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'US should support Balochi separatists to curb pro-China policies of Pakistan'

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American support for Balochi separatists in Pakistan should be considered if Islamabad continues patronizing violent Islamists, says Marilyn Stern, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Addressing a Middle East Forum webinar, Michael Rubin said: The U.S. must be prepared to increase its defense budget and "play hardball" with state adversaries seeking to exploit the vacuum left by the Afghanistan withdrawal. American support for Balochi separatists in Pakistan, for example, should be considered if Islamabad continues patronizing violent Islamists.

Tellingly, in September last, Michael Rubin published an article by the National Interest titled 'Could Washington Support Balochistan Independence?,' argued that as Pakistan's cachet plummets in Washington and fear of China grows, the possibility that a future American administration may try a "Kuwait" solution [1] with Balochistan grows.

Balochis have their own language and a separate identity. In the decades before the 1947 partition of India, Balochistan--at least those portions not incorporated into Persian--coalesced into a loose confederation of Baloch states under British protection. While some Baloch princely states chose to join Pakistan, the largest and most important--the Khanate of Kalat--asserted independence for several months before Pakistan ultimately absorbed it. The port city of Gwadar, meanwhile, remained part of the Sultanate of Oman until Pakistan annexed it in 1958. Today, Gwadar is among China's most important investments in Pakistan: it is not only among the most important ports in China's Indian Ocean "String of Pearls" strategy, but it is also the outlet for China's multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Absent the Gwadar port, CPEC's strategic and economic potential plummets, Rubin said, adding:

"The Balochis have long been restive inside Pakistan. For its first decade, Pakistan neglected the region. It invested little and left the British administrative system in place. In 1958, Balochi tribes rose in revolt against Pakistani rule, and Karachi (Pakistan's capital before the creation of Islamabad) declared martial law and moved to dismantle the tribal system and erase any notion that Balochistan was a legitimate entity.

"Against this backdrop, the Balochistan People's Liberation Front inaugurated a low-intensity guerilla campaign. In 1970, as Pakistan also faced unrest (and eventual secession) of its Bengali population, it acquiesced to the formation of a Balochistan province. Over subsequent decades, civil strife repeated erupted--first during the reign of President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and then against the backdrop of a 2004 development plan, which locals believed would lead to an influx of Punjabis to the region. Balochi militants and terrorists continue to harass Pakistani state forces.

"As Pakistan not only turns away from the United States but, through its Taliban proxies and China, tries to humiliate Washington, a new generation of American strategists, policymakers, and intelligence professionals may reconsider the redlines that have governed bilateral ties since the Truman administration. Bangladesh, after all, split away from Pakistan and is now a stable and moderate country.

"It is increasingly conceivable that a new generation of U.S. policymakers less trustful of Islamabad and less concerned with Pakistani sensibilities may question whether it would be a U.S. interest for Balochistan to follow suit," Rubin emphasized.

Tellingly, in July 2019, on the official visit of Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan to US, Rubin wrote "As the United States prepares to cut-and-run from Afghanistan, Trump and his allies may believe that now is the time to reset relations with Pakistan. They are wrong. Under Imran Khan, Pakistan has continued its move to become an instrument of Chinese strategic policies. Successive Pakistani leaders have fallen victim to China's debt trap. Thus, even if Khan wished to chart an independent course, it would have been impossible for him to do so."

According to Rubin, "The simple fact, however, is that Khan willingly casts his lot with Beijing. The Gwadar Port today is solidly among China's 'string of pearls.' For all his cynical embrace of Islam as a political tool rather than a deep faith, Pakistan has not only remained quiet on China's mass-incarceration of its Uighur population into concentration and 're-education' camps, but also endorsed China's strategy at the United Nations. Pakistan's recent crackdown on army officials on spurious corruption and other charges has less to do with countering the country and military's endemic corruption and more to do with a People's Liberation Army-directed purge of pro-American elements within Pakistan's army. This undertaking was designed to make the Pakistani military more acceptable for long-term Chinese partnership. Simply put, Pakistan is now China's vassal, and Khan is President Xi Jinping's jester."


[1] In 1899, Great Britain cut a deal with a separatist leader in Kuwait to make the small Persian Gulf territory a British protectorate. For the British, severing Kuwait's links to Ottoman Iraq made strategic sense: By empowering Kuwait as a separate entity with a foreign policy subordinate to Britain's own, the [British] India Office was able toï stymie a German plan to build a railhead on the Persian Gulf.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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