The Curious Case of Balochistan

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R) and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani meet on the sidelines of the 15th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh on July 16. (Photo: Khaled Desouk/ AFP-Getty Images)

India and Pakistan issued a joint statement on the sidelines of the recently concluded Non Aligned Movement (N.A.M.) summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Pakistan succeeded in mentioning the controversial issue of Balochistan in the statement. Pakistan has long accused India of "encouraging militancy and separatism" in Balochistan, while India has always refuted the charge.

Even though—whether as propaganda or as an attempt to malign the international image of India—Pakistan has been accusing India, it has not provided any proof in support of its charge. The special envoy of the U.S. to the AfPak region, Richard Holbrooke, has said that, though Pakistani officials have mentioned the Balochistan issue to him several times, they haven't shown him any proof of India's alleged involvement.

Besides questioning the mention of Balochistan in the statement, the opposition is also accusing the Manmohan Singh government of hurriedly moving towards bilateral dialogue despite the "inaction" of Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks to book. After the return of the prime minister from Egypt, the Indian Parliament debated on this issue for the next three days. Consequently, the unsatisfied opposition party, led by the leader of the opposition, Lal Krishna Advani, walked out of the house, notwithstanding the repeated assurances by Prime Minister Singh, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Minster of External Affairs S.M. Krishna that there would be no dialogue with Pakistan until it takes action against the accused of the 26/11 attacks.

The government also clarified that India has its hands clean on the issue of Balochistan and that it stands by its principle of non-interference in internal matters. But the prime minister, as the leader of the world's largest democracy and a rising global power, said that India would follow the policy of "trust but verify" vis-à-vis Pakistan.

Regarding this entire issue, some things seem contradictory. For instance, last month Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, in a statement, acknowledged that Pakistan faces no threat from India. And this is the truth. If this were not the case, the Pakistani army would not have shifted the forces deployed on the Indian borders to the Pak-Afghan border to fight the Taliban. Trust towards India enabled Pakistan to do so. On one hand, Pakistan is trying to show trust in India, and on the other, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is slinging mud at India on the issue of Balochistan.

The purpose of Pakistan pointing a finger at India on the issue of Balochistan is to tell the world that India, which repeatedly accuses Pakistan of terror attacks there, is also involved in secessionist activities in Pakistan. But this negative diplomacy of Pakistan is of no use and could possibly encourage the terrorist groups in Pakistan that continuously conspire to destabilize India.

The revolt in Balochistan for independence is not a decade or two old; this fire has been on since 1950. But instead of controlling the fire, the Pakistani establishment has always tried to create, nurture and spread terrorism through all of India, including Kashmir. This mistake is being repeated now by accusing India.

In India, the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.), which was virtually scrapped by the people of India in the recent general elections, seems much concerned about the joint statement signed in Sharm el-Sheikh. The B.J.P. is again trying to connect this issue with "national sovereignty." Either in the case of the joint statement signed in Sharm el-Sheikh, or in the past—taking loans from the I.M.F. or the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear deal—the B.J.P. has seen Pakistan as a "threat to India's sovereignty." Whether this rhetoric is fact based or a political device, the people have spoken in elections in very clear terms. Yet the party, empty of issues, feels that perhaps the rhetoric on Balochistan and Mumbai attacks may give it the required "oxygen."

In Pakistan, while the people of the ruling establishment regard the mention of Balochistan as a diplomatic victory for Pakistan, radical opposition parties are questioning why Gilani didn't raise the issue of Kashmir in Sharm el-Sheikh. So the opposition to the democratic governments in both countries is not a big issue. The B.J.P., which once advised the government to attack Pakistan, has also led the National Democratic Alliance (N.D.A.) government. During that time there were instances when it seemed that there was no other option to deal with Pakistan other than war. But these "warriors" were then continuously trying to avoid war. Certainly the country was relieved when the war was evaded.

Today, too, the times demand that there should be harmony between the Indo-Pak governments and the opposition of both countries. There should not be any feeling of interference by neighboring countries in any part of any country, including Kashmir. Besides, Pakistan should remember that by pointing the finger at others, its own blots are not going to vanish. So, it has to end the terrorism originating from there, either with American help or possibly with support from India. If Pakistan really wants to show the world that it is serious about action against terrorism, it can do so by first signing an extradition treaty with India. This would help to stop terrorism in both countries and also show how committed Pakistan is to fighting terrorism.

Tanveer Jafri is a columnist based in India who has been published in dozens of newspapers and portals in India and abroad. Jafri is also a devoted social activist for world peace, unity, integrity and global brotherhood. He is a member of Haryana Sahitya Academy and Haryana Urdu Academy.