By talking about Balochistan, Modi has put Kashmir in a spot

In his 94-minute speech, the PM spoke about everything from LED bulbs to overhauling agriculture and even Bhimrao Ambedkar, but the K-word wasn’t mentioned once.

 |  IST  |  5-minute read |   16-08-2016
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At the Rashtrapati Bhavan tea-party hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee on the evening of Independence Day, officials were chuffed about Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s comments from Red Fort in the morning on Balochistan, Gilgit and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

“We should now take PM’s remarks to their logical conclusion,” said the officials, each agreeing with the other, between gulps of muted laughter.

curfew-pakistna_081616125846.jpg Did it mean that India would mount a tit-for-tat diplomatic offensive around Balochistan even as Pakistan rages about Kashmir in international fora?

None were willing to say what their comments meant, however. Did they mean that India would now revive its vast, covert intelligence network in Pakistan that had been dismantled under the directions of former prime minister IK Gujral between 1996 and 1997 and foment an insurgency inside Balochistan, just as Pakistan does inside Kashmir?

Did it mean that India would mount a tit-for-tat diplomatic offensive around Balochistan even as Pakistan rages about Kashmir in international fora?

Or did it mean that India was in effect accepting an equivalence between Kashmir and Balochistan, by arguing that the latter’s accession to Pakistan happened only after Jinnah sent two Pakistani jets to bomb the Khan of Kalat’s - who ruled over the princely state of Kalat as well as three other princely states known as Lasbela, Kharan and Makran, collectively known as Balochistan – palace in March-April 1948?

Perhaps BJP ideologue and Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta put it best on Twitter:

Effectively, what Mr Dasgupta is saying is that although India and Pakistan were divided up in 1947, there was nothing sacrosanct about retaining the borders that Cyril Radcliffe drew at the time.

So just as Pakistan needles India about human rights violations in Kashmir, draws upon the international community’s “obligations” to intervene in this ongoing, terrible human conflict, gifts the “freedom” of Kashmir this Independence day – implying that Kashmir’s accession to India is incomplete and may be reopened - India could do the exact same with Balochistan.

Meaning, if the Khan of Kalat acceded to Pakistan only in March-April 1948, long after Independence, and if Pakistan continues to deny basic human rights to Balochis, then the accession of Balochistan to Pakistan is also incomplete and may be reopened.

In other words, if Pakistan continues to argue, as it has vociferously done in recent weeks, that Kashmir’s people have the right to their own destiny – whether independence or a merger with Pakistan – then so does Balochistan. From the ramparts of the Red Fort, the prime minister is now implying that India is no more going to keep faith in the unity and integrity of Pakistan – just as Pakistan, through its barrage of comments regarding Kashmir implies that it may not be part of India.

Government officials also say they are “fully satisfied” with the PM’s comments on Balochistan because it puts right the Sharm el-Sheikh statement in 2009 when former prime minister Manmohan Singh agreed to talk to Pakistan about India’s activities in Balochistan – just as Pakistan agreed to talk about Kashmir.

But the truth is that Narendra Modi is actually doing, albeit differently, exactly what Manmohan Singh did. By trying to turn the tables on Pakistan vis-à-vis Balochistan’s accession to Pakistan, he is also accepting Pakistan’s contention vis-à-vis Kashmir and India.

But the basic problem with the PM’s premise is not only that he has transformed diplomacy into tit-for-tat commentary, but also that he didn’t say one word about Kashmir from the ramparts of Red Fort.

In his 94-minute speech, the PM spoke about everything from LED bulbs to overhauling agriculture and even Bhimrao Ambedkar, but the K-word wasn’t mentioned once. There was an indirect reference to terrorism and how this was instigated and allowed to grow and he pleaded with the parents of these young-boys-gone-astray to take them by the hand again.

Nothing about Kashmir, though, and whether and how he would strengthen the hands of his coalition partner, PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti, into restarting a dialogue with the people of the state.

That question had, in fact, been asked to senior BJP leader and finance minister Arun Jaitley after the all-party meeting on Kashmir on Friday, with the questioner wanting to know whether the government would also talk to “separatists” like Mirwaiz Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Jaitley’s response was revealing, because he had no answer. “The government will take the situation into account and decide accordingly,” he said.

The morning after Independence Day, four more civilians have been killed in Kashmir. The death toll has now touched 64, and it is rising everyday. But between the BJP-PDP, there are no ideas as to how to stop the killings and start talking to your own people, the Kashmiris.

Diplomats, especially those who have served in Pakistan and Afghanistan, point out that it is high time that the PM squarely put the problem on the public agenda. Which is, that the Pakistani establishment’s – read the ISI and the Pakistan Army - nefarious activities, both in Afghanistan as well as in Kashmir, have gone on long enough and will not be tolerated anymore.

Certainly, the growing bitterness between Pakistan and the US and Rawalpindi’s consequent leaning upon the Chinese has emboldened the Pakistanis into raising the ante on Kashmir.

For the time being, the international community may see through Pakistan’s designs in instigating trouble in Kashmir – it is true that there is no appetite internationally for the redrawing of borders, especially between two nuclear-armed states – but neither will the international community tolerate for very much longer the continued use of pellets in Kashmir and the gross human rights violations that it has entailed.

In the near term, though, the question that emanates from Modi’s Red Fort speech is whether the PM will now go for the SAARC summit in Pakistan later this year?

As the PM signals another hardline turn in his Pakistan policy, the first signs are apparent: The SAARC summit may have already become a casualty of the instability in the sub-continent.


Jyoti Malhotra Jyoti Malhotra @jomalhotra

Senior Journalist & President, South Asian Women in Media (SAWM), India.

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