The American efforts to gain a permanent foothold in Balochistan and South Punjab by establishing Consulates in Quetta and Multan suffered a serious blow after the opposition from Pakistani security establishment, especially after the Raymond Davis and Abbottabad episodes. Reportedly, the Foreign Office denied the US to open these new Consulates. Meanwhile, US Ambassador Cameron Munter’s recent declaration that “Balochistan was very significant for the United States”, reveals the superpower’s intentions when viewed in the context of its obsession to open up the new Quetta Consulate.
In early 2010, US Ambassador Anne Patterson had cited two main reasons for the Quetta Consulate: To oversee the development activities carried out by the Americans in Balochistan, and ensure a close liaison with the Baloch people for speedy visa facility, instead of dealing with US Consulates in Karachi and Islamabad. Pakistanis, however, view these as a cover for greater sinister US designs in the province.
However, Ambassador Munter is not willing to give up so easily. He recently visited Quetta, where he met with Balochistan’s Chief Minister and Assembly Speaker to lobby for the Consulate, which was obviously not agreed to. The Baloch leaders, too, rejected the American suspicions about the presence of Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in the province, or Taliban intrusion from around Quetta into Afghanistan. Such narrative also points towards a US agenda of expanding the Afghan war into Balochistan.
The question is: Why is the US Consulate in Quetta considered to be against Pakistan’s security interests? Probably, because this would serve as a launching pad for greater American interference in Balochistan’s affairs to further American interests in the region. It is feared that US security personnel are likely to intensify their clandestine activities and further fuel the insurgency in the province in coordination with the RAW sponsored Baloch militant groups.
A recent media report quoting top level sources in our Foreign Ministry is significant: “In fact, we have received a lot of secret correspondence by security agencies about the CIA operatives’ involvement in a number of nefarious plots against Pakistan. This is the reason we refused them establishment of new consulates.”
The US has clear strategic interests in mineral-rich Balochistan, which provides a regional trade and energy corridor to Afghanistan and energy-rich Central Asian states. According to media reports, the US is eyeing a setup at Gwadar to watch over Chinese activities in the area. Therefore, its presence in Balochistan could threaten the security of strategic projects that are likely to take off in 2011 and 2012, including the Chinese sponsored second phase infrastructure development of Gwadar Port , construction of Pak-Iran gas pipeline, and the mega Reko Dik copper and gold mining facility, which do not converge with the Indo-US strategic interests in the region.
Nevertheless, America’s interest in the province’s division on linguistic and ethnic lines was reflected in a senior ANP leader’s recent statement suggesting carving out a ‘South Pakhtunkhwa’ province in Pashtun-dominated regions, which links with the long-term designs of Greater Pakhtunistan. Incidentally few months ago, Ambassador Munter had participated in a Pashtun tribal jirga in Quetta – an event that raised eyebrows in Islamabad. It seems that the Baloch leaders are conscious of such a conspiracy and have rejected any plan to break up the province.
In the article titled The Destabilisation of Pakistan dated May 12, 2011, Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall writes: “Following a familiar pattern, there are indications that the Baloch insurgency is being supported and abetted by Britain and the US. Washington favours the creation of a ‘Greater Balochistan’, which would integrate the Baloch areas of Pakistan with those of Iran and possibly the southern tip of Afghanistan, thereby leading to a process of political fracturing in both Iran and Pakistan. The US course consists in fomenting social, ethnic and factional divisions and political fragmentation, including the territorial breakup of Pakistan.”
USA’s interest in South Punjab through their newfound love for Sufism/Barelvism has led to the renovation of a few Sufi shrines. Ambassador Patterson had announced lavish grants for the conservation and restoration of three shrines (Hazrat Rajan Qattal in Uch Sharif, Hazrat Musa Pak Shaheed in Multan, and Hazrat Khawaja Ghulam Fareed in Rajanpur) in South Punjab under the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation. However, it is not known how much of these funds were actually used for the intended purpose. Munter, too, maintained the traditions of his predecessor when during his latest visit to Multan, he laid floral wreath at the shrine of Hazrat Shah Shams, and reassured US aid to restore the shrine in its original shape. Undoubtedly, America’s double game is clearly visible. While, on one the hand, they present themselves as supporters of Sufi Islam, on the other, the US Embassy in Islamabad organised the despicable first ever gay, lesbians, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) pride celebration ceremony and assured its Pakistani participants that Washington would continue to support their cause in the country.
Reportedly, after CIA’s failure in acquiring land in Dera Ghazi Khan, the next station of choice is obviously Multan. Thanks to the US funded mango processing project, the American ingress will be facilitated into the interior of South Punjab. We have also currently witnessed a coordinated US and UK effort to engage the leaders and influentials of South Punjab.
Some questions are: Is American support for Sufism designed to promote intersect hatred and divide in an already polarised religio-cultural environment in the Pakistani society? Or is the strategy to penetrate the shrines culture a cover to establish links with some banned religious/militant outfits to destabilise South Punjab? Do we see an American or British link with the sudden move for creating a Seraiki province by the ruling party? Are a few top gaddi nashins and power hungry opportunist politicians and waderas of the South Punjab falling into the American or British trap? Is this a conspiracy to unnerve and divide Punjab, and create hatred on linguistic and ethnic lines to weaken Pakistan? It is also essential that movement of foreign diplomats be monitored?
Indeed, new US Consulates in Quetta and Multan pose a threat to Pakistan’s security and our principled stand against their opening must not be compromised for short-term political gains and vested interests.