Nobody could have expected that India’s Prime Minister would have used the occasion of celebrating his country’s 69th anniversary of independence to provocatively talk about the state of Baloch affairs in Pakistan. Modi went out of his way to say that some members of this ethnic group “thanked [him], have expressed gratitude, and expressed good wishes for [him]…expressed appreciation for Prime Minister of India, for 125 crore countrymen”. This was an obvious suggestion that the Pakistani Baloch have more loyalty to India and identify its citizens – and not Pakistan’s — as their “countrymen”, which was a premeditated infowar attack meant to incite further discord within the country just a week after a suicide bomber killed dozens of members of this community in a high-profile attack. Modi’s surprisingly aggressive and very clear intimation that he supports Baloch separatism in Pakistan is bound to lead to a problem sooner than later in the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan right next door, which just so happens to host the Indian-financed port of Chabahar that forms the crucial and irreplaceable terminal for the North-South Corridor. This presents a developing threat for Iran and Russia, both of which are depending on stability in and around Chabahar to ensure the long-term strategic viability of the ambitious transcontinental corridor that will eventually connect South Asia with Western Europe by means of their transit territory.
Working Against The People
India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), its version of the CIA, has been actively working to destabilize Balochistan for decades, and one of its key operatives was even caught in the region earlier this year and admitted to preparing terrorist attacks there. Despite India’s red-handed involvement in stirring up trouble in the province, New Delhi officially refused to admit that it had anything to do with events there, which makes Modi’s patently obvious appeal to Pakistani Baloch separatists all the more unexpected and totally contradictory to the country’s previous public stance on the issue. It’s unmistakable that the Indian “deep state” (permanent military-intelligence-diplomatic bureaucracy) intends to escalate tensions inside of Pakistan as ‘payback’ for the protests that have been rocking Indian-administered Kashmir for the past month and a half, and the country’s media is all too eager to assist, having gone overboard in their characteristic jingoism by even comparing Balochistan to Bangladesh. Modi and his subservient favor-currying media outlets thereby discredited all legitimate local grievances that the Baloch might have peacefully held against Islamabad, such as complaints about the lack of provincial infrastructure and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’s (CPEC) focus on Punjab, but resolving these issues was never India’s intention to begin with.
The View From New Delhi
India doesn’t want Balochistan’s infrastructure development and standard of living to improve because this would then solve its local problems and make it more of an integrated and stable part of Pakistan. Instead, Modi’s speech and the cascade of hyper-nationalist commentary that came out of the Indian press were meant as a signal to the RAW-backed groups in Balochistan to begin preparing for the commencement of Hybrid War, hoping that Pakistan will fall for the bait of militantly overreacting and creating a larger self-perpetuating cycle of violence that would descend into a quagmire with time. From India’s perspective, more conflict equals less development, which leads to more anti-Islamabad distrust that ultimately turns into a sequence of serious problems for the viability of CPEC. This Chinese-led project is India’s number one target, and New Delhi is totally against it for two reasons: firstly, CPEC goes through Gilgit-Baltistan, which Indian nationalists such as Modi claim as their country’s own despite it being internationally recognized as an integral part of Pakistan and peacefully administered by it for nearly seven decades already; and secondly, because a non-Indian-controlled Chinese route to the Indian Ocean would compete with New Delhi’s hegemonic plans to make the entire ocean rimland its undisputed sphere of influence.
Carving Out “Blood Borders”
In pursuit of the RSS/BJP hyper-nationalist goal of stopping CPEC, which coincidentally aligns perfectly with the US’ own grand strategy, India is ‘going for the kill’ and wants to dissolve Pakistan’s territorial integrity suspiciously along the exact same lines as Ralph Peters’ 2006 “Blood Borders” geopolitical blueprint. This document was originally penned for the US’ Armed Forces Journal and is notorious for mapping out “How a better Middle East would look”, which disgracefully justifies war crimes to promotion of this agenda by nonchalantly quipping that “ethnic cleansing works”. As part of the divide-and-rule strategy that he lobbies the American “deep state” to adapt, a “Free Baluchistan” is carved out of Pakistani and Iranian territory, mirroring exactly what New Delhi is trying to do against Islamabad and foreshadowing precisely how this will inevitably end for Tehran as well. If Modi follows Peters’ suggestion in seeing to it that “Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier tribes would be reunited with their Afghan brethren” – something which he also appears to be working towards in having included the people of Gilgit in the same provocative lines that he did the Baloch during his Independence Day speech – then this means that the Indian leader is aiming for nothing less than the full and existential dissolution of Pakistan as the ultimate asymmetrical weapon for destroying his hated enemy once and for all and putting an immediate stop to CPEC.
The Threat To Iran And Russia
There’s no doubt that the destructive processes that India is working to catalyze in Pakistan have the very real risk of quickly making the cross-border jump to Sistan and Baluchistan, thus endangering Chabahar and presenting a very real threat to Iran and even Russia. Modi and RAW’s active encouragement of Baloch separatism in Pakistan is a clear, foreseeable, and preventable danger for the North-South Corridor that they’re both basing their future long-term economic strategies on. There’s no guaranteed way that Baloch separatism in Pakistan wouldn’t rebound into Iranian Baluchistan and lead to an uncontrollable situation that eventually threatens Chabahar. This would be even more the case if Balochistan ever successfully became independent of Pakistan, since it would be natural for the Kurdish-like ultra-nationalist entity that emerged from its violent independence struggle to want to unify with its ethnic and confessional brethren next door in Iran. India is hoping that this could be contained and controlled just like it was with Bangladesh, but the international context, nature of war in general, and specific situation are altogether different. Additionally, the US, which has a desire to asymmetrically attack Iran and Russia by undermining their economic stability and long-term future outlook, will do everything in its power to bring the Pakistani Baloch destabilization across the border and into Iran, from where it would create a problem for Chabahar and indirectly affect Russia’s segment of the North-South Corridor by extent.
The resultant scenario of Sistan and Baluchistan’s destabilization and the challenges that this could make for Chabahar are so obvious that it’s unbelievable that India would ever fantasize about supporting the trigger event of Baloch separatism in Pakistan in the first place, especially as it’s now investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the North-South Corridor. The only two possible explanations for this are that India is either so full of geopolitical hate against Pakistan that it doesn’t even see that it’s ‘cutting off its nose to spite its face’, or that it’s plainly aware of how risky this gambit is but is going forward with it anyhow. It’s more than likely that a blend of the two is what’s behind India’s irresponsible actions in Pakistani Balochistan, but there’s no way that the wise Iranian diplomats, conditioned as they are by thousands of years of experience, don’t see the writing on the wall and foresee their country violently suffering from the blowback brought about by “Modi’s Adventures In Wonderland”.
It’s very odd that Iran hasn’t condemned the latest outbreak of violence in Kashmir, despite the Ayatollah having adopted a very strong stance on this issue in the past. It’s even stranger still that the Iranian Foreign Ministry appealed to both sides to “exercise the utmost self-restraint”, which conflicts with the Supreme Leader’s previous inferred characterization of the Indian government as a “Zionist regime”. Back in November 2010, he implored all Muslims “to sympathize and provide assistance to the nations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Kashmir, to engage in struggle and resistance against the aggressions of the United States and the Zionist regime”, so it’s odd to see the Iranian government moderate the Ayatollah’s approach by addressing the Kashmiri protesters in the same call for self-restraint as they gave to the “Zionist regime” in New Delhi. The Iranian elite is clearly divided into competitively opposing “moderate” and “conservative” factions like the author explained in a previous research article for the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, and the former’s larger role over foreign affairs might be what’s to blame for the confusing message presently coming out of Tehran on this issue. It might also be the reason why Iran hasn’t voiced any reservations about Modi’s blatant promotion of Baloch separatism in Pakistan, despite this obviously having violent insinuations since there’s no way that Islamabad would let the Indian-encouraged separatist province secede without a fight.
If one objectively evaluates Iran’s reaction to both of these issues – Indian Kashmir and Pakistani Balochistan – it’s rational to conclude that Tehran is the one exercising self-restraint in not speaking out against two very important issues that are very close to its national interests. Iran has staked a lot of its reputation on supporting Muslims abroad, and the fact that it’s reacting more mildly to Indian security servicemen killing Muslim Kashmiri protesters than it did to the Saudis and Bahrainis doing the same to their own just a few years ago makes it seem like some sort of unpublicized understanding has been reached between the New Delhi and the “moderates”, with the latter not having been so powerful back then around the time when the Gulf Monarchies were killing the Shiite protesters. The situation in Kashmir is even more scandalous because it has shades of non-Muslims killing Muslims, so it’s hard to comprehend why Iran is visibly more lenient towards India indisputably doing this in 2016 than it was when confronted with the 1990s Western mainstream media myth that the Serbs were allegedly on a killing spree in Bosnia, which itself was a lie and was actually sparked by suspected Iranian agent and future Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic with the assistance of Tehran’s mujahedeen and weapons. Additionally, the fact that Iran is nonresponsive to Modi’s obvious public encouragement in supporting Pakistani Baloch separatism in spite of the clear and pressing danger that this poses to Sistan and Baluchistan Province suggests that some type of deal had to tacitly be made, whether with the Iranian establishment as a whole or the conniving “moderates” that have usurped power in key institutions.
The Art Of The Deal
It’s impossible to know with 100% certainty what Iran and India might have agreed upon in exchange for Tehran’s uncharacteristic passivity towards Kashmir and its silence on Modi’s provocations in Pakistani Balochistan, but it likely had something to do with New Delhi’s insistence that it could keep the Pakistani Baloch separatists in line and that Tehran would receive more tangible benefits from India’s North-South Corridor than it would by sticking up for Pakistan pro-bono. The only realistic way that Iran could be comfortable with India’s dangerous forays in fostering the same type of identity separatism in their mutual neighbor which could so obviously blow back right into its own borders is if Tehran was confident that New Delhi had full control of the situation, namely by RAW being in charge of or having indirect commanding influence over every single significant insurgent group and those planning to ‘go public’ with forthcoming attacks in the near future. Under these conditions, India would make sure that these organizations don’t attack Iran or open up cells there, and all that Iran would have to do is dismantle any copy-cat groups that sprout up on its own territory, which shouldn’t be too difficult for the experienced Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Iran naturally wouldn’t ‘get involved in India’s anti-Pakistan plot, nor would India have the gall to even ask it to, so essentially Iran could just passively sit on the sidelines and hide behind the multipolar rhetoric of saying that Pakistan’s internal problems are its own domestic affair and not the type of subject for its Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address, even though Indian-encouraged Pakistani Baloch separatism directly affects Iran. This sort of arrangement is only possible so long as the Western-friendly “moderates” retain their presently influential hold on Iran’s international diplomacy and are able to keep the multipolar “conservative”-aligned security forces at bay from disrupting this subtle agreement. One should remember that the “moderates” currently command a lot of power over Iran’s economic and energy activities as well, both of which count India as a very close partner through the North-South Corridor and gas/oil exports respectively. Taken together, the “moderates’” rising influence in Iran’s Economic, Energy, and Foreign Affairs Ministries counterbalances the near-supreme power that the “conservatives” have over the country’s security apparatuses, which explains why Tehran would passively assent to India’s very strategically risking gambit of provoking Pakistani Baloch separatism despite the obvious security threat that this poses to the Islamic Republic.
For as clever as the Indians and their likely “moderate” Iranian conspirators might think themselves to be, there’s a very real possibility that the US will find a way to insert itself into any future Indian-managed Pakistani Baloch separatist war in order to cultivate on-the-ground insurgent allies for later use against Iran, keeping in mind that the US establishment is still resolutely opposed to the present “conservative”-led government in Tehran and will stop at nothing to undermine it at every twist and turn. US strategists are also aware of how this could indirectly impact on Russia, seeing as how Moscow is getting ready to invest in optimizing its own internal infrastructure along the North-South Corridor, so in this sense, Washington could ‘kill two birds with one stone’ by targeting Sistan and Baluchistan Province with co-opted fighters from the separatist war in Pakistan in order to deal a blow against both Moscow and Tehran’s strategic long-term economic interests in Chabahar. Even though this would also hurt India too, the US has never been known to respect its allies’ interests, and India is by no means any exception to this long-established rule.
All in all, any disruption of the North-South Corridor, particularly as it relates to the transport of Indian goods through Chabahar, would inordinately affect Russia much more than its other two partners. India could just continue to rely on maritime transit for its trade with Europe, despite this being strategically vulnerable to its own disturbances via the Bab-el-Mandab Strait and Suez Canal chokepoints, while Iran might end up striking a much more geographically convenient deal with ideologically aligned Islamist Turkey that sees a large share of its commercial exports going through Anatolia instead. Russia would still end up being the transit territory for some of Iran’s goods to Europe, but this wouldn’t yield anywhere near the expected economic-strategic dividends had India remained fully involved and Iran dedicated most of shipments through Russia instead of a possible alternative route through Turkey, the latter of which would only become more attractive to them than the North-South Corridor if India’s participation somehow ends up changing. Assessed from this perspective of long-term asymmetrical strategy against Iran and especially Russia, the US has every reason that it would need in wanting to hijack some of the Indian-supported Pakistani Baloch separatists and redirect them towards Iran and Chabahar.
Russia To The Rescue
Russia needs to gently raise the issue of India’s encouragement of Pakistani Baloch separatism with New Delhi behind closed doors, seeing as how its own long-term economic-strategic interests are at stake by logical extension, but if Modi and his RSS/BJP-directed “deep state” can’t be restrained from their blind adherence to this regionally destructive plot and disabused of going forward with this extremely high-risk gambit, then it must turn to Tehran instead. Reaching out to the “conservatives” and emphasizing the security and strategic dangers to Iran which are inherent to India’s covert separatist campaign against Pakistan is the best way to get the attention of its governing elites and show the Ayatollah that Russia will firmly stand by him in jointly seeking to dissuade New Delhi from this disadvantageous adventure.
Right now it appears as though the intra-elite split in Iran is responsible for why some the country’s leading institutional representatives are silently siding with India and not raising a single word about the threat to their country that could predictably come from an Indian-supported separatist war in Pakistani Balochistan, with the security-minded “conservatives” not wanting to speak up and contradict their “moderate” counterparts elsewhere in the government out of fear that this would throw the country’s “deep state” divide out in the open for the rest of the world to see and exploit. However, if the Ayatollah and his military-security allies were confident that Russia was with them, then both sides could creatively work together via their respective channels of influence in pressuring India to rethink its self-defeating plan to pursue Pakistan’s dismemberment and hopefully prevent it from inadvertently sabotaging the North-South Corridor in the process and playing into the US’ grand strategic designs.
by Andrew Korybko