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Why Iran fuels the Balouch uprising in Pakistan and why does Pakistan have to grin and bear it

The Balouchi Sardars are again making news. This time again they are threatening an insurgency. Baluchistan has a troubled history since independence. The Khan of Kalat delayed accession to Pakistan till the last. Then again in early 60's the army had to be used to put down a rebellion in Kalat. The most prolonged period of unrest was in 1970s when the army had to fight an insurgency for over 3 years before it was crushed. SO Iran finds a fertile ground to exploit to sow an insurgency against Pakistan. But why does Iran do this?

The Iranian rearguard action to scuttle the US from using Pakistani Baluchistan as a base to attack Iran.
- A Bugti (Baluch) tribesman chants slogans during a rally in Karachi to condemn military action in the troubled Dera Bugti area of Baluchistan province, Pakistan, recently. Eight soldiers were killed and 23 wounded in a fierce battle with tribal militants in Pakistan's troubled southwest, the military said on Friday, while a tribal politician said dozens of tribesmen died.

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According to an article in the London Sunday telegraph, by Massoud Ansari, Pakistan has quietly and unofficially blamed Iran for fueling the growing insurgency in Baluchistan, the strategically sensitive province where militant tribesmen have launched a series of terrorist attacks in recent weeks.

Senior government officials say Iran is encouraging "intruders" from within its own Balouch community to cross the 550-mile border with the Pakistani province and give support to the rebels.

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency set up a unit in the provincial capital, Quetta, last year to monitor suspected Iranian activity in Baluchistan. Officials say that in addition to directly supporting the insurgency, Tehran's state-controlled radio has launched a propaganda campaign against Islamabad. "Radio Tehran broadcasts between 90 and 100 minutes of programs every day which carry propaganda against the Pakistan government," said a former interior minister. He added that Iran was suspected of providing financial, logistical and moral backing for the insurgency.

"All this violence is a part of a greater conspiracy," a senior Pakistani government official said. "These militants would not be challenging the government so openly without the backup of a foreign hand."

But what does Shia Iran gain by destabilizing Baluchistan. After all the Balouch are overwhelmingly Sunni. The reason is Iran's fear of Pakistani complicity in the impending American action against their country. Iran fears that Pakistan is about to reenact its role vis-a- vis the Taliban immediately after 9/11 and before the US action against the Taliban began

For any movement of American group troops into eastern Iran, Pakistan's support would be essential (this is similar to the US request to Turkey for allowing US marines to move into Iraq from its northern border with Turkey.) Iran's fundamentalist Muslim regime was last week put firmly in the sights of the second Bush administration by Vice President Dick Cheney. "You look around the world at potential trouble spots — Iran is right at the top of the list," Mr. Cheney said.

Iran has exploited the prevailing grievance among tribesmen who claim to have been denied the benefits of Baluchistan's natural-gas fields. Earlier this month, Balouch rebels disrupted gas production in a series of rocket and mortar attacks, which killed eight persons. However, the reason Islamabad is delaying a formal complaint to Tehran, trying to sort out the issue thru private diplomatic channels and not raise it at the UN, as it does the Kashmir issue to keep under wraps the Pakistani gameplan of assisting the US in the impending action against Iran.

Pakistan does not want this to be highlighted to unleash the full fury of its own Jihadi constituency to raise hell as it did during the US action against the Taliban. So for the time being Pakistan has to grin and bear it. Meanwhile, large numbers of Pakistani troops are hunting rebels in the province and in turn are being hunted by the rebels, who have besieged a large battalion of Pakistani troops in Baluchistan. The battle is fierce although furtive.

Pakistani officials privately acknowledge that Tehran — already furious at Pakistan's support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism — has stepped up its activity in Baluchistan because of its anger at the construction of a vast deep-water port at Gwadar, close to the Iranian border, which it fears could be used by Washington as a base for monitoring and infiltrating and use it as a launch pad for moving ground troops in a future land assault on Iran.

Washington believes Iran is pursuing an advanced nuclear-weapons program in addition to sponsoring international terrorism, and has repeatedly accused Tehran of fomenting trouble within Iraq and through its proxy Hezbollah in Israel.

Senior American journalist Seymour Hersh had reported in the New Yorker that U.S. special forces had carried out recent reconnaissance missions inside Iran to identify nuclear, chemical and missile sites that could be targeted. Although the Bush administration brushed aside the claims, the report heightened the belief that the United States might be preparing to take action. The US obviously wants to hide the red rag, before it is ready to take on the bull.

Is it merely a coincidence that as the US rhetoric against Iraq has increased in belligerency, the acts of sabotage in Balochistan have increased in frequency and intensity? Given the growing unrest nothing would suit the US better than to aggravate Pakistan-Iran relations -- by planting rumours that somehow Iran was involved in the Balochistan violence, thereby compelling Pakistan to seal the Pakistan-Iran border in a fashion similar to the Pakistan-Afghan border in October –December 2001. Also, given that the US continues to develop the idea of a military strike against Iran, the US thinking, seems to be that somehow if suspicion and animosity is created between Pakistan and Iran, its actions against Iran will have no fallout in Pakistan.

But in many Pakistani eyes, especially in those of the MMM, the Jihadi elements in the Pakistani army, this logic does not hold The US should realize that no matter what the state of the Pakistan-Iran relationship, any military attack against Iran will be seen as a precursor to an attack against Pakistan's nuclear assets. After Iran is knocked out, it is Pakistan that goes into the "Finals" for an American take over, is what many Pakistanis, including President Musharraf thinks. Musharraf had once made a loose comment to this effect, before Iraq was liberated.

Destabilizing Baluchistan - Iran has short term gains, but long term gains will accrue to the US

We need to note that the Iranian interests in destabilizing the region are short term in order to complicate an American assault, and prevent America from using Baluchistan as a springboard into Iran. But for the US there is also a much wider and long term context to the unrest in Balochistan, beyond the assault on Iran in the near future.

But the American long term plan is linked to its efforts to redraw the map of the Muslim World in the Middle East and West Asia -- what is now being referred to as the "Broader Middle East". Breaking up larger Muslim states, redrawing borders between some of them, creating new political entities -- all these are part of the new strategic game plan. A plan that will be put into action after the American action on Pakistan, but that will have to wait till Iran is dealt with sometime by the late autumn of this year.

A similar plan is already unfolding in the subtle American nudging that is taking Iraq towards smaller manageable states of Kurdistan, Turkomenistan, Shiastan and Sunnistan. The haranguing of Iraq's newly elected legislators is a symptom of the coming balkanization of Iraq.

Story Credits : Washington Times

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