Opinion

India right in flagging Baluchistan

G PARTHASARATHY | Updated on January 17, 2018

Sullen defiance: The might of the Pakistan Army against the Baluchis   -  Reuters

Pakistan’s excesses are linked to a larger game of controlling the region, along with China, for economic and strategic reasons

At the all-party meeting on August 13, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “There cannot be any compromise on national security, but we have to win the confidence of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.” He directly blamed Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism for fomenting unrest in the Kashmir Valley. Significantly, he added that Pakistan must be exposed globally for atrocities in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (including Gilgit-Baltistan) and in Baluchistan. It was inevitable that he would reiterate this during his address to the nation on Independence Day.

Quite obviously, the Prime Minister’s statements were carefully crafted after careful consideration of the geopolitical and regional situation, with particular focus on the internal and external challenges that Pakistan, the epicentre of global terrorism, now faces. These challenges do not arise from developments across Pakistan’s eastern borders with India, but on its western borders with Afghanistan and Iran.

History of suppression

Pakistan’s brutal suppression of the Baluch people has been a continuing feature since its birth. A former ruler had pointed out that Baluchistan historically held a status different from other princely states in British India. On August 4, 1947, Mohammed Ali Jinnah endorsed this view, saying: “Kalat will be independent on August 5, 1947, enjoying the same status it originally held in 1838, having friendly relations with its neighbours.” On the same day an agreement was signed, with Pakistan stating: “The Government of Pakistan agrees that Kalat is an independent State, being quite different in status from other States of India.”

It was through treachery, deceit and fraud that Pakistan seized control of Baluchistan. Baluch nationalists have since fought wars continuously with Pakistan — in 1948, 1958-1959, 1962-63 and 1973-74. The bloodiest conflict, which continues today, began in 2003. Thousands of Baluch youths have ‘disappeared’ after being taken into custody by the army. Legally, Pakistan’s claims of sovereignty over Baluchistan are questionable.

Fears that India will somehow get drawn into a quagmire by expressing solidarity with the Baluch are ridiculous as we do not share a border with Baluchistan. Baluch freedom fighters have traditionally received haven and support from their kith and kin living along the Baluchistan-Pakistan border and financial support from Baluch nationalists abroad. Moreover, while there are no controversies on Baluchistan’s borders with Afghanistan, the Afghans and Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line have never accepted the arbitrary demarcation between British India and Afghanistan drawn in 1893. The late Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a stalwart of our freedom struggle, insisted that he be buried in Jalalabad in Afghanistan, symbolising his rejection of the Durand Line. The seniormost Pashtun leader in Pakistan, Mehmood Khan Achakzai, recently asserted that historically the borders of the Pashtuns have extended up to Attock on the banks of the Indus.

Border unacceptable

Modi’s statement comes at a time when tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan are high, with the latter refusing to accept any fencing or gates to denote the Durand Line as the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. There have been shootouts between Afghan and Pakistani forces recently on this issue, as Afghans have opposed Pakistani moves to fence or otherwise seek to portray the Durand Line as an international border.

Tensions have only grown with the Pakistani army launching massive military operations against Pashtun tribals in the Khyber and North Waziristan Agencies, using fighter sir strikes. Over 1.5 million Pashtun tribals have been rendered homeless, with around 100,000 fleeing across the Durand Line into Afghanistan, vowing to return to their homes, and many ready to resort to the use of arms. The army and the Nawaz Sharif government are also at a loss as to how to deal with situation that has resulted from the reckless use of force against tribals in a disputed area. There are already allegations that R&AW and its Afghan counterpart the National Directorate of Security have joined hands to stoke the fires, both in Baluchistan and across the Durand Line.

These developments are now assuming international dimensions. The US has served a warning to Pakistan that it will not hesitate to repeat actions like those it took to eliminate the Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, with a drone attack in Baluchistan. The American military commander in Afghanistan, Gen John Nicholson, urged India to step up its military assistance to Afghanistan by supplying additional MI35 attack helicopters and spares for Soviet-era equipment with the Afghan army. Nicholson frankly stated: “We have seen the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s presence and operations in Afghanistan. Our goal is to prevent these groups (Haqqani Network, Taliban and LeT) from regaining sanctuaries.” He added that the LeT was born in the Kunar province of Afghanistan and that it has essentially been an ISI subsidiary for operations in India. While maintaining covert contacts with the Taliban, China has stepped in (unsuccessfully so far), to facilitate a deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government. China evidently believes that a Pakistan-supported, Taliban-led government will not support its oppressed Muslim minority in Xinjiang.

Chinese assistance irks

Baluchistan is strategically important for China, which has an interest in the province’s vast mineral resources of gold and copper in the Chagai district, where Pakistan conducted its 1998 nuclear tests. More importantly, China’s $46-billion One Belt One Road Project links Xinjiang province to the Pakistani port of Gwadar in Baluchistan, which is located astride India’s energy corridors, and the oil-rich Persian Gulf. There are growing indications that Gwadar will be a major hub of China-Pakistan maritime military cooperation. China has pledged to strengthen Pakistan’s navy with significant supplies of new submarines and frigates.

People in Baluchistan are infuriated by the massive Chinese assistance to Pakistan for projects in Baluchistan from which they derive virtually no benefit. Chinese engineers working on these projects have been attacked and killed. Baluchistan is set to become increasingly important strategically as an assertive China seeks to co-opt its ‘all-weather friend’ Pakistan to strengthen its military presence in the western part of the Indian Ocean. It would be disingenuous to pretend that what happens in Baluchistan is of no interest to India.

The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan

Published on August 24, 2016

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