India”s Perspective On Balochistan

Posted on February 17, 2013 in GlobeScope

By Alok Panda:

Balochistan has remained in news for quite some time now but the problem and tense situation in the region is not new. The fallout of this situation also poses a risk to the already precarious political situation in South Asia especially between the hostile and nuke powered neighbors, India and Pakistan.

In this situation, let us explore a bit about the region and its importance in the political arena of South Asia. Balochistan as a region encompasses parts of Pakistan (of which it is the largest province with 44% of the total landmass of the country), Iran (as the province of Sistan and Baluchestan) and small parts of Afghanistan (mostly Nimroz and Helmand Province). The region is barren and rugged with a small population and is the least developed region of all the constituent countries. The people are mostly balochs with considerable populations of Pashtuns and Brahui people with a primarily tribal and nomadic lifestyle. Basic facilities including health, education and employment are minimal. However, there exist large proven reserves of exhaustible natural resources in the region such as natural gas, copper and gold thus holding a large economic stake to the already tattered economy of Pakistan.

The political conflict of Balochistan dates back to the era of the partition of India. Balochistan area was formed from the 4 princely states of Makran, Las bela, kalat and kharan. The conflict arose in the year 1948 among Baloch nationalists opposing the accession of Balochistan states to Pakistan. The absence of quality development in the area compounded by rampant poverty, illiteracy, lack of health services etc. in spite of being rich in natural resources further complicated the issue in the following years. The development of Sui gas field in the area and transport of the natural gas of Balochistan to other provinces of Pakistan, the mining leases of copper and gold to foreign companies by the government and the import of skilled labourers from other provinces particularly Punjab served as the major irritant in region against the Pakistani government. Add to it the gross human right violations of kidnappings, extortion etc. as pointed out by Amnesty International by Pakistani army shows the utter neglect the region has suffered.

The political fallout of the conflict for India in case of Balochistan is no less important. Pakistan has time and again accused India of fomenting trouble in the region by supplying funds and ammunition to the Baloch nationalists mostly through its embassies in Afghanistan. There is a more than usual amount of tension in the region with demands for increased autonomy to outright secession from the union.

However, Pakistan’s paranoia in this regard is understandable; although there appears little logic for the Indian republic to be waging a covert war against its neighbor in Balochistan. There is more than usual amount of insecurity in Pakistan against India as the very foundation of the state (via the famed two nation theory) has already lost its ground in the 1971 war and the later secession of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, from the union. However, there is a subtle difference in the secession of Bangladesh and the on-going struggle in Balochistan regarding Pakistan’s paranoia about India’s role. First and foremost is the absence of a common border; while India shared more than a 1000 km international border with East Pakistan there is no common border in the case of Balochistan.

This was the reason that the Indira Gandhi led government supported the pro Independence ‘Mukti Bahini’ owing to the huge pressure developed on the already fragile Indian economic state by the huge influx of refugees from the region. Furthermore, the military politics of the region have taken a drastic turn by going Uranium in ammunition; the possession of multiple nuclear warheads guarantee that waging a direct war is difficult, if not outright impossible; also the covert secret wars will have indirect army support from India. These reasons are strong enough to clarify the logic of Indian hand in destabilizing the territory of Pakistan, add to that the comparative clean image of the army in India as compared to the Pakistan army and ISI, who(the Pakistan army and ISI) put the blame for India’s involvement in the region. It gives little credence to the claim of Pakistani establishment. Moreover, India’s concern about eradication of poverty and corruption, economic growth etc. which are high on the agenda of India would leave little room to get into more trouble with Pakistan. Thus, the logic of an Indian hand in Balochistan would have few takers.

However, ensuring a peaceful South Asia is now more of a necessity than requirement and any new problems in the region particularly between India and Pakistan have to be addressed whether it is Kashmir or Balochistan for that matter. Although liberal Indian policies and restrain are welcome regarding Pakistan, more has to be done to save the economy and the democracy in the region. The current series of exchanges regarding the liberal Visa policies and the opening up of both the nations for a higher volume of trade and commerce is a welcome step although the recent border skirmishes and their impact reminds us how fragile this relationship could be. Whatever may be the scenario, more needs to be done and it becomes more important for India to keep engaged with its neighbors in contentious issues and clarify any misunderstandings.

A stable and economically sound Pakistan is a boon to India and to the world. So, let the good work in progress continue.