Baluchistan out of the box
31 Jul 2009
In democratic countries an alert, sceptical, media is a huge blessing, but not always an unmixed one. The wave of hawkishness that nearly derailed the government's calibrated response to the terrorist strike of 26 November was a case in point. The furore that has broken out over the inclusion of a mention of Baluchistan in his joint statement with Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, in Sharm-el-Sheikh, is another.
The accompanying media picked up immediately on this sudden departure from the script that had been prepared in South block. But, with rare exceptions, instead of rushing to investigate, they have rushed to condemn.
The media did not do this on its own: unnamed sources in the policy making establishment pointed it in this direction. A sentence in Barkha Datt's column in the Hindustan Times gives us a pretty good indication of who these were: ''The intense disapproval of its inclusion in the Egypt joint statement (some of it from within the Congress) terminates any chance of substantive forward movement between the two countries in the immediate future''.
If only some of the disapproval has come from Congress, the source of the rest is not hard to guess. The prime minister had once again put the Indian security establishment's nose out of joint.
To understand why the prime minister agreed to make a public reference to Baluchistan, one needs to look at Indo-Pak relations through Pakistan's eyes. Although few Pakistanis are willing to admit it openly, the truth is that the writ of the government has all but ceased to run in Baluchistan. Long before the army cold -bloodedly killed Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti, the leader of the Baloch National Front in 2006, insurgents were blowing up telegraph lines, oil and gas pumping stations and pipelines every other day.
The vast and forbidding terrain made it virtually impossible for the two divisions headquartered in Quetta, which was all the army command felt it could spare from the Indian border, to maintain more than a semblance of control.