Even before the summer of 2016 can hit the peak, Pakistan is sweating because of rising turbulence in Balochistan province. Its fear is evident in the flip-flops on the peace process with India and refusal to allow the National Investigating Agency (NIA) to visit Pakistan to probe the Pathankot attack.
China recently announced it will pump nearly 50 billion dollars in infrastructure projects in Pakistan. But, Baloch separatists have been regularly targeting project sites, making China wary of turmoil in the sensitive region.
It is likely that China has asked Pakistan to ensure Baloch separatists are kept on a tight leash and its investments are protected at any cost. So, Pakistan is trying to do what it does best: Blame India for the instability in Balochistan and rake up an international controversy over the neighbour's "involvement in its internal matters."
Bear this in mind while analysing three recent events that have irritated India. One, the arrest of Kulbhushan Jadhav/Yadav from Balochistan. Two, China's veto on inclusion of Azhar Masood in the UN list of terrorists. And, three, Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit's statement that peace talks between the two countries remain suspended and the NIA is unlikely to be allowed a reciprocal visit to Pakistan to probe the Pathankot attack.
Jadhav was arrested from Balochistan's southern region of Chaman by the Pakistani agencies during "an intelligence raid." While India denied he was connected to any of its agencies, Pakistan claimed Jadhav is a serving naval officer and reports directly to the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
Pakistan later released a video of Jadhav's interrogation to claim he was active in Balochistan since 2013. "His goal was to disrupt development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), with Gwadar port as a special target," Pakistan claimed after the arrest. An official spokesperson of the Pakistani government called Jadhav's arrest a "big achievement since he was reporting to the RAW chief and India's National Security Advisor."
India rubbished the allegation saying the alleged confession was obtained under duress. India has maintained that Jadhav had retired from the navy long ago and was running his own business. Some reports suggest he was abducted by a terror group and delivered to Pakistani agencies to help them in their anti-India tirade.
The strategy is unravelling.
A few days ago, when China used its veto power to block Jaish-e-Mohammad chief's inclusion in the list of international terrorists, many experts believed it was reacting to India's alleged involvement in Balochistan, swayed by the Pakistani propaganda of India trying to attack infrastructure projects in the region.
"(Nawaz) Sharif’s response to issues in Balochistan follows a familiar script: blame India. But concrete evidence of Indian support for separatists in Balochistan has never materialized. While it’s tempting to dismiss violence there as status quo, the kind of violence matters as much as its frequency. Pakistan has never been much more than a shaky conglomerate. A seething Balochistan undermines Pakistan’s stability, threatening the balance of power in Central Asia," strategic affairs magazine Foreign Policy argues, explaining Pakistan's rhetoric and domestic compulsions.
But, Pakistan appears keen to up the ante. During the recent visit by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, Pakistan's chief of army staff Raheel Sharif raised the issue of India's involvement in Balochistan. He even insinuated that Indian spies may be getting help from Iran for creating trouble in Balochistan.
Pakistan later issued a denial when it got a stern message from Iran. "During past days some section of Pakistani media has spread contents regarding detention of an Indian agent and the matter related to it, which could have negatives implications on the fraternal and friendly atmosphere of Iran and Pakistan," Iran said in an official statement.
Pakistan envoy Basit's statement on Thursday that Jadhav's arrest "irrefutably corroborates what Pakistan has been saying all along", is another sign that his country is portray India as a country that foments trouble in Balochistan. It is trying its best to use it to counter allegations of cross-border terrorism and Pakistani interference in Kashmir.
Balochistan is Pakistan's largest province. It lies in southwest Pakistan. It shares its border with Iran, Afghanistan — both countries take keen interest in its affairs — and the Arabian Sea. Apart from being of great strategic importance to Pakistan, Balochistan has great value because it is rich in natural resources.
During the British rule, Balochistan was divided into four princely states, Makran, Kharan, Las Bela and Kalat. Between 1947 and 1948 all of them gradually merged with Pakistan. But, several insurgent groups, led by the Balochistan Liberation Army, have been seeking independence and a larger share in the natural resources since 1948.
But, trouble is now escalating with the insurgents making frequent raids and the neighbours also interfering in Balochistan.
According to Foreign Policy, 'Other regional powers are paying close attention to Balochistan. In late 2015, Iranian forces fired mortar shells across the Pakistan border into Balochistan on several occasions, in a display of power meant not only for Pakistan, but also for the substantial Iranian Baloch population. And the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) has ramped up their presence in Balochistan: 2016 has already seen two major suicide attacks in Balochistan linked to the TTP, which claimed 27 lives.'
As Pakistan faces the heat from Baloch insurgents, India will have to get ready for more flip-flops and accusations from the Pakistani Deep State.
There is increasing suspicion that Pakistan and China have begun their diplomatic chess on Balochistan. And they will use India as a pawn in it.
Abdul Basit has just moved another piece on the board.