Thursday, December 22, 2005

Problems in Balochistan!!

In the last week of November, Pakistan began laying a 42-inch-diameter natural gas pipeline, the largest ever in the country, in the Port bin Qasim area of Karachi.

The US$12 million project will link with the Sui Southern Gas Company's (SSGC's) main transmission and distribution network servicing Karachi, the main load center, as well as the rest of Sindh and Balochistan. The SSGC is a public sector gas company that operates a transmission and distribution network in southern Sindh province and Balochistan.

Besides, Pakistan, Iran and India are involved in negotiations to build a $4 billion, 1,700-mile gas pipeline from Iran's South Pars field to India. About 475 miles of the pipeline would pass through Balochistan. A third of the gas would be delivered to Pakistan and the rest to India. Pakistan would receive about $700 million a year in transit fees.

Key to this is to make Gwadar port in southwest Balochistan (about 400 miles from Karachi) a main LNG hub. And Balochistan will remain the main entry point for all regional gas pipeline projects.

The problem, though, is that the projects involve highly restive Balochistan province, where tribals have for years waged a low-intensity rebellion against the central government, in part to demand a better share of the economic pie of the resource-rich province.

Balochistan is geographically the largest of Pakistan's provinces, but population-wise it is the smallest. However, the province is endowed with some of the world's richest reserves of natural energy (gas, oil, coal); minerals (gold, copper), and it has strategic mountainous borders and passes adjoining Iran and Afghanistan on the west and miles of precious maritime coast stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea in the south.

Islamabad has reason for concern that its ambitious energy plans are in danger in Balochistan. According to a report in the South Asia Intelligence Review - "There has been a continuous series of bomb and rocket attacks on gas pipelines, railway tracks, power transmission lines, bridges, and communications infrastructure, as well as on military establishments and governmental structures and enterprises. "

Now the Pakistan government wants to secure the region once and for all, and believes that the only way to do it is through forcibly "urbanizing" Balochistan's tribes. And with so much at stake, the latest military operations in Balochistan make sense. Hence, gunship helicopters have been active in two tribal areas, Qalat and Chaghai, and a massive land and air operation was launched in the Kohlu and Mohmand areas in which dozens of tribals were killed.

Next year is the target date to eliminate all tribal areas in Balochistan and convert them into settled areas. There appears to be no win-win situation - one side has to lose, and if Islamabad has its way, it will be the tribal people of Balochistan.

Courtesy : Asia Times report.

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