Tariq Saeedi in Ashgabat
With Sergi Pyatakov in Moscow, Ali Nasimzadeh in Zahidan, Qasim Jan in Kandahar and S M Kasi in Quetta
Additional reporting by Rupa Kival in New Delhi and Mark Davidson in Washington
These were some of the questions that we took to Misha and Sasha and here is the explanation they gave. Their answers came in bits and pieces but we have reconstructed their replies in the form of one coherent interview:
Question: What was the purpose of Russian invasion of Afghanistan?
Misha: The Soviet Union was not in love with Afghanistan itself and by now everyone must have understood it. We, or at least our leaders, wanted a convenient corridor to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean — the idea was to first establish full control in Kabul and from there to raise the double-bogey of Pakhtunistan and Greater Balochistan and try to detach at least a part of Balochistan from Pakistan and to either merge it as a new province of Afghanistan or to create a new country that should be under the firm control of Moscow. That would have solved most of the problems facing Kremlin.
Question: When you helped create BLA back in the 1980s, what objectives did you have in mind?
Sasha and Misha: It was simply an instrument to create problems in Pakistan. There were no ideological reasons; it was merely a pragmatic solution for a strategic problem.
Question: Who could have revived BLA after so many years of inactivity?
Misha: Most likely, Pentagon. With good lot of support from Kremlin. You should keep in mind that reviving such an organization is a tricky task and it needs active support from a number of players. Pentagon and Kremlin would not be able to do much without some help from RAW that has hundreds of active contacts all over Balochistan. Russia could have helped negotiate the involvement of Balach Marri in the project.
Sasha: RAW must have jumped at the chance because last July the ‘discretionary grants’ budget [a euphemism for espionage fund] was increased by 700% in the Indian consulates in Kandahar, Jalalabad and Zahidan.
Misha: Yes, discretionary grants are not subject to central audit and the station chief can do what he wants with it.
Sasha: Balch possibly came to head the revived BLA through Russian facilitation but you cannot say the same for Serdar Ataullah Mengal. He returned from his self imposed exile in London and established his headquarters in Kohlu. Was it a mere coincidence? I don’t think so. In all probability, he is the American man to keep a check on Balach because Americans can never fully trust Russians.
Question: From your comments it appears that Balach and Mengal are heading the resurrected BLA and the BLA has been revived by the Americans and Russians to create trouble in Balochistan but could you give us any coherent reasons for going to such great lengths for disturbing Pakistan that is supposed to be a frontline ally of the United States on its war against terrorism?
Misha and Sasha: [Misha laughed so hard that tears came to his eyes while Sasha merely kept smiling in an absentminded way] ‘Frontline’ ally? Are you kidding? Americans are using Pakistan and Pakistanis would soon find it out if they have not already. Americans don’t need that kind of allies and they have made it abundantly clear for anyone who can read their policy goals correctly. Let them deal with Iran and you would see. If there can be any desirable American ally in that region, that is Iran – Iran under a different regime, and they are working to that end. Except for Balochistan, the rest of Pakistan is useless for them.
Question: It is still not clear from your answer as to what do the Pentagon and Kremlin hope to achieve by stirring trouble in Balochistan?
Sasha: Americans have two long-term policy objectives in that region: First, create a safe and reliable route to take all the energy resources of Central Asia to the continental United States, and second, to contain China.
Misha: Balochistan offers the shortest distance between the Indian Ocean and the Central Asia, that is to say, shortest distance outside of the Gulf. The moment the conditions are ripe, Americans would like to take all the oil and gas of Central Asia to Gawadar or Pasni and from there to the United States.
Question: If the Americans are interested in creating safe channel for shipping energy resources through Balochistan, why would they encourage trouble there?
Misha: That is for now. By inciting trouble, they would effectively discourage Trans-Afghan Pipeline or any other project that is intended for sending Central Asian resources to South Asia. They are not interested in strengthening the South Asian economies by allowing them to obtain sensibly priced oil and gas. They would be more interested in taking all they can to their own country and let everyone else starve if that is the choice.
Sasha: The Americans would also like to discourage China from entering into more development projects in Balochistan than it already has. By developing the port and roads in Balochistan, China is ultimately helping itself by creating a convenient conduit for commerce that would connect China concurrently with Central Asia, South Asia, and all-weather Balochistan ports. The space is limited – where China gains, America loses; and where America gains, China loses.
Questions: OK. This sounds plausible. But what interest could Russia have in helping Pentagon in this trouble-Balochistan project?
Sasha: Russia has its own policy goals and as far as the present phase of creating trouble in Balochistan is concerned, American and Russian goals are not in conflict with each other. Russia wants to maintain its monopoly over all the energy resources of Central Asia. At present, the Central Asian countries are dependent entirely on Russia for export of their gas to any sizeable markets. If Trans-Afghan or any other project succeeds, it would open the floodgates of exodus. Central Asian countries would understandably rush to the market that pays 100% in cash and pays better price than Russia. It is therefore very clear that by keeping Balochistan red hot, Russia can hope to discourage Trans-Afghan pipeline or any other similar projects. Russian economy in its present form is based on the monopoly of Gazprom and if Gazprom goes under, so will the Russian economy at some stage.
Question: So far, there is some in sense what you have said but how would explain Indian involvement in the Balochistan revolt?
Sasha: India has its own perceived or real objectives. For instance, India would go to great lengths to prevent Pakistan from developing a direct trade and transportation route with Central Asia because it would undermine the North-South corridor that goes through Iran. Also, while the acute shortage of energy may have compelled India to extend limited cooperation to Pakistan, the preferable project from Indian point of view still remains the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.
Misha: Moreover, you cannot ignore the fact that India is preparing to use Afghanistan as its main artery system to connect with Central Asia and it would not allow Pakistan to share this sphere if it can.
Question: What about Iran? Why should Iran be a party to it?
Misha: Iran has incurred great expenses to develop Chah Bahar, the port that is supposed to be the Iranian answer to Pakistani ports of Gawadar and Pasni. Iran has also done lot of work to create excellent road link between Herat and Chah Bahar. All this would go to waste if Pakistani route comes on line because it is shorter and offers quick commuting possibilities between Central Asia and Indian Ocean.
Sasha: At the same time you need to allow certain margin of unreliability when dealing with Iran. You cannot be sure whether they mean what they are saying and you cannot be sure whether they would keep their promises. They do what suits them best and to hell with any commitments. I am sorry but that is how I judge Iran.
Question: While both of you have given some explanation of American, Russian, Iranian and Indian involvement in Balochistan, what is the role of Afghanistan?
Sasha: There are many influential circles in Afghanistan that are deadly opposed to Pakistan for one reason or the other. While Afghanistan as a country may not be harbouring any ill will against Pakistan, it is difficult to rule out the possibility that some power circles would not be inclined to damage Pakistan wherever they can. It is clear from the recent developments that as India, Iran and Afghanistan have made great strides to form some kind of economic, trade and transportation alliance, all efforts have been made to exclude Pakistan from any such deal.
Question: While BLA is being used by a number of power players for their own objectives, does it have any potential, even as a byproduct, to serve the cause of Baloch people?
Misha and Sasha: BLA is not the only fish in the pond. There is Baloch Ittehad and there is PONAM and there is lots of small fry out there. But none of them can be expected to do any good to the Balochi people because the command this time is mostly in the hands of Baloch serdars and they have no past record of bringing any benefit to their own people. If anything, they are known to sell their own people down the river.
[Misha thumbed through a dog-eared file and read]
- Serdar Mehrulla Marri sold all mineral and petroleum rights of Khatan region to the British government in 1885 for a paltry sum of Rs. 200 per month. There was no time limit to this agreement – it was, as they say, in perpetuity.
- In 1861, Jam of Bela allowed the British government to put a telegraph line through his territory, thus helping substantially the British government in consolidating its control over large areas of Balochistan. He received less than Rs. 900 per month for this disservice to his own people and took the responsibility to safeguard the telegraph line.
- In 1883, the Khan of Kalat sold the Quetta district and adjoining territories to the British government. This was an outright sale. The agreement that was signed in Dasht, included the provision that the heirs and successors of Khan of Kalat would also be bound by the same agreement. He received annual grant of Rs. 25000 for selling the most attractive part of Balochistan to the British government.
- In the same year, the British government paid Rs. 5500 to the Bugti serdar for his cooperation although it was not specified as to what kind of cooperation he extended to the British government.
- While the Baloch serdars were enthusiastically selling Balochistan to the British government, there was no support to the idea of Pakistan whereas the ordinary Balochs gave full approval for Pakistan. Any positive development in Balochistan would go against the interests of Serdars and only a fool would expect them to do anything for the good of their people.
- Bear in mind that Marri and Mengal Serdars first stood up against the Pakistan government when the law was passed to abolish Serdari system in Balochistan to free the ordinary Balochs from the clutches of their tribal leaders.
Question: The way the things are progressing in Balochistan, what could be the likely outcome?
Misha: If no strong action is taken for another few months, the result could be bifurcation of Pakistan.
Question: Is that the only likely outcome?
Misha: No. In fact, that is the farthest possible scenario but that could eventually happen if Pakistan fails to assess, analyze and address the situation quickly. For example, I have yet to see any Pakistani effort to contact the ordinary Balochs. They are still trying to woo the same Serdars who are living on the blackmail money since the creation of Pakistan.
Sasha: I am surprised at the way Pakistan goes about tackling this problem. During my few years in Afghanistan when I was engaged with Balochistan, I found that while Baloch Serdars would sell their loyalties and anything else at the drop of a hat, ordinary Balochs are stupidly patriotic. They are hard to buy and harder to manipulate. If I were a Pakistan government functionary, I would gather enough ordinary, educated Balochs to counter the Serdar influence and deflate this whole insurgency balloon.
Question: Both of you were, let’s say, among the developers of the original BLA. Do you find any differences between the original and the present BLA?
Misha and Sasha: Plenty. Original BLA was mostly led by the young people and Baloch Serdars had very little to do with it but the present BLA is concentrated in the hands of Serdars.
The present movement in Balochistan, led by BLA, PONAM and Baloch Ittehad is a mismatched concoction of ancient and modern.
They are trying to run a modern media campaign but there are crucial gaps in that effort. Ours were different times and we could do without media support. They have created a list of Pakistani journalists who are supposed to be sympathetic to any move against the government and they are feeding them daily a mixture of truth and lies, a practice that has been perfected by the Pentagon.
They managed to bring some Baloch women in Dera Bugti but the results would be little if they cannot repeat the performance in most other areas of Balochistan.
They have built their campaign around a single incident – the Sui gang-rape – and if the government is smart enough, it would hang the real culprits and ask the victim of the rape to announce publicly that she was satisfied with the justice meted out to the criminals and that would take all the wind out of the sails of the BLA campaign. A real hard campaign needs to be built around much broader and hard to solve issues.
Question: Hypothetically speaking, if the Pakistan government asked your advice, what would you suggest?
Sasha: The options are few. They should abolish Serdari system immediately and crack down powerfully on the private armies. As far as I know, the constitution of Pakistan does not allow Serdari system and private armies and there would be no legal questions if those laws are implemented with the full help of state power.
Misha: They should involve broadest possible range of ordinary Balochs in the dialogue. The can find enough educated youth in Marri and Mengal tribes to match the influence of tribal leaders. They should also allow the fragments of Bugti tribe to return to their ancestral lands and that would be enough to calm down the ageing and eccentric Bugti who pretends to be the leader of that tribe.
Sasha: Pakistan government should hasten the development process in the province because it would open job opportunities and that would allow the escape hatch to ordinary Balochs to distance themselves from their leaders.
Misha: They should try to cut down the sources and channels of supply of arms and cash to insurgents.
[This report is our Archive Material, first published in March 2005]