Friday, October 27, 2006

The Long Promised

Here it is. The post about regional issues, focused through Balochistan, rather than Kabul.

Though originally I was going to write a long post, in the end (due to laziness, distance, or even myself paying less attention to the regional news), I think this will be a quick post. At least I’ll try. Besides, you all come here to read about my musical discoveries, not my political theories and armchair observations.

(On that note, it’s been Rogue Wave out of the Bay area. Heard “Eyes” (listen here on their Myspace page) while watching NBC’s Heroes, tracked them down quickly. Four free MP3s on the left on their Subpop page.

So over the past year, as you all know, I often end up talking to the Afghan nationals in Urdu. They ask me where in Pakistan I’m from and I ask them where they lived and if they still have family still in Pakistan. Many times I’ll ask them directly if they were in Peshawer, the primarily Pathan/Pashtun city and area in Pakistan. What has surprised me is how many have answered that they were in fact in Quetta.

Quetta is south of Peshawer, and though apparently different now, was (in my mind at least) a Balochi town, it being in the Balochistan province. I’m not sure about the linguistic roots of the language Baloch, but as I understand the ethnic roots, they are a long standing Persian rooted ethnicity. How distinct they are from other Persian ethnicities and the Pathans, I don’t know, but there has been a continuous independence movement post-colonialism, and marked autonomy before then. Either way, there are a large group of Balochi people both in southeast Iran, and traversing the border, in southwest Pakistan and a small amount in Afghanistan.

Over the past several years, the central gov’t of Pakistan has been trying to develop the resources in Balochistan and exploit the geographics of the area. There are gas and other natural resources in the area, and the coastline has a key deep-sea port, Gwadar, that is being heavily invested in. The area is also key to the Iran-Pak-India pipeline. Supposedly, as I’ve recently learned, China has heavy interests in Gwadar, both as an export route for NW China and an import route for energy resources.

Iran is in a particularly rough spot, balancing fighting the US/NATO alliance in Afghanistan via the Balochis and Taliban residing in and around Quetta, ensuring their energy/resource export routes to India and China and making sure their Balochis don’t get too many nationalist aspirations (also, it seems like the deep sea port in Gwadar contends w/ Persian Gulf ports of the Iranians and the Gulf Arabs). India, of course, is in constant power checks with Pakistan while desperately trying to make sure they get their energy they need and keep their export routes and battling China for economic dominance.

So you have three countries with strong economic and/or geographic empire building interests, Iran, China and India battling it out over an area inhabited by a traditionally autonomous and apparently fiercely independent people. Then you have two sub-player/proxy countries (and their contending internal power players), Afghanistan and Pakistan, keeping their selves alive and their provincial interests and exploits continuing...all while figuring out how to play off and around all the long-term promises.

I imagine it’s like picking a skirt to hide under while there is a square dance going on. How do you hide when there are constant positional and partner changes? Maybe this has a lot to do for explaining the apparent intransigence of the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan in dealing with the tribal issues they share. Maybe just pick a place and wait till the skirt comes to you. It seems like the Balochis may face the fate of the Kurds. It may be unfortunate and a constantly forgotten issue that will just make everything more difficult.

As far as keeping up with the news on the area, Ahmed Rashid seems to mention the topic quite a bit when talking about the regional issues. I think I’ve linked to or mentioned his writing on the issue before. Here is a “Live Online” discussion from two weeks back where he answers some questions related to Balochistan.

Google news searches always work well, and just a few days ago some Balochi militants blew up the pipeline there. Besides Reuters, it seems like only regional newspapers picked up the story. Though I’m lacking Nexis, so I’m limited to Google’s news sources/search.

A really good resource on the issue can be found here, provided by the Hindustan Times. Titled “Battleground Balochistan”, with a distinctly US media feel to it, I find it’s presentation style comforting.

In the end, I think with all the long-term promises, always made in general terms, with the obvious and incredibly contending and complex regional and global self-interests, these promises may stay long promised.

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