In international relations,perhaps even more than in domestic politics,perceptions drive issues more than reality. There are now three different narratives in which the reference to Balochistan in the Indo-Pakistan joint statement are being placed. The narratives are not mutually exclusive. But for those of us who are not privy to intelligence information it is difficult to counter any of these narratives. (This is not the same thing as saying these are all correct. It is simply that you dont have enough ammunition to counter any one of them.)
There is also a lot of disinformation,retrospectively constructed stories in the media. And the problem is that which narrative triumphs is already out of the hands for the government. Even if we are inclined to give the benefit of the doubt,the government already has a huge political problem. The issue is not whether the government is embarrassed. The issue is that if the government does not restore its credibility quickly it will have even less room for manoeuvre even when there is genuine progress.
Narrative 1: The Big Blunder Theory. This is the narrative of the opposition and much of the media. By mentioning Balochistan we,in one stroke,frittered away all our diplomatic advantages. A certain moral parity has been restored between India and Pakistan (we do Balochistan,they do Kashmir). We have opened the door for claims and counter claims. And it is not clear what we have got in return. As usual we have become emotional and engaged in the great Indian giveaway.
Narrative 2: The Great Peace Gamble Theory. If we want real cooperation from Pakistan we will have to give their leaders political cover. They have to show their domestic audience that they came away with something. This will give them the cover to give India something substantive in return. We have sacrificed at best a small pawn to gain a big knight. This may be a plausible story,but its veracity will be tested only in the future. What is the something substantive we are getting? If Pakistan can be trusted to deliver,this would be a gamble worth taking. Peace is more important than a few debating points.
Narrative 3: The Guilty Conscience Theory. This is the theory that is unfortunately now gaining ground,particularly around the world: that India has deep involvement in Balochistan. Of course,at one level you would expect some involvement: mature states and intelligence agencies keep political lines of communication open. But in this view,Indias involvement is much deeper,in terms of money and logistical support. Indias claims that since the days of Gujral it has ceased serious covert operations in Balochistan are nonsense. It is also being insinuated that acts of “terrorism” can be linked to India. The reason Balochistan was put in was not a peace gamble. It was a form of blackmail,where Pakistan threatened to expose our complicity. Our gesture was more defensive than magnanimous.
In some ways only the future can mediated the debate between 1 and 2. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. You could,at least in principle,also reconcile 2 and 3. On this view,by openly talking about Balochistan we can pave the way for a genuine understanding: our hands off Balochistan,your hands off Kashmir. But politically,3 poses a major problem.
First,it would certainly dent Indias self image of innocence. Most of us do not,in all good faith,know what the extent of our involvement in Balochistan is. But it would be surprising if it is of such an order of magnitude that it can be equated with Pakistans involvement in India. It will be too much to expect any government to state the facts on this. But this is precisely the problem. If we have complicity,how do we explain it? If we are not complicit,how do we make sure this narrative does not gain legitimacy? How have we gone from the world seeing us as being the aggrieved and restrained party to Pakistan being aggrieved and restrained?
The biggest challenge will not be political embarrassment; it will be countering narrative number 3 and all the consequences that it will expose us to. Big Blunder or Great Gamble or Guilty Conscience? Alas,the difficult thing in this contest will be that,to quote Haruki Murakamis great line,the truth will not be in the facts.