Monday, August 24, 2009
A Baloch perspective on Sharm el-Sheik declaration
By Sajid Hussain
There has been much debate on the reference of Balochistan in the Indo-Pak joint declaration in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. It remains a thorn in the Indian government's side, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is facing firm opposition from voices within and outside the ruling Congress for allowing Balochistan's reference in the joint statement. On the other hand, people in Pakistan see it as a major success, claiming to have put India on the back foot for the first time since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008. However, most of the discussion on the subject lacks a Baloch perspective, who view this development from a different angle.
In an interview with a major Indian daily, the Khan of Kalat Mir Suleman Dawood said the declaration would help highlight the Baloch issue internationally and pave the way for international intervention in Balochistan. He asked India to use the opportunity and raise the issue in talks with Pakistan.
The repercussions that the mention of Balochistan in the communiqué has in store for Pakistan and India is yet to be seen, but it is obvious that it will earn the Baloch case international recognition. That is what the Baloch militants have been fighting for. The killing of Chinese engineers or the abduction of UNHCR official John Solecki was meant, at least partially, to attract world attention. In fact, all insurgencies strive for international recognition. For the Baloch insurgents, the Pakistan government has done the job.
Many Baloch political activists see the Sharm el-Sheikh statement as a turning point for their struggle. It is for the first time that the Baloch issue is being discussed so widely in the international media. Even Obama's special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, commented on it for its importance in terms of regional security.
Before the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting, the Baloch insurgency was little known outside Pakistan. In fact, most of the Indian parliamentarians lack basic information about Balochistan. During a discussion on the joint communiqué in Rajya Sabha on July 29, an Indian parliamentarian, Sharad Yadav, confused Balochistan with NWFP, saying that it was a part of Pakhtunistan. While discussing the inclusion of Balochistan in the declaration, he continued saying that Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan was a true nationalist. More interestingly, one of the most reputed Indian daily, The Statesman, wrote in its August 3 editorial that Khan Abdul Samad Khan was the 'Baloch' Gandhi. However, thanks to the Pakistan government, the Balochistan issue is now set to become common knowledge.
Though the Baloch nationalists may lose some sympathisers in Pakistan for their alleged link to India, yet it is a cost they are ready to pay if their case is recognised internationally. They would not care about the allegation of being Indian agents if their issue is discussed at regional or world forums. In fact, the sense of alienation is so deep among them that they have publicly invited India to help them highlight their issue. In his latest interview to a TV channel, Brahundagh Bugti, Nawab Akbar Bugti's grandson and a leading figure in the Baloch insurgency, had asked India and other countries to help them fight Pakistan. In a relatively more sophisticated comment, veteran nationalist leader Attaullah Mengal had said sometime back that he would even accept the "devil's help" against Pakistan.
The Baloch have nothing to lose -- Pakistan has. Once the Balochistan issue is included in the Indo-Pak talks, especially the composite dialogue process as Prime Minister Gilani has demanded, events in Balochistan will gain international attention. The world will more closely watch nationalist protests, militant activities and government moves in the strategically important region. This will bring a lot of pain for the militancy-hit Islamic republic. Besides, the pressure will come from international rights groups for hundreds of missing political activists, killing of Baloch leaders, and other government measures to suppress the Baloch uprising.
This is the reason why some Baloch leaders believe that India's acceptance to allow the Balochistan reference is tactical. They argue that there was not enough pressure on India to accept such a fate. On the contrary, Pakistan was on the defensive when Gilani and Singh met in Egypt owing to world pressure on Islamabad to act against the Mumbai attack perpetrators. Before the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting, Singh had said that he was expecting Gilani to assure him of dismantling the anti-India terror infrastructure when they would meet in Egypt. However, in a surprise development, rather than pressing Pakistan for action, Singh allowed a mention of Balochistan in the joint statement.
Whether India's decision is tactical or flawed, the disillusioned Baloch have pinned their hopes on the latest developments. However, only time will tell who is going to benefit from the Sharm el-Sheikh declaration.
(Published in The News on August 25, 2009)