By Shubhranshu Suman and Ujjwal Pandey:
Since long India has refrained from mentioning Balochistan in its diplomatic parleys. However, this consuetude was broken on 15th of August, 2016. Just a day after Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit dedicated his country’s independence day to “Kashmir’s Azaadi”, PM Modi’s response has brought Balochistan to the centre of attention. Although PM’s speech has been praised by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Baloch nationalist leaders, it has also been blamed by the opposition parties, asking the government to end its knee-jerk policy with Pakistan. In the words of Mr Vikram Sood, ex-head of RAW, the mere reference was enough for all of Pakistan to go up in a rage. It will be interesting to track the future course that the government takes on Balochistan.
It has been India’s age-old policy to not-meddle in the internal matters of Pakistan. However, Brahumdagh Bugti, leader of the Baloch Republican Party, recently cited that India can intervene under the ambit of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine. India used a concept similar to R2P in the past to intervene in Bangladesh Liberation War, 1971 and Operation Poomalai, 1987.
But these interventions occurred long before R2P came to a commitment at the United Nations 2005 World Summit. Nevertheless, invoking R2P in its current framework remains the prerogative of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), with China, an all-weather friend of Pakistan, being its permanent member. This makes Indian intervention improbable. What also makes intervention highly unlikely is the geographical reality that India doesn’t share a contiguous border with Balochistan.
Although the previous governments have raised the issues of Gilgit-Baltistan and POK, Balochistan has found a rare mention in PM’s speech. The real intent, however, of this acknowledgement seems to address the strategic threat to India from Chinese involvement in Balochistan via China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
CPEC aims to connect China’s largest province, Xinjiang, with Pakistan’s Gwadar port in Balochistan via a network of roads and rails. India fears a potential Chinese naval base in Gwadar after completion of CPEC that may translate into Chinese maritime hegemony in the Indian Ocean.
These developments make derailment of CPEC imperative for India’s security needs. However, any Indian attempt to sabotage CPEC may have undesirable consequences. On one hand, it may call for an incursion by Chinese troops into Indian territories, as they did previously in Chumar area of Ladakh during President Xi Jinping’s visit or recently in Arunachal Pradesh in June.
On the other hand, it may attract disproportionate response from Pakistani army, who according to Rajiv Sikri, India’s former ambassador to Kazakhstan, have traditionally used the pretext of an imagined threat from India for their privileges and perks. This response may be an increase in cross-border infiltration in Kashmir; compounding the existing turmoil in the valley.
An Indian adventure in Balochistan may backfire. Take, for instance, the case of the US support to anti-communist rebels during the Soviet-Afghan war. The US supplied the rebels with funds and arms to force their enemies, the Soviets, to withdraw. But the unintended consequence was the creation of anti-American “Taliban”. A similar approach by India in Balochistan, like the East Pakistan intervention, may result in a civil war. It carries the danger of a domino effect across the entire region and spill over of militancy from Afghanistan. If that happens, the situation will not be possible to contain.
Indian governments since independence have been sensible to base foreign policies to suit India’s strategic interests; not succumbing to emotions or jingoism. India’s interests in its extended neighbourhood are to secure access to Iran and Central Asia for energy needs as well as to ensure the stability of a nuclear-armed Pakistan.
A full-fledged Indian support to Balochistan is unlikely to secure these interests as it may end up in the creation of an independent Balochistan; whose fate India would be unsure of – an Indian ally or a breeding ground for Jihadi groups conspiring against India. So any Indian intervention should aim at gaining greater autonomy for Balochistan within Pakistan’s federal framework rather than outright independence.
India should rather focus on engaging Pakistan without indulging in Balochistan. The long-term strategy should be to strengthen the civilian government vis-à-vis Pakistani army. One option that deserves greater attention is non-violent “compellence”: the use of state diplomatic, economic, and social resources to build and sustain international pressure on Pakistan to force changes in its behaviour.
The panic generated in Pakistan in September 2008 by an intended disruption by India in the flow of Chenab to fill Baglihar Dam suggests that water resource is an effective leverage against Pakistan. Therefore, policy initiatives like renegotiating Indus Waters Treaty should be taken. Moreover, efforts should be made by India to fully utilise the waters of the Eastern Rivers – Sutlej, Beas and Ravi, entitled to her under the existing terms of the treaty.
Excessive adventurism in Balochistan may lead to undesirable consequences. Hence, there is a need to rethink on the alternative geopolitical leverages against Pakistan rather than resorting to impulsive policies.