Many Indians are not happy over the reference to Baluchistan in the joint statement released in Sharm El Sheikh after the meeting between the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers. Some Indians think Dr Singh stabbed the nation in the back by accepting India's interference in Baluchistan. There are reports that the Pakistani prime minister pressurised Dr Singh in Sharm El Sheikh by handing over a dossier containing proof of alleged Indian cross-border terrorism in Baluchistan, and that was how the latter was forced to accept the mention of Baluchistan in the joint statement.
I was present in Sharm El Shekh. I remember that many Indian journalists were shocked after reading the joint statement. They started asking me why Baluchistan was mentioned in the statement at all. In fact, many of them were not aware, like many ordinary Indians, of what is going on in Baluchistan. Within a few hours I started receiving phone calls from many Indian television channels asking me what was the evidence shown by Pakistan to Dr Singh. The fact is, while the Pakistani prime minister did mention Baluchistan to Dr Singh, he never handed over any dossier.
But the situation in Baluchistan came under detailed discussion during the first meeting of the foreign secretaries in the evening of July 14 in Sharm El Sheikh, which took place two days before the meeting between Dr Singh and Yousaf Raza Gilani. Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir told Shiv Shankar Menon [ Images ] that India must delink the talks from terrorism, otherwise Pakistan will be forced to produce at least "three Indian Ajmal Kasabs" before the international media, who were directly or indirectly part of the terrorist activities in Baluchistan, and Pakistan will easily establish that the Indian consulate in the Afghan city of Kandahar was actually a control room for the terrorist activities organised by the separatist Baluchistan Liberation Army.
These three Indian nationals were arrested In Pakistan over the last few weeks and, according to Pakistani officials, they have undeniable evidence of Indians links with Baluch militants.
Bashir told Menon that both Pakistan and India cannot afford a blame game right now. If Pakistan comes out with evidence that Indians are responsible for attacking Chinese engineers in the port city of Gwadar in 2004 it may damage India's credibility, but it will surely fan greater anti-India feelings in Pakistan which will ultimately be to the benefit of extremist forces. This is why Pakistani authorities are very careful in exposing the alleged Indian involvement in Baluchistan.
After all, this sort of blame game will only help those extremist forces who successfully organised attacks in Mumbai [ Images ] on November 26, 2008, just to derail the India-Pakistan peace process.
Secondly, it will also harm relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States does not want any tension between Islamabad [ Images ] and Kabul at this stage because NATO forces are trying their best to conduct a presidential election in Afghanistan in the coming weeks.
Thirdly, the Pakistani Peoples Party-led coalition government is aware that Baluchistan is not a serious dispute like Jammu and Kashmir [ Images ], it's a problem of provincial rights, and instead of internationalising the problem Islamabad should address the problem realistically. Islamabad cannot get away by simply blaming India for the unrest in Baluchistan. Behind the scene talks with many Baluch militants are going on, and some good news may come out soon in this regard.
Pakistan is making noises against the alleged Indian involvement in Baluch insurgency in a very careful, well-calculated and "limited manner". Recently a prominent US magazine, Foreign Affairs, in its March 2009 edition, published the report of a roundtable discussion on the causes of instability in Pakistan. Christine Fair of Rand Corporation is reported to have said in that discussion that 'having visited the Indian mission in Zahedan, Iran, I can assure you they are not issuing visas as the main activity. Indian officials have told me privately that they are pumping money into Baluchistan'.
This allegation came from a very credible American scholar who recently visited the Indian consulate in Zahedan. Now, where is Zahedan? It is the capital of the Irani province of Sistan-o-Baluchistan bordering Pakistan. More than two million Baluchis live on the Iranian side of Baluchistan. Iran is building a big port, Chabahar, in the same area with active help from India. Top Iranian leaders have alleged many times that the Central Intelligence Agency is supporting Iranian Baluchis to destabilise the Islamic Republic. The famous American journalist Seymour Hersh admitted in July 2008 that the George Bush [ Images ] administration gave millions of dollars to a separatist Iranian group, Jandallah, which is responsible for the violence on the Iranian side of Baluchistan.
China's presence in Pakistani Baluchistan is also a problem for the US administration. The Chinese are accused of using Gwadar as a listening post for monitoring US military activities in the Persian Gulf. If Pakistan plays the India card in Baluchistan, many anti-US forces in Pakistan will ask why it is silent over the CIA's role in Baluchistan whereby it is using Jandallah against Iran.
Keeping in view the sensitivity of the problem, it is difficult for India to openly support the Baluch insurgency because it may harm her relations with Iran. If the Indians will come out openly in support of the BLA, anti-Indian elements in Pakistan will quickly bracket New Delhi [ Images ] with the alleged Great Game of the US against Iran.
We must know that Baluchis are Kurds of South Asia. Kurds are divided in Iran, Turkey and Iraq while the Baluchis are divided in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Separatist groups in Pakistan and Iran want the unification of Baluch areas which is not acceptable to both the countries. Baluchistan has huge quantities of natural gas and unexplored oil reserves. It is the largest province in Pakistan in terms of area, covering almost 48 pc of the country while its population is only 5 pc of Pakistan's. It is a tribal society, and is the most underdeveloped province in Pakistan.
The first military operation in Baluchistan was launched by General Ayub Khan in the late '50s. The second one was launched in 1974 when Iraq tried to destabilise Iranian Baluchistan with the help of pro-Soviet Afghan ruler Sardar Daoud in collaboration with some Pakistani Baluch leaders. Daoud tried to exploit the slogan of Independent Baluchistan on one side and Pashtunistan on the other. Afghanistan's interference in Pakistan forced the then prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to use Ahmad Shah Masood and Gulbadin Hekmatyar against Kabul, and these two Afghan rebels became the guest of Pakistani security forces for the first time in 1975. Later on they were used by General Zia against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
Musharraf gave the Gwadar port city to the Chinese for development in 2003, which was the beginning of a new problem. Three Chinese engineers were killed and nine were injured on May 3, 2004, in a remote-controlled car bomb attack. Two months after that incident, Pakistan claimed on July 2 for the first time that India was involved in the blast. Local Baluchis were not happy over the employment of many non-Baluchis in the main development projects of their province. They also wanted a fairer share of royalties generated by the production of natural gas in their province. Instead of addressing their grievances, the Musharraf regime launched a third military operation against them in 2005, which further aggravated the situation.
Why must Indians discuss Baluchistan with Pakistan? Because Baluchistan will be the route of at least two multinational gas pipeline projects. One will come from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan; the other will come from Iran to Pakistan. India could be a beneficiary of both the pipelines. These two pipelines could be extended from Multan to New Delhi. I think there is no harm in India discussing Baluchistan with Pakistan because stability in Baluchistan will ultimately benefit India.
Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, China and India should join hands with each other, stop proxy wars in Kashmir and Baluchistan as soon as possible, and thus they can change the fate of the whole region.
Hamid Mir is the Executive Editor of Geo TV in Islamabad and can be contacted at :firstname.lastname@example.org