influence over the federal government, resulting in a centralised federal focus and creating regional tensions.
Dobbins acknowledges that India may be funding Baloch separatist movements but also notes the history of the Baloch offering sanctuary and a hub for the Afghan Taliban during US occupation, unpacking the myriad of hypotheses as to what the strategic aim achieved.
The Chinese have flagged Quetta as a potential danger spot for the Pakistani Government, with a concentration of militant movements occupying the city. Dobbins explores how the US might be able to assist in helping secure the region from these militants and notes that the Pakistani's willingness to accept those offers.
We conclude with noting that the Baloch separatist movement will have to overcome the stranglehold of the Pakistani army and a lack of international media attention in order to secure their autonomy.
The Red Line's Balochistan Reading List:
We’ve compiled a list of further reading to better understand the geopolitics of Pakistan and Balochistan.
The Battle of Pakistan: The Bitter US Friendship and a Tough Neighbourhood
Balochistan: The Height of Oppression
Azad Singh Rathore
Pakistan: The Balochistan Conundrum
For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/theredlinepodcast
This episode is dedicated to Patreon member Naja Nic.