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Sharm Al-Sheikh Indo-Pak Joint Statement: A Different Perspective

P.K. Upadhyay was a Consultant with Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses for its Pakistan Project.
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  • August 07, 2009

    As the din and the dust raised by the Sharm al-Sheikh document settles down, it seems to be opening new possibilities for India to effectively deal with the emerging situation in Pakistan by finally being able to encourage and back ideas of democratic federalism and non sectarian polity in that country. The reference to Baluchistan in the Sharm al-Sheikh Joint Statement has invited the sharpest reactions. But, has not that reference elevated the issue of continuing Pakistani persecution of the Baluchs to an international level? At least a section of Pakistanis press seems to feel that by ignoring the sensibilities of the Baluch people, Pakistan Government has allowed it to be internationalised.

    It is for some time now that the Pakistanis have been shouting from the rooftops about alleged Indian involvement in Baluchistan. However, the international community has ignored this. As late as July 30, reacting to the Sharm al-Sheikh reference to Baluchistan, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke categorically stated that although the Pakistani leaders brought up the issue of India’s alleged involvement in Baluchistan (in contacts with US authorities), they did not give any credible evidence to support their claim.

    On the contrary, Pakistan’s persecution of the Baluchs and the genocide they have perpetrated in Baluchistan is well documented in the western media by various political commentators and authors like Selig Harrison and others. Memories of declaration of independence by Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan and the forcible annexation of the state by Pakistan after it had remained independent for nine months, the 1973 genocide of Marri, Bugti and Mengal tribes by the Pakistan’s Army and Air Force, the killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in August 2006 are still fresh. Therefore, India does not have to defend itself against Pakistani allegations on this score but just turn the mirror around to highlight Pakistani establishments’ brutal persecution of its own people, which is at heart of the conflict in Baluchistan. Whenever Pakistan raises the issue of alleged human rights abuses in India in international fora, India may just repeat what Baluch leaders are themselves saying about their continuing persecution at Pakistani hands.

    Now that the issue of Baluchistan is an international issue between India and Pakistan, Indian media, academic circles and even the Parliament can discuss the human rights situation in Baluchistan without caring about accusations of ‘interference in a neighbour’s internal matters’. India’s desire to find a likeminded and rational lobby in Pakistan has been a mirage so far. Many good intentioned gestures by Indian leaders from Mahatma Gandhi downwards did not produce any lasting response of a similar kind from Pakistan. From the very beginning various Pakistani political circles, whether the Muslim League, or the Pakistan People’s Party, or the military dictators, all have kept ‘anti-India’ card alive and used it to serve their political ends. However, things seem to be changing now and India may find a rational and pragmatic lobby emerging in Pakistan at the grass root levels.

    Zia-ul Haq’s politically motivated Islamization measures, the anti-Soviet Afghan Jehad, Pakistan’s efforts to keep Afghanistan tied to its apron strings by espousing sectarian Islamic policies and the rise of Taliban have pulled Pakistan’s ethno-sectarian fault lines apart. Aligned with Wahabi Al-Qaida, a major section of the Pakistani Deobandis is either actively trying to, or is silently supportive of efforts to dominate the country by introducing a Shariat based order. If this conglomerate does not have the capability to do so in accordance with the rules of democratic polity, it is trying to do so by pushing through Jehadist Islam.

    The rise of this Deobandi/Wahabi radicalism has made Pakistan’s other Islamic sects – The Barelvis, Shias, Ismailis, etc. - nervous and edgy. They feel that Pakistan’s civil and military establishments now lack the capability to make a committed response to growing Islamic radicalism because of their own past association with these very Jehadists, practically all of whom – Taliban, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, etc – have a Deobandi orientation. They also feel that the personal beliefs and sympathies of a large number of persons constituting country’s civil and military order are with the hard-line Deobandi zealots. The recent attacks against Barelvi Ulema, the threats to Shias and the Ismailis, the threat of imposition of Jejiya on Hindus and Sikhs in Swat and other Taliban dominated areas of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the attacks on Christians in Punjab have not only accentuated the fears of country’s Muslim and non-Muslim minorities, but also exacerbated its long standing and festering ethnic tensions.

    It is doubtful if the Pakistan based perpetrators and masterminds of 26/11 Mumbai carnage would ever be punished by any Government in Pakistan. Hafiz Mohammad Saeed is roaming free and the trials of Zarar Shah and Lakhvi are more likely to be used as platforms to highlight the alleged Indian occupation and atrocities in Kashmir for the benefit of a receptive national and international audience. Under such a scenario, by raising the issue of Baluchistan at the bilateral level, Pakistan has provided India with an opportunity to highlight Baluch cause which will have many sympathetic ears among Pakistan’s sectarian minorities, as they might find some resonance of their own grievances in the Baluchi dirges.

    The Ismailis and Shias of Gilgit and Baltistsn, the so-called ‘Northern Areas of Pakistan’ are also one such group of people who are smarting under Pakistani oppression and exploitation. The large-scale persecution of the people of the area by predominantly Frontier Corps in the mid-80s, the forcible use of local recruits of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) in the Kargil war in 1998 and the current FATA operations, along with their exploitation as occupied people constitute major grievances of these people. There is a deep sense of alienation among them. There is already a Balwaristan (Highland) National Front active abroad to highlight the quest for freedom by these people, who are technically Indian citizens living under Pakistani occupation. While highlighting the Baluchistan issue, we might as well take up their cause also, particularly as there is an existing Parliamentary Resolution declaring the entire Kashmir as an inalienable part of Indian Union. Why should we close our eyes to people who are no different from those who are living in Kargil and its adjoining areas? Why should we not reserve, at least now, a couple of seats for the representatives of those areas in our Parliament, to be filled as and when it is possible to hold elections there? Why should not AIR’s Leh and Kargil Stations broadcast special round-ups about these areas, when the local people in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) listen to those stations very keenly? These are so many questions that now need to be addressed by the nation by rising above party lines in the light of Pakistan’s elevation of the Baluchistan to the bilateral agenda with India.