The geo-strategic position of a country not only determines its role in regional and global affairs but also shapes its future.
Strategically located countries enjoy a particular attention from global and regional powers that seek to further their military, economic and political interests.
Great powers, throughout the history, have found Balochistan seductive because of its resource-rich land, over a 1000-km long coastline and highly significant geographic location.
During the Great Game, the British invaded and occupied Balochistan partly to check advances by the Russians towards the Baloch coast.
The once sovereign Baloch territory now straddles Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Balochistan was divided during the British rule on the basis of “Divide and Rule” policy, and also to appease Iran and Afghanistan in order to counter Russian influence in the region.
Gul Khan Naseer writes: “Due to the decisions of boundary commissions, more than half of the territory of Balochistan came under the possession of Iran and less than half of it was given to Afghanistan. The reason behind the division of Balochistan was to please and control governments in Iran and Afghanistan against Russia.’’1
Along with the land, several tribes were separated from each other, so they would not join hands in the event of a confrontation with the British, who kept the strategic part of northern Balochistan to deflect external threats from Afghanistan and Russia.2 The division of Balochistan was a planned decision by the British in the Great Game era to further their interests in the region.
In the current state, Balochistan is bordered by Iran on the west, Afghanistan on the north, Sindh and Punjab on the east and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on the southeast. A significantly long coast, located at the southern part, adds to its geo-economic importance.3
Balochistan consists of four major geographical regions.
- Upper high lands
It is the central part of Balochistan and is as high as 12,000 feet and the valleys are about 5,000 feet above the sea level.
- Lower high lands
This part includes Koh e Suleiman on the east, Pab and Khirter on the south and the Chaghi ranges on the west. They are about 1,500 to 5,000 feet above the sea level.
The plains of Makran, Kachchi and Lasbela are situated approximately 250 feet above the sea level.
The southwestern part of Balochistan consists of deserts. 4
After the British, Pakistan further divided the Baloch land. They merged Shikarpur, Jacobabad and Karachi — originally parts of Balochistan – with Sind and Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur with Punjab.5
Sir Thornton, foreign secretary to the Government of India, had described the territory of Balochistan under the control of the Khanate of Kalat in these words: “That territory may be described as the mountainous country west of the Indus Valley, bounded on the north by Afghanistan, on the east by Sind and Punjab, on the west by Persia and on the south by the Arabian Sea.’’
He added: “Its area is more than ten times that of Switzerland…. And its coastline extends for nearly 600 miles.’’ 6
Contrary to what is being propagated in the Pakistani media, Balochistan was never part of the Indian sub-continent. Physically, it is part of the Central-Asian plateau.7 The Indus and Hub rivers and the mountain of Kirthar draw a natural border between Balochistan and the Indian sub-continent. 8
Once Naseer Khan II was questioned by the British and Afghan envoys at his court about the borders of Balochistan. He replied, “My ancestor and namesake Naseer Khan Nuri had already replied in geographical terms to a similar question long ago, and I repeat: all those regions where Baloch are settled are a part and parcel of our state.”9
The exact size of Baloch land is so far not clear due to its unjust division. But it is estimated that it covers an area of approximately 340,000 sq. miles10 making it larger than Turkey, France, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Norway, Italy, United Kingdom and many more developed countries.
A British political officer, Edward Wakefield, describes the climate and geography of Balochistan as:
“From Karachi, we travelled north by rail. Dawn was breaking as the two engines pulling our train labored up the Bolan pass. From our carriage windows Lalage and I looked out on a new world, a world that had nothing in common with the India we had known before. Here were rugged, barren, sun browned mountains, cleft by deep ravens and gorge forbidding of aspect in the full light of day, the hills were now in the first light of dawn, clothed with a gentle effulgence that made them seem welcoming and friendly. The air, too, was different from that of India, but of Central Asian Plateau. Simply to breath in such air in such surroundings was exhilarating.”11
For centuries, water transportation has played an essential role in international trade. But, with the passage of time, maritime industry became more efficient and consequential in an economic and strategic point of view. It is said that the 90% of world trade is carried by sea routes.
Countries with enough minerals cannot sustain a prosperous economy without sea routes. The example of Central Asian states is present out there.
Fortunately, with a substantial landmass, Balochistan contains a warm, deep 700-mile seacoast,12 which is located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and the cross junction of international oil trade routes.
Gwadar, Chabahar, Pasni, Jiwani, Ormara, Kalmat and Sonmiani are some of the most important coastal areas of Balochistan.
Approximately 780 km of this coastline is currently under the occupation of Pakistan and the remaining is being controlled by Iran. Approximately 80% of Pakistan’s current coastline is based in Balochistan. On the other hand, Chabahar, at a distance of 72 km from Gwadar, is the only port in Iran with direct access to the Indian Ocean.
The Baloch sea is not only a rich ground for fishing but provides the cheapest and efficient maritime routes.
Balochistan possess huge reserves of metallic and non-metallic minerals. Farooq Baloch writes: “510 types of minerals are found in Balochistan.”13
The list given below is not complete as several reserves are yet to be discovered. It is just a brief glance at some of the minerals of Pakistani-occupied Balochistan.
- Natural gas
Natural gas was discovered in Balochistan in the Sui area in 1952 and the exploitation of the field started in 1955 by Pakistan.
According to the Geological Survey of Pakistan, it was estimated during offshore exploration that there are reserves of 25 trillion cubic feet of gas in Balochistan. The GSP research confirms large reserves of unexplored onshore gas in the Panjgur, Lasbela, Kharan and Kalat areas. 14
Oil is considered one of the most essential energy resources in the world. It has a great influence on international politics. In different areas of Balochistan onshore and offshore oil reserves are available. 15
Coal has been found in Mach Abegum, Khost-Shahrig-Harnai, SorRange-Sinjidi-Degari, Dukki, Pir IsmailZiarat-Chamalong areas. The total estimated reserves of all the coal fields is 217 million tons. 16
- Chromite ore
Reserves of chromite are found in several areas including Raskoh, Wadh and Khuzdar. In the Wadh area, chromite is lumpy in nature and of good quality. The total estimated reserves of chromite in Balochistan are not exactly known, but one million tons of chromite had previously been reported. 17
Saindak in Balochistan has huge reserves of copper. It is also found in Koh-i-Dalil, Dash-i-Kain, Durban Chah, Kabul Koh, Ziarat Pir Sultan Rekodiq and a number of other places. Estimated copper reserves are 4.5 billion tons. 18
Balochistan is also rich in high quality onyx marble deposits. The main deposits are Zard Kan, Patkok, Julhi, Butak, Mashki Chah, Tozghi and Zeh. The estimated reserves of marble are more than 12 million tons. 19
Annually, 48,591 tons of marble are transported from Chaghi to Karachi and then sent to foreign countries like Italy and France.20
vii. Gypsum and anhydrite
In Balochistan, gypsum and anhydrite deposits are situated at Spintangi in Sibi and Chamalong. The reserves have been estimated at over 7 million tons. 21
Significant reserves of fluorite are found in Maran, Phad-i-Maran and Dilband areas of Mastung. The total estimated reserves are about 100,000 tons. 22
Large deposits of Sulphur are found in Makran, Kalat, Lasbela and Kachchi. 23
Major deposits are clustered around the southern and southwestern side of an extinct volcanic crater called Koh-i-Sultan. The annual production of Sulphur is about 600 tons and the total estimated reserves are about 787,000 tons. 24
- Lead-Zinc ore
Its reserves are found in Lasbela and Khuzdar. The total reserves of lead-zinc estimated so far are 26 million tons. 25
Magnetite occurs at Wadh and Muslimbagh. But the estimated reserves are not known.26
xii. Titanium (Laterite)
Balochistan possess huge reserves of this important mineral. 27
It is mainly found near Quetta. 28
The biggest Barites deposits are located near Khuzdar. According to an estimate, the total amount of reserve is over 30 tons. 29
- Gold and silver
Huge reserves of these two precious metals are found in Rikodik and Saindak areas of Chaghi.
Over 2.24 million ounces of gold and 2.49 million ounces of silver have been found from Saindak. 30
It is available almost in every mountain range of Balochistan. 31
xvii. Iron ore
The resource-rich area of Chaghi possesses huge reserves of iron ore. The total estimated reserves are 273 million tons. 32
xviii. Sand and gravel
Its reserves are immeasurable in Balochistan. 33
These data have been taken from official sources, so they might not be quite accurate. Also, as mentioned before, the list discussed above is limited to the Pakistan-occupied Balochistan.
The role of Balochistan in the region
Due to its long coastline and large reserves of energy generating resources, an independent Balochistan can be a source of prosperity and development in the region.
The geographical location of Balochistan allows three different but strategically important regions to connect with each other. It is situated at the junction of Central and Southern Asia and Middle East.
It is located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, outside the Strait of Hormuz, which is an important oil chokepoint in the world. The close location of Balochistan to the Indian Ocean too plays a crucial role for its significance, not only regionally but internationally. It is close to Central Asia and Middle East.
In addition, Balochistan provides the most efficient route to the resource-rich but land-locked Central Asian republics to the international market through sea.
Mr. Martin W. Lewis writes: “Balochistan is an impoverished region beleaguered by insurgency and ethnic strife. But it is rich in resources and it occupies an increasingly vital geo-strategic position.”34
But the current misutilization of its geo-strategic position threatens not only the peace and prosperity of Balochistan, but also that of the world.
Expansionist powers like China have strong desires to rule the world economically, militarily and politically. The resource-rich Balochistan is China’s strongest bait in the region.
China has been the main partner of Pakistan in plundering the Baloch resources for years, but the recent China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will enable China to utilize the Gwadar port not only as an economic corridor but as a strategic tool against global and the emerging regional powers.
As the largest manufacturing center, China desires to get access to the international market through the easiest and cheapest routes, and the CPEC will link it to Europe and the Caspian region on one hand and Middle East and South Asia on the other.
She can use the Strait of Malacca as the only maritime route to access Middle East, Africa and Europe. So the CPEC provides China with an alternative route in times of war.
China also strives to use the geographical location of Balochistan to achieve its expansionist goals, strengthening its influence on Central Asia and Middle East to emerge as a super power.
China will use the Gwadar port as a naval base to monitor and counter the naval activities of the USA and India in the Indian Ocean.
Such expansionist policies of China can lead to insecurity and destabilization in the region and the world.
1) Mir Gul Khan Naseer, Thareekh-e-Balochistan. Vol.2,. P.261-262
2) LT. COL. SYED KIQBAL AHMAD, Balochistan, ITS STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE. P.50
3) Farooq Baloch, Baloch aur unka watan, P.126 )
4) Ibid. P.126
5) Farooq Baloch, Baloch aur unka watan, P.109 )
6) I. BALUCH. THE PROBLEM OF GREATER BALUCHISTAN: A STUDY OF BALUCH NATIONALISM. P.20
7) Ibid. P.21
8) Ibid. P.21
9) Mir Ahmed Yar Khan Baloch, Tareekh-e-Baloch Qaum-o-Khawaneen-e-Baloch. P.45
10) I. BALUCH. THE PROBLEM OF GREATER BALUCHISTAN: A STUDY OF BALUCH NATIONALISM P.19
11) Edward Wakefield, Past Imperative: My Life In India, 1927-1947, P. 98
12) I. BALUCH. THE PROBLEM OF GREATER BALUCHISTAN: A STUDY OF BALUCH NATIONALISM. P.27
13) Farooq Baloch, Baloch Aur Unka Watan, P.147.
14) Balochistan: Conflicts and Players. PIPS. P.31
20) Farooq Baloch. Baloch Aur Unka Watan. P.141
23) Farooq Baloch. Baloch Aur Unka Watan. P.142
26)Pakistan: Conflict and Players. PIPS. P.31
27) Farooq Baloch. Baloch Aur Unka Watan. P.142-143
31) Farooq Baloch. Baloch Aur Unka Watan. P.145
34) Mr. Martin W. Lewis, GeoCurrent, May 20, 2011