By Meenakshi Iyer
If India’s facilitation in East Pakistan’s freedom struggle led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, it remains to be seen what India’s support to Balochistan – Pakistan’s disturbed south western province – might lead to.
The possibilities debated by policy enthusiasts range from helping the region gain autonomy, to setting up a Baloch government in exile – very much on the lines of Tibetan regime based in India’s mountainous region of Dharamsala.
As highly placed government sources remain tight lipped about their ‘game plan’, Balochistan begun to assert itself prominently in the Indo-Pak quagmire, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech, which rattled Pakistan.
But what hit harder were his remarks at the recent all-party meeting on Jammu & Kashmir, where he said: “Pakistan forgets that it bombs its own citizens using fighter planes. The time has come when Pakistan shall have to answer to the world for the atrocities committed by it against people in Balochistan and PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir).”
A red-faced worried Pakistan escalated its diplomatic lobbying on Kashmir by announcing to send 22 special envoys to various countries to highlight the “brutalities and human rights abuses committed by Indian forces” in Jammu and Kashmir.
Why is India forced to rake up Balochistan?
Over the years, India’s Balochistan policy has remained evasive with India hardly making a reference to the freedom struggle in the state. Despite Pakistan’s allegations, India has consistently denied any tacit support to the secessionist movement in Balochistan.
It is interesting to note that in 2014, India’s National Security Advisor Ajit K Doval had almost issued a threat to Pakistan when he said, “you do one more Mumbai (2008 attack), you lose Balochistan”.
Cross border terror and Kashmir have put India’s patience to test.
The “B” word made its way into Modi’s lexicon following the recent turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir, in which 72 people have been killed. New Delhi has steadfastly maintained that the unrest was being fanned from across the border.
Balochistan’s mention is a clear “expression of his (Modi’s) personal frustration at two years of fruitless effort at dialogue with Pakistan,” Rajesh Rajagopalan, professor of International Politics (JNU), writes in an article in Observer Research Foundation.
Pakistan has been consistently bringing up Kashmir on the international fora. The Islamic nation has even said that it is going to bring up human rights violation in Kashmir at the upcoming G20 summit. Pakistan has the audacity to question India’s human rights record in Kashmir without checking its own backyard. The USA based organisation, Human Rights Watch describes the atrocities in Balochistan as “having reached epidemic proportions”.
So by poking in our neighbour’s troubled province, Modi gave a clear message – you meddle in our internal affairs, we are not going to sit and watch. Tit-for-tat!
How the strategy works in India’s favour
A harsh stance on Balochistan will discourage Pakistan from taking a strident position on Kashmir and isolate the rival on global stage.
Also, according to Rajagopalan, “supporting the rebellion in Balochistan will help India in expanding its intelligence and covert action footprint within Pakistan”.
Pakistan needs energy-rich Balochistan more that the latter needs Pakistan. Now, with New Delhi being able to provide moral support to the Balochi separatists, the picture looks drab for India’s nuclear-armed rival.
Experts agree that any further unrest in the restive province could completely destabilise Pakistan and its geopolitical position. To begin with, the $46 billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project will take a sure shot hit.
Analysing strategically, an independent Balochistan would create a pro-India and a progressive Muslim country in the region.
Fallouts for India and the road ahead
If India bolsters its stand on Balochistan, it spells more trouble for Kashmir, Indo-Pak ties, and also the Balochis. There have been fears that following Modi’s move, Islamabad will intensify crackdown on the strategically-crucial province.
Of concern, The China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, an influential Chinese think tank , has warned India that Beijing will have “to get involved” if New Delhi “plots” to disrupt the CPEC project.
To contain China – Pakistan’s all-weather friend – India must keep its ties with the US in check.
On the other hand, India must build trust with China by holding frequent bilateral visits, which might just ensure Beijing softening its stance, if not whole-hearted cooperation. One good thing that has happened is that China seems to have distanced itself from the Kashmir situation, much to Pakistan’s disappointment. According to reports, Chinese state media has begun using the term “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir” rather than what was used earlier – “Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
While crafting a new narrative on Balochistan, India must not upset Iran and Afghanistan – the two allies, which play a critical role in our policy to surround Pakistan. The Balochis live in territory that is criss-crossed by the borders of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. The Baloch warlords, who seek independence from Pakistan, also want to liberate Sistan Balochistan from Iran. This is foreign policy walking on egg shells.
But in all this, Nuclear-armed India has to remind itself that it has a neighbour whose nuclear power rests in wrong hands. This means doom.
New Delhi should continue to internationalise the issue further to create more pressure on Islamabad but in the process, it should not end up using Balochistan as a pawn. The concern for human rights situation in the troubled province should be genuine, unlike Pakistan, which tries to wean away world’s attention from terror on its soil by bringing up Kashmir – all the time!