By Patricia Lee Sharpe
Pakistan is worried that India is gaining too much influence in Afghanistan. New Delhi has established numerous consulates, already! And information centers. Thirteen now, according to Pakistan.
Pakistan is worried that India is getting too cozy with the U.S. And vice versa. Especially the vice versa. At what point would better relations between the often antagonistic democracies lead to a severe shrinkage in the American subsidy to Pakistan’s not entirely cooperative military?
Pakistan is worried that India is mucking around in Balochistan. Yes. Leaving aside the perennially picked scab, the never healing sore of Kashmir, the current Pakistani preoccupation is with Balochistan, the huge, underpopulated, desert province that borders Iran and Afghanistan. India, supposedly, is stirring up the tribes in Pakistan’s western badlands.
A year ago January Pakistan’s caretaker Information Minister Nisar A. Memon declared that those information centers in Afghanistan had been set up “with the objective to disturb peace in Balochisatan and hamper the construction of the Gwador Port,” which will be the terminus of a potentially very profitable transport corridor south from China. And just last week, the charges got even more colorful. Rehman Malik, a prime ministerial advisor, tabled a document in Parliament in which he contended that thousands of Baloch separatists are training in Afghanistan "with the support of India and Russia." A cache of Kalashnikovs is evidence, he insists, as if such weapons weren’t easily available to anyone on the international arms market.
These charges raise such delicious questions. Assuming there were a Russian spoon in the Baloch soup, wouldn’t Russian motives be less directed toward supporting Baloch nationalism than toward obstructing China’s project to build an energy corridor that might undermine Russia’s attempt to monopolize energy deliveries to Europe and elsewhere? If so, why would Afghanistan want to collaborate with Russia? Kabul should benefit from efficient access to the sea through Gwador.
Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that Malik’s charges earned objections from some Senators from Balochistan, who insisted that “the problems of Balochistan should not be linked to India and Russia.” Moreover, the Baloch representatives argued, the role of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies within Pakistan itself often involves doing dirty tricks and misleading Parliament.
Although Pakistan claims to have “proof” that India is providing “tactical and financial support” to militants in Balochistan, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta “rubbished” the claim during a recent visit to New Delhi: “India has never used Afghan territory against Pakistan,” he said, going on to declare that “there is no truth to Islamabad’s claims of India fueling unrest in southwestern Balochistan province or that New Delhi was backing the banned Baloch Liberation Army (BLA).” Kabul, of course, has been complaining that Afghan Taliban forces find refuge and reinforcements in Pakistan, while India has never had satisfaction from Islamabad for Pakistan-based terrorism in India. The Pakistani pot is very busy, it seems, calling other kettles black.
India’s Foreign Minister P. Chidambaram put it another way: “The Balochistan leader has said that he gets no support from India. Besides, why should we get involved when we have enough problems on our western borders with Pakistan.” To say nothing of Indian Kashmir.
Aside from a possibly paranoic fixation on a demonized India, Pakistan has every reason to be concerned about a separatist movement in energy rich Balochistan. Pakistan’s energy requirements are growing rapidly. To fill them Pakistan needs to be able to exploit its own oil and gas resources and to supplement them with energy imports from elsewhere, notably Iran. Both focus on Balochistan. As Robert G. Wirsing wrote in April 2008:
Islamabad vs. Baloch tribes. Islamabad vs. Baloch separatism. If only Baloch politics were so simple! The ethnic groups within the area called Balochistan vie with one another for power at provincial and central levels, and they each jealously guard their own territory. One ventures within only with the permission of tribal authorities. Next there’s the division between the coastal Baloch or Makhranis, who consider themselves a sophisticated people as compared to the tribals who, from the Makhrani point of view, are somewhat less than civilized. What’s more, labor from outside the area has been imported to work on the emerging port of Gwador, which has led to anger with Islamabad and violent protests by Makhrani labor groups.
Wait. There’s more. The urbanized middle class residents of Quetta, Balochistan’s only significant city, make up yet another highly vocal faction. As far as law is concerned within Balochistan, some areas like Quetta are ruled by the civil law that covers all of the settled areas of Pakistan and others are ruled by tribal law. Often the two clash, especially when it comes to women’s rights. There are also those who would prefer some version of Sharia to cover all of Balochistan as well as all of Pakistan. And finally we come to the problem of Pashtun settlers and traders. Some Pashtuns are refugees from several decades of war in Afghanistan, including some high level Taliban. Some Pashtuns have simply filtered in from the NWFP as more or less conventional traders and merchants who are often seen, resentfully, by Baloch, as being too successful in taking over the commercial life of Quetta, for example.
In sum, the internal reasons for contention and unrest in Balochistan today are many, and they are well worth Islamabad's concern. Although scapegoats are always useful, there is no need for a foreign hand to stir the pot, which Islamabad has not tended wisely:
Perhaps Pakistan should take a look at Indonesia, where Jakarta undercut a separatist movement in Aceh by recognizing just such claims. And perhaps there is hope for Pakistan. Back to that belligerent paper tabled by Rehman Malik. Did he really say that “the government was ready to accept all the demands of the people of Balochistan, barring independence?" If he said it, does the government of Asif Ali Zardari really have such amicable intentions? If so, Pakistan hardly has to worry about the effects of outside interference, even were it occurring.
As for an Indian perspective in all this, Kuldip Nayar, writing in the Karachi daily Dawn, no less, notes that, in regard to Balochistan,
Manmohan Singh has told Pakistan to place the evidence on the table. Americas indication that there is no evidence of an India hand in Balochistan should have silenced the critics. But they are bent on defaming Manmohan Singh who has acted on the principle of transparency [which only serves to encourage the rabid anti-Pakistan elements in India's opposition].
Which, of course, is just fine with their rabidly anti-India counterparts in Pakistan.