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Proxy wars of Balochistan


By Imtiaz Gul

The Friday Times, October 11, 2013


The notion of foreign support for Baloch insurgents rests on a slippery slope. If a country accuses others of aiding separatism (India’s position on Pakistani support for Kashmiri separatists, or Pakistan’s allegation of Indian backing for the Pakistani Taliban or Baloch separatists), how can it prove them? Does an intelligence outfit leave its footprint? Do intelligence agencies use their own currency, weapons and gadgetry?

In case of Kashmir, the Indian government often points, and legitimately so, towards the presence of groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Harkatul Mujahideen, which it says still use Pakistani soil for “terrorism” in Kashmir, in contravention of the January 6, 2004 commitment Pakistan gave to Atal Behari Vajpayee in Islamabad. It also says the infiltration via the Line of Control would not be possible without the consent of Pakistani security forces.

On October 5, foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani told reporters his government had passed on evidence of Indian interference in Balochistan to New Delhi.

“We have apprised India of our concerns on terrorism. If India has apprehensions about Pakistan, then we have more apprehensions than India,” he said. “Credible evidence on Indian involvement in terrorism in Balochistan is available with us.”

Jilani did not specify the nature of the evidence shared with India. A day before that, National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz had told reporters that “evidence on India’s role in Balochistan will be shared with New Delhi at an appropriate time.”

Pakistani officials rely on transcripts of telecommunication messages or written correspondence that they claim is intercepted every now and then.

They also say Brahamdagh Bugti and Harbiar Marri have Indian and Afghan passports, but this hardly amounts to a proof. Pakistan had also helped Afghan Taliban travel on Pakistani passports as a means of facilitation. The claim of Indian weapons being used for subversion in Balochistan is no substantive proof either. Weapons seized by the Taliban in ambushes of Indian security forces deployed in Afghanistan do routinely cross the Durand Line.

But the larger question relates to the streams of funding available to the Baloch insurgents. Some of our Baloch nationalist friends, who used to argue for separation, do concede that the lavish and incredible lifestyles of Brahamdagh and Harbiar and the extent of operations inside Balochistan require significant resources.

“We met them occasionally in Kabul, Geneva and London, and the conversations we had no doubt that they are on an external financial support line,” said a former Baloch nationalist. He also spoke of his parleys with the Afghan president Hamid Karzai who advised Pakistan through a Baloch delegation some time ago that it would be better to withdraw “Pakistani support for the Afghan Taliban”.

The major question confronting us then is whether India is using Afghanistan for terrorism in Balochistan and FATA, and why?

For India, Afghanistan, and the United States, Pakistan remains the bad boy of South Asia that has been in league with radical Islamist forces and has relied on “mercenaries to stoke trouble in Kashmir”.

The latest revelation is that former Indian army chief General VK Singh created a Technical Services Division (TSD) for covert operations in Pakistan – going after the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai terrorist attacks and Jamaatud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed. A Hindustan Times report chronicled this venture, and quoted a former TSD officer as saying: “Our main task was to combat the rising trend of state-sponsored terrorism by the ISI, and we had developed contacts across the Line of Control in a bid to infiltrate Hafiz Saeed’s inner circle.”

Given the history of mutual mistrust, hostility and cross-border covert operations between Islamabad and New Delhi, one can safely assume that Gen Singh’s TSD reflects only a small aspect of India’s possible involvement in Pakistan.

If the US CIA had been running alleged espionage networks through development and private security contractors (such as Raymond Davis), why wouldn’t India do the same to map, profile and counter India-focused groups such as LeT or JeM?

Also, why wouldn’t the Afghan and Indian intelligence prick Pakistan where it hurts the most if they believe the ISI has been hurting them since the late 1980s? It is tit for tat. Other than the intercepted “transcripts”, Pakistan has apparently little cogent, credible evidence to make its case against India.

Certain indicators do underscore the possibility of an external involvement in Balochistan and FATA.

For instance, regardless of the veracity of his claim, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan founder Baitullah Mehsud had told Ambassador Tariq Aziz (who served 97 days in the TTP’s captivity until May 2009) that “India has been offering its help to us against Pakistan” and that “we declined the offer”.

Vivek Katju, who had negotiated the release of the Indian Airlines flight 814 and its hostages at Kandahar on December 30, 1999, had said: We will absorb what you have done to us, but you will not be able to absorb what we could do to you. Katju went on to serve as his country’s ambassador in Kabul after the defeat of the obscurantist Taliban regime.

Thirdly, some of the recommendations made by a 2009 panel put together by India Today – the Board of Experts on Security and Terror (BEST), consisting of a dozen retired Indian military, intelligence and civilian officials – available on the India Today website, are also telling.

“There are lessons that India should learn from the 1971 conflict that was a result of careful strategy and planning. What the current situation calls for is a similar massive effort with a clear end goal in sight. If the 1971 objective was to dismember Pakistan, then the 2009 game plan should be to neutralise Pakistan so that it can no longer pose a threat to India,” the document says.

“We have our leverage in Balochistan and in some other parts of Pakistan. What we really need to convey to Pakistan is that if they commit a blatant anti-India act on the ground, a military act or otherwise, it will have to bear the repercussions,” said Ved Marwah, former governor of Jharkhand.

“Covert and over actions need to be essential ingredients of India’s policy. India must exploit faultlines within Pakistan,” said G Parthasarthi, a former high commissioner to Pakistan.

Although it was an altogether private media panel discussion, it does reflect the presence of these thoughts in India. It would not be a surprise if the Indian establishment followed some of these recommendations to try and return what Pakistan did in eastern Punjab and Indian Kashmir.

The Afghan establishment is not a friend of Pakistan either. Nor are the anti-Iran Jundullah or the Lashkr-e-Jhangvi fictional entities.

The India-Afghanistan-Pakistan rivalry extends beyond the Pakistani territory. That is why British historian William Dalrymple, (Brookings essay, June 25, 2013) also concludes that the hostility between India and Pakistan lies at the heart of the current war in Afghanistan. “Our troops are now caught up in a complex war shaped by two pre-existing and overlapping conflicts: one local and internal, the other regional,” he wrote. “There is an Indo-Pak proxy war, and it’s going on right now.”

It is clear that a deadly proxy war is being played out in Kashmir, Kandahar, Kabul, FATA and Balochistan. That is why Dr Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, former security advisor, had told a Pakistani intellectuals’ delegation in 2010: Please tell India and Pakistan to keep Afghanistan out of their bilateral disputes.

It is hard to say when and whether India and Pakistan’s conflicting geo-strategic interests and narratives will permit that.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk