Destabilizing Baluchistan, Fracturing Pakistan — Part I

Destabilizing Baluchistan, Fracturing Pakistan — Part I
Nov, 2009
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya


The Triangle of Jundallah, the Taliban, and Sipah-e-Sahaba

Map of the Region

“Managed Chaos” is the proper term to describe the tensions in NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan and the border zones of Pakistan. Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are now being described by the Pentagon and NATO as the same front in the very same war, are tied to the Iranian border province of Sistan and Baluchistan or Sistan-Baluchistan. It is with the tenure of George W. Bush Jr. and his administration that Sistan-Baluchistan, with emphases on “Baluchistan” begun getting international attention through the ignition of a series of attacks inside the Iranian border with Pakistan by a group originally calling itself the “Army of God” or Jundallah in Arabic.

One must first take a closer look at Sistan-Baluchistan and the issues being depicted as the source of antagonism there before discussing Jundallah, the nature of its attacks, its source of support, and if the Pakistani government and the Obama Administration have been involved with Jundallah’s attacks. So, with a purposeful focus on Baluchistan, what is Sistan-Baluchistan and where is it? The Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchistan, which is located in southeastern Iran, is in fact the blending of two different bodies, one is Sistan and the other is Baluchistan. Both were separate historical entities and Iranian provinces until they were amalgamated into one in 1959 under the reign of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the last shah or monarch of Iran.

Sistan according to some local traditions is the legendary home of the Iranian epic hero Rustam. Sistan is also where Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who is an Iranian, originates from. In ethnic terms the people of Sistan are mostly Persians and Sistani. Sistani is a label that can be used to identify anyone from Sistan, but it also has two other meanings. Sistani in ethnographic terms is used to refer to a sub-population of the Baluch or Baluchi, which are a distinct Iranic ethno-linguistic group. The relationship between the Sistani and the Baluchi almost correlates with the affinities between the Flemish and the Dutch or of those between the Pathans (Pashto of Pakistan) and the Pashto in Afghanistan. What sets the Sistani apart and is a cause for their distinction is geography and, more importantly, the fact that they speak a localized dialect of the Persian language called Sistani.
Moving on, Baluchistan is the other part of the Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchistan. Baluchistan, however, is not limited to Iran and is also a larger region that encompasses southern Afghanistan and a large slice of Pakistani territory. Sistan can also be included or excluded from this broader region of Baluchistan. The coastal region of Makran, which runs through both Iran and Pakistan, is also a sub-region of Baluchistan. Makran is of great geo-strategic importance and is home to the Pakistani port of Gwadar that both the U.S. and China are deeply interested in as an energy terminal and a naval base.
The province of Baluchistan in Pakistan is where the overwhelming majority of the Baluchi live. Pakistani Baluchistan was once mostly populated by Baluch and other relatively indigenous people before British control and later waves of immigration that caused demographic changes. Starting in 1947 the mass immigration of new ethnic groups leaving India for Pakistan because they were Muslims and the conflict in Afghanistan, starting with the 1979 Soviet invasion, also changed Pakistani Baluchistan’s ethnic composition. The Baluchi themselves, however, did not always live in Baluchistan. The Baluchi moved eastward to most of present-day Baluchistan from the Iranian province of Kerman or Kermania (Germania) during the period of Seljuk rule in Iran. The ancestors of the Baluchi also themselves had migrated to Kerman in earlier times.

Is Jundallah fighting for Baluch and Sunni Muslim rights against Persians and Shiite Muslims?

The genesis being presented about the Jundallah attacks in Baluchistan is offered as one that is dual-natured. Firstly the Jundallah attacks are being portrayed as being sparked on the basis of sectarianism and secondly on the basis of ethnicity. In this sense the intermittent attacks and explosions in Baluchistan are presented in the framework of a conflict between a confessional minority versus a confessional majority in Iran and to a lesser extent as an ethnic minority versus an ethnic majority.

One is almost tempted to state that the conflict between Tehran and Jundallah has been portrayed by Jundallah as one between Persians and Baluchi, which to some extent was originally how it was portrayed. In many places the media has framed it as such, along with the sectarian dimension of Sunnis versus Shiites. This is grossly inaccurate. Jundallah’s later attacks were portrayed differently by the group itself, but it should be noted that the statements of Jundallah on its fight have changed too. Jundallah’s attacks became mostly framed as being predominantly against the Iranian central government. The group even changed its name to the “People’s Resistance Movement of Iran” to make it appear as an internal Iranian struggle against the government in Tehran.

As an important side note: albeit Persian is the official language of Iran, Persians are merely a plurality in Iran and it is fundamentally wrong to describe the Iranian attribute as Persian. Iran is not a Persian country as so many authors, journalists, and sadly scholars wrongly state; Iran is an Iranian country and the Persian identity, like Azerbaijani (Azeri/Azari) or Baluchi, is a subsidiary to this Iranian identity as an Iranologist would be able to explain. All Persians are Iranian, but all Iranians are not Persians.

Who are the Baluch?
Simply asked, what are the Baluch? Are they Iranian or not? Do the Baluchi as a whole have aspirations to create “Free Baluchistan” or their own state? Do the Baluchi want independence from Iran as is being reported in the U.S., France, Britain, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and several other countries? Once this is answered then Jundallah can be addressed.
Nomenclature is important in regards to understanding not only Baluchistan, but all Eurasia from Lagos to Vladivostok. In categorizing the ethno-linguistic cluster of peoples in the Iranian Plateau, which extends from Iran to Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, one must grasp the understanding that the term Iranian is charged with multiple meanings. Iranian is a national, a linguistic, and an ethnic tag. These matrices can become very confusing when looking at questions concerning this area from an outside view, but yet are essential to understanding the nature of the subject.
Already as it is, ethnicity is a highly confusing topic with both subjective and objective elements. Imagine the confusion that would arise if the term “German” was being used, as it once frequently was, not only to identify German nationality and to designate German ethnicity (which is used to describe a whole people ranging from Germany to Austria and Switzerland), but to identify members of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. Germanic includes English, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Dutch, amongst other languages. Great confusion would arise from calling these other peoples German on top of their other labels. In regards to Iranian, this is the case. This is also compounded by the careless substitution of Iranian as a designation for Persian or vice-versa, which is similar to the misuse of the terms English and British.

To prevent confusion the term Iranic will be used in preference to the term Iranian in regards to ethno-linguistic designation(s) to help identify the additional attributes of either ethnicity, language, or both. Without turning this discourse into a treatise on language, one may also ask are ethnicity and language linked? Yes and no. Speaking English does not necessarily make one an Anglo-Saxon, just as speaking Spanish or Russian does not make one a member of those ethnic groups either. Ethnicity, however, historically does have a direct correlation with the origins of languages.

Moving forward, the Baluch originate from the area around the Caspian Sea in the Caucasus. Speaking strictly in ethnic terms, the Baluch are an Iranian or Iranic people. They are Iranian or Iranic, regardless of if they live in Iranian Baluchistan or Pakistani Baluchistan or in Afghanistan. Despite their more commonly darker phenotype (appearance) the Baluchi are of the same stock(s) as the Persians and Kurds. They also speak their own language, Baluchi. Baluchi is a Northwestern Iranic language, which is a sub-division of a broader linguistic grouping called Western Iranic. Northwestern Iranic includes Kurdish, the language of the Kurds, and Talysh, a language mostly spoken in the Iranian province of Gilan and in the Republic of Azerbaijan. In turn Western Iranic is part of the larger Iranic branch (or sub-branch, if you consider it one with Indo-Aryan or Indic) of the Indo-European language family, which includes the Slavic, Germanic, Romance, Celtic, Albanian, and Greek languages.

Persian, the official language of Iran, and Tajik are examples of Southwestern Iranic languages, which also belong to the larger Western Iranic group like both Baluchi and Kurdish. In regards to the Western Iranic languages they evolved from the three main Iranian groups of antiquity that moved into the Iranian Plateau from Europe and/or Central Asia. The Northwestern Iranic group developed from the dialects of the Parthians (who lived in Parthia, which excluding Hyrcania was roughly corresponding to the province of Khorasan) and the Medes (who lived in Media, which roughly covered northwestern Iran and parts of Iraqi Kurdistan), while the Southwestern Iranic group developed from the dialect of the ancient Persians (who lived in Persia/Persis or roughly the modern-day province of Pars/Fars in southwestern Iran). Pashto and Ossetian are respective modern examples of the Eastern Iranic group that also included Scythian, which was once spoken from the Ukraine and Russia to what is now Chinese Turkistan.

Like all other people, the Baluchi are also a mixture of new waves and different stocks of people, including the original Dravidian people who thousands of years ago lived in the Iranian Plateau before they were pushed southward or assimilated by the ancient Iranians as they migrated into Anatolia and the Iranian Plateau during a major period of Indo-European migration. The Brahui in Pakistan, which are closely tied to the Baluchi and very often mistaken for Baluchi, are a surviving remnant of this older Dravidian stock. Arabs and other Semitic peoples, as well as various groups from the littoral of the Indian Ocean, have also mixed with the Baluchi gene pool over time, especially in Makran.
Most the Baluch are also Muslims of the Sunni confession. The confessional difference between the Baluchi and the majority of Iranians has not always existed. It began under the Safavid Dynasty of Iran. During the Safavid period, when most other Iranians became Shiite Muslims, the Baluchi like many of the Kurds maintained their Sunnism. Some of the reasons for this had to do with clan autonomy from the central government and with the fact that these groups were on the frontiers of the Safavid Empire where defensive cooperation with their chieftains was important for the Safavid monarchs and thus they were relatively left undisturbed in regards to their confessions.
Difference of confession between the majority of the Baluch and the Iranian state have not been a major problem for the Baluchi. Nor have the Baluchi been barred from practicing their interpretation of Islam in Iran. In general Baluchi complaints resemble the complaints of Shiites or other ethnic groups, including Persians, against the Iranian government. Moreover, regardless of their ethnicity or their views on Islam, the main localized complaint of the residents of Sistan-Baluchistan has been underdevelopment in their province’s rural areas. In contrast to the pictures being linked to Jundallah, Sistan-Baluchistan has enjoyed peace and stability, except for the narcotic smuggling that has involved transient elements from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Baluchi Independence: Iran’s Problem or Pakistan’s Problem?

Aside from the opium wars between Iranian security forces and a multi-national narcotic smuggling network assisted by vast sections of the security and state apparatus of Pakistan, the greatest source of antagonism in the region of Baluchistan has been specific to the Pakistani side. Although the Baluchi are not a confessional minority in the mostly Sunni Muslim country of Pakistan, the Baluchi have been marginalization in Pakistan. This, however, should not be overstated either, but has resulted in a real and widely supported nationalist and secessionist movement in Pakistani Baluchistan. The Baluchistan Nationalist Party was formed on this basis and has made demands ranging from full independence from Pakistan to more local autonomy.

Baluchi separatism is not a factor in Iran, but it is a real force in Pakistan. The Baluchistan People’s Front, which from Britain claims to represent the Baluchi in Iran also has no real popular base and is propped up by British and American support, whereas the Baluchistan Nationalist Party has a popular base of support in Pakistan. The Baluch feel they were forced to join Pakistan under pressure, especially in the case of the of the Khanate of  Kalat (Qalat). Starting in 1948, Pakistan has seen five rounds of ethnic-based fighting in Baluchistan. Since the creation of Pakistan, the independence movement in Pakistani Baluchistan has gone so far as to openly wage war against the Pakistani government and military. This war between Baluchi fighters and the Pakistani military has been neglected by the same journalists and mainstream media outlets that report on Jundallah synonymously with the allegations of the systematic mistreatment of the Baluch in Iran. In this context, Jundallah’s fighters are mostly imported from Pakistan and the problems of the Baluchi with the Pakistani government have deliberately been imported to Iran.

Misleading the World on Baluchistan

Returning to the question; do the Baluchi as a whole have aspirations to create “Free Baluchistan” or their own state? The answer has been given as no in regards to Iran, but a mixed yes when it comes to Baluchi feelings in Pakistan. Nevertheless, these differences amongst the Baluchi in Iran and Pakistan are generalized as one. This generalization is given so as to vindicate Jundallah as a home-grown Iranian movement that germinated out of the conditions on the ground in Iranian Baluchistan without the involvement of any external powers.

World view is categorically being misled on the Jundallah attacks in Baluchistan. The application of Cartesian Doubt is really needed when a discourse on Baluchistan is presented. Ethnic, religious, and sectarian differences do exist in Iranian Baluchistan as they do everywhere else without exception, but they are not major cleavages or forces of tension in multi-ethnic Iran. Any Iranologist or individual that knows Iran first hand will give this assessment. Tension does exist in Sistan-Baluchistan, but to an equal or far lesser extent than the tensions between the French and the Flemish in Belgium or the Québécois and English-Canadians in Canada.

In the onslaught of the media coverage of the series of attacks in Sistan-Baluchistan against Iranian security targets many journalists have presented the conflict as being one between Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims and one for Baluchi rights. For example, in the process Le Figaro, an influential French newspaper, has described the situation as one where a Sunni minority is fighting for their rights in the most generic and non-context specific terms. Not only are these reports being made in Lebanon by individuals with little expertise or knowledge about Iran, but misleadingly the small force that is Jundallah and the Baluchi peoples are systematically being equated as one entity. The heavy influence of the same rhetorical tactics used in favour of the March 14 Alliance in Lebanon and used to describe the so-called Shiite-Sunni tensions (which are really political tensions between the Future Movement and Hezbollah) in Lebanon are evident in the reports that are presented by Le Figaro without any real understanding for Baluchistan.
In Saudi Arabia, where sectarian hate has been heavily enforced by the Saudi media, the attacks in Baluchistan are being presented as Sunni Muslims fighting Shiite repression. Another example of misinformation comes from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The BBC has steadily moved to a position where it has described the attacks in Baluchistan as attacks that have been perpetrated by an ethnic militia fighting for minority rights. Furthermore, while the BBC has generally designated other groups using the same tactics as terrorist organizations it has not done so for Jundallah.
Are the narratives behind the attacks in Baluchistan factual, even in the most subjective of terms? No, nothing can be further from the reality of the situation. It is somewhat of a giveaway that none of these reports even dare to venture into the theme of popular support for the Jundallah attacks by the people of Baluchistan. No exhaustive presentation of the Baluch has even been made. None of these reports even mention that many of the people and targets attacked have included Sunni Muslims. Nor is anything mentioned about the evidence Iran has provided to the United Nations, starting in 2007, validating Tehran’s claims of American and British involvement.

For Part II, click HERE. Courtesy Global Research.