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Support for the Baloch Insurgency: Right-wing or Left-wing?

Submitted by on May 18, 2011 – 9:45 pm 14 Comments |  
Ralph Peters Alternative Map of the Middle EastA recent (May 14) discussion thread in GeoCurrents takes on the one-dimensional left/right political spectrum. Jim Wilson perceptively notes that he “always like[s] watching political commentators trying to decide whether those who want to roll back the reforms of Deng Xiaoping are the right wing or the left wing of the Chinese Communist Party.” Another instance in which it can be difficult to distinguish left from right is the debate over the role of the United States in the Balochistan conflict. Several recent articles exemplify the difficulties involved.

The first case in point is a recent article by Tony Cartalucci, entitled “US Government is Behind the Baluchi Insurrection.” Cartalucci blames the United States, along with oil companies, international financial firms, and “corporate-financier funded NGOs,” for inciting violence in Baluchistan. The nefarious goals of such intervention, Cartalucci argues, are to partition Pakistan, to “hobble the development” of India, Iran, and China, to weaken Asia more generally, and thereby to secure the US-led “international system.” His conclusion is extreme:

For those wondering why America is attempting to escalate tensions in Pakistan over the “Bin Laden” hoax instead of using it as an excuse to leave the region, the Balkanization of Pakistan and the permanent disruption of Pakistan’s, Iran’s, and China’s development is your answer. It isn’t a matter of if, it is now only a matter of how big the insurrection can be grown.

On the face of it, Cartalucci’s article might seem to be on the far left of the political spectrum. The periodical in which it is published, Salem-News, carries article with such provocative titles as “Military Rape: (SOP) Standard Operating Proceedure.” On further examination, however, the situation is not so simple. Cartalucci, it turns out, traffics with the far right, working with Liberty News Radio, which features the infamous White-supremacist show, The Political Cesspool. Just below a recent Cartalucci piece on the LNR website is an article claiming that “Martin Bormann, the man who signed Hitler’s paycheck was a Soviet i.e. Illuminati agent.” Perhaps, in the end, Cartalucci is simply an extremist; as the French saying puts it, “les extremes se touchent” (“the extremes meet”).

A seemingly more conventional left-wing take on Balochistan is found in a recent Michael Hughes essay in the Huffington Post. Hughes comes down on the United States almost as hard as Cartalucci does, finding it complicit in the slaughter of 10,000 Pakistanis. His premises, however, are effectively the opposite of Cartalucci’s. In his perspective, the US has unconscionably sided with the vile Pakistani government against the “brave and noble” freedom fighters of Baluchistan. As Hughes puts it:

The Pakistani state has misused billions in U.S. military aid (belied by its harboring of the world’s most wanted terrorist) and has used U.S. military hardware—including F-16s, Cobra helicopters and CIA listening devices—to oppress the Baloch people on a daily basis, an oppression that features emotionally torturous tactics such as what the Baloch refer to by the literal euphemism “kill and dump” along with enforced disappearances at a clip that rivals Pinochet’s Chile…

Yet Michael Hughes presents his own admixture of left and right; he not only advocates the independence of Baluchistan, but calls openly for the “Balkanization” of Pakistan. He would like to see Sindh and Punjab become independent countries and the Pashtun areas of Pakistan appended to Afghanistan. Proposing such a division of a sovereign state is by no means common on the left. Most advocates of Pakistani partition are conservative, and most leftists would probably regard the idea as a “divide and rule” neo-imperial ploy.

Hughes begins his article with a nod toward seasoned journalist/scholar/ statesman Selig Harrison, who has been writing on Balochistan since the 1970s. Harrison is not easy to peg, either. Most of his positions, such as favoring normalization with North Korea, would be considered left-of-center. He does seek to enhance U.S. security, however, and one of his recent articles on Balochistan appears in a conservative journal, The National Interest. Yet even here his arguments begin on the left. In regard to Pakistan, he wants to end drone attacks and military subsidies while maintaining development support and the flow of IMF funds. Harrison would also like to increase market access in the US for Pakistani exporters. But in the end, Harrison too calls for the division of the country. His reasoning here hinges on US national security:

Most important, [the United States] should aid the 6 million Baluch insurgents fighting for independence from Pakistan in the face of growing ISI repression. Pakistan has given China a base at Gwadar in the heart of Baluch territory. So an independent Baluchistan would serve U.S. strategic interests in addition to the immediate goal of countering Islamist forces.

Such a position is difficult to square with Harrison’s other recommendations, which focus on calming the relationship between the Washington and Islamabad. From the Pakistani perspective, drone strikes are minor irritants compared to the possible secession of Baluchistan.

By advocating the break-up of Pakistan, Harrison and especially Hughes move into the territory of the right-wing strategist Ralph Peters, whose 2006 article “Blood Borders: How a Better Middle East Would Look” contemplates the wholesale rearrangement of the region’s geopolitical order. (I have reproduced Peters’ map here, adding the outline of Pakistan; see the previous GeoCurrents post for a longer discussion.) The publication of “Blood Borders” provoked outrage from Pakistan to Turkey, as many local commentators assumed that it represented a secret US plan for dismembering their countries to enhance American and Israeli power.

Regardless of Harrison and Hughes’ ideological proclivities and political bedfellows, their portrayal of the Baloch insurgency should be taken on its own terms. Both authors find the rebellion essentially secular, arguing that its success would help counter radical Islamism. Such a depiction may fit the Pakistani side of the border, but not the Iranian side. And even in Pakistan, some skepticism is warranted. Hughes views the Baloch people uncritically, claiming that they form “a society that believes in a traditional nonviolent version of Islam” and that “respect[s] the natural rights of each individual.” Such an appraisal may be a tad naïve. Baloch culture is usually described as deeply hierarchical, highly conservative, and suspicious of individual rights, especially where women are concerned. So-called honor killings are relatively common. In a particularly infamous 2008 case, five Baloch women—including three teenagers—were tortured and then buried alive for the “crime” of attempting to marry men of their own choosing.

Map of a Partitioned PakistanThe desire to dissect Pakistan, by the way, is not limited to Baluchi insurgents and American political writers. The view is probably most widespread in India. The most extreme partition scheme is the one seen on this map, which also divides Afghanistan. I have not traced the map’s provenance, but I can only assume that it is Indian. Note that the author’s rump Pakistan would not even include south Punjab.

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  • I’m not sure how someone writing in the liberal right Huffington Post can be considered “left”. It’s not Truthout or even Counterpunch.

    But whatever. I can tell you that the Basque Nationalist Left seems to support an independent Baloch state, as the newspaper of that current, Gara, has repeatedly featured interviews with Baloch independentist leaders explaining their grievances and their process to self-determination. As in the case of Libya or Kurdistan, what matters is not where Washington stands (which is not even clear, as Pakistan is a loyal vassal of the Empire) but what is the right thing to do, the democratic way.

    Also it’s clear that Pakistan is a nonsense state, being based only on religion, it has a very weak base and it’s mostly an abhorrence of History, just like Belgium (but bigger).

    However the Peters’ map is awful too. Because it is clearly designed against Arab national unity legitimate aspirations. How can anyone be calling for the partition of Pakistan, Iran and Turkey into nation-states and then stand in the way of the creation of an Arab nation-state?

    Obviously Peter’s map is a Zionist map. That’s where the problem is.

  • From a European perspective, the Huffington Post might be considered “liberal right,” but in the more conservative US political environment it is considered left-of-center.

    The problem with “Arab national unity legitimate aspirations,” as with all such aspirations, is that they tend to vary tremendously among different sectors of the population. Arab nationalism was a politically potent movement several generations ago, but today it seems like a largely spent force. And even in earlier times, different people had different ideas about what an Arab “national state” would look like. Today, the growing Salafiyya movement utterly rejects the concept of the nation-state, and elsewhere support for an expansive “Arab nation-state” seems fairly slim. I have not, however, seen public opinion polling on the issue, which would be highly useful.

    As far as ” what is the right thing to do,” all I can say is that such issues are beyond the scope of GeoCurrents. The purpose of this blog is to highlight the complexity of global geopolitics and related issues, not to offer political prescriptions, or even to come down on one side or another of any issue. Not that I object to taking such stances, and I am happy to do so elsewhere, but in GeoCurrents I strive to be as agnostic as possible. Thus in regard to something like the Peters’ map, I am fully willing to report that it has generated outrage in the region, as that is undeniable. I am also willing to accept it is widely viewed as a Zionist map. But I am not interested in labeling it as such myself, as I do not find such blanket categorization useful. And I would also note that Peters maps Israel within its 1967 borders, marking the West Bank as “status undermined.” (Gaza does not appear, but that might be because it is simply too small.) Few Israelis, or Americans for that matter, would regard such mapping as strongly Zionist. Perhaps Peters’ is merely hiding his true beliefs here, but I do think that the map should be analyzed on its own terms.

  • Jim Wilson

    The question of whether the “Huffington Post” is leftist is just another (hilarious to me) example of the uselessness of the term. Sometimes I find it more useful to ask if the writer has a primordialist view of “nations,” which probably explains much about the Basque stance. I just came across an interesting website called that is quite consistent in its primordialism. Often, though, a writer will have some other idee fixe (the US is always evil, the EU is always evil, national governments are always evil, etc.) and will change his or her understanding of what constitutes a “nation” depending on what conforms to their idee fixe at the moment.

  • Many thanks to Jim Wilson for bringing Nationalia to my attention, which does indeed look interesting. Jim also makes an important point about primordialism. Often the matter boils down to which issue trumps all others in a person’s mind. My advisor in graduate school (UC Berkeley in the 1980s) was Bernard Nietschmann, an extreme primordialist who championed all “stateless nations” (as he called them). Initially Nietschmann was regarded quite favorably by the leftist community of Berkeley. Then came the Sandinista attacks on the Miskito Indians of eastern Nicaragua. Nietschman had done extensive fieldwork among the Miskito, and he immediately took their side, denouncing the “imperialism” of the Marxist Sandinista regime. He was immediately expelled from the left, denounced as a CIA stooge and subject to intense abuse as a turn-coat. Yet his own position had not changed at all. To Nietschmann, indigenous rights trumped all other, whereas to his adversaries on the left, support for Marxist revolution trumped all else. Nietschmann was also willing to put himself on the line: my first college teaching experience came when he did not return one fall from his summer field session in Nicaragua, and his TAs were asked to take over his classes. Rumor had it that he was engaged in gun-running, and perhaps he was — I never asked.

    On a personal note, I abandoned primordialism after my own fieldwork in the highlands of northern Luzon in the Philippines. A sizable majority of the people in the village in which I lived absolutely rejected the ethnic nationalism of the Cordilleran People’s Liberation Front, which supposedly spoke on their behalf. The situation, I discovered, was for more complicated than what I had been led to expect from my graduate training. Ever since, I have focused on exploring the complexity of such issue rather than trying to determine which side is right or wrong.

  • Jim Wilson

    I had a professor of Hungarian history at IU, Ignac Romsics, who always spoke hopefully about former Yugoslavia, as if the setting of the ideal, true, ethnic border for a nation-state would end all conflicts. We students remained rather skeptical about the stability of national identity and took great joy in pointing out tinier and tinier possible national units–would it be necessary to have an independent state for the Novi Sad Hungarians, for the Szentendre Serbs, for the Csangok of Moldavia? He was always wonderfully patient, but I’m sure he dismissed us as typically obscurantist American grad students.

  • In regard to Jim Wilson’s comment, it does often seem that ethno-national identities have a kind a fractal quality, in which the same patterns reappear as one moves down to more local scales of analysis. What seem like monolithic groups often break into mutually suspicious aggregations when one looks closely.

  • Nauman Shaukat

    How cheap thinking??????????

    Shame on your really bad work………………………………………..

  • S Alibukharipk

    Who is this mother fffffff. This is our mother land do not dare.

  • nice article sir !!!

    • Momin

      Munafiq bhai, people like you will cause harm not others.

      • This remark is really uncalled for. More such comments will be erased on sight.

  • neroden

    “Left” and “Right” are terms from the French Revolution.

    Right == Monarchist.
    Left == Democrat.

    Accordingly none of these are “left” or “right” questions. The question becomes one of whether the independent ethnic government will be more autocratic and dictatorial than the old big government, or more democratic and participatory. This determines which is “right” and which is “left”.

    • Indeed, the roots of the “right” and “left” are in the French Revolution: I believe that this is how they were seated in the French senate? Maybe I got that wrong… Anyway, although the origins are indeed in monarchist vs. democrat distinction (although there’s probably different ways to characterize even that French Revolutionary contrast), but since then the terms have changed the meaning (or meanings?). There’s hardly any supporters of monarchy in the US but people still use the term “right-wing” to mean a certain ideological agenda… Similarly, no monarchists in Israel, and yet there’s a clear “right-wing” there. I would even think that in places like Russia, where there are certain monarchist-leaning folks, the term “right-wing” now means something completely different (like Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s LDPR, which is not monarchist at all):


    In your dreams, what a human brain can predict, I can also make so many names of one country, but the dream of yours will remain dream.