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No proof from Pak on India’s role in Balochistan: US
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, says he received no credible information to substantiate accusations of India’s involvement in terrorist activities in Balochistan while on a recent visit to Pakistan. But in a sign that India-Pakistan tensions may be easing, Holbrooke said Pakistan has moved a “very large number of troops” from its border with India to its border with Afghanistan.

Speaking to reporters at the State Department on Wednesday, Holbrooke said Balochistan did come up during the course of his meetings in Pakistan, but on the question of whether he was provided any credible evidence of Indian involvement, “the short answer... is no.”

He described the shift of Pakistani troops from the eastern border to the western one as a “historically significant redeployment.” Pakistan insists India is fomenting unrest in Balochistan by supporting separatist rebels in the province. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to look into the accusations following his meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani at the Red Sea resort of Sharm-al Sheik earlier this month.

C. Christine Fair, a senior political scientist at the nonprofit RAND Corporation, says it is a “pretty widely held belief in Pakistan that the Balochistan rebels are enjoying succour in Afghanistan with Indian patronage.” But, she says, she has seen no proof to substantiate accusations that India is supporting these rebels.

Holbrooke, who recently wrapped up a visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan, insisted that there is no rift between him and India and that he was forced at the last minute to abandon plans to visit India only because of scheduling conflicts with his main policy interlocutors in New Delhi. He said he would travel to India in mid August. Saying India was the first country in the world he was ever aware of, he added, “I have a very special feeling for it. And if there’s a rift, you’ll have to ask the Indians. I didn’t see any rift. The four people I usually see, all but one of them was out of the country. I talked to the Indians on the phone.”

A high-profile diplomat who earned the nickname “Bulldozer” for his hard-nosed style of diplomacy, Holbrooke began his tenure in the Obama administration with a shaky relationship with India. Initial reports that his duties would include overseeing relations with India caused much concern in New Delhi, which was apprehensive that the man who made a name for himself by brokering the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the Bosnian war may try and take up the challenge of resolving the Kashmir dispute. India has steadfastly opposed US mediation between New Delhi and Islamabad on Kashmir, which it views as a bilateral matter.

Pressure from New Delhi was, in part, responsible for Obama limiting Holbrooke’s charge to Pakistan and Afghanistan, but Washington has been mindful of the fact that India is a significant player in the region and its views must be considered in any solution to the ongoing problem of extremism emanating from its western neighbour.

While in Pakistan, Holbrooke was denied the opportunity to visit Swat Valley because the Pakistanis said they could not guarantee his safety. The Pakistani army recently concluded operations against the Taliban which had taken hold in the picturesque valley and driven out local residents. The government has begun returning these displaced people to their homes in Swat, however rights groups have expressed concern for the safety of these people. Analysts say Pakistani officials hurriedly bussed people back to Swat because they were worried that allowing them to linger in refugee camps would make them prime targets for militant recruiters. “We don’t know exactly to what extent the Pakistani army dispersed or destroyed the enemy (in Swat). And the test of this operation is, of course, when the refugees return, can they go home? Are they safe? And we’re just going to have to wait and see,” Holbrooke said. Holbrooke described Pakistan as a country “facing a staggering number of front-page story problems at one time.”

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UPA govt distances itself from Balochistan

New Delhi, July 30
The mention of Balochistan in the Indo-Pak joint statement continued to haunt the government, which sought to distance itself claiming that it was a “unilateral reference” of Pakistan, a stand rejected by the Opposition that walked out of Lok Sabha.

Facing the Opposition onslaught, the ruling side fielded Leader of the House and former External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who made a spirited defence of the joint statement but got into trouble when he said reference to Balochistan was unilateral on the part of Pakistan.

“When you describe as unilateral, we are not a party to it. This is Pakistan’s perception. It is not shared by us,” he said, while intervening in the debate on the joint statement issued after the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani in Sharm-Al Sheikh in Egypt on July 16. — PTI

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