India is playing the Baloch card deftly. Stepping up support for Baloch nationalists, India’s state run radio will begin broadcasts for listeners in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province. The move to directly communicate with the disaffected citizens of Pakistan will be a moral booster to the Baloch nationalists, already overjoyed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public support for them in his Republic Day speech. People of Balochistan will now get a dose of Indian propaganda and tune in for news blacked out by the Pakistani state. The Union Cabinet, on Wednesday, gave All India Radio the go-ahead to begin the broadcasts. The details of the programme, like the hours of broadcast and the timings are not yet known.
This may not be a game changer and not make much of a difference on the ground, but it will certainly give a fillip to the Baloch national cause and build goodwill for India in Balochistan. "In the process of signaling this is a good step," said Vivek Katju former secretary in the MEA, "it is a good development," he added.
Diplomacy is all about signaling and the message to Pakistan is clear. We can also stir the pot in your territory. "India is upping the ante with Pakistan, wanting to irritate them," said Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary. "But in all this I hope the government has thought through the process. This is not just Pakistan, but Chinese interests are also involved," he added, referring to the ambitious $46billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which runs through Balochistan. Saran notes that there would be a price to pay and China wouldn't not take this lying down. In track two meetings, China made it clear that this change will have a negative impact on the India-China relationship.
No one is certain yet — be it India’s support for Balochistan, Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK), Gilgit-Balistan is a long term change of policy or tactical move in view of the continuing violence in Kashmir. In the past too, Saran maintained that India had spoken out on Balochistan or PoK but once tempretures came down, all this was forgotten. But an AIR outreach to Balochistan can cause no harm. After all it is just part of diplomacy and moral support; India is not putting boots on the ground.
"This won’t change anything dramatically," said Ajai Sahani director of the Institute for Conflict Management, who tracks Pakistan closely. "But it is a welcome first step. The old idea of perpetually being on the defensive has taken us nowhere. It is desirable to put the screws on, and expand the entire issue to human rights abuse in other areas of Pakistan too,’’ he added.
Pakistan has been baselessly complaining about India’s role in destabilising Balochistan without much success. It is time, according to Sahani that New Delhi gets tough and extends support to all disaffected minorities in that country and broaden the scope of its diplomacy.
While most analysts and diplomats welcomed the cabinet decision, the more important point they felt was as Shyam Saran had asked — is this move tactical or strategic? Former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh said that if support to the Baloch cause was a tactical move in response to Kashmir, he would be disappointed. "It is time we take a strong stand and have a bold policy. We have allowed Pakistan to continue its destructive role in Kashmir for decades, it is time to change."
Pakistan will watch this latest move with some concern. All India Radio was effectively used during the Bangladesh unrest ahead of the liberation war and the arrest of Mujibu Rahman. AIR also made an impact in the early days in Myanmar, when New Delhi initially supported the pro democracy movement. Activists had fulsome praise for AIR, saying that people in Myanmar turned to the Indian broadcasts to get a sense of what was happening in the country. AIR provided the alternative news source, when the ruling military junta cracked down on all news about the resistance. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose used the Azad Hind Radio out of Berlin to urge Indian’s to fight for freedom and not be part of the British War effort. Bose broadcast daily to his countrymen initially from Berlin and later from Singapore and finally from Myanmyar (Rangoon). The effectiveness of the radio broadcasts in today’s digital world is debatable. It is also worth considering if India really wants to stir things up in Balochistan. It is more likely that the Modi government is making a point, to Pakistan, that two can play the game.
The overall strategy seems to be to keep communications intact with the Baloch nationalists, and those in Gilgit Baltistan. In the coming weeks and months, there will be more meetings and interaction with the leaders of these groups living abroad. Many will be invited to India, some will hold meetings with Indian ambassadors and in general be given the red carpet welcome that the Hurriyat members receive from Islamabad. The AIR broadcast is in tune with this strategy.