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Baloch Nationalism and the Geopolitics of Energy Resources: The Changing Context of Separatism in Pakistan


Baloch Nationalism and the Geopolitics of Energy Resources: The Changing Context of Separatism in Pakistan - Cover

Authored by Dr. Robert J. Wirsing

April 2008

62 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The author examines the energy context of the simmering Baloch separatist insurgency that has surfaced in recent years in Pakistan’s sprawling Balochistan province. In particular, he looks at how Pakistan’s mounting energy insecurity--a product of rapid increase in demand coupled with rising scarcity and the region’s intensified energy rivalry--has both magnified the economic and strategic importance of this province while at the same time complicating Pakistan’s efforts to cope with the province’s resurgent tribal separatism. The author concludes that Pakistan’s government needs to overhaul its counterinsurgent policies to avoid protracted conflict and to enlist the Baloch as partners in energy development, not antagonists of it.

Summary

This monograph examines the Baloch separatist insurgency that has resurfaced in recent years in Pakistan’s sprawling Balochistan province. The author maintains that the context of today’s insurgency differs in certain important respects from that of its 1970s predecessor. Most fundamental of these differences are those stemming from energy resource developments in what some are calling the “Asian Middle East” (embracing parts of South, Central, and Southwest Asia). In particular, the monograph looks at how Pakistan’s mounting energy insecurity—a product of rapid increase in demand coupled with rising scarcity and the region’s intensified energy rivalry— has magnified the economic and strategic importance of Balochistan, while at the same time complicating Pakistan’s efforts to cope with the province’s resurgent tribal separatism.

This change in the energy context exerts a powerful threefold impact on the insurgents’ prospects. In the first place, it lifts Balochistan and Baloch nationalism to a position much higher on the scale of central government priorities, thus seeming to warrant, as the government sees the problem, zero tolerance and ruthless crushing of the insurgency. Second, it arms the Baloch insurgents both with greater incentives than ever for reclaiming control of Balochistan and with the novel capacity to drive the economic and political costs to the government of continuing insurgent activity far higher than ever in the past. Third (and on a more hopeful note), by promising to turn Balochistan into an important corridor for energy trafficking in the region, the changed context creates major opportunities for addressing Baloch nationalist demands in a positive and peaceful manner. While conceding that the counterinsurgency strategy pursued by the government thus far has a conspicuously dark side, the author insists that Balochistan’s rapidly changing energy context could supply both the means and the incentives for bringing the insurgency to a swift, negotiated, and amicable end.

It is recognized that getting the Pakistan government to reverse course in Balochistan—and to engage the Baloch nationalists politically instead of only militarily—will no be easy. It is not just that a presumed force-reliant military “mindset” will get in the way; the problem of resolving Balochistan’s political fortunes is much more complicated than that.

Today a formidable array of energy-related and other strategic forces impinge on that part of the world. As in the 1970s, Balochistan still falls in the shadow of strife-torn Afghanistan, which confronts Islamabad with an endless source of policy dilemmas. However, innumerable other shadows, equally problematic and all with their own set of imperatives, have now been added. The monograph highlights the manner, in particular, in which Pakistan’s energy imperatives crowd in upon its policymaking in regard to the circumstances in Balochistan. These imperatives include not only its own natural gas resources, but also the proposed import of natural gas from Iran and/ or Turkmenistan and its all-important collaboration with China in the laying of groundwork for a northsouth commercial and energy corridor. It seems highly unlikely that these imperatives will grow any less pressing as time goes on. As a consequence, persuading the government to give significantly higher priority to accommodation of the Baloch tribal minority will unquestionably be a hard sell.


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