It is curious how nothing has exercised the Indian foreign policy establishment the past few weeks more than the single line on Balochistan in the Indo-Pakistan joint statement issued at Sharm el -Sheikh. This is less about the substance of the line than a combination of two factors. One, while the two countries are moving on different trajectories, the fact remains that relations with Pakistan are still a matter of great public sensitivity. After all, with no other country is an error of diplomacy more likely to result in the spilling of Indian blood and a huge economic cost. Two, the Manmohan Singh government has opened itself to criticism by allowing diplomacy to move off the beaten track — and then failing to provide any explanation as to motives or expectations. Nothing is more telling than how tongue-tied Congress members become when asked to explain the Baloch enigma.
The sophisticated argument against this move is that it legitimises Islamabad’s claims that India is sponsoring insurgents in Balochistan. This puts at risk the moral high ground India now occupies on Kashmir. It has taken years for India to persuade the rest of the world that Pakistan is the “epicentre of global terrorism.” If Baloch terror is pinned on New Delhi, then the world will see Kashmir as part of a tit-for-tat exercise between two countries rather than proxy aggression done in alliance with international terrorism. The counter-argument, of course, is that India’s hands are clean in Balochistan. If Islamabad’s declares a bomb blast in Quetta is India’s handiwork, New Delhi should call for an international inquiry and watch Pakistan squirm. The skeletons that line Pakistan’s Baloch closet will be exposed.
Ultimately, these arguments are academic. What really matters is the country’s foreign policy process. Prime Minister Singh himself has said the primary barrier to India’s rise is the instability of its neighbourhood — and clearly this refers mainly to Pakistan. This alone is sufficient reason for the government to take its own party and its people into confidence. Either “Balochistan” is a cavalier, throwaway line or it indicates a new policy path in India’s handling of the Pakistan problem. Either way an explanation is needed.