"They [Pakistan] have been out to prove that this is not a genuine movement. The statement of the high commissioner is just an attempt at 'drama'."- Naela Quadri Baloch, president of the World Baloch Women’s Forum
It was deliberate. Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit, when he walked into the rather quiet Lutyens bungalow, knew that he would dominate the next news cycle. The press briefing at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia in Delhi may have been just an interaction, but the statement—where he hinted at India's lack of interest in the peace process—was well thought out. It was an attempt to change the narrative to Balochistan and “spying”, before casually dropping the bomb—that the peace talks were “suspended”.
The day after Basit spoke of India interfering in Balochistan—with the chief exhibit Kulbhushan Yadav ‘confessing’ to spying—Naela Quadri Baloch, president of the World Baloch Women’s Forum, denied any Indian involvement in her struggle or the uprising in Balochistan. “The government has been silent. They don’t see us or hear us,” she said. “India has never supported us. It has been a long standing demand but it has always been ignored.”
Quadri is on a mission. She is travelling across the country for two weeks addressing policy groups as well as students in the hope to get them to sit up and notice the “genocide’’ that is happening in her home. “We won’t be found in museums,” she said. “Like the native American Indians in Canada. We won’t exist, there is so much ethnic cleansing.”
This is not the first time that the ‘B’ word has been bandied about in the Indo-Pak diplomacy context. The Baloch problem has had a long and rather bloody history. The fight for freedom—that dates back to the time of the British empire—has over the years gained momentum, even though it does not have one dynamic leader to push its cause further. Pakistan, which has claimed a foreign hand in the Baloch uprising, now claims that in the last one month, “scores’’ of terror operatives with “foreign linkages’’ have been arrested. “The presence of such elements is quite disturbing to say the least,” said Basit. Ask Quadri about the claim, and she shrugs it off saying that Pakistan knows that “things are clearly going out of hand”. “They have been out to prove that this is not a genuine movement. But the statement of the high commissioner is just an attempt at ‘drama’,’’ she said.
Despite this open invitation to India to help the Baloch cause, Quadri is disillusioned that India has never had the political will to do more than maybe just offer sympathy. It was a decision taken under prime minister I.K. Gujral that India, being the larger country, will not meddle in Balochistan and it won’t be a tit-for-tat for Kashmir.
However, Pakistan is pushing India into a corner. And Pakistan decided to play this fight to the court of perception—the media. It helps Pakistan to be seen as reasonable and India as unwilling to engage, to win the war with the international community. But beyond this battle of perception, the question—which is eternal—in the Indo-Pak peace dialogue process is, what next? The story of the ‘spy’ will remain just that, as seasoned diplomats point out, unless consular access is provided. Otherwise his confession will remain as “propaganda” as one former ambassador put it. In the rather delicate Indo-Pak relationship, all statements, especially by the other side, need to be ‘understood’ . Like newly blossoming love where every conversation is thrashed out endlessly for a hidden message.
“The Pakistan high commissioners are notorious for making statements on the basis of who they think is in charge in the capital, whether it is the civilian government or the army,’’ says former high commissioner to Pakistan G. Parthasarthy. “Basit, like his colleagues, must have noted that the political winds today are in favour of the general in Rawalpindi, rather than the prime minister in Islamabad.”
This is not the first time that there has been doublespeak in Pakistan. While there is a growing perception that Nawaz Sharif and his General Raheel Sharif do not see eye-to-eye, Basit ’ s decision to come out and speak might be a signal that the old establishment within the government of Pakistan—beholden to the army—may have orchestrated it to force the hand of the prime minister.
“Basit has provoked to conduct diplomacy through the media. We should not rise to the bait,” says C. Uday Bhaskar, director, Society for Policy Research. “There is an old school of thought that doesn’t want peace with India within Pakistan. We shouldn’t be hasty to react. The best would be to build our capacity to prevent another attack like Mumbai or Pathankot and engage and build quarters that may not be adverse towards a better relationship with India.”
India so far has chosen to act with restraint. To counter Basit’s public plea to engage “uninterruptedly, comprehensively and meaningfully’’ to provide lasting peace, the ministry of external affairs resorted to his own ministry’s officialese. “I have stated this many times that both countries are in contact with each other and it has been reiterated from both sides that the modalities are being worked out,” the MEA said quoting the spokesperson for the Pakistani foreign ministry.
“We just have to bide our time," said Leena Ponappa, former deputy national security adviser. That just might be the right way to act.