Balochistan is a tinderbox which has hitherto remained more or less unexposed to geo-political pressures -- either because of Indian docility or because of Pakistan's deft foreign policy or because it was not useful to the West. However, it holds the potential to emerge as a new diplomatic flashpoint involving India, Pakistan and a range of external stakeholders, including Afghanistan, Iran, USA, China, and Russia.
Balochistan, once an independent entity ruled by the Khan of Kalat, was forcefully occupied by the Pakistani army in 1947, violating all the international norms of sovereignty and human rights. Since then it has seen a continuous freedom struggle led by the Baloch National Army, in which thousands of innocent civilians including women and children have been mercilessly butchered by the Pakistani army. Every year thousands of locals just disappear and later, their bullet-riddled dead bodies are recovered from the roadside. Tarak Fateh, a secular Pakistani communist in exile, informs that Baloch nationals are dropped in ravines from helicopters. Professor Naila Qadri Baloch mentioned in her presentation at ORF (which I attended) that from 2000 to 2016, 200,000 people have been killed and 25,000 plus civilians have disappeared. Recently, there have even been reports of the Pakistani army committing genocide so as to facilitate the implementation of the China-Pak economic corridor. Additionally, Pakistan has also been trying to inject Islamic extremism into the secular cultural fabric of the world's oldest civilization of Balochistan.
The disintegration of Pakistan is the ultimate way to guarantee security against aggression and terrorism on the western front.
After the brutal killing of tribal chief Akbar Khan Bugti in 2006, the freedom movement has intensified, and can be seen in the form of protests, armed resistance and long marches by civilians, with a strong participation of women and youth. However, in response, the Pak military has also strengthened its repression and brutalities. On the diplomatic front, Pakistan has intensified its efforts to discredit the freedom movement as part of an Indian conspiracy, recently presenting the Kulbhushan video as evidence (a claim that India has rejected, saying that the video is doctored).
Now, the time is ripe for Indians to come out of their slumber and embark upon some shrewd strategic moves on the Balochistan front. Contrary to what many Indian geo-strategic brains argue, Balochistan is not a way for India to settle scores over Kashmir. In fact, I find the said line of argument highly immature, and unbecoming of an emergent democratic power like India. However, in addition to taking a stand on the moral dimension of human rights abuses and killings, India has other strategic reasons to support the Baloch national movement.
Firstly, Balochistan is extremely rich in gas, oil and mineral resources which if explored, developed and utilized jointly with the help of Indian technology, will go a long way in fighting our energy problem.
Secondly, Balochistan is Pakistan's soft underbelly – our neighbour's nukes are hidden in the region, where the Pakistani state faces the most hostile population. Hence stronger control over the affairs of Balochistan strengthens India enough to bring nuclear-armed Pak to its knees. Additionally, it is immensely important to make Pakistan a nuclear-free zone because of the likelihood of the nuke arsenal ending up in the hands of non-state actors (which have already gone out of the Pak army's control).
India needs to declare in clear terms its diplomatic and moral support in international fora to the Baloch cause.
Thirdly, from Karachi to Bandar Abbas, there will not be any anti-India naval base like Gwadar. Fourthly, the disintegration of Pakistan is the ultimate way to guarantee security against aggression and terrorism on the western front. If this happens, India is left with the friendly neighbours of Sindh (which, in all likelihood will become free soon after Balochistan) and Balochistan, and a hostile country of Punjab as a successor to Pakistan. But as Punjab will be surrounded by the hostile states of India, Balochistan, Afghanistan and Sindh, it will be very easy to keep the monster under control. Besides, Punjab will continue to act as a buffer between the disturbances of the NWFP and India. A weakened and broken Pakistan also means the shattering of the backbone of transnational Islamic extremism to a large extent. Finally, it leaves India with more resources for economic development, a peaceful South Asia, and friendly neighbours.
However, the project has its own complications. India might face opposition from Iran and Afghanistan as Baloch land also lies under their territorial control. Further, Chinese interests and Iran's growing friendship with Russia – as well as its eagerness to build its economic and military strength --might lead to the emergence of the Baloch region as a new theatre for power struggles. Furthermore, the absence of an organized national movement, dominance of tribal leaders with their shifting loyalties, the large presence of Afghan settlers and heavy Pak repression could be the challenges which India will face in Balochistan. In the process, there are chances that the Baloch people might continue to undergo suffering.
India needs to replace its systemic nervousness, confusion and timidity with strong decision-making and resolve at a political level.
Hence, India needs a systematic, organized and policy-driven approach. But first and foremost, India needs to educate Indians on the issue of Balochistan. I have come across research scholars of elite institutions of India with no idea of where Balochistan is on the map. This education and awareness could begin with television programs and, courses, seminars and conferences in schools, colleges and universities. Secondly, India needs to declare in clear terms its diplomatic and moral support in international fora to the Baloch cause. Thirdly, India must invest heavily in publicity campaigns in international institutions, think-tanks like Brookings, Carnegie, and universities to create a rational intellectual discourse at an international level on the issue. Thirdly, India should help Baloch rebels in developing an organized freedom movement -- this assistance should be financial, logistical and involve training the rebels, a job which needs an enhancement of India's intelligence footprint in the region through a well-coordinated effort by RAW and possibly other such agencies of Afghanistan, Iran and Israel . In the immediate future, India could begin with lobbying for a UN declaration against genocide applied in Balochistan.
To conclude, this time, India needs to be consistent and continue the fight until the objective is achieved. Earlier, India abandoned the Baloch cause mid-way in the 1970s to woo General Zia. Not only did this leave the Balochis heartbroken, but India got the short end of the stick vis-à-vis Zia. India needs to replace its systemic nervousness, confusion and timidity with strong decision-making and resolve at a political level.