November 15, 2011

How India, the ‘troublemaker in Balochistan’, become Islamabad’s Most Favored Nation

For almost a decade, Pakistan has killed its own people in Balochistan and subjected them to enforced disappearance, brutal torture by terming them ‘Indian agents’. Former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf said his operation against unarmed Baloch people was ’500% justified”because Indian secret service Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) allegedly supported nationalist leader Bramdagh Bugti.

Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani reportedly provided his Indian counterpart Dr. Manmohan Singh the unpublicized ‘evidence’ of Indian involvement in Balochistan. Interior Minister Rehman Malik claimed to have ‘solid proof’ of the ‘Indian hand’ behind the unrest in the resource-rich province. On July 16, 2009, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan mentioned Balochistan for the first time in a jointly issued bilateral statement in Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The past two weeks have witnessed dramatic normalization in India-Pakistan relations. The whole of South Asia, except Balochistan, is hoping to see some historic changes. While on November 2nd Pakistan announced to grant India the Most Favored Nation (MFN) status, both the countries have vowed in Maldives, on the sidelines of the 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit, to write a ‘new chapter’ in Indo-Pak relations. Despite these remarkable developments, the state of affairs in Balochistan remains unchanged as the families of the ‘missing Baloch persons’ marked their Eid with a public protestin Quetta.

We have been regularly insisting that the Baloch movement is purely indigenous and homegrown which has emerged because of Islamabad’s flawed policies and undemocratic approach to address a wholly political conflict. Blaming India for the unrest in Balochistan has always been used as a ploy to divert attention from the actual problem of Balochistan. This pretext was used to brazenly justify themilitary’s violation of human rights and federal government’s exploitation of the province’s natural resources. As a matter of fact, the recent breakthrough isn’t totally staggering.

The conflict between India and Pakistan is nothing but rivalry between the dominant Punjabi ethnic groups on both sides of the border. Now that the cousins dwelling in the two states have decided to come closer to each other, let’s remain assured that the mullah and the military are not going to declare anyone a ‘traitor’ by calling for peaceful ties with India. Pakistan’s history shows one does not have to produce a certificate of loyalty and patriotism if one belongs to the Punjab province and still advocates peace with India. All the so-called traitors, accordingto the official (read military) narrative, live outside the Punjab.

In other words, no one in Pakistan, except for the province of Punjab, has any grudge against India. In an op-ed in the Times of India, this writer had argued, “Indian assistance [to the Baloch movement] sounds ridiculous given that the Baloch do not share a border, common language, religion or history with India. Hardly has 1 per cent of Balochs have visited India…The Baloch insist their struggle was not interrupted even at times when India and Pakistan enjoyed cordial relations.”

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently recounted similarities between Indians who ate his favorite dish Alo Goshth and the Pakistanis who also lovedIndian food. Yet, many Indians surely do not know much about the taste of Balochi cuisine such as Sajji, Thabaheg, Sheelaunch, Mahiash and Koraakaapbecause of historic disconnection between Balochistan and India.

The India-Pakistan rapprochement clearly indicates Pakistan’s lack of seriousness toward the Balochistan issue. The Balochs have not only been betrayed by Islamabad but they have also bled immeasurably because of the federal government’s unwillingness to end atrocities in the province. Fresh contacts between the two countries simply give legitimacy to the genuine Baloch secular movement. It exposes Islamabad’s inconsistent stance on Balochistan.

The only concern we have about the India-Pakistan peace initiative is regarding its durability. A country such as Pakistan which terrorizes its own people and denies them constitutional rights is less likely to establish long-term peaceful relations with its neighbors. It is absolutely heartbreaking that the Pakistani military has begun to negotiate with Taliban and now India, widely perceived in the militarycircles as the ‘perpetual enemy’, but it is still reluctant to pursue a policy of relief and reconciliation in Balochistan where the bullet-riddled bodies of disappeared Baloch youths are regularly being dumped on roadside.

MALIK SIRAJ AKBAR (Follow on Twitter: @MalikSirajAkbar)