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Abhishek Ratkal asked: Should India be taking "proactive" steps in the Baloch national movement, like it had in Bangladesh in 1971?

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  • Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: India's role in the so called "liberation movement" in Bangladesh was facilitated by several enabling factors, i.e., shared border with Bangladesh, overflow of refugees into its territory, unity and legitimacy of the group leading the movement, international sympathy and withering capacity of the Pakistan military. The historical as well as geopolitical conditions were also quite favourable for the Bangladeshis. India's proactive role in 1971 was considered necessary and legitimate against this backdrop.

    Baloch movement has been different. Interestingly, unlike in the case of Bangladeshis, where both the leadership and the people fought for Pakistan, neither the Baloch leaders nor the Baloch people expressed any enthusiasm for Pakistan. In fact, they argued vociferously against the principle of religion forming the basis of partition. The Khan of Kalat was coerced into signing the instrument of accession. The Baloch people never supported such accession. They have been rooting for independence and confronting the mighty Pakistan army ever since. There have been five phases of insurgency in Balochistan so far; however, the military of Pakistan has been able to maintain its control over the Baloch territory. Because of lack of unity (Balochis utterly divided along tribal and ideological lines), international apathy, and unfavourable demographic conditions, the Baloch movement for independence has not been able to pose any critical threat to Pakistan.

    Because of Pakistan's ongoing policy of using subversion as an instrument vis-à-vis India, there is a strong argument in favour of India paying back Pakistan in its own coin. This would entail nourishing subversive constituencies like the Balochis in Pakistan and enable them to continue their militant struggle against the Pakistan state. While this may sound perfectly realistic and rational as a counter-strategy, India may not be able to justify and sustain any such action in the long run. Moreover, this does not go well with India's stature as a rising power with a moral grand-standing (as a nation committed to principles of non-violence and non-interference) and increasing global commitments. While the temptation to try out such an option may have led to discussions on the issue among the members of the strategic community, there is no enthusiasm for any such option at the leadership level. India can at best take a moral position and appeal to the world community against the incidents of excesses and disappearances to bring in international pressure and opprobrium on the Pakistan military. Any proactive policy on Balochistan (like on Bangladesh in 1971) is therefore ruled out.