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Iran, not China, comes to the rescue of power-starved Balochistan 

Iran to supply power to Balochistan

Iran is ready to provide gas facilities to Pakistan in a bid to resolve Pakistan’s energy problems. The South Asian country is facing an energy crisis and came out of a debilitating two-day nationwide power crisis just this week.

The Iranian Consul-General in Quetta, Balochistan, Hassan Darvaish told Quetta-based journalists on Wednesday that his country plans to start direct flights between Balochistan capital Quetta and Tehran soon. He added that an Iranian company is ready to start the flights which would give a boost to tourism and the economy.

Separately in the port city Gwadar, which faces a massive shortage of water and power, Iran plans to provide an extra 100 MW of power. Gwadar is important for Pakistan as the port is being built by China under its China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

The shortage of basic necessities has made the people of Gwadar revolt against the Pakistani authorities. People had staged mass protests in 2021 against both China and Pakistan which were finally broken up after an agreement. However, as the promises were not all fulfilled, the people once again held protests in November 2022 which were broken up after two months through force and arrests.

Director-General of the Gwadar Development Authority (GDA), Mujeeb ur Rehman Qambrani said that additional power supply from Iran will allow the government to provide 24 hours power supply to Gwadar which will help in promoting business and industry. Pakistan hopes to connect Gwadar to the national grid for the first time by importing Iranian electricity for which it is constructing additional transmission lines.

Despite the strategic importance of Gwadar for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Pakistan has not been able to set-up basic facilities. Almost all the power comes through Iran while the local people have to buy water through tankers. Even fuel in Balochistan is brought by local people across the border, often illegally, from Iran.

Sunni Pakistan and Shia Iran have a uneasy relations despite  sectarian problems. Islamabad has often alleged in the past couple of years that Iran has been supporting the Baloch insurgency. On the other hand, Tehran has said that Pakistani agencies have been instigating Sunni violence inside its territory.

The Pakistan-Iran border, also called the Goldsmith Line, divides the Baloch community into two. Despite Pakistani forces on the border and the presence of a fence, the Baloch people continue to maintain family relations across the porous border. A considerable amount of trade across the Pakistan-Iran border is done to be able to meet the basic needs of the impoverished Baloch community in Pakistan.

Earlier this week Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had met Iranian Foreign Minister Hussain Amir Abdullahian at the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to discuss free trade agreement and strengthening trade and commerce.

The two nations have set a trade target of $5 billion for this year.