Balochistan in India’s Pakistan policy: Time to up the ante

India’s Pakistan policy
India’s Pakistan policy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi would have endeared him to the ‘hawks’ in the Indian foreign policy establishment as he came out openly in support of “freedom” for Pakistan’s restive border province of Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied (administered) Kashmir (PoK). “I want to speak a bit about the people in Balochistan, GilgitBaltistan (GB), and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir,” he had said. Earlier in the week at an all-party meeting on Kashmir, Modi had remarked that it was time for Islamabad to explain to the world “why it has been committing atrocities on people in PoK and Balochistan”.

Some observers view the references to Balochistan, PoK and GB as indication of a significant aggressive change in India’s Pakistan policy provoked by the recent Pakistani interference in the developments in the Kashmir valley; and as the proverbial last straw that has dented Modi’s outreach to, and patience on Pakistan which he had persevered since his government came to power two years ago. It is also an indication of the government in New Delhi’s conviction that external stimulus to the unrest in the Kashmir valley must end before any workable political solution can be found  to the issues in Jammu and Kashmir within the framework of the Indian constitution.

This shift in India’s outlook to Balochistan from the oblique reference at Sharm el-Sheikh (after a bilateral between the then India and Pakistani Prime Ministers at this Egyptian resort) some years back  to this direct broadside from the Red Fort this month, has been under consideration before but India had not taken this path as it is fraught with geopolitical challenges and implications. The geopolitical challenges on the Baloch issue are complex as Balochis reside not only in Pakistan but also in parts of Iran and Afghanistan. The plight and ethnic dispersion of the Baloch people mirrors that of the Kurds in the Middle East. India might face opposition from Iran and Afghanistan as it tenders its support for Baloch human rights and aspirations. Balochistan strife has a sectarian dimension which has been used by the US, Israeli and the Saudis in the past to build pressure on Iran.

Developments in Balochistan might also see Indian interest in Chabahar being targeted and may ultimately lead to the emergence of the Baloch region as a new theatre for superpower rivalries. Further, the absence of an organized national movement, the dominance of tribal leaders with shifting loyalties, the large presence of Afghan migrants (including the Taliban), active sectarian strife and heavy Pakistani repression, all hobble Baloch aspirations in the province.

But now that a turn in this direction has been taken, it is hoped that comes with an implementation plan, at least for the short term. To that end, India would be required to declare in clear terms its diplomatic and moral support in international fora for the Baloch cause for the policy to be effective. It would require more a more muscular and risk taking posture for its new foreign policy ‘dare’ to be effective. For starters it has its timing right.

Pakistan has never been more vulnerable as it is today – both geopolitically and economically – and if there was ever a time to get Pakistan to mend its ways, it is now. Pakistani backers in the Middle East are today alive to the perils of Islamist terror and its manifestations; Saudis are dealing with their Yemeni ‘albatross’ besides falling oil revenues and Turkey is distracted by its internal challenges. Iran has never been more aggressive to any external disruption and Afghanistan never so clear where its ills lie and what needs to be done for peace in the country. A world wracked by terrorism, migrants and an economic downturn has little appetite for Pakistani petty diplomacy and foolhardiness.

The Pakistan Army, which always needs extra-national source of finances in addition to the revenue generated by its in-house sources, is also at a cross-over point. With the end of the US largesse, in consonance with its reduced reliance on Pakistan for its Afghanistan and Central Asia policy, followed by reduction in the flow of funds from the Middle East driven by their own crisis in the Syria, Iraq and Yemen and falling oil prices, the Pakistan army is gearing up to milk its next source of funds (for both near and mid-term) the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). With its procedures set from bleeding the US/NATO logistics lines from Karachi to Afghanistan of just few years ago , Pakistan army after assuming full control of the security of the CPEC, will be well placed  through army-owned logistics agencies to ‘tax’ the CPEC for its sustenance.

CPEC and the weight of the Chinese assurance behind it is a major source of the Pakistan’s credit rating for inward foreign direct investment (FDI). It is projected that CPEC will directly create 700,000 jobs between 2015–2030 and boost annual growth by 2 to 2.5 percentage points. Besides improving physical infrastructure, the rolling out of CPEC is expected to build institutions, improve business environment and strengthen regulatory framework. CPEC is seen by rating agencies and foreign investors a one single major source of Pakistan’s credit worthiness and its future economic fortunes. Pakistan needs peace and security for CPEC to work. It needs people of GB, PoK and Balochistan as stakeholders in the CPEC and to that end meet their aspirations.

India also must get the Chinese clear on certain aspects. One, GB and PoK are contested territories – the Chinese cannot just drive through – as they feel right now they can. Two, there will be no CPEC unless Pakistan mends its ways on Islamist terrorism. Terror-sponsorship has to end- India is not buying Pakistan’s “we are also victims of terrorism” story. Three, in India’s response to Pakistan’s proxy war – targeting CPEC is game; presence of Chinese workers or troops does not change anything. At the same time, Chinese are welcome to invest and build infrastructure in India. Chinese would like to ‘hyphenate’ India and Pakistan; India does not.

India needs to revive the Research and Analysis Wing’s (R&AW’s) dirty tricks department – mirroring the activities of the ISI. For starters, re-export to Pakistan two of its main commodities to India – counterfeit currency and drugs. The counterfeit currency to strain the ‘green shoots’ of Pakistani economy and synthetic drugs to give its charitable organisations, such as the JuD of Hafeez Saeed, something  better to be engaged with at home.

Pakistan, therefore,  before it ‘sees’ any vision 2020 or 2030 for itself and the rest of Central Asia, has to act as a responsible nation primarily by  focussing inwards on its ill rather that getting the Saudi or the Chinese to prop it up.

Sceptics do point out that Modi’s call on the Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK is just an end to a means and may go little further than it has gone over the last few decades. But then a peaceful Jammu and Kashmir along with a more participative democracy in Balochistan, GB and PoK are the initial objectives of India’s Pakistan policy.

This article has first appeared on the South Asia Monitor.

Profile photo of Monish Gulati
Monish Gulati is Associate Director (Strategic Affairs) at the Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi. He can be reached at: mgulati@spsindia.in