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Pakistan launches psywar over Baluchistan

By B Raman
July 28, 2009 15:47 IST
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Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, with the help of compliant sections of Pakistan's journalist community, has embarked on a psychological warfare on the issue of the use of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba  by the ISI against India and the demand of the Government of India that it act against the LeT for its involvement in the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 26/11.

The message of the campaign is clear: 'If you want us to act against the LeT, help us in acting against the Baluchistan Liberation Army.'

The BLA has been active in Baluchistan since 2005 and has badly damaged the Punjabi economy by repeatedly disrupting the supply of Sui Gas from the production wells in Baluchistan to industrial and domestic consumers in Pakistan's Punjab. The successful disruption of gas supply to industrial consumers in Punjab and power stations in the rest of Pakistan is partly behind the problems faced by the Pakistani economy and the serious disruptions in power supply in different parts of Pakistan.

Even if the US gives Pakistan billions of dollars in economic assistance, Pakistan's economy will not improve so long as Baluchistan continues to burn due to the grievances of the Baluchis against the Punjabis. The economic difficulties faced by the people due to erratic power supply, which is affecting the daily lives of millions of Pakistanis and damaging agricultural operations, are creating new pockets of alienation in the Seraiki areas of southern Punjab and Sindh.

The Pakistani Army, despite the use of the most ruthless methods of suppression and despite the misuse against the Baluchis of equipment such as helicopter gunships given by the US for use against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, has not been able to enforce the Pakistan government's writ in the Baluch majority areas of the province. So long as the Pakistan Army does not succeed in Baluchistan, the much-hyped Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline will remain a pipedream.

So too the much-hyped dream of Gwadar becoming the preferred gateway for the external trade of Central Asian Republics and Xinjiang province of China. More than two years after it was inaugurated by the then president Pervez Musharraf, the Chinese-constructed Gwadar port has failed to attract the CARs. The Chinese have  their own problems in the Xinjiang province where the Muslims are in a state of revolt against Han domination in an area which is looked upon by pan-Islamic forces such as Al Qaeda as historically belonging to the Muslim Umma. At a time when the Kashgar area of Xinjiang is threatening to become the North Waziristan of the Central Asian region, it is not surprising that the Chinese are going slow on the various proposals, which had originated from Pakistan, for the further development of Gwadar.

Pakistani leaders are fond of describing Jammu and Kashmir as the jugular vein of Pakistan, using an expression originally coined by Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Pakistan cannot emerge as an industrial power if Baluchistan, the most mineral rich of the Pakistani provinces, remains in a state of revolt. The Baluch revolt has made the Pakistani leaders realise that Baluchistan is Pakistan's real jugular vein. Pakistan's economy will be perpetually in a state of near collapse if there is no stability in Baluchistan.

The federal government -- whether ruled by the military or political leaders -- are not prepared to loosen control of the Punjabi business class over the mineral wealth of Baluchistan. The Baluch demand for independence is not only due to political and ethnic reasons. It is also due to economic reasons. The rest of Pakistan -- particularly Punjab -- used to flourish with the help of the gas and other mineral resources of Baluchistan, with the Baluchs languishing in poverty. The Baluch nationalists have decided -- thus far and no further. For the last three years, they have seen to it that their mineral wealth no longer goes to Punjab and other provinces.

Just as China's problems in Xinjiang are due to the Han colonisation of the province, Pakistan's problems in Baluchistan are due to the Punjabi colonisation of the province. The Baluch freedom struggle is the outcome of the Punjabi colonisation. India has had nothing to do with it.

If India had wanted to take advantage of the widespread alienation among the Baluchs against the Punjabi colonisers, it could have done so in 1971 after crushing the Pakistani Army in the then East Pakistan. Indira Gandhi could have easily ordered the Indian Navy to crush the Pakistan Navy and to move to the Baluch coast and help the Baluch freedom-fighters, who had risen in revolt. She did not do so because she felt that the Baluch problem was Pakistan's internal affair and that it was not in India's interest to further weaken Pakistan.

Despite considerable sympathy and friendly feelings for the problems of the Sindhis, Mohajirs, Baluchis and Pashtuns, far-sighted Indian leaders, who succeeded Indira Gandhi as prime minister, refrained from taking advantage of Pakistan's internal problems in retaliation for its use of terrorism against India. The late G M Syed, father of the Sindhu Desh movement, openly visited India when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister. Similarly, many Pashtun, Baluch and Seraiki leaders had openly visited India on many occasions to interact with Congress leaders. The message conveyed to them was very clear: They should sort out their problems with the Government of Pakistan. India would have no role in it.  

Despite this, since 2005, Pakistan has been alleging Indian interference in Baluchistan and is now talking of an alleged Indian role in the Pashtun belt. It is being helped in this exercise by some US non-governmental analysts not well disposed towards India.

Pakistan has now stepped up this campaign for two reasons: Firstly, its economy is steadily worsening as a result of the continuing freedom struggle in Baluchistan. Secondly, its intelligence agencies find in this psywar a pretext for not acting against the LeT.

India should not fall into this trap. It should follow a two-pronged approach. Firstly, it should make it clear that Baluchistan is Pakistan's internal affair and that it has nothing to do with terrorism. Hence, it could not figure in Indo-Pakistan discussions on terrorism. Secondly, Pakistan's attempts to divert the attention of the international community away from the LeT's activities will not be allowed to succeed.

The writer is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail:

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B Raman