Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s references to Balochistan, PoK and Gilgit in his Red Fort address to the nation and at the all-party meeting on Kashmir on August 12 were nuanced. He asserted that Pakistan’s human rights record in these territories was so abysmal that it did not have the moral right to point fingers and continually stir violence in Kashmir. However, by going where no PM has gone so far, he signalled his willingness to shift India’s western neighbourhood policy from a reactive to an aggressive mode. This can have major implications.
Pakistan has long complained of Indian interference in Balochistan and sought to draw international attention to its charge. In July 2009, it sought to do so by persuading PM Manmohan Singh to include Balochistan in the Sharm-el-Sheikh joint statement. From March this year, it has again attempted to travel this road through the Kulbhushan Jadhav concoction. After this month’s Quetta terrorist attacks in which over 70 people, including lawyers, were killed, Pakistan again indirectly implicated India. It said the attack’s objective was directed against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which begINS from Gwadar port. Unsurprisingly Pakistan is asserting that Modi’s Balochistan reference vindicates its stand.
But Pakistan’s reaction has been on predictable lines. It has said that conditions in PoK and Gilgit are not comparable. It has said India wanted to divert attention from the turmoil in the Kashmir Valley after the killing of Burhan Wani. The old complaint of India fomenting trouble in Balochistan was repeated. At the same time, though separately and prior to Modi’s August 15 speech, its foreign secretary wrote to his Indian counterpart, inviting him for talks on Kashmir. While doing so, he repeated Pakistan’s standard position on the UN resolutions on Kashmir. No surprises here too.
Baloch nationalists have naturally seized upon the opportunity provided by Modi to launch a tirade against the Pakistani state. There is little doubt that Pakistan has used brutal methods, since it forcibly merged the province to suppress Baloch separatists. It has also ensured that the demographics of the province change against Baloch interests. The exploitation of Balochi natural resources has also bred enormous resentment, and lends an economic logic to Baloch nationalism. Pakistan has not learnt a lesson from its experience of treating erstwhile East Pakistan as a colony.
Modi has not pledged any kind of support for the Baloch cause; his focus has been only on human rights. This is in sharp contrast to what Pakistan has done in Kashmir. It still officially claims that it has only given diplomatic, moral and political support, when its leaders now accept that Kashmiri militants were trained in Pakistani territory. It also continues to encourage and support Islamic fundamentalist groups to export terror to Kashmir, and on occasion elsewhere in India.
Modi is clearly responding to Pakistani actions in Kashmir since the Burhan Wani killing. He is also obviously unhappy that Pakistan has not reciprocated the flexibility shown by him despite Pakistan’s provocations. It is not clear though if he has decided to accept that Pakistani hostility is a permanent part of its approach to India and whether to root Indian policies on that fact, not on hope.
The international community would take great interest in Modi’s comments on Balochistan and PoK. The US, in particular, might privately counsel India to be restrained and lean on Pakistan to cool off its strident rhetoric on Kashmir. It is unlikely that Pakistan will heed its advice. More likely, it will draw the attention of the Islamic world to Modi’s comments as a vindication of its claims of Indian interference in Balochistan.
Modi’s Pakistan policy has witnessed many twists since he assumed office: overtures; red lines being drawn, then erased; aggressive statements and restraint; the prospect of the resumption of dialogue, only to be dashed in the wake of the Pathankot terrorist attack and a dramatic and sudden visit to Lahore. In this background, a full and clear assessment of the Balochistan, PoK and Gilgit reference will have to be kept on hold.
Equating Baloch plight with that of Bengalis in East Pakistan, Bangladesh on August 18 came out in support of PM Modi’s references. Dhaka would soon make a policy statement on rights abuses there.