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Backfoot on Balochistan

Backfoot on Balochistan

Author: Chandan Mitra
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: August 4, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/193516/Backfoot-on-Balochistan.html

Almost every Indian Prime Minister (barring Charan Singh, Chandra Shekhar and Mr HD Deve Gowda) has been possessed by a desire to be ranked in the league of world statesmen. It is said the Chinese aggression of 1962 shattered Jawaharlal Nehru in more ways than one, not the least being the evaporation of his hope of getting the Nobel Peace Prize. His daughter was unlikely to have ever entertained such hopes, but her achievement in dismembering Pakistan to create Bangladesh undoubtedly ranks as India's greatest military-diplomatic achievement. She did not go down in history as a great peacenik, but the country still salutes her for the unflinching commitment with which she pursued the national interest in international matters although not at home. But most of her successors, including Rajiv Gandhi, have sought to resolve the Partition's bitter legacy - a hostile neighbour on the west. They have periodically appeared to make breakthroughs, none of which lasted beyond a few years.

Perhaps the boldest initiative was taken by the BJP-led Government when Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed to an impromptu summit with then Pakistani President, Gen Pervez Musharraf, at Agra in 2001, shortly after grandly launching the Delhi-Lahore bus service in the company of Mr Nawaz Sharif. Mr Vajpayee persisted in his efforts, making a historic trip to Lahore in the concluding months of his tenure, putting the ISI-sponsored attack on Parliament behind him. He extracted a solemn commitment from Gen Musharraf not to allow Pakistani territory to be used for terrorist activities against India, a promise broken before the ink could dry on the statement. Mr Manmohan Singh went out of his way soon after assuming office, conducted more bus diplomacy, talked of borders becoming irrelevant and tried in many other ways to placate the Pakistani Establishment. His efforts were met with a series of ISI-masterminded terrorist outrages in India, the most dramatic being the gruesome attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008.

It is in this background the alarming wording of the Indo-Pak joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh last month needs to be examined. What has baffled experts and laymen alike is the series of concessions made to Pakistan without getting anything in return. The two points that have rightly come under scrutiny are the de-linking of cross-border terrorism from the normalisation of relations, including resumption of the composite dialogue, and, second, the stupefying reference to Balochistan implicitly equating India with Pakistan in promoting terrorism in each other's territory. Arguably, the statement refers to Balochistan as a matter of concern for Pakistan and the Government is right in claiming it was a unilateral reference inserted into the document at Pakistan's insistence without any acknowledgement or comment by India. However, the Government's subsequent attempts to dilute the serious implications of that insertion could hardly hide Pakistan's unrestrained jubilation at having trapped India to concede the unthinkable.

Islamabad has never offered concrete evidence of India's alleged involvement in efforts to destabilise Pakistan by promoting separatist movements in that country. However, it has been consistently claimed in the Pakistani media as well as official statements that Indian intelligence agencies (read R&AW) have instigated separatist forces particularly in Sindh and Balochistan - two provinces that continue to chafe under Islamabad's Punjabi-dominated yoke. Apart from offering periodic lip sympathy to ramshackle Sindhi groups, this so-called involvement never acquired any serious dimension. Pakistan's focus thus shifted to Balochistan where it is busy conducting a brutal campaign of repression against disgruntled indigenous people. This campaign reached a gory climax two years ago when Islamabad launched a full-scale military campaign against Baloch leaders resulting in the killing of the region's most respected tribal leader Khan Mohammad Bugti.

There is no doubt that there exists widespread disaffection in Balochistan whose residents have consistently opposed the rampant exploitation of the province's natural resources, especially vast reserves of gas, without passing on its economic benefits to the local people. Pakistan has also been steadily militarising the region with Chinese assistance, acting as a surrogate for Beijing's commercial and military expansionism. The construction of a gigantic port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea coast, not far from the Iranian border, is adequate proof of Pakistan's determination to eliminate the last vestiges of indigenous resistance.

Faced with sharp criticism at home, the Government has come up with a series of incredible explanations for the inclusion of Balochistan in the joint statement - ranging from "bad drafting" to "mere diplomatic paper of no legal consequence" and the latest "we have nothing to hide". Not only are these defensive arguments contradictory, the Government is also guilty of misleading the country on the implications of the supine surrender at Sharm. Pakistan's hyperactive diplomatic spin-doctors have over the years successfully put India in the dock over Kashmir. At various points of time, world opinion has asked India to agree to a plebiscite, questioned the validity of the State's accession, urged demilitarisation of Jammu & Kashmir, pilloried India's allegedly adverse human rights record and put New Delhi into acute discomfort. In other words, a substantial section of international opinion believes India has a questionable case on Kashmir, even if it doesn't go the whole way to concur with Pakistan's claim that India is forcibly occupying most of the erstwhile princely State, which is why the "will of the Kashmiri people" must be taken into account in resolving the issue, periodic elections to the State Assembly notwithstanding.

Following the Balochistan reference, the Pakistani Establishment has gone into overdrive by planting stories in the media that a dossier detailing India's 'mischief' has been handed over to the Prime Minister. Mr Manmohan Singh categorically denied having personally received any such file, but that still does not eliminate the possibility that Pakistan passed on a fictitious list of Indian activities in Balochistan through diplomatic channels. We now have to only wait for selective leak of its contents by Islamabad. The impact of this transparent skulduggery leaves little to imagination. It is a matter of time before Pakistan portrays India as a destabilising and terror-sponsoring state in South Asia in addition to 'forcibly occupying' Jammu & Kashmir.

The Prime Minister said in Parliament that the only alternative to dialogue is war. This was a crude attempt to cower India into acquiescing in the huge political blunder committed at Sharm el-Sheikh. Nobody opposes dialogue, nor does anybody want war. But the point is what kind of dialogue. Are we going to spend the next few years strenuously denying our alleged role in Balochistan while Pakistan jubilantly pursues its agenda in Kashmir and paints India into a corner before world opinion? Was it mere "bad drafting" Mr Singh? Did you not read the joint statement before it was issued? Or did you succumb to pressure, possibly from Washington? Either way, Mr Manmohan Singh has a lot to explain. No wonder even Ms Sonia Gandhi is not fully convinced and skipped referring to the Baloch booboo while defending the Prime Minister's Lok Sabha statement. She can afford to ignore it, but can the people of India?

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