Balochistan brouhaha: Jittery Pakistan backs Taliban to keep Afghanistan off limits for India

By Seema Guha

There is no official word yet if the attack in Mazar-e-Sharif was directed at the Indian consulate, or the house next door, where most of the action took place. Luckily unlike in Pathankot the operations are over and all four gunmen have been killed.

There was a blast on Tuesday, 200 metres from the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad, but officials say that this was not aimed at the Indian mission. But the fact remains that all Indian interests in Afghanistan continue to be targeted by the Taliban. This is because the Pakistan Army and its spy agency the ISI, believe it is in their national interest to clip New Delhi's wings in Afghanistan.

When Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday to condemn the terrorist attack in Pathankot, the Indian PM thanked him and appreciated the courage of the Afghan army in ensuring the safety of the Indian Consulate and its personnel in Mazar.

It was an obvious attack on the Consulate but neither side has made it official. "If you want to wear blinkers, you may do so. But Pakistan's position has not changed on Indian presence in Afghanistan or the India-Pakistan peace process. It is ironic that Pakistan can continue to pull the wool over our eyes all the time," said Kanwal Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary.

Pakistan keen to clip India's wings in Afghanistan

India has been under attack in Afghanistan ever since New Delhi spread itself out in the country. During the Taliban regime, the Indian embassy in Kabul was closed. But India revived its past historical ties with Kabul since former president Hamid Karzai, disappointed with what he saw as Pakistan's double game, turned more and more to India. Delhi was the first power with which Afghanistan signed a defence and strategic agreement. Pakistan's army had watched with impotent rage India spreading its wings in its backyard. Opening of the four consulates in Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar and Jalalabad besides the embassy in Kabul was seen in GHQ in Rawalpindi as India's listening posts in Afghanistan.

Charges India of involvement in Balochistan

Pakistan alleges that the diplomats manning these Consulates are from Indian intelligence. Pakistan charges India of using the Jalalabad and Kandahar Consulates to fund, provide arms and training to Baloch nationalists who want independence from Pakistan. Islamabad had in the past charged that India and Afghanistan under Karzai had together helped to ferment trouble in Balochistan.

The Baloch problem began in the 1970's because of the lack of development in the province, despite being rich in gas and minerals. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto crushed the movement by calling in the army and air force. For a long time afterwards the movement remained dormant, though there was anger that the Gwadar port and other development work in the province created no jobs for the locals.

In 2004, the Baloch movement was resurrected by Akbar Bugti but he was killed in 2006 in a firefight with the Pakistan Army. India's Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement immediately afterwards: "The unfortunate killing of the veteran Baloch leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, is a tragic loss to the people of Balochistan and Pakistan.

This military attack in which reportedly two of his grandsons were also killed and the heavy casualties in the continuing military operations in Balochistan underline the need for peaceful dialogue to address the grievances and aspirations of people of Balochistan. Military force can never solve political problems."

This did not go down well with General Pervez Musharraf and the army, who said it was inevitable that India which supported the Baloch movement would say this.

Pakistan continues to make these allegations and had earlier complained to the US and Nato allies of India's role in Balochistan.

However, proof supplied by Islamabad has never been convincing. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was torn apart by the opposition and his own Congress party, when Balochistan became a part of the joint statement released after his meeting with the then Pakistan prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, during a meeting in Sharm-el-Sheikh, the Egyptian resort town.

Manmohan Singh was accused of legitimising Pakistan's claims. The former PM had asked for proof, which Islamabad has not been able to substantiate with solid evidence. Whether India is actually involved in Balochistan is difficult to say as no government is ready to admit such covert operations. The important thing is that the Pakistan military believes this and want Indian presence in Afghanistan reduced to the embassy in Kabul.

So an attack on the Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif, is very much in line with the ISI policy in Afghanistan. In 2008, the Indian embassy in Kabul was attacked, where the defence attaché and a young diplomat were among those killed. Another attempt was made a few months later in 2009. In both cases the Haqqani network, a Afghan militant group close to Pakistan, was said to be behind the attack. The aim was to frighten India out of the country. In 2013, the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad was targeted, and several civilians were killed, though no Indian was affected.

After being isolated on Afghanistan during the latter part of the US and Nato campaign against the Taliban, Islamabad is back in the picture as the American's turn to Pakistan to get the Taliban to the negotiating table. The first round of Taliban talks with the Afghan government representatives, was also attended by Pakistan, US and China.

The disclosure of Mullah Omar's death and the infighting which followed led to a delay in holding the second round. It is now scheduled for sometime this month. In the meantime Taliban attack across Afghanistan has increased, with the hope of the Taliban negotiating from a position of strength. Pakistan is going all out to back the Taliban to ensure that its ally gets a major share in the new political set-up. Rawalpindi was to make sure that its enemies like India is cut to size in a new dispensation. But much will depend on what turn the talks take. India is watching from the sidelines.



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