The reference to Balochistan in the India-Pakistan joint statement at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit at Sharm el Sheikh has not only left the opposition in Parliament furious, but also senior officials in the security establishment shaking their heads in bewilderment.
“I can’t understand why they agreed to it,” was how one senior officer reacted, referring to the Indian delegation. “Why did they have to open that door? This will simply give encouragement to the Pakistanis to try and drag us down on one more issue at every forum,” he says, adding, “Our behavior might be an open book, but that doesn’t mean we allow them an opportunity to twist it into something else. They’ll use this to give credence to their claims and try and get our consulates in Afghanistan closed down. That’s what they’re insecure about. Balochistan is just an excuse. It has nothing to do with us.”
Pakistan has accused India of fomenting trouble in the province for decades and especially during the Pakistani military crackdown on the province in the 1970s after Pakistan’s defeat by India in 1971, which led to the liberation of Bangladesh.
Dr. D. Suba Chandran, Deputy Director of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies in Delhi, considers the Pakistani claims far-fetched. “If India or any other country were actually facilitating any insurgency in Balochistan the situation would be far worse for Pakistan. There’s barely any political movement or militia there. There’s virtually no propagation of ‘Balochi insurgency’ in mass media, besides a few websites. They don’t even have those ‘bogus’ newspapers that are supposed to propagate the legitimacy and credibility of such causes. The Balochistan Liberation Army is also over-rated, considering it has barely any capacity in terms of weapons and explosives to carry out an insurgency. They have no foreign support and barely any monetary support.”
He also compares the ‘insurgency’ in Balochistan with those faced by India. “Look at the northeast. There’s clear evidence of these non-state actors being supported by state actors from the way insurgencies have been fueled there. In Balochistan, there’s a clear absence of the involvement of any state actor,” he says, adding, “If it wants, a state actor can actually create serious trouble for Pakistan in Balochistan.”
“Even during the Pakistani crackdown in Balochistan in 2005 and 2006 India did nothing more than express concern at the situation in Balochistan, mainly because the composite dialogue was underway at that time and India didn’t want to rock the boat,” he explains.
“I doubt there’s any state actor involved in Balochistan,” he reiterates. “Iran, for instance, would have no interest in fueling a Baloch insurgency, especially since it has a sizable Baloch minority on its side of the border too. In fact, they’ve been building concrete barriers on their border with Pakistan to prevent smuggling.” Even in the 70s, the Shah of Iran had contributed military support to Pakistan in its suppression of the Baloch insurgency, as has been written about by Owen Bennett-Jones in his book Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.
Dr. Suba Chandran explains the Pakistani concern over Balochistan. “There is a genuine belief in Pakistan that India is behind the trouble in Balochistan, just like people there also think the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is being propped up by India and Israel,” he says.
In fact, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Geelani has already tried to turn the reference to Balochistan in the joint statement to his advantage, blaming India for ‘interference’ in Balochistan and ‘other areas’.
“This is a cheap strategy employed by Geelani,” says Dr. Suba Chandran. “It will be counter productive in the long term if he does this. It also shows the level of maturity on both sides and if Geelani tries to use this reference for narrow political purposes, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be compelled to deal with Pakistan accordingly,” he warns, while admitting, “The reference in the joint statement could have been phrased better. In fact we should have said that peace in Balochistan is in India’s interest.”
He also agrees that Pakistani apprehensions about Indian influence in Afghanistan are likely at play here. “It’s the big Pakistani fear. They are insecure about the presence of Indian consulates in Afghanistan. Naturally any Indian influence – especially expanding Indian influence will undermine Pakistani influence. There is a great paranoia about this in Pakistan.”