I have been a strong proponent of dealing firmly with Pakistan, both diplomatically and militarily, and of keeping Kashmir off the table in any talks with that country. Sadly, over the years, India has been out manoeuvred on both these counts by Pakistan. It is apparent that we have been scared of our own shadow – a product of centuries of foreign rule, which has eroded our confidence and self belief. Until we infuse an aggressive psyche and through our own foresight and commitment develop the military and economic muscle to go with it, this situation is unlikely to change. To frame coherent policies, we need a political and geopolitical understanding of our own perceived role, both within the region and globally. Till then, we will always be looking at USA, UN or anybody else who offers us a shoulder, or we will be fence sitters.
With the end of the cold war, the rise of China commenced, which now has the U.S. increasingly concerned of the impact an assertive China will have on world affairs. China is now the second largest economy after the U.S. and is also increasing its military capability, through infusion of high end technology. Economically, China now controls a large share of global trade and has acquired huge fossil fuel, mineral and real estate assets all over the world. The Chinese search for fossil fuels and minerals have virtually spread their influence across the globe and they do not hesitate to use geoeconomics arm twisting to coerce countries to fall in line, including developed countries like Japan, Australia and ASEAN countries, with barely a U.S. response. China also has money sunk in U.S. bonds, which they could use as leverage against the U.S., should they be required to do so.
Closer home, the Chinese are deep into Pakistan (call it their 24th Province after Taiwan if you like) with USD 46 billion being invested in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), essentially a commercial road and rail link for trade and transport to Gwadar port, and pipelines for gas and oil from Central Asian States (CAS), with large energy projects astride this; but also as a strategic alternative route giving access to the Arabian Sea in case the Straits of Malacca get blockaded or Indian-Pacific Ocean sea lanes get threatened. It also increases their influence in the region, particularly to isolate India. Disputed Aksai Chin has the Karakoram Highway passing through it, as also through Gilgit- Baltistan to Balochistan, where Gwadar is located. Balochistan has vast copper, cobalt, iron, gold and lithium reserves, making it a virtual treasure house for a thirsty China. Today, Balochistan is not merely an internal Pakistan issue but a strategic Chinese concern. It is their ‘honey pot’ so to say. Besides, they have their army personnel stationed in Pakistan Occupied J&K (POJ&K), to protect these assets. The Chinese troops will be replaced by 12,000 Pakistani security personnel currently being raised and trained.
India’s military capability to carry on a sustained conflict has been eroded over the years, as adequate attention was not paid to this vital aspect by successive governments over the last few decades. Gen. V K Singh, now a MoS in External Affairs flagged this issue with the then Prime Minister, when he was the Army Chief, as did many other military analysts. The present government, ever since it assumed office, has taken positive steps to expedite defence deals, and to build up a defence industrial base within the country. Rapid strides in FDI in defence in the private sector are underway, with a large number of Indian industrial houses signing joint ventures with international defence equipment manufacturers. A gestation period is however still needed for the production, trial and deployment of defence equipment which we produce indigenously and it will take a long time to make up for the neglect of previous years. As of now, we remain ill equipped in armament and ammunition, high technology upgrades in weapon platforms (all three services), C4I2 and cyber warfare capability. Most importantly, India still lacks a joint integrated command structure in the form of Chiefs Of Defence Staff (CDS). Allied with this is the constant effort by India’s bureaucracy to belittle the Armed Forces, which is reflected in the degradation of the status of military personnel in every pay commission, including the recent Seventh Pay Commission. The virtual contempt with which the bureaucracy treats the Armed Forces arises from a fear of empowering the forces to an equal status, which unfortunately is linked to a pay band. This has a concomitant fall out in terms of morale. More damagingly, control over the military by the bureaucracy, including the operational deployments in internal security situations, as evidenced in Pathankot and in J&K have also eroded morale and created resentment. India’s stand on Balochistan cannot be divorced from the reality that India’s military capability has been blunted over the years and will take a long time to be built up to the desired level. Raising the issue of Balochistan with these infirmities, shows diplomatic inexperience and unwarranted provocation, tantamount to direct interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan.
Let us look briefly at the history of Balochistan. In August 1947, Lord Mountbatten, the Governor General of India, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Governor General (designate) of Pakistan, and the Khan of Kalat signed a tripartite agreement on partition; Balochistan would revert to its 1876 status that is the year the British conquered Balochistan. In March 1948, when the Khan was in Karachi, Jinnah (he had been Khan’s lawyer) forced him to sign the Instrument of Accession. This was repudiated by the State Assembly and led to the start of armed revolt against Pakistan. But Balochistan is an integral part of Pakistan; just as J&K is an integral part of India. India’s concerns with respect to the treatment of the Baloch people by Pakistan can rightly be construed as interference in the internal affairs of another country, and will not be viewed kindly by Pakistan, just as similar comments by Pakistan or any other country on the insurgency affected states in India, will invite a sharp response from the Indian establishment.
If the PM’s mention of Balochistan in his independence day address was for domestic consumption, to take the heat off the many domestic turbulent issues that plague the nation, then it has not had the desired effect. The common Indian is more focussed on every day concerns such as employment, education, health care and the like. The earlier Congress led UPA governments also did little to alleviate the concerns of the marginalised sections of society, but the present government policies also do not seem to be delivering on that count. It is appreciated that a large country like India can have no quick fix solutions, but raising extraneous concerns like that of the issue of human rights in Balochistan, as a pressure point against Pakistan will give little traction, given the myriad problems that India is currently faced with. It is apparent that on this issue, due thought has not been given to the contextual understanding of international relations and diplomacy and the Prime Minister has been ill advised on the subject.
India’s raking up the Balochistan issue has received little traction amongst the international community, with the US nipping the issue in the bud. True, Mr Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan was supportive of India’s stand as were exiled Baluchis living abroad. But most countries do not see it that way. Iran hasn’t yet reacted, but will be wary as its Sistan Province has a Baluch majority. To counter India on the other hand, Pakistan is once again raising the bogey of Kashmir with renewed vigour in the United Nations, in the background of the worsening law and order situation in the Kashmir Valley.
India also has apparently not understood the Chinese psyche. For China, the pursuit of power in all its dimensions – military, economic, technological and diplomatic is driven by the conviction that China is a great civilisation undone by the hostility of others. To attain its destiny it needs to amass power to ward off this hostility. More important to them, apart from the rise to the pinnacle is the acceptance by others of its legitimacy. It treats all countries alike but unequal to China. USA and the West understand that. Henry Kissinger said, “China considers itself, in a sense, the sole sovereign government of the world”. We in our institutionalised arrogance of being the more ancient and advanced civilisation have clashed with it over its ideological belief, with no historical or archeological backup. We have provoked China over the NSG issue, a result of our firstly, not doing our legwork seriously and in time, including discussions with China, and our lack of understanding that China will not allow India to compete with it globally or regionally, whether it’s a seat in the UNSC, or NSG for which it used the clause of non-NPT membership to debar India’s entry, while using the Pakistan card as well; more so in Asia, whether it is ASEAN, RCEP, or our countries in our immediate neighbourhood. Therefore, raising the issue of Balochistan at this juncture is cocking a serious snook at China’s strategic interests. Further persistent provocations may invite a military response from China and Pakistan combined, in the present state of India’s military infirmity. We need to build up our military capability, before we undertake an aggressive foreign policy initiative over the issue of Balochistan.
A first generation soldier, Col Sanjiv Wattal was commissioned from the IMA in March 1972, into the Parachute Regiment. He has had tenures in J&K including the Glacier, and commanded his unit in Manipur/Nagaland. He has served in assignments in Maldives and in China and post retirement, is an active commentator on defence and security issues.