Pak Balōch or Iranian Bělūch: India’s looming headache hō yā dō

In answer to a friend’s query: “Shia Iran, are they so fond of Sunni Pak that they will sever ties with their age-old economic and strategic allies?”

Beyond the reflexive “ḵẖudā jāāně, mêrê ākā“, here’s my take:

• • • • •

This goes beyond and counter to the Shī’a-Sunnī siblicidal instinct. Iran and Pakistan go back a long way. Iran was the first country in the world to recognise a sovereign state of Pakistan. They signed a friendship treaty in 1950. Iran supported Pakistan against India during the subcontinent-redefining 1971 war. Iran and Pakistan (and Turkey) were founder-members in 1985 of the Tehran-based Economic Coöperation Organization, which was expanded into a 10-member entity in 1992, the seven new members being Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan).

ECO is meant to be a ‘single market’ trade-bloc entity (like the EU, the Eurasian Economic Union, and the Gulf Coöperation Council), but it has bypassed the usual, prudent route of establishing a ‘common market’ first. And this is as much because of an across-the-board lack of economic liberality as of intermarket fractiousness. ECO, which was supposed to have set, like conceptual concrete, in 2015, still has a long way to go. It will never get close to the ‘unified market’ state (just as nor will the EU, which will, however, undoubtedly survive as a cautionary proverb in the fullness of time) – but that’s another story.

It would be imprudent to downplay ECO (as much as it would be foolish to exaggerate it). With a combined GDP (purchasing power parity) of $4.7 trillion (2015 est.), it lists as 5th-highest in the world. (The EU, with 28 member-states, has a GDP of $19.14 trillion [2015 est.].)

Unfortunately for it, ECO comprises of states with dipshit development indices, for the most part. In a sense, ECO is the victim of an interstatal drift that precedes it. Iran and Pakistan have been inching apart since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when a shade more than 1/5th of Pakistan’s population was Shī’a. Pakistan hadn’t pushed the point; Iran had kept its brewing revolution to itself. Pakistan went on to thank Iran by being among the first nations to recognise the Islamic Republic of Iran, and by not supporting Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88.

But the earlier, smooth-as-silk momentum became history. Both Pakistan and pre-Islamic Revolution Iran had been US satellites, secure in their boyz-from-the-‘hood eminence. The 1979 singularity – which would eventually spread to become unexpectedly and stunningly pan-Islamic, in terms both positive and regressive – put paid to all that.

Successful revolutions tend to overbreed ambitious outreach. Iran looked sideways – and began infeeding Afghan Shī’a and Tajik ethnic groups. The House of Saud, in the first of its in-your-face and eventually globe-spanning machinations, hustled its way into a position of paramountcy in Pakistan’s ledger of funding, piggybacked Pakistan into Afghanistan, and eventually won joint fief over 85% of this nation at war with benefactors, malefactors, and itself alike, playing the Tālibān like a Heratī dutār.

Oddly undeterred – for a ‘young’, radical religiorepublic with growing worries about externally-engineered discoherence and a surging Western fixation with Decima peregrinatione (The Tenth Crusade) – George W. Bush described his ‘War on Terror’ as “this crusade” on the very day of the 9/11 atrocity, and the WoT is often referred to as “The Tenth Crusade” – Iran kept at it, giving Pakistan some serious anxiety attacks.

It was Bush who drove a thick, deep wedge between the two nations when he shoehorned Iran into the ‘Axis of Evil’ (inclusion in which has done as much damage thereafter to Iran’s international standing as exclusion from it has done as little damage to Pakistan’s). The ‘Axis of Evil ‘ terminological rubbish has gone on to play as vast, explicit geopolitical havoc (if not more and longer-lasting), than the original wāḥḥābi ahramān itself. In many ways, the current global crisis is the child of a superpowerful fool’s understanding of ‘axis’ and ‘evil’ – a world-changing Unterstellung.

It just isn’t easy any longer to return Pakistan and Iran to their earlier, counterintuitively-secular bonhomie. History is dogged, and it gifts the present with a dog’s life. Until 1857, Afghanistan’s western Herat region had been part of Iran, and Iran has gone monster revanchist on it. Pakistan isn’t having any. The rivalry is one of concealed knives, but it is hardnosed rivalry.

• • • • •

And, then, Balochistan raised its head – very high: a neat, well-marked bullseye for both parties. An incident in June 2008 served to cement Pakistani and Iranian concerns: The Jōnḍollāh (‘Soldiers of God’, or People’s Resistance Movement of Iran), a crossborder group based in Balochistan in Pakistan and the Sīstān o Belūchestan province in southeastern Iran, kidnapped 15 Iranian border guards, executing them all by the end of that year. The Jōnḍollāh are Sunnī: It hardly matters. Pakistan is hunting them down. So is Iran: In April 2015, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the pāsdārān, utterly destroyed a Jōnḍollāh cell in Qasr- Qand and Nikshahr in Sīstān o Belūchestan.

• • • • •

Here’s the thing: If India takes on the task of supporting Balochistan versus the rest of Pakistan, it will have to do so with little choice – or, even, none at all – between the Pakistani Balōch and the Iranian Belūch. (The still unresolved problem for India: they form a single ethnic continuum, but are citizens of two neighbouring nations with very different priorities. Iran is irreplaceably critical to the India-cheerled International North-South Transport Corridor [INSTC], while Pakistan is the starting chock of the geopolitically-inimical China-engineered China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [CPEC].) Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitches warning shots at Pakistan a very long distance from the LoC (such as, on Saturday, 24 September 2016, from a BJP party huddle at Kozhikode in Kerala), New Delhi is reportedly still far from having figured out whether to treat the Balōch/Belūch as a single, immixtured, no-border peoples with a single enemy, Pakistan, or as a dual demographic kept hermetically apart by a 910-km-long Iran-Pakistan border, and therefore calling for separate, specific protocols.

By no means is this easy to sort out. The nearest approximate that India has is the Bengal-Bangladesh unitary division – and that isn’t a patch on the Balōch/Belūch headache of a conundrum. The Balōch/Belūch extend a swath from Iran’s Sīstān, running east along Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand valley, scattering and pacing through Makrān in Pakistan almost to the river Indus, and building up to a not-negligible presence in Karachi, and in the rocky hills east and northeast of Quetta, Balochistan’s Balōch-minority capital.

So: One entity? Two? Three (if you must account for Afghanistan, too)? How is India to choose between the Balōch of a presumptively-genuine and backable fidā’ī’ūn inclination and the Jōnḍollāh, who have an agenda lockdown in place: a resolución militante to bring justice to “all the Sunnīs” in Iran (which might or might not be to the incumbent Indian government’s general satisfaction but is unoptional because it is certain to cock-up the works with Iran)?

Faced with possibly igniting the Iranian Korosh-Belūch against Iran and backing up Pakistan between a rock and a hard place – where it might find logic or resignation or comfort in doing that very unpredictable thing that will not serve India – will India do shamshīr-bāzī or shamshīr-bahāduri: swordplay or sabre-rattling?

Damned if I know. But I definitely do not want to bet on the outcome.

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