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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Pepe Escobar: The shadow war in Balochistan

Just when Iran and Pakistan had reached a key Pipelineistan breakthrough, regional violence exploded involving, once again, "the greatest prize" Balochistan (Please see Balochistan is the greatest prize, May 9, 2009, Asia Times Online.) The key question to ask is, as usual, cui bono?, or "Who profits?" What's behind this new, bloody intersection of Pipelineistan and the former "global war on terror" - a key theme US President Barack Obama would not dare touch in his Cairo address on Thursday to the "Muslim world"? On May 22 in Tehran , Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad finally signed a preliminary agreement, after 14 long years of negotiations, to build the Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline, formerly the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI), or "peace pipeline". (The final deal should, in theory, be sealed in less than two weeks.) The decision brazenly defied Washington's diktat. (Please see Pipelineistan goes Iran-Pak, May 29, 2009, Asia Times Online.)

On May 28 in Zahedan, in Sistan-Balochistan province in Iran, the Pakistan-based, hardcore Sunni, ultra-anti-Shi'ite outfit Jundallah ("Soldiers of God") claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing inside the Amir al-Momenin mosque that killed 25 people and wounded 125. The timing and the circumstances could not be more suspicious. Tehran simply cannot understand how Islamabad could not contain Jundallah after it has been offered key, on-the-ground intelligence. Tehran had told the Pakistani ambassador, M B Abbasi, that three Pakistanis - Haji Noti Zehi, Gholam Rasoul Zehi and Zabihollah Naroui - had confessed to smuggling explosives into Iran from Balochistan and passing them over to the suicide bomber. The trio was subsequently hanged in public in Zahedan on May 30.
Both Washington and Islamabad have tended to ignore Jundallah's anti-Iran activities. Well, not really, because under the George W Bush-era Jundallah was co-opted by US intelligence for regime change purposes in Iran. As for the Pakistani angle, will the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) finally move against Jundallah, as it seems to be moving against Baitullah Mehsud's Taliban? In principle, this should be a no-brainer; according to the Fars News Agency, the chief of the Iranian Armed Forces, General Hassan Firouzabadi, informed Islamabad of Rigi's exact location.

How better to apply Petraeus' tactics than to expand these teams into destabilizing Iran and preventing Iran and Pakistan from closer integration via a key Pipelineistan node - an integration that also benefits China? That is achievable with a Balochistan mired in chaos. From the Pentagon's point of view, China profiting from the Baloch port of Gwadar to be supplied with Iranian gas is anathema. Islamabad may not be allowed by Washington to take out Jundallah after all. Shadowplay rules.


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