Prime Ministers have often used the Independence Day speech to answer threats and provocations from Pakistan. Atal Bihari >Vajpayee famously addressed Pakistanis directly from the ramparts of Red Fort in 1999 when he called on them to realise the folly of the Kargil war and of terrorism being fomented in camps on their soil. During Manmohan Singh’s tenure, the August 15 speech frequently contained references to Pakistan’s policy of promoting terrorism in Kashmir. Even so, Narendra >Modi’s reference to Balochistan marks a first, and deliberate, shift in India’s consistent policy of refraining from commenting on the internal affairs of another country, even as he referred to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, which India claims as its own. Mr. Modi’s comments, following up his vow to the all-party meeting on Kashmir to draw international attention to “Pakistan’s atrocities” in Balochistan, came after a series of provocations from Pakistan over Kashmir. In the past few weeks, Pakistan’s government has wilfully abandoned all diplomatic niceties to advocate international intervention in Kashmir. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has led the way, writing to UN organisations, decreeing a >“black day” across Pakistan to honour slain Hizbul Mujahideen ‘commander’ Burhan Wani, and giving wanted terrorist leaders, such as Hafiz Saeed, a free run to hold protest rallies against India. The atmosphere was visibly vitiated by the Pakistan government’s shabby treatment in Islamabad of Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who faced protests during a SAARC meet earlier this month. Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Delhi, Abdul Basit, escalated matters by dedicating Pakistan’s Independence Day, on August 14, to fighting “jihad in Kashmir”.
In comparison to this lengthy list, Mr. Modi’s taunt appears mild. Yet, by raising the >Balochistan issue, he may have given in to the provocations in a manner Islamabad would have wanted, and thereby deflected India’s very real concerns over Pakistani actions in Kashmir. It gives rise to the perception that rather than being two countries with very different track records on terrorism, India and Pakistan are instead bound in a “tit-for-tat” exchange. Moreover, that India intends to raise Balochistan’s freedom struggle, much the way Pakistan invokes Kashmir. The truth is that raising the issue of Balochistan will not solve India’s domestic challenge in Jammu and Kashmir, of failing to humanely control the protests over the past month. Nor will it change Pakistan’s consistent instigation of violence in J&K. The current war of words sets back hopes for the bilateral talks Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif had sought to restart. And equally, it takes India and Pakistan further away from the task Mr. Modi referred to on Independence Day: that of tackling the common enemy of poverty.