South Asia

Iraq's shadow on Balochistan
By B Raman

The widely anticipated United States-United Kingdom invasion of Iraq is already casting its shadow on the Balochi-inhabited areas on both sides of the Pakistan-Iran border.

Immediately after the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, large sections of the Balochi tribals led by Khair Bux Marri, the leader of the Marri tribe, and Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal, the leader of the Mengal tribe, rose in revolt against the Punjabi domination of Pakistan and demanded the creation of an independent Balochistan consisting of the Balochi-inhabited areas of Pakistan and Iran.

Among their grievances against Islamabad were: neglect of the economic development of the area; discrimination against the Balochis in respect of recruitment to the civilian government services and the armed forces; the policy of resettlement of large numbers of Punjabi and Pashtun ex-servicemen in Balochistan, which was viewed by them as an attempt to reduce the Balochis to a minority in their homeland; and non-payment of royalties to the Balochi tribals for the utilization of their natural resources for the benefit of the rest of Pakistan.

And Balochistan, a huge land rich in oil and gas resources and with a small population spread in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, could become a new focal point in regional and international disputes.

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The regime of the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, the then prime minister, ruthlessly suppressed the revolt by using its air force and with the cooperation of the regime of the Shah of Iran. Some tribals, however, did not join the revolt and collaborated with the regime in suppressing their co-tribals. Among the tribals who collaborated with the government and the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment were the Jamalis, led by the family of Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, the present premier of Pakistan.

After the suppression of the revolt, Khair Bux Marri and his supporters took shelter in Afghanistan, along with some sections of the Mengals. Ataullah Khan Mengal himself sought sanctuary in the UK. They established contact with the authorities of the erstwhile USSR through the regime in Kabul and received financial and logistics support from Moscow.

When the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), trained and armed the Afghan mujahideen and other Islamic fundamentalist elements and used them to bleed the Soviet troops in Afghanistan, the Marris and the Mengals kept away from the anti-Soviet jihad and helped the KGB, the Soviet intelligence agency, and the Khad, the Afghan intelligence agency, in the collection of intelligence regarding the activities of the CIA and the ISI on the Pakistani side of the border.

The Jamalis collaborated with the CIA and the ISI in countering the activities of the Marris and the Mengals and their Marxist influence in Balochistan. During the course of this collaboration, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali came in touch with Nancy Powell (no relation of General Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State), who was then a young member of the diplomatic corps in Pakistan and who was posted last year by the Bush administration as the US ambassador to Pakistan. Jamali and Nancy Powell developed a close personal friendship, which has been carefully nurtured by Washington DC. According to some sections of the Pakistani media, it was she who suggested to President General Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani military dictator, Jamali's name for appointment as the prime minister after the elections of October 10 last.

The CIA, in tandem with the Iraqi intelligence, encouraged the Iranian Balochis who, like their Pakistani counterparts, are largely Sunnis, to rise in revolt against the Islamic regime in Teheran. Among the Balochi tribals of Pakistan, who helped the CIA and the Iraqi intelligence in fomenting the revolt on the Iranian side of the border, were the Jamalis, the Mazaris, the Bugtis and others. However, the Iranian authorities had no difficulty in suppressing the revolt.

During this period, the Iraqi intelligence, encouraged and helped by the CIA and the ISI, developed considerable influence among the anti-Iran and anti-Shi'ite tribals on both sides of the border. It mostly acted through the anti-Tehran Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a dissident group of Iran, and the Sunni extremist Sipah-e-Sahaba, Pakistan (SSP). As a result of the active past association of the Iraqi intelligence with large sections of the Balochis, Iraq still retains considerable sympathy and support in Balochistan.

Balochistan has considerable strategic importance for the US for various reasons: Most of Pakistan's oil and gas resources are located in Balochistan and about 30 percent of these are controlled by American oil companies, many of them from President George W Bush's home state of Texas. It is an important window on Iran. If the US decides to overthrow the Iranian regime after getting rid of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, the pro-US Balochi tribes, particularly the Jamalis, could be as useful to Washington DC as the Kurds are expected to be against Saddam Hussein. Balochistan is an escape route for the dregs of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda and the International Islamic Front (IIF) trying to get away by sea to Yemen.

For the same reasons, Balochistan has become an important operational area for al-Qaeda and IIF remnants in their attempts to hurt US economic interests in Pakistan in retaliation for the US war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and its campaign against the Saddam regime. They have been receiving assistance in their endeavors from the pro-Iraqi and anti-US segments of the Balochi tribals on both sides of the Pakistan-Iran border.

Since December last, there have been at least four attacks on the oil and gas infrastructure in Balochistan by unidentified elements. Available particulars of three of these incidents are given below:

  • A powerful explosion on December 2, 2002, damaged a 26-inch gas pipeline of the Oil and Gas Development Corporation Limited (OGDCL) near Uch in Balochistan and disrupted gas supplies to the US-sponsored 580 MW Uch power plant. After the initial investigations, the company termed the incident a sabotage activity. "It is suspected that elements opposed to the stability of Pakistan have carried out yet another act of sabotage, disrupting gas supplies to a foreign power generation plant, and thwarting the efforts for economic recovery of the government and the OGDCL at the same time," a company spokesman said.
  • Two main gas pipelines connecting Pakistan's gas transmission system with the Sui gas field in Balochistan were ruptured after a gas station was blown up by unidentified elements, either with a powerful bomb or rockets fired from a distance, on January 21, 2003. As a result, the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) closed down/curtailed gas supply to the textile, steel, paper, soap, ceramics and other industries in the Punjab and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). There was also an attempt to blow up the pipeline supplying water to the gas industry in the area. Before this incident, electricity supply was disrupted when unidentified elements pulled out 20 electricity poles and electrical wire from 300 poles in Goth Mazari, disconnecting electricity supply to Dera Bugti and Sui in Balochistan.
  • On January 22, 2003, another gas pipeline in the Sui area of Balochistan was blown up by unidentified elements, partially cutting off the gas supply to some areas of Sindh and Balochistan.

    The Pakistani authorities have tried to play down the seriousness of the attacks and to project them as due to differences between the Mazari and the Bugti tribes over their respective share of the royalties paid by the companies to the tribes in whose territory the gas infrastructure is located.

    Commenting on the incidents, an editorial in the News, the prestigious Pakistani daily, said on January 23, "It may only be a coincidence that the terrorists struck when Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali and American ambassador Nancy Powell were meeting in Quetta to re-stress the resolve to fight terrorism. Ambassador Powell had also delivered hardware to the Frontier Corps for the protection of the western border. Nonetheless, even if a coincidence, the latest terrorist strike brings into stark relief the internal insecurity that threatens vital national installations at a time when much of the attention is focused on fighting terrorists as defined by the USA."

    B Raman is Additional Secretary (ret), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, and presently director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai; former member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India. E-Mail: He was also head of the counter-terrorism division of the Research & Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, from 1988 to August, 1994.

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