Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pakistan's Balochistan: Minerals, Militants, and Meddling

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pakistan's Balochistan: Minerals, Militants, and Meddling

Article excerpt

Balochistan is a key province in Pakistan that is filled with natural resources as well as a volatile mix of Afghan Taliban leaders, anti-Shiite militants, and ethnic separatists.

Why is Balochistan important?

Balochistan is Pakistan's largest province in terms of size, and its smallest in terms of population. The province has always been seen as occupying a geo-strategic position. It has the country's longest coastline, with a lucrative deep-sea port at Gwadar in the south, and a shared border with Afghanistan and Iran. Balochistan also has extensive tapped and untapped resources, including copper, gold, oil, lead, and zinc.

The province has always been seen as a strategic asset, first by the British colonial power who saw it as a buffer zone holding off Afghan and Russian forces. Today, it is a key source of gas and minerals for Pakistanis across the country, and seen as a strategic transport route.

An on-going separatist uprising and the continued presence of Islamist groups in the north has made this strategic province especially restive.

Who are Balochistan's separatists?

A section of the province's ethnic Baloch are calling for the outright independence of Balochistan, after the 2007 assassination of Akbar Bugti, the head of the Bugti tribe and a former Interior Minister in the provincial government. The demands of the separatist Baloch have prompted the deployment of thousands of Pakistani troops across the province, who have been accused of extra-judicial kidnappings, torture, and killings of Baloch activists. Baloch separatists have also been accused of carrying out attacks against members of Pakistan's powerful Punjabi ethnicity as well as Baloch who take a more pro-Pakistan line.

Who are Balochistan's Islamists?

Islamist groups hold sway in areas close to the Afghan border. The province's capital, Quetta, was once known for the notorious Quetta Shura a congregation of top leaders within the Afghan Taliban. Sources say that the Shura disbanded in 2010, but many suspect that members of the Taliban live among Afghan refugees close to the provincial capital. Other Sunni militant groups also operate with impunity, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an outfit that has taken public responsibility for deadly attacks against Balochistan's Hazaras a primarily Shiite Muslim minority group easily identifiable because of their distinct Mongolian features. …

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