ASIA/PAKISTAN - Balochistan: Foreign Ministers meeting to ease tensions between Iran and Pakistan

Monday, 29 January 2024 politics   armed conflicts   ethnic minorities  

Islamabad (Agenzia Fides) - Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, is visiting Pakistan to ease tensions following the air strikes that took place in January between Iran and Pakistan in the Balochistan border area. The mutual attacks, which claimed at least 11 lives, led to an "escalation" in relations between the two neighboring countries. Iran attacked militant positions in Balochistan province in southwestern Pakistan. Pakistan then responded with airstrikes on suspected militant hideouts in Iran's Sistan and Balochistan province, killing at least nine people. High-level talks between the Iranian Foreign Minister and his Pakistani counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani are now about reducing tensions between the two states and finding common forms of combating terrorism to ensure border security. Iran and Pakistan have long viewed attacks by militant groups on their side of the border with suspicion. Observers say the recent skirmishes are also an impact of violence spreading across the Middle East, marred by Israel's war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The reason for the tension between the two states is the territory of Balochistan, which today represents a key passage in the huge economic corridor that is part of the Chinese "Silk Road" project and runs from China through Pakistan (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, CPEC). Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan but the least populated, with around 15 million inhabitants scattered across an arid, desert and mountainous area, but with a very rich subsoil. The province supplies 40% of the country's gas production and has immense natural resources, but remains the poorest area in Pakistan: this is one of the reasons that has fueled, in recent decades, the insurrection that has already emerged since Pakistan occupied the province, in 1948. In recent years, Balochistan's growing economic importance to the China-Pakistan economic corridor has exacerbated ongoing political tensions between the local population and the Pakistani government. Several terrorist attacks have escalated the confrontation in recent years. Last December, Sarfraz Bangulzai, alias Murid Baloch, a commander of the Baloch National Army (BNA), surrendered in Quetta, the capital of the Pakistani province, along with 70 other fighters. The group belongs to the National Liberation Front “Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar” (BRAS), an alliance of the various armed groups in Balochistan. At the same time, a march of thousands of civilians from Balochistan province to Islamabad (led by women) took place in December 2023 to protest against forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings and to demand the release of imprisoned activists. However, Islamabad reacted to this demonstration with massive counter-violence, confirming that for the Pakistani government this is only a matter of "security and terrorism", while refusing from the outset any possible concession or understanding of the complex historical events that have affected their country have left their mark and are the actual cause of the violence. Before the partition between India and Pakistan, the people of Balochistan under British administration enjoyed extensive autonomy in internal security and governance in an area, the historic homeland of Balochistan, which is now divided into three nations: southwestern Pakistan, eastern Iran and southern Afghanistan. After Partition, the local Khan did not accept accession to Pakistan until March 1948, when the Pakistani government sent the army to occupy the region. Since then, there have been numerous uprisings until 1977, when Pakistani General Zia ul-Haq, after coming to power in Islamabad, granted an amnesty to the arrested Belarusian leaders but failed to address the underlying problems (those with the region's demands for Autonomy and socio-economic development), which have now come to light again and represent a factor of instability affecting the whole of South Asia. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 29/1/2024)