One of the most famous statements by Ajit Doval has been a warning to Pakistan daring them to do a Mumbai which will result in them losing Balochistan (with India’s help). Though, in an unlikely event of a Pakistan sponsored terror attack in India it will be immensely difficult for us to pull off secession from Pakistan, like it happened as Bangladesh, an otherwise direct threat to foment trouble in already the most troubled area of Pakistan is the need of the hour. However some questions remain; one – why has not India done it already, two – why have we not leveraged our ability to fan the unrest in the region to pull strings on Pakistan’s interference in Kashmir, three – Should we do it.
The recent arrest of an Indian man, supposedly named Kulbhushan Yadav in Balochistan has brought to fore various questions. The incident looks straight out of a movie. A RAW officer (ok, Navy officer) is summoned and asked to be a spy in Pakistan with the warning that in case he gets caught, he will be on his own. The officer immediately agrees for he loves his motherland and is ready to risk seeing his family again to supply intel. Unfortunately he gets caught by the enemies and our system decides as per the plan to dissociate from him. Or at least this is what Pakistan thought while arresting him.
Is the person a RAW spy? Definitely not, because circumstantial evidence do not point to the same. There is a very high possibility that this person, a business man, was singled out for his association with Indian Navy which he relinquished long back, was either lured inside Pakistani border or was arrested in Iran and then handed over to the Pakistani counterparts. Pakistan’s claims that he is still a RAW officer and was indulged in subversive activities inside Balochistan would give their claims of Indian interference in Baloch struggle for independence much needed credence. As Indian government immediately acknowledged his former association with Indian Navy, either as part of transparency in dealings or a classic I-know-that-you-know-that-I-know strategy has put the ball in Pakistan’s court to prove his activities were subversive. Some legitimate questions have been raised by media about the arrest such as why an agent from an enemy state would keep his own passport. Second, why would he enter through insurgency hit areas reaching Chaman when he would have easily taken the Kandahar route? Further it would be normal to have a former navy officer working/doing business at Chabahar port in Iran given the fact that a large number of Indians are working and stationed there.
Theories aside, it is important to know about Balochistan region and people a bit to answer the three questions we try to revolve around.
1) In 2nd century, the region was ruled by Hindu/Buddhists (Indo-Scythian/Saka) kings – namely Yolamira, Arjuna etc. By 9th century AD, it was completely islamicized.
2) Balochistan region/Baloch population encompasses three countries. Afghanistan where they are least troubled. Iran where the Sunni Muslim Balochs are systemically oppressed by Shia majority. Further, Baloch’s cry for independence has never gone down well with Tehran and it has always found excuses to persecute the Balochs – in the name of drug trafficking, terrorism, treachery etc. A strong reason for an Iranian capture of Yadav and subsequent transfer to Pakistan makes sense now. And the largest Baloch population is in Pakistan which is again oppressed, this time not for their sect but for their identity. And their fearlessness as independence seekers has brought upon all wreaths of the Punjabi majority which controls Pakistani Army. FYI, Punjabi influence in Pakistan is so strong that the Bangladesh war is seen more as a conflict between Muslim Punjabis and Muslim Bengalis.
3) Though Balochistan is rich in resources – minerals, oil and natural gas, much of their population is poor. There has been absolutely no development and the blame is also fixed on the local population. Unrest is cited as a lack of investment opportunities, while the locals claim it was deliberate that mainstream Pakistan kept them poor. Around 80% of the population is below poverty line.
4) Struggle for autonomy (if not independence) of Balochistan is not new. As Kanchan Gupta writes, ‘The Khan of Kalat, which comprised nearly all of Balochistan barring three minor principalities…were free…till Pakistan occupied it with force.’ There are reports that Nehru was asked for help before illegal occupation of Balochistan which he refused.
5) Many Balochs were abducted and killed in cold blood by Pakistani forces. Bloody, gory struggle for independence saw thousands of men getting killed overnight. Atrocities on them continued. Rapes, Murders were comparable to what Pakistan army did in Bangladesh in a failed bid to contain their revolt. This struggle is not new. Right from the time when British left India, Baloch leaders are demanding their rights – namely higher revenue for the resources extracted, better facilities in the mountainous terrain, greater development etc.
6) Gwadar port (in Pakistan), a port with high strategic importance in the region which competes with Chabahar (Iran) was handed over to the Chinese. This caused resentment in the Balochs recently for the loss of jobs and prosperity they had to face as everything in the process of development was imported – even the labor.
To talk of India’s position, we have historically stood out of the mess. Though accusations flew high from Pakistan naming India using Balochistan as a proxy to create unrest, it has always been denied by the Indian government. The stand changed, albeit unofficially for a while when Balochistan Liberation Organisation (BLO) leaders were stayed put in Delhi trying to touch base with Indian leadership last year. With Modi government at the helm, it was expected they take a new approach – something called offensive defensive – to keep Pakistan busy with Balochistan to divert their activities from Kashmir. Though highly anticipated, this approach was not formally adopted. A NSA level meeting was called off because the Pakistani establishment discussed with Hurriyats just before the meeting. We are still maintaining a position in which both states act responsibly, refrain from fanning unrest in each-other’s region and act together for a greater good. This policy might not have produced the desired results and the patience is running out from India’s point. There is an increased clamor to have Indian establishment connect with the rebel Balochs and extend the hitherto moral and political support that we have provided them to resource support – be it arms or tactics.
So the answer to why has not India interfered already in Balochistan is clear. A conspicuous refrain from interference will make us have upper hand in negotiations and can make us grab Pakistan by throat if they meddle with Kashmir (which they intermittently do). Such an irresponsible behavior has been propped up in International forums and Pakistan reprimanded by international bodies for creating trouble in their neighbouring state.
Second, if India decides to formally interfere in Balochistan and accept the fact, Pakistan will be helpless in Kashmir, if not for Chinese support.
This is a dream come true for Indians which has never been put in place fearing such adventures should not jeopardize our standing in international forums as a responsible state. Indian governments, time and again have been risk averse enough to not have tried anything adventurous risking their reputation.
Third and the most important – Should we change our stance and be more aggressive in Balochistan? Proponents are right with their own logic that it will give control to India in this proxy war activity to a lot of extent. Since human-right violations are extreme and real for the Balochs by the Pakistani Army, it does make sense for India to interfere, provide resources, at least monetary support overtly if not ammunition covertly. MQM – A political party for Muhajirs, which has the capacity to shake the roots of dominant Punjabi locals, has always been supported by RAW – unconfirmed reports have said. Whether we can accept the fact officially or not is to be seen. Opponents of this strategy have always preferred to have India as non-interfering at least in the medium term and watch. If Pakistan’s behavior does not improve, India’s support to the Baloch may extend beyond moral and political. In case of a civilian attack in India originating from Pakistani soil, it will be just to probably deviate from our stance and formally announce our stakes in Balochistan. Not that we should wait for and let such an unfortunate incident happen, but if it happens it will be the right time to formally announce our intentions.
Balochistan is indeed the weakest point in Pakistan using which we can catch them up by their throat and dictate terms. A joint retaliation by Pakistan-China will be troublesome though. Decades earlier when neither China was strong nor they had an association against India, we should have made strongholds in the region. In the name on non-interference we let go of an opportunity that would have deterred a lot of trouble in Kashmir that originates in Pakistan. As I write, we are sure Indian government have their cards in place, though not showing, and will change strategy in due time if Pakistan remains irresponsible and incorrigible. But, an unprovoked slapdash activism by India in Balochistan is something that is not required right now as it might weaken our international standing.