Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Balochistan Azadi and other Pipedreams

And I ain't talking about the awesome Windows 95 game or even the single by the 2nd best Britney Spears Cover Band.

The suicide attack in Pishin, Iran a week or two ago was probably one of the stranger, more out-of-context bits of news to hit the D.C. policy world since the Obama Administration and the refocusing on Afghanistan. It just sort of screws up any black-white image of Central Asia even more. From the Beltway's perspective, I can't imagine how a suicide attack (bad guys) on the Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran (bad guys), who were meeting local Balochi leaders to discuss Sunni-Shi'a relations (good thing) can possibly be parsed.

Jundallah, the group who carried out the attacks, are Sunni partisans, but not Balochi separatists. Abdolmalek Rigi seems to want to work within the Iran state to get better rights for Sunnis within the Islamic Republic, like a late-stage Apo. The serious discussion of their tactics (targeting Shi'a civilians and IRGC members) is less relevant than their goal (destablization of Iran) and their perceived backing (United States and/or Pakistan). The attack was seen as an American-related attack on Iran to some extent. I wish I had the Farsi skills to link to those newstories, but Press TV is sometimes enough. It's something else that can be construed as American meddling, which ISAF certainly doesn't need. And it likely allows Ahmedinijad to pander to his base.

Balochis are kind of the unmentioned minority of South-Central Asia for reasons I haven't fully understood. I'm presuming its because Balochistan is sort of the littoral part of Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan: underdeveloped and far from the centrality of the state. But this can't last. The Trans-Afghan Pipeline and any sort of transit from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea relies on development in Baluchistan.

Baluchi development isn't high on Iran, Afghanistan, or Pakistan's radar (Gwadar notwithstanding...but even Gwadar has a lot more in common with Mumbai, Muscat, or Singapore than it does with Jiwani or Pishin). All three of those countries seemingly don't have the sort of resources or the political willpower to really get involved in domestic development outside of their own pet projects, either.

So development in Balochistan would be beneficial for just about every party involved, it seems. It would allow for another export for oil and lots of mined resources, it would calm down one more tense spot in a region that isn't looking for more tense spots, and it would seem to be something that the US could agree with Iran about. But I personally don't think it's likely to happen.

Would there be just too much domestic anger at recognition of Baluchi rights and any sort of Baluchi autonomy in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan? I just can't imagine any of those three governments doing anything that would even smell like redrawing the lines on the map.

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