In policy shift, Narendra Modi brings up Balochistan again

Diplomats say the Prime Minister’s decision to raise the topic in his Independence Day speech was an ‘unprecedented’ move

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:58 pm IST

Published - August 16, 2016 01:48 am IST - NEW DELHI:

In a significant shift in policy on Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a reference to the Baloch freedom struggle in his Independence Day speech, saying the people in the conflicted Pakistani state of Balochistan, as also in Gilgit and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, had reached out to him. Pakistan responded by saying the statement “confirmed” India’s role there.

“Today from the ramparts of Red Fort, I want to greet and express my thanks to some people. In the last few days, people of Balochistan, Gilgit, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have thanked me, have expressed gratitude, and expressed good wishes for me. The people who are living far away, whom I have never seen, never met — such people have expressed appreciation for Prime Minister of India, for 125 crore countrymen,” Mr. Modi said.

The reference comes a few days after the Prime Minister vowed to take up atrocities by the Pakistani government in these three areas on the international stage, when he spoke to an all-party delegation about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. Since then, government officials say Mr. Modi had received many messages on social media from Baloch groups and Kashmiris around the world and in Pakistan thanking him for his support.

In sharp contrast

Repeating the charge against Pakistan on its support to terror groups in Kashmir, Mr. Modi accused the Pakistan government of glorifying terrorists, saying the Sharif government’s actions came in sharp contrast to India’s empathy with Pakistanis over terror attacks there, as after the Peshawar school massacre of 2014. “On the other side, terrorism is being glorified. When innocent people are killed in terrorist attacks, there are celebrations. How governments are formed through inspiration of terrorism. The world will understand this difference clearly,” he said.

Within hours, Pakistan’s government responded to the Prime Minister’s comments on Balochistan. “PM Modi’s reference to Balochistan, which is an integral part of Pakistan, only proves Pakistan’s contention that India through intelligence agency RAW has been fomenting terrorism in Balochistan,” Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz said on Monday.

The Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, meanwhile, handed over a letter inviting Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar for talks on Kashmir, in line with the already existent terrorism talks mechanism between National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and his counterpart. “Kashmir requires a political solution, through serious negotiations between India and Pakistan,” Mr. Aziz said.

Unprecedented mention

Diplomats said the Prime Minister’s decision to raise Balochistan in his speech was “unprecedented” as India has rarely referred to the freedom movement in the state, and has consistently denied any assistance to Baloch nationalists group as alleged by Pakistan. While India claims Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK as its territory, the government has always steered clear of referring to Pakistan’s “internal troubles” in Balochistan, a former envoy said.

Other former senior officials who spoke to The Hindu said that while the External Affairs Ministry had referred to Pakistani government bombing its people in Balochistan in December 2005, and then criticised the killing of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Shahbaz Khan Bugti in an airstrike in 2006, the Prime Minister’s reference was both rare and “on a new level”.

“Although we made those references to Balochistan in 2005-06, and even asked our High Commissioner to visit Gilgit-Baltistan, we never followed it up at the time, as the government was divided on the issue,” said former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, who was known to advocate a harder line on using Balochistan as a “pressure point” on Pakistan.

According to a former Pakistani diplomat, Jehangir Ashraf Qazi, Mr. Modi’s latest statement will “escalate the verbal conflict” between the two countries. “Unfortunately, both Prime Ministers Modi and Sharif are addressing domestic constituencies and not giving up much space for diplomacy, which is much needed,” he added, a reference to Nawaz Sharif’s recent comments accusing India of atrocities in Kashmir.

During his speech, Mr. Modi said he had reached out to Pakistan and other SAARC neighbours when he took office in 2014 because “our common enemy is poverty”. The PM made no reference, however, to his decision to travel to Pakistan in December 2015, or any plans to visit Pakistan for the SAARC summit later this year, indicating that the government’s diplomatic outreach to Pakistan may now be at an end.

However, some suggested the harsh statements between Delhi and Islamabad were linked to the violence in Kashmir. “Once the situation there is more peaceful, the rhetoric will calm down. There is such a reservoir of bad blood between the two countries, a few more statements will not make much difference,” a senior diplomat, now retired, said.

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