Ashok Swain, Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden, wrote an insightful article ‘India must remember that Balochistan is not Bangladesh’ in 2016 and explained the exceptional case of Balochistan. He believes that “It is no secret that India has been supporting the separatists in Balochistan in their fight against Pakistani military without openly admitting it”.
After maintaining that Balochistan is not Bangladesh he also notes that Baloch activists have repeatedly admitted to receiving India’s ‘moral’ support and a representative of Balochistan Liberation Organization (BLO) has been living in New Delhi since 2009. Pakistan has been regularly accusing India of using its consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar to fund, train and arm Baloch militants.
A decade back, senior officials of Pakistan had even alleged that 600 Baloch tribals were being trained by India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in Afghanistan to handle explosives, engineer bomb blasts, and use sophisticated weapons.”
Professor Swain further notes that Pakistan has apparently failed to provide much proof about Indian involvement, however, according to the 2010 WikiLeaks cables, US and British intelligence cautiously agrees with the Pakistani accusations.
Last year, Pakistan had handed over a dossier to the UN Secretary-General containing ‘evidence’ of Indian support to violence in Balochistan.
This year in March, Pakistan claimed to arrest an alleged RAW operative from Balochistan. India has always denied these accusations but has continued to remain engaged unofficially.
However, by openly committing India to Balochistan’s cause in his speech, Modi is likely to expose India’s geo-strategic limitations without gaining any additional advantage, and there is a lot to lose.
Balochistan is not East Pakistan, warns Professor Swain
Professor Swain points out that it is important to keep in mind that Balochistan is not Bangladesh: Balochistan issue is not a straightforward one for India to directly engage in, as was the case with East Pakistan.
India does not share a common border with Balochistan and is therefore dependent upon Afghanistan to provide more support to Baloch separatists.
This is not as easy as some hawks in India tend to believe, especially as India is struggling to get enough security cover even to protect its own assets in a fast-deteriorating environment in Afghanistan.
He also warned that “India’s expanded engagement in Balochistan might also bring Iran on Pakistan’s side because Baloch nationalists have not only pitched themselves against Pakistan but against Iran as well.
Balochs form a majority in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan provinces and, like the Kurds, they are Sunni Muslims. It is not hard to imagine an Iran-Pakistan axis developing rapidly to prevent Baloch aspirations for independence. So getting bogged down in Balochistan risks Iran to become an enemy of India”.
“When India went to war with Pakistan over Bangladesh in 1971 it had the blanket support of the Soviet Union, one of the two superpowers in the Cold War. If India picks a fight over Balochistan, Pakistan will receive support from China whose $46 billion USD CPEC investment in the region is at stake, and it is unlikely that any global or regional power will come out openly on India’s side.
Both its old friend Russia, and new ally the USA have tried their best to stay out of the Balochistan imbroglio to date. There is no reason to expect that they will change their stance now,” he urged the world.
Professor Swain opines that “Not only is Balochistan, not East Pakistan, but the Pakistani Military has also moved on since the early 1970s. In 1971 their most prized possessions were the Patton tanks, but today it is their tactical nuclear weapons.
After the country split, Pakistan did not just sulk and accept Indian domination, it decided to acquire a large nuclear arsenal by hook or crook. Unlike India, Pakistan has always been very clear about its purpose in acquiring nuclear weapons: to defend itself against Indian aggression. And unlike India, Pakistan also refuses to commit to a ‘no first use’ of their weapons”.
Based on the amount of fissile material Pakistan has produced, it is estimated to have 110-130 nuclear warheads compared to India’s 100-120. Both now possess ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and sea-based nuclear delivery systems. Most importantly, Pakistan’s recent deployment of tactical nuclear weapons for its artillery arsenal has taken away any advantage India previously had in the case of a conventional war.
This seriously limits India’s manoeuvrability to intervene militarily in Pakistani territory, whether to retaliate against any terror group or support any ‘separatist struggle’.
Provoking Pakistan to an armed conflict now, warns Professor Swain, is like playing with fire. If India threatens the territorial integrity of Pakistan as it did in 1971, there is a real possibility that the Pakistani military will retaliate with its prized weapons. It has the capacity to launch a nuclear strike against India within 8 seconds and could strike Delhi in five minutes.
“India wanted Pakistan to divide”
In 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proudly recalled his participation in the ‘Jana Sangh’ campaign backing the rebels in former East Pakistan as he accepted a ‘liberation war’ honor on behalf of former premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee, reported the media.
Admitting that there had been a conspiracy to divide Pakistan, he said the establishment of Bangladesh was a desire of every Indian and that’s why India’s forces fought along with the Mukti Bahini (Bangladesh Forces), thus creating a new country.
Modi said he was one of the young volunteers who came to Delhi in 1971 to participate in the ‘Satyagraha Movement’ launched by ‘Jana Sangh’ as a volunteer to garner support for the Mukti Bahini members. However, analysts now suggest PM Modi review his agenda as Balochistan is not Bangladesh.
As India is failing to silence Kashmiris, efforts are reportedly underway to exacerbate violence in Balochistan to compel Prime Minister Imran Khan to ‘not to highlight Indian atrocities in the occupied Kashmir’.
In a talk-show, Major (Retd) Gaurav Arya, a consulting editor for strategic affairs with Republic TV, on defence, national security, and strategy, warned Pakistan not to take up the issue of Kashmir otherwise there shall be a repetition of 1971 war. Analysts, however, maintain that Balochistan is not Bangladesh.
India has been responsible for exploiting ethnic fault lines in Pakistan. It is worth recalling that Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian army officer working in Pakistan, was arrested during an intelligence operation conducted in Balochistan in March 2016, and he was apprehended after illegally crossing the Baloch border from Iran. Jadhav was travelling on an original Indian passport under the fake name of Hussein Mubarak Patel.
Later on, recorded video statements of his confession were released, where a comfortable and at-ease Jadhav was seen confessing all his crimes of espionage. He revealed that he was working under the directives of India’s premier spy agency, RAW, and confessed his involvement in subversive activities and terrorist attacks targeting Karachi and Balochistan.
In April 2017, a verdict of the Pakistani military court awarded Jadhav a death sentence after holding him responsible for espionage and subversive activities.