Balochistan Convergence in Pakistan-Iran Relations

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2022 witnessed the intense negotiations between Pakistan and Iran on the topic of border security and regional peace. The most remarkable meeting that took place in this context was the meeting which was happened between Pakistani and Iranian delegations on July 20, 2022 in order to ensure border security and the sustainability of the regional peace environment. The main issue that makes this meeting important is the adoption of a decision that prioritizes the regional development and mutual dependency to be established through the establishment of trade centers in the border regions.[i]

Undoubtedly, when the border security of the two countries is mentioned, the geography of Balochistan comes to mind. Because Balochistan is the name of the geography located on the Iran-Pakistan border and constituting the most underdeveloped regions of both states. Baluch people live in Balochistan Province on the Pakistani side of the border and live as a part of Sistan-Baluchestan Province in Iran. In this sense, Baluch people think that they are in a productive area in terms of maritime trade, considering Pakistan’s Gwadar and Iran’s Chabahar Ports, which are located in the geographies they live in. This means that the Balochs did not fall behind economically and this situation leads them to think that they are left behind due to consciously applied state policies. The situation in question increases the political awareness of the Baluch and causes separatist Baluch movements to be seen in both countries. Moreover, a significant part of these separatist movements internalized the method of armed struggle. That’s why they commit acts of terrorism.

Although the two countries have a common problem, separatist movements in Balochistan often bring Islamabad and Tehran face to face. Because Pakistan and Iran, as two bordering countries, experience cooperation and competition processes together. First of all, the fact that Pakistan is a Sunni-Islamic country and has close relations with Saudi Arabia creates some discomfort in Tehran. On the other hand, in the context of Iran’s sectarianist strategy, which can be described as Shiite expansionism, its contacts with Pakistani Shiites deepen the threat perceptions of the Islamabad administration. Especially, the fact that the Tehran administration mobilized the Zaynebiyyun Brigade, which consists of Pakistani Shiites, in religious and ideological terms, and use it to fight in the Syrian Civil War as a proxy warrior, in line with the argument of protecting the holy places, created serious discomfort in Pakistani decision makers. Because there is no guarantee that this group will not be used as a proxy actor in Pakistan in the future for Iran’s interests.

As it is known, Pakistan is a country where sectarianist violence is high and attacks against Shiites are at the forefront. Claiming to be the protector of all Shiites in this environment, Iran is not uninterested to Pakistani Shiites. This causes the tension between the parties to escalate from time to time.

However, it is claimed that both states use separatist Baluch organizations against each other from time to time cyclically and tactically. As a matter of fact, it is remembered that after various terrorist attacks, Iranian authorities made statements accusing Islamabad and also Pakistani officials made statements accusing Tehran. However, the establishment of the Baluch state on one side of the border is a situation that the other actor would not want because of the encouraging effect it will create. For this reason, even if the claim that the parties used separatist Baluch organizations against each other in counter-cyclical and tactical terms in some periods is true; the two countries are need each other in terms of establishing border security and maintaining their territorial integrity in this context.

It is obvious that Baloch separatism in Pakistan has increased recently. It is possible to say that especially the actors who want to destabilize the Belt-Road Project Initiative support the separatist Baluch organizations. Moreover, it is not just Pakistan; Iran is also part of the Belt-Road Project. This comes to the forefront as an issue that will make it inevitable for the instability on one side of the border to spread to the other state.

The Balochistan Problem and, in this context, the terrorism problem in Pakistan deepened even more after the withdrawal of the United States of America (USA) from Afghanistan. It is undeniable that there is Baluch groups which are turning the power vacuum in the region into an opportunity and using the unclaimed weapons in Afghanistan. This is a source of concern for both Pakistan and Iran. That’s why, the two countries feel there is need to take some measures aimed at border security and regional stability.

The decision to establish trade centers in the border regions, which was taken after the contacts made in line with the need, came to the fore both as a pragmatic solution fed by the idea of increasing the stability and economic prosperity of the region, and came to the fore as a method to push the controversial issues into the background by deepening the interdependence relationship between the two countries.

Increasing regional prosperity and on the Iran-Pakistan line of Balochistan; therefore, becoming a trade center in the South Asia-Middle East connection can eliminate the thought that the Baluches are left behind and improve their belonging to the countries they live in. Therefore, the contacts on the Islamabad-Tehran line resulted in a plan aimed at limiting separatist movements by emphasizing economic cooperation in the establishment of regional security. For this reason, it is possible to say that all actors have adopted a rational and pragmatic policy for the current situation.

As a result, Pakistan and Iran experience cooperation and competition processes together with the effect of being two bordering countries. Although the differences in the religious-ideological positions of the two states affect their geopolitical preferences by highlighting the differences of opinion between the parties, the sense of regional insecurity also necessitates the development of cooperation processes between Islamabad and Tehran. In this sense, the Balochistan Problem can also be described as a joint problem of the two states. Moreover, the problem becomes more evident with each passing day due to the intense targeting of the Belt-Road Project route by terrorist organizations in parallel with the increasing competition between the USA and China and poses a national security threat to the relevant countries due to the risk of separation. This makes it mandatory for Pakistan and Iran to cooperate in the context of border security. Time will tell whether the pragmatic solution put forward by the parties will be successful.

[i] “Pak-Iran Delegation Discuss Regional Peace, Border Security Issues”, Urdu Point,, (Date of Accession: 27.07.2022).

Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN, 2014 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2017 yılında Giresun Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu ‘’Uluslararası Güç İlişkileri Bağlamında İkinci Dünya Savaşı Sonrası Hegemonik Mücadelelerin İncelenmesi’’ başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Doktora derecesini ise 2021 yılında Trakya Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı‘nda hazırladığı “İmparatorluk Düşüncesinin İran Dış Politikasına Yansımaları ve Milliyetçilik” başlıklı teziyle alan Başaran’ın başlıca çalışma alanları Uluslararası ilişkiler kuramları, Amerikan dış politikası, İran araştırmaları ve Afganistan çalışmalarıdır. Başaran iyi derecede İngilizce ve temel düzeyde Farsça bilmektedir.