‘Maybe the Nehru government failed to comprehend the strategic significance of an independent Balochistan’.



New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru’s Balochistan blooper may not be well-known today, but historically and strategically, it is as disastrous and indicting as the great Himalayan blunder or even the Kashmir gaffe. Out of a misplaced sense of priority and strategic myopia, the then Government of India refused to support the Baloch state of Kalat, which was trying to strike a deal with New Delhi to avoid Pakistani occupation.

In 1946, the Khan of Kalat was in discussion with the top Congress leadership on the fate of Balochistan. In fact, one of his representatives even met Abul Kalam Azad, the then Congress president, but the Maulana questioned the very idea of Balochistan as an independent nation. Worse, if a report by a Britain-based think tank, Foreign Policy Centre, is to be believed, Nehru returned the accession papers signed by the Khan of Kalat in 1947.

Kalat, which comprised nearly the whole of Balochistan, was an independent nation when the British left the subcontinent. Incidentally, it was Mohammed Ali Jinnah who had helped the Khan of Kalat, in his capacity as a lawyer, to prepare his brief for Balochistan’s independence. Writes Tilak Devasher in his new book, Pakistan: The Balochistan Conundrum, “In 1946, Jinnah, the legal adviser of the Khan of Kalat, submitted a Memorandum to the Cabinet Mission that, inter alia, demanded the separation of Balochistan from British India on geographical grounds.”

The Balochistan countdown began with an All India Radio (AIR) broadcast on 27 March 1948, which reported a press conference by V.P. Menon, a civil servant who had played a key role during India’s Partition, saying the Khan “was pressing India to accept Kalat’s accession”, but “India would have nothing to do with it”. The next day, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the then Home Minister, issued a clarification saying no such request had come, but the damage was already done. The alarmed Pakistani army stormed Kalat and all India could do was watch as a mute spectator the annexation of the Balochi state.

It was the case of a missed opportunity for India. Maybe the Nehru government failed to comprehend the strategic significance of an independent Balochistan. Maybe, it erroneously believed, contrary to the fundamental Kautilyan tenet, that a strong neighbour—in this case Pakistan—was good for India. Unfortunately, this mindset still remains entrenched in the country with successive governments refusing to see the artificial construct of the idea of Pakistan. India simply did nothing on the fact that “most Baloch believe that the Khan of Kalat was not only forced to sign the Instrument of Accession but that it was an illegal accession”, as Devasher writes in the book.

It’s this institutional indifference, coupled with popular ignorance and ideological complicity, that has made India act defensively not just on Balochistan, but also on Kashmir for almost seven decades, till the Narendra Modi government decided to challenge the status-quoist approach. In this backdrop, Devasher’s book on Balochistan is a welcome addition to the literature on the subject. For, it incisively showcases Pakistan’s Balochistan conundrum, but also how inorganic the very notion of Pakistan is.

Balochistan’s alienation, writes Devasher, is two-fold. One is the “Baloch narrative” that “hinges on the indelible historical memories of being independent and the injustices the people feel that they have undergone since they were forced to accede to Pakistan”. The author quotes Baloch political leader Abdul Hayee Baloch as saying, “The establishment has never accepted the fact that Pakistan is a multi-nation country. Pakistan came into existence in 1947, but Balochs, Pathans, Sindhis, Punjabis and Seraikis have been here for centuries. They have their own cultures and languages.”

The second factor is a post-accession phenomenon, which saw organised economic exploitation, discrimination and even persecution of the Baloch. No wonder, Balochistan’s share in the national GDP dropped from 4.9% in the mid-1970s to less than 3% in 2000. Devasher says, “The province has the highest infant and maternal mortality rates, the highest poverty rate and the lowest literacy rate in Pakistan. Within Balochistan, ‘an average Baloch is twice as poor as an average Punjabi, Pashtun or Hazra resident of the province’.” Even the mega projects being implemented with China’s support—the Gwadar port and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)—have exacerbated Balochi grievances. The locals fear, based on their past experiences, that jobs and other benefits created by these projects would be grabbed by outsiders.

Devasher quotes Baloch journalist Malik Siraj Akbar as saying that “development” per se has different meanings for Balochistan and the rest of Pakistan. “For the Baloch, development is linked with the creation of employment opportunities and consequent improvement in their standard of living. For Pakistan, development means obtaining Balochistan’s mineral wealth and expediting the development of the Gwadar port and the CPEC,” writes the author.

The Pakistani establishment, which has been shedding crocodile tears since the scrapping of Article 370, must explain how a large number of Baloch have been subjected to “enforced disappearance” or have gone “missing”, only to be found dead later, with bodies riddled with bullets and torture marks. Even the Supreme Court of Pakistan has time and again castigated intelligence agencies and security forces for indulging in extrajudicial arrests and killings. The book not just sets the record straight on Pakistani exploitation, discrimination and persecution of the Baloch but also, unwittingly and inadvertently, reminds readers of India’s failure to capitalise on the massive internal faultlines within Pakistan, first during Partition when the Khan of Kalat showed a chink in Pakistani armour and later by successive Indian governments that seemed reluctant to capitalise on a festering wound that was threatening to turn cancerous for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

On a visit to Pakistan in 1962, Henry Kissinger, then a Harvard professor, remarked when asked to comment on the insurgency in the mineral-rich province that accounted for almost half of the land area of Pakistan while possessing just 6% of the country’s population, “I wouldn’t recognise the Balochistan problem if it hit me in the face.” India’s political class doesn’t seem to fare any better. For about seven decades, it refused to recognise the problem. In the name of a Pakistan policy, all it got in place was a jumbled notion of ideological correctness and enforced morality. All it did was to follow a circuitous path of peaceful negotiations with Pakistan, followed by a major terror strike, which would lead to a phase of diplomatic lull, and then again the Indian establishment would restart the dialogue process again!

Pakistan deserves what it aspires to inflict on its eastern neighbour: A thousand cuts into its physical existence, with the deepest being an assault on the umbilical cords connecting Pakistan with Balochistan. For all the utterances otherwise by peaceniks and Track-IIwallahs, a divided and disintegrated Pakistan is the best bet for India. And nothing gives India a better chance to Balkanise Pakistan than the Balochistan imbroglio. India may have wasted 70 years doing nothing on the issue, but the capital is not all lost. Devasher’s book is a timely reminder of that.