Balochistan figures in Indo-Afghan talks

NEW DELHI: On the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement to Parliament, during which he is expected to clarify the reasons that prompted the wording of the joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh, the inclusion of Balochistan in the bilateral India-Pakistan dialogue figured prominently in talks with Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta.

Underlining that terrorism is “the most important security threat facing the region” a statement issued today after talks between Spanta and External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said India and Afghanistan resolved to intensify cooperation to combat terrorism.

Afghanistan has also blamed Pakistan for fomenting terrorist acts in that country, including the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul last July, and blames Islamabad for the creation of the Taliban, which is now ravaging that country. Presidential elections are due in Afghanistan next month and Kabul blames Islamabad for many of the terrorist strikes that have created a difficult security situation in that country.

The reference to alleged Indian involvement in Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan, in the joint India-Pakistan statement in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, is being used in Pakistan to put off taking concrete action against terrorism, US media reports have suggested.

According to the reports, Islamabad is ratcheting up its propaganda machinery to exploit the Balochistan reference, with Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani seeking to link Pakistan’s actions against the Lashkar-e-Taiba and its chief Hafiz Saeed with India putting a stop to its alleged covert operations in Balochistan.

According to Islamabad, India allegedly uses Kandahar in Afghanistan as its base to conduct covert operations in the mineral-rich Balochistan. Pakistan is worried that, as goodwill for India increases in Afghanistan (where New Delhi has committed US$1.2 billion in development projects like roads, dams, schools and hospitals), its own “strategic depth” and space in the region is shrinking. According to analysts, the desperate need to divert attention from its own backing of terrorist groups like the LET, which it feels are “strategic assets” against India, has made Pakistan insist upon the reference to Balochistan.

Prime Minister Singh will attempt to spell out in Parliament on Wednesday the reasons behind the reference to Balochistan creeping into the bilateral discourse for the first time.

India, which has consistently denied any involvement in the Baloch insurgency, will increasingly seek to internationalise the Balochistan issue, to show it has nothing to hide and point out how specious Pakistan’s claims are, analysts said.

Underlining that India ought to take the issue of human rights violations in Balochistan to the world community, former Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Arundhati Ghosh said India should highlight consistent Pakistani malpractices against the Baloch people since the time of independence.

Spanta, who also called on Prime Minister Singh, met National Security Adviser MK Narayanan before his departure.