Baluchistan, a region long associated with instability and armed conflict, straddles the borders of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan is home to the largest number of Baluch, at 5 million, and the largest province of Baluchistan, at 43 percent of the country’s land mass. In Iran, the Baluch, who are mainly Sunni Muslims, share the province of Sistan and Baluchistan with ethnically different Persians and Sistanis, who are mainly Shi‘i Muslims. There are Shi‘i Baluch, as well, living in Makran, as the southernmost part of the province is known, especially in a region called Bazman. The province comprises 11.5 percent of Iranian land and has around 2.5 million inhabitants, around 4 percent of the national population.
While the US “war on terror” in Afghanistan and areas in bordering Pakistan occupies the imagination of millions in the West, the simmering conflict in the Pakistani province of Balochistan (Baluchistan) an its disastrous effects on the civilian population evade the radar of popular media. In 2005, when Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, threatened Baloch insurgents with such violence that “you won’t even know what hit you,” hardly anyone outside Pakistan noticed. Soon, the Pakistani military launched a “shock and awe” campaign, involving helicopter gunships, fighter jets, heavy artillery and machine guns, against Baloch nationalists demanding greater political autonomy from the federal government.
Amin Maalouf, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (London: Al Saqi Books, 1984).
Maalouf’s reconstruction of the Crusades (“Frankish invasions”) as seen by Arab historians and chroniclers is a fascinating and instructive narrative of that bitter conflict. He concludes his account with a reflective epilogue on the lasting impact of the Crusades on Arab culture and identity. Maalouf’s depiction is fluent and vivid, sensitive to the temper of the combatants and to the ironic details of the private lives behind the public facade. Unfortunately, his narration is rarely tainted by social and economic facts.