Jingoism on Balochistan is Not in India’s Interest: Manish Tewari
(Photo: Hardeep Singh/ <b>The Quint</b>)
(Photo: Hardeep Singh/ The Quint)

Jingoism on Balochistan is Not in India’s Interest: Manish Tewari

The Prime Minister’s reference to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), the Shia Muslim-dominated areas of Gilgit and Baltistan and the troubled province of Balochistan in his independence day address from the ramparts of the Red Fort was perhaps the most explicit admission that his Pakistan policy or the lack of it lies in absolute tatters.

In the last twenty-six months, the NDA/BJP government’s approach towards Pakistan has swung from the sublime to the ridiculous. It would be worthwhile recapping the trajectory of this non-strategy. In the flush of victory the Prime Minister invited the heads of SAARC nations and beyond for his coronation on 26 May 2014. Barely had the invite reached Islamabad that the Indian consulate in Herat, Afghanistan was attacked by ISI sponsored Lashkar-e-Toiba militants on 23 May, a fact confirmed by none other than the then Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Rather than withdrawing the invite, the Indian Prime Minister designate and his acolytes pulled out every stop to ensure Nawaz Sharif’s presence at the crowning of the freshly minted Tsar of South Asia.

Modi’s Flawed Pakistan Policy

After a round of jhappi-pappis (hugs and kisses) the Modi government decided to try out their brand of muscular diplomacy. Just before the scheduled Foreign Secretary-level talks in August 2014 in New Delhi, the Indian establishment drew a line in the sand declaring that the Pakistani High Commissioner cannot invite the Hurriyat leadership to tea at his residence during the talks, a practice that every prime minister from Narasimha Rao onwards had wisely ignored.

Unprecedented firing succeeded the cancellation of the talks across the international border and the line of control, something not witnessed in the previous ten years.

While the official boycott of Pakistan was still on, Narendra Bhai Damodardas Modi ostensibly met Nawaz Sharif surreptitiously on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in Kathmandu in November 2014, a meeting allegedly brokered by a steel oligarch. What transpired at the meeting no one knows but the stalemate continued for another six months.

Suddenly on the sidelines of another multilateral meeting in Ufa in Russia in July 2015, Modi and Nawaz Sharif had a highly visible photo-op and issued a joint statement that they would talk about terror. For the Pakistanis this was a major coup because for ten long years the BJP had kept parroting that terror and talks couldn’t go hand in hand. In a complete reversal of that position now they signed a joint proclamation that they would talk about terror.

Once the Pakistanis got what they wanted, they promptly went back on the joint statement and even before the ink had dried, tossed it into the dustbin of history. What followed was an ugly match of cross-border verbal kabbadi between the Indian foreign minister and her Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz. Pakistan supplemented the verbal assault with a terror attack in Gurdaspur in Punjab, a state that had been free from the scourge of terrorism for over two decades since 1995.

The Pakistani Joint Investigation Team   to probe the January 2 Pathankot terror attack after visiting Bamial border in Pathankot on 29 March, 2016. (Photo: IANS)
The Pakistani Joint Investigation Team to probe the January 2 Pathankot terror attack after visiting Bamial border in Pathankot on 29 March, 2016. (Photo: IANS)

Flip-Flops Continue

Another clandestine meeting in Bangkok in November 2015 between the Indian NSA Ajit Doval and his newly minted counterpart in Pakistan, General Janjua succeeded the disastrous Ufa summit. No details of this interaction were ever made public, unprecedented in a functional democracy like India.

On 25 December 2015 news broke at noon that Prime Minister Modi had decided to visit Lahore on his way back from Afghanistan. Given the tumultuous relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan, this was a diplomatic blunder that is strictly avoidable. It is like going to Bejing from Tokyo given the history between the two Asian neighbours, a mistake that Pranab Mukherjee made way back in 2006 as defence minister.

Why did Prime Minister Modi decide to go to Lahore? Was it for confabulations, attend Nawaz Sharif’s granddaughter’s wedding festivities or to sample the fare in Anarkali Bazar no one knows. No details were ever made public of what transpired.

The deep state in Pakistan reciprocated the visit by launching another attack at the Pathankot airbase in Punjab. After much hand-wringing by India, in another tactical folly they permitted a Pakistani investigation team to visit Pathankot to see the evidence that the attackers were Pakistanis. The Pakistani joint investigation team that had officers from the rogue ISI on it promptly went back and rubbished the Pathankot terror attack as an attempt by the Indians to tar Pakistan with a black brush. The Pakistanis did not allow a reciprocal visit by the Indian investigation agencies to conclusively nail the credentials of the Pakistani terrorists neutralised in the attack.

Being Manipulated by Pakistan

In the midst of all this, the foreign minister travelled to Islamabad for the Heart of Asia Conference, the home minister went to Pakistan for the SAARC ministerial meetings but on no substantive issue did the needle of dialogue between the two countries move even a millimetre.

What became increasingly clear to the evil ogre called the Pakistani establishment was that they were dealing with a bunch of amateurs in South Block and they could run in circles around them at will.

This frustration at being played by the Pakistanis for a song finally found articulation in the prime minister’s Independence Day articulation. The Pakistani generals and their civilian factotums have been past masters at this game. They have made a monkey out of the Americans and their allies by taking their billions yet sheltering the likes of Osama bin Laden. They have skilfully manipulated the Chinese to the extent of getting them to provide illicit nuclear and missile technology in the 90s and now persuading them to underwrite the cost of developing Pakistan’s infrastructure in the form of $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

However, it is worth examining as to how tenable prime minister’s jingoism is? Is the dismemberment of Pakistan in India’s interest? The answer is no.

Let us presume that Pakistan riven by its internal contradictions and the centrifugal tendencies at play disintegrates on its own without even an iota of encouragement from India and a million Muslim refugees land up at Wagah. What will India do, given that the scars of partition are still deeply etched in the psyche of Indian Punjab?

Stable Pakistan in India’s Interest

You do not have to look further than Afghanistan to discern as to what strife in that country has done to Pakistan. Consider for that matter the West’s stupidity in trying to re-open the status quo of the Sykes-Picot agreement post the dismemberment of the Ottoman empire and its impact on Europe. Therefore, howsoever unpalatable it may sound and un-pulp-patriotic it may be it is in India’s interests to have a stable, integrated Pakistan.

Given the fact that Prime Minister Modi may not agree with this proposition and may want to play hard ball with Pakistan, is the return of Pakistani Occupied Kashmir, the Northern areas of Gilgit and Baltistan or even the independence of Balochistan feasible without an internal upsurge in the foreseeable future?

Drawing Parallels between PoK and Balochistan

It is true that both the Northern Areas and PoK were a part of erstwhile state of J&K acceded to India in entirety by Maharaja Hari Singh on 26 October 1947. However, it is equally factual that even in 1947-48, Gilgit was the only part of the erstwhile princely state that was not contested for recapture by the Indian surface forces.

The much-quoted 1994 resolution of the Indian parliament that the only unfinished business of partition is the return of PoK also has a context to it. The US point person on South Asia at that time Robin Raphel and by extension her then boss President Bill Clinton were questioning the accession of J&K to India and giving us much grief at international fora including the United Nations Human Rights Commission. It was in those circumstances the resolution was adopted and please remember it was before the 1998 nuclear tests that froze the power balance in South Asia into perpetuity.

Similarly the tragedy of Balochistan is a continuing one since 1947 when the erstwhile state of Kalat (much of modern Balochistan) was forcibly annexed by the Pakistani armed forces. The battle for liberation has been raging unremittingly in that province for decades now. The atrocities of the Pakistani Army, their kill and dump squads have been documented not only by Baloch nationalists but by the international community as well.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation on the 70th Independence Day from the ramparts of Red Fort, in Delhi, 15 August, 2016. (Photo: IANS/PIB)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation on the 70th Independence Day from the ramparts of Red Fort, in Delhi, 15 August, 2016. (Photo: IANS/PIB)

Modi is not Vajpayee

In 2009, at Sharm-el-Sheikh, when a reference to Balochistan albeit at Pakistan’s instance was included in the joint statement that would have given India an opportunity to expose the perfidy of Pakistan, the BJP screamed blue murder alleging that Dr Manmohan Singh had acquiesced to the Pakistani insinuation that India interferes in its internal affairs. The UPA government unfortunately also balked and did not precipitate matters, which the Baloch struggle deserved.

However, in the last two years did Prime Minister Modi, his NSA or his myriad ministers ever raise this issue with their Pakistani interlocutors? The answer is ‘No’. If they were so chary about interference into the internal affairs of other nations then how does the prime minister’s bombast square with that. Is India now going to extend moral, material or tactical support to the Baloch struggle? Have the Afghan and Iranian concerns been factored into this equation?

Drawing parallels between the liberation of Bangladesh and Balochistan is completely asinine. The independence of Bangladesh was a brilliantly executed politico-military strategy by a leadership of a completely different caliber. India despite the 1962 Chinese debacle and the 1965 stalemate with Pakistan enjoyed superiority in conventional terms in 1971 and the Mukti Bahini had played its own role too.

Vajpayee was not unpatriotic when he went to Minar-e -Pakistan at Lahore in 1998 and recognised the existence of Pakistan. He realised that the nuclear equation had transformed the region. Dr Manmohan Singh was equally committed to India. Yet, he tried to explore with President Pervez Musharraf as to how to make borders between the two nations irrelevant in 2007.

Dr Farooq Abdullah is more Indian than most, yet he has consistently maintained that the geographical de-facto between the two countries must be turned into a de jure. That is the only solution.


Need a Substantive Pakistan Policy

  • An unstable Pakistan, with a spate of insurgencies can be problematic for India as the fallout would be beyond Delhi’s control.
  • While UPA had acknowledged the Baloch problem way back in 2009, it’s surprising that BJP is raking up the issue now when it’s in power.
  • Not fair to compare Balochsitan’s insurgency with the freedom struggle for Bangladesh, the latter being result of a well-executed politico-military plan.
  • Modi government instead of whipping up jingoism for a target audience should instead devise a substantial Pakistan policy.
  • It seems that the South Block is being controlled by a set of amateurs who are giving Pakistan a leeway on crucial bilateral issues.

Whipping Up Jingoism

Prime Minister Modi either does not want to see reality or all this chest thumping is for mere domestic consumption. He wants to use the Pakistani card to both raise chauvinistic fervour and also to polarise on religious grounds by insinuating and yet not saying that Muslims whether on this side or that side are unreliable.

It is high time he and his government realises that they are dealing with a bunch of extremely malevolent characters across the border who may want to test him on his rhetoric through their proxies and non-state actors again and yet again for they have detected not a chink but a hole in the armour.

In the meanwhile, what happens to the relationship between the two countries. The best-case scenario is no war but no peace. This is the price India continues to unfortunately pay for living in a bad neighbourhood.  Can this change? Can a punitive cost be imposed on Pakistan for exporting terror? The answer is yes but for that you require the calibrated use of a range of diplomatic and deniable options. Breast-beating xenophobia is no fix.

(The writer is a lawyer and a former Union Minister in the government of India. Views are personal. He can be reached at @ManishTewari)

Also read:

Modi’s Balochistan Barb Highlights Pakistan’s Apathy of Decades

What’s the Cost of Changing the Narrative on Balochistan?

Indian Intervention May Make or Break Baloch Nationalist Movement

(The Quint is now available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

Follow our Opinion section for more stories.

    Also Watch