India must be prepared for two responses — one from the MJC and one from the putative state of Pakistan
by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)
For the first time in many years, focus of the India—Pakistan discussion has veered from the familiar topics—Kashmir and cross-border terrorism originating in Pakistan—to Balochistan. After PM Modi’s reference to “the people of Balochistan” in his 2016 Independence Day speech, two immediate effects are clearly observable: one, the Baloch nationalists dispersed across the world have received greater attention from a completely new set of audiences. This has added much-needed vigour to their waning campaign against the atrocities committed by the Pakistani state in Balochistan. On the other hand, the intensification of the rhetoric has been met with one of the most brutal crackdowns by the Pakistani establishment within Balochistan—67 were killed and over 150 were reported missing in August alone.
The idea behind this post is not to gauge the wisdom or the folly behind the PM’s statement on Balochistan for such an exercise is futile. Given that the wheels have already been set into motion, it would be worthwhile to ask: how will Pakistan react to this escalation from India?
To understand Pakistan’s reaction, it is critical to note that there will be two different responses because Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two. The first is a putative state; currently represented by a civilian government and a civilian de-facto head of state, having its own flag and other paraphernalia that make it appear like a sovereign state. The competing entity is not just the military, as it is generally held. Instead, it is a dynamic syndicate of military, militant, radical Islamist and political-economic structures, which pursues a set of domestic and foreign policies to ensure its own survival and relative dominance: what we call the military—jihadi complex (MJC).
The MJC and the putative state of Pakistan, both will react differently to India, depending on their own capabilities and intentions. My colleague Nitin Pai explains this duality of response through this analogy:
So when New Delhi engages Pakistan, it is like one batsman against two bowlers bowling simultaneously. Just when you think you’ve played a great shot—a solid defensive one or a flashy hit over the bowler’s head—you realise that you’ve been bowled by the other bowler before you’ve finished your follow- through. The doppelgänger is always there, even if you declare you aren’t going to face him. Even if you ignore him. Even if, as it turns out, you accept that he is a part of the bowling team.
Thus, India must be prepared for two responses — one from the MJC and one from the putative state of Pakistan.
First, let’s see the response of the putative state: there are hardly any new tools in Nawaz Sharif’s retaliation bag. The first response will be: Kashmir. At international forums and at bilateral diplomatic meetings, the Pakistani state will try to make the Kashmir issue central to any discussion on India and Pakistan, once again. Internally, it might consider conceding some grounds to Baloch nationalist demands in order to negate the negative propaganda. CPEC will again be posed as a panacea for Balochistan’s problems. In what could be an indicator for times to come, a string of development projects were announced on 2nd September by Nawaz Sharif — a dam, Gwadar Free Zone, Business Complex and a University.
The more interesting question is: how will the MJC react? the MJC will definitely see India’s act as a provocation and will be considering a retaliation to shift the focus off Balochistan, particularly when it is on the rampage there. The distraction can come in the form of: a terrorist attack on the lines of Gurdaspur and Pathankot. Or in the form of heightened infiltration attempts in the Kashmir valley. Internally, there will be a campaign to highlight that the discontent in Balochistan is a result of Indian intelligence agencies. One can also expect the MJC to bring Kulbhushan Jadhav back into the zeitgeist.
Regardless of the two reactions aimed against India, India’s pitch for the Baloch cause will have significant repercussions on the internal power play between MJC and the civilian leadership. And in the current scenario, the MJC will start with momentum in its favour. This is because a strong, shared culture is a cornerstone of the MJC—a powerful force that keeps the various nodes together. And perhaps the most important feature of this shared culture is a deep-seated antagonism towards India. With a wider set of options, covert and overt, available at hand, the MJC is always in a better position to project itself as the true protector against evil designs of the Indian state.
The internal power struggle gets further convoluted when one brings into account the impending change of guard at the helm of the military, in two months time. While Nawaz Sharif would want to project that he’s in charge, the Indian angle in Balochistan will play to the advantage of the Pakistani military in particular. The next two months will help us gauge how the Balochistan issue affects civil-military relations in Pakistan.
Finally, a reaction there will be from the MJC. The question is, is the Indian government prepared to manage the consequences of MJC’s retaliation? Answering this question is critical for calculating the true costs or benefits of India’s escalation on Balochistan.