The New Great Game introduced by Ahmed Rashid mainly refers to the Central Asian energy politics which has been played by some emerging powers since the 1990s. Due to its exceptional geostrategic and geo-economic position, Balochistan is highly likely to be the centre stage of another game called “Strategic Great Game” of some powers to dominate the regional sea trade, potential energy resources and robust markets of Central Asia and the Middle East. In this context, the unfolding alliances and counter-alliances led by China and India will trigger off both marvellous opportunities and serious challenges for Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular. All suggests massive and overall political, security and economic reforms in the poorly-governed province to yield rich dividends by adroitly escaping the existential threats and capitalising on the benefits instigated by the expected game.
Unlike the previous Great Game between the Czarist Russia and the imperialist British India, the unfolding Strategic Great Game is set to be fiercely played by two recently formed regional blocs: the Indo-Iranian-American bloc against the Sino-Pak bloc. The game could well menacingly ignite a new Cold War and a disruptive arms race around the already less integrated Asian continent with dire repercussions. India, with all-out American diplomatic, political and economic assistance, is bent upon nimbly outsmarting China by directly linking Chabahar port to Central Asia via war-torn Afghanistan. China, on the other hand, has confidently come up with $46 billion investment to upgrade Gwadar port, develop necessary oil and gas infrastructure in Pakistan in order to connect Gwadar port to Kashgar for importing energy resources and exporting finished Chinese goods. Pakistan is inclined to extend rail and road connectivity to Central Asia aimed at importing energy and earning revenues through transit facilities to the land-locked region.
Since the current regional politics is based on increasing divergences, thus there would be only a zero-sum-game rather than a win-win situation. Which bloc will carry the day by earning rich dividends will be only decided by the history, but the ongoing internal crises in Balochistan spotlight that the low insurgency-hit province will face some back-breaking challenges if the incumbent provincial government continues to delay requisite reforms in all sectors on war footings.
Both Pakistan and China will strive to modernise Balochistan in line with highly developed countries in the world. No doubt, the province will be equipped with the state of art infrastructure, industries, educational institutions and an effective security system. The question is: will the local people adequately benefit from these facilities to the maximum? Presumably, a fraction of the population composed of the affluent politician, landlords, industrialist and bureaucrats will be the real beneficiaries of the much-touted development and prosperity, though poor and powerless locals will also be provided with meagre opportunities in all field. As a resilient and hard-working nation, the people of Balochistan should accept the unfolding situation by bracing themselves with educational, economic and political tools for slow but steady space in the power corridors of the province. Only mudslinging and blame game have thus far backfired by leaving adverse impacts on the resource-rich province.
The Strategic Great Game will also instigate mounting and menacing security challenges for Balochistan. The province is already under a protracted, simmering and regionally-funded insurgency. After cleverly goading Iran to jump into its regional bandwagon, American has calibrated a grandiose strategy to place formidable hindrances before China aimed at slowing down Chinese’s initiatives of regional connectivity. The insurgency and militancy in Balochistan are being sponsored from the east and west so as to further complicate and exacerbate the security situations for willing Chinese corporations. Once Chinese companies commence development works, there would be organised and targeted bombings against the Chinese citizens in the province. Though the army has established a special division for security in Balochistan, without reforming the lethargic, ill-equipped and corruption-ridden provincial police, there will continue to be long-term security issues in the province.
Despite having robust political, economic, religious and defence ties, Iran has convincingly made valid the oft-cited notion that relations amongst states are governed just only by the interests of countries rather than anything else. After Kulbushan Yadav, Uzair Baloch and Mullah Akhtar Mansour incidents (read their Iranian connections against Pakistan and Balochistan), it is crystal clear that Iran will continue to foment insurgency, sectarianism, militancy and separatism in Balochistan under the direct tentacles and in complicit with some regional countries. Iran does not wish Gwadar port and the CPEC to undermine and outweigh its emerging Chabahar port and sanctions-hit economy. The world’s history is replete with such stories that how nations blatantly employed disruptive methods to attain their core national interests. Before Iran clandestinely harms us at an irreparable level, the government in Pakistan should come up with effectual counter strategies to safeguard Balochistan from the sabotaging attacks.
No one has questioned why American droned Mullah Akhtar Mansour in Balochistan. Uncle Sam is cleverly trying to penetrate Balochistan more and more. For Washington, Balochistan is a fertile ground to contain China by lending hands to non-state actors based in the province. Arguably, the communist state is thinking how to construct its rail and road connections from Gwadar to Kashgar, while the Pentagon is busy crafting policies on how to target Chinese in Balochistan. American spy agency, CIA, has a nasty and disrupting record of such destabilising missions aimed at targeting the rivals and enemies of Uncle Sam. It is welcoming that the army in Pakistan is also preparing itself from all directions to protect the CPEC.
The Strategic Great Game is a reality for which Pakistan and particularly Balochistan should brace themselves politically, economically and, above all, on the security front. Since China is our trusted ally, the regional powers must be stopped from turning their guns at the Chinese engineers and companies in Balochistan. To complement the security initiatives of the army, the politics in Balochistan must be reformed from all vices and made effective and competent to accept the unfolding regional game.
The writer edits The Asia Watch.