Potential Hot Spots: The Baluchis Are Rising

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January 12, 2006: The Baluchis are rising. No, it isn't a recipe for some new puff pastry, but yet another ethnic group that, like the Kurds, would like a homeland of their own. In this case, the homeland would be carved out of southwestern Pakistan, southeastern Iran and southern Afghanistan. None of these countries is eager to give up any of their territory to help form a new state of Baluchistan. But that hasn't stopped the Baluchis from trying. And they appear to be trying.

On December 15th, there was an attempt to assassinate Iranian president Muhammad Ahmadinejad. The Iranian government has said little about the incident, which resulted in the deaths of several of Ahmadinejad's security team. This has led to considerable speculation about the attack. Some conspiracy-mavens have been asserting that it was a deliberately staged incident, like Hitler's "Reichstag Fire," which would result in the accrual of even greater power to Ahmadinejad and the religious extremists who run Iran. Others have pointed to Israel's Mossad, the CIA, or perhaps even Iranian liberal dissidents. Then the real story began to come out.

Near the end of December, Notani, one of the leaders of the Baloch (Baluchi) Liberation Army (BLA), announced that the BLA had been behind the attempt on Ahmadinejad's life. First heard of around the end of 2003, the BLA (sometimes known as the Baloch Liberation Movement, BLM), has been primarily active in Pakistan, where it has been linked to about two dozen bombings. It is one of several groups fighting for an independent Baluchistan.

There is a Baluchi minority in Iran, about two percent of the population, and Notani did not cite Baluchi independence as the justification for the attack. Instead, he said the attempt on Ahmadinejad's life was in revenge for the death of his brother at the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) some time back. The legitimacy of Notani's claim cannot as yet be established, but it is worth noting that on January 9th, the Commander of the IRGC and several other senior IRGC officers were killed in the crash of a military transport, which may - or may not - be connected. Most of the ten million Baluchis in the region live in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, several Baluchi tribes in Pakistan are actively fighting the army and police. The cause of this unrest is usually given as unhappiness with how large a cut the tribes get from the natural gas exported from their lands. But the Baluchis also want more autonomy in general. Like the Kurds, the Baluchis long maintained their ethnic identity without being able to establish their own nation. The Baluchis have always been part of someone else's empire. They are tired of this and, somewhat encouraged by the success of the Kurds, they are more willing to make a major effort to be free and on their own.

In 1973, there was a major rising of the Baluchis in Pakistan, which was not put down until 1978. Over fifty thousand died, most of them Baluchi civilians. This time around, there is drug money, and the example of al Qaeda terrorism. But the Baluchis are not united in their quest for independence, and they are only about half as numerous as the Kurds. There is a consensus that more autonomy in Pakistan is a worthy and achievable goal. Pakistan is not so sure, and both sides are willing to fight, as well as talk, over the matter.

 

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