Long-ignored ethnic strife cuts off Pakistan's gas

A recent attack on pipelines by ethnic Baloch separatists underscores that Islamic militants are far from the only security threat in Pakistan.

By , Staff writer

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    Workers repair gas pipelines after they were blown up by unidentified men near the Punjabi town of Rahim Yar Khan, about 370 miles south of Islamabad, Pakistan, February 10, 2014.
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Millions of Pakistanis are suddenly without gas supplies after ethnic Baloch separatists blew up three pipelines from gas-rich Balochistan Province to the country’s most populous Punjab Province. The attack serves as a powerful reminder that the forces of entropy in Pakistan are not limited to Islamic militants and hostilities with neighboring nations.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, it was Pakistan’s ethnic divisions that kept some analysts up at night. An illuminating summary of those concerns can be found in this 2000 essay from Robert Kaplan, who has since restated his basic argument here: “Islamic ideology, like communism in Yugoslavia, has proved an insufficient glue to form a prideful national identity.”

Pakistan has long defied predictions of collapse, and I have argued against some of that alarmism in the recent past. But it is safe to say that ethnic separatism in the province with the richest resources has hampered Pakistan’s ability to exploit its mineral and gas wealth, as well as its aspirations to be a regional hub for energy pipelines coming from Iran and Central Asia.

Recommended: How much do you know about Pakistan? Take this quiz.

The state-owned gas company estimates it will take at least two days to fix the pipes. The Baloch Republican Army (BRA) has claimed responsibility for the attack, which was highly unusual for knocking out three pipes at once and doing so inside Punjab Province.

“Attacking the pipelines in Punjab is a very powerful symbol that you are attacking the seat of power,” says our correspondent in Karachi. “This attack has really registered the Baloch insurgents’ struggle on a national scale, which I don’t think any other attacks so far have been able to do in the same way.”

The BRA is seeking independence for Balochistan.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Frontier Markets.

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