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Delhi in bind over Bugti

The Indian foreign policy establishment is keen to continue to flirt with Balochistan's separatist movement in a bid to pressure Pakistan over its support to cross-border terrorism but remains cautious about turning that dalliance into a formal marriage of interests.

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 24.09.16
  •  

New Delhi, Sept. 23: The Indian foreign policy establishment is keen to continue to flirt with Balochistan's separatist movement in a bid to pressure Pakistan over its support to cross-border terrorism but remains cautious about turning that dalliance into a formal marriage of interests.

Baloch Republican Party leader Brahumdagh Bugti, currently in exile in Geneva, has formally applied for asylum to India and his application is with the ministry of home affairs.

But while India remains willing to support Bugti's call for an end to human rights violations by Pakistan in Balochistan, senior foreign ministry officials told The Telegraph the Narendra Modi government is aware of the challenges that will come with granting him formal asylum.

Bugti's party is listed by Pakistan as a terrorist entity for alleged attacks in Balochistan. And while India is convinced the charges against the party and its leaders are trumped up, it remains wary about a move that could weaken New Delhi's argument against Islamabad that it hosts terrorists.

Pakistan's defence minister Khwaja Asif indicated the posture Pakistan will adopt if India accepts Bugti's plea for asylum.

"India granting asylum to Bugti will amount to harbouring a terrorist by a state... thus (India) becoming official sponsor of terrorism," Asif posted on micro-blogging site Twitter.

Officials said the government may not take a decision - or at least announce one - on Bugti's application any time soon. This will allow India to remind Pakistan of the option New Delhi has to play at a game Islamabad has mastered, without risking any equivalence.

India's decision is also complicated by Bugti's announcement earlier this week that thousands of Baloch refugees in Afghanistan, and other Baloch victims of human rights abuses in Pakistan will also seek asylum in India.

Bugti is the grandson of Baloch leader Akbar Bugti, who was assassinated in a military attack by Pakistan forces in 2006.

India has long needled Pakistan over its human rights record in Balochistan, a large but sparsely populated province, and has supported the movement there for greater autonomy. This strategy has for decades had the support of both the Congress and the currently ruling BJP.

But India carefully did not highlight this support at a senior political level, even as Pakistan accused New Delhi of sponsoring terrorists in Balochistan - a charge India has consistently dismissed.

India's approach changed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi twice referred to Balochistan last month. On August 12, he told an all-party meeting that the time had come for "Pakistan to answer" for human rights violations in Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir.

On August 15, Modi again referred to Balochistan - this time in his Independence Day address to the nation.