Pakistan, Iran Both Crushed Baloch. How Has The Equation Changed?
In 2019, for the first time, Pakistan openly accused Iran of supporting Baloch guerrilla, after an attack in Ormara.
“The Revolutionary Guards, in an extrajudicial action, together with a special armed unit team, attacked the Siadak-Dezap area and destroyed many residential houses of Baloch citizens. This action was taken while the Islamic Republic had previously intended to occupy the lands of the Baloch people where they lived, under the pretext of national lands. While the Revolutionary Guards is a military body whose job is to provide security in the region, it has deprived the people of Balochistan of security, by providing assistance to other organs and government agencies. The Islamic Republic, under the pretext of ending the occupation of the national lands, is occupying the lands of the Baloch people who have lived there for centuries and belonged to them as heritage and giving them over to non-natives and changing the population structure in different parts of Balochistan”.
What Explains Baloch Oppression?
These lines, along with a video, were sent via social media and encrypted groups by local activists, as usually happens with news from that part of the world. News is rarely – almost never – carried by official press in the countries of origin, because journalists, if and when they do it, become targets themselves. Because, when the part of the world is called Balochistan, and the countries involved are Iran and Pakistan, the narrative follows more or less along the same lines. Oppression, harassment, cultural, religious and physical genocide.
The story of the Iranian region called Sistan-Balochistan is less known, but no less destructive than the Pakistani one, and Baloch in Iran has been oppressed for the same reasons: exactly as in Pakistan, in fact, the land of Baloch is extremely rich in gas, gold, copper, uranium and oil. Despite this, it has the lowest per capita income in Iran and it is estimated that about 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Infant mortality is the highest in the country in the region, with the lowest literacy rate. According to activists, more than fifty percent of Iranian capital executions take place against the citizens of Baloch-origin. Exactly like in Pakistan, many permanent military bases have been installed in the area, and internal immigration has been encouraged to keep the locals under control, placing the Baloch population among the minority.
Revolutionary Guards’ Influence Over Middle East
The Baloch in Iran are also a religious minority, being Sunni Muslims in a Shia majority country, and the advent of the ayatollahs has only worsened the situation. Shiite missionaries had been sent from Tehran into the region to ‘convert’ people, and job opportunities or schools have been denied to those not converting to Sunnism.
The Revolutionary Guards, born more or less forty years ago to protect the values of revolution and the Shia faith, have become one of the most powerful political and military organisations of the country.
A ruthless one, very closely resembling the Pakistani Army, ISI and all the 'special corps' oppressing Baloch on the eastern side of the border. With a difference: despite some attempts by UK think tanks, the ISI continues to thrive and flourish, and last year, that is 2019, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were declared a terrorist organisation by the US, Saudia Arabia and Bahrain.
The organisation is estimated to have more than 190,000 active personnel and oversees Iran's strategic weapons. It also controls the paramilitary Basij Resistance Force, which has helped suppress domestic dissent, and the powerful bonyads, or charitable foundations, which run a considerable part of the economy.
According to the US and Saudi Arabia, the Revolutionary Guards exert influence in the Middle East – providing money, weapons, technology, training and advice to allied governments and armed groups.
They practically carry out the same terrorist strategies adopted by Pakistan, and the results in Balochistan, with the passing of the years, are in fact the same: the birth of guerrilla groups and of a nationalistic resistance movement. However, while for years, Iran and Pakistan joined hands in crushing Baloch from both sides of the border, things changed in the past few years.
The Pakistan-Saudi Conundrum Over Revolutionary Guards
In 2019, for the first time, Pakistan openly accused Iran of supporting Baloch guerrilla in Pakistan, following an attack that killed 14 Pakistani security forces in Ormara.
According to Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the guerrilla groups umbrella called BRAS, operates from Iran and Teheran, and allows the country to be used as a hub for anti-Pakistan activities, providing support and training facilities to Baloch militants in order to eliminate and fight anti-Shia groups in Pakistan.
But the question is far more complicated.
While for Saudis and the US the Revolutionary Guards are a terrorist organisation, Iran accuses Saudis, Americans and also the Pakistani ISI of financing Baloch to destabilise Tehran, implementing the same strategy successfully adopted in Bangladesh and in Pakistan: funding fundamentalist madrasas that strengthen the Sunni religious identity and serve as outposts for guerrilla groups.
According to Pakistan, the Saudi strategy of using guerrilla groups in Sistan-Balochistan as a proxy – given that the terrorist groups used in Pakistan by ISI to keep Baloch under control also benefit from Riyadh’s funding – may not be a good idea, and threatens to turn into a lethal boomerang for Islamabad – but, above all, for Beijing – which sees the concrete chance of a low-intensity but large-scale ethnic-religious conflict, that would have disruptive consequences for the CPEC, the OBOR and its expansionist and imperialistic strategies.
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. She tweets at @francescam63. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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