Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reference to Balochistan, Gilgit and PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) not once, but twice in a span of a few days has sparked speculation of a major strategic and foreign policy shift towards Pakistan.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to Balochistan, Gilgit and PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) not once, but twice in a span of a few days has sparked speculation of a major strategic and foreign policy shift towards Pakistan. The fact that an Indian PM has said that PoK belongs to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is not something new. What stood out is the Prime Minister’s remark that India should internationally expose Pakistan’s atrocities in these areas. “Pakistan forgets that it bombs its own citizens using fighter planes. The time has come when Pakistan shall have to answer to the world for the atrocities committed by it against people in Baluchistan and PoK,” PM Modi had said at an all-party meet on Jammu and Kashmir.
Modi followed it up by talking about Balochistan again in his Independence Day speech. “Today I want to specially honour and thank some people from the ramparts of Red Fort. For the past few days the people of Baluchistan, Gilgit, Pakistan occupied Kashmir have heartily thanked me. These are people settled far across on aland which I have not seen. I have never met them, but they are acknowledging the Prime Minister of India, this is an honour of my 125 crores countrymen. I want to heartily thank the people of Baluchistan, Gilgit, Pakistan occupied Kashmir for expressing their thankfulness,” he said.
But, what are the geo-strategic implications of this shift in policy? Does India really stand to benefit? Is too much being read into PM Modi’s statements?
1) Writes C Raja Mohan, Director Carnegie India believes that the Prime Minister’s remarks are significant for many reasons. India has never been drawn into Pakistan’s internal troubles or territorial disputes with other countries, with the exception of Bangladesh, he points out. In a column in the Indian Express, Raja Mohan elaborated that Delhi has in the past not backed claims in Kabul disputing the legitimacy of the Durand Line that separates Afghanistan from Pakistan. He adds that India has also avoided embracing the secessionist movements in Balochistan and Sindh.
2) Raja Mohan is of the view that implicit in Modi’s statements is the willingness to increase the cost Pakistan will incur for supporting terrorism in India. This he has done by signaling possible wading into Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Balochistan.
3) Raja Mohan says that India can do a lot in terms of highlighting human rights violations in Balochistan. India can additionally join the unfolding Great Game in Balochistan — which hosts the Afghan Taliban fighting the Kabul government, is the site of frequent contestation between Tehran and Islamabad, and draws Sunni dissident groups fighting Iran’s Islamic Republic. “Balochistan’s Makran coast is where China’s economic corridor through Pakistan connects with the Arabian Sea. Islamabad has also offered the Gwadar port as a naval base for China,” he says explaining the strategic implications.
4) Praveen Swami believes that the stakes and risks are high with both India and Pakistan being nuclear powers. No victory is worthwhile at the cost of half-a-dozen cities, he writes in a column in the Indian Express. He adds that it is not an “attractive option” for India to indulge in a payback in Balochistan. Swami adds that the benefits to India are not well defined and it would be difficult to predict what Pakistan’s reaction would be. Pakistan could escalate its backing for Kashmir jihadists in a bid to counter Indian aid to Baloch rebels, he warns. India might indeed be able to plunge Balochistan into chaos, but get pain, not peace, in Kashmir, he adds.
WATCH: PM rakes up Balochistan on Independence day speech
5) There are international consequences to this strategic shift as well, feels Swami. For example, Iran fears Baloch nationalism. It even backed Pakistan’s 1973 campaign, says Swami, adding that Iran would take a “dim view” of India supporting Balochistan. Also, with India supporting Balochistan, its case on terror might stand diminished, with the world seeing its actions as reprehensible.