External Affairs

How Legitimate Were Modi’s Recent References to Balochistan?

Raising Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan is justified, given India’s strategic interests, but by talking about Balochistan, Modi has entered a territory fraught with complications.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses the nation from Red Fort during Independence Day celebrations in Delhi. Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses the nation from Red Fort during Independence Day celebrations in Delhi. Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

On August 12, three days before Independence Day, when addressing an all-party meeting on the turmoil in the Kashmir Valley, Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened a new line of attack on Pakistan. He said India needs to talk of all parts of Jammu and Kashmir – Jammu, Ladakh, the Valley and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). He did not elaborate then, though he returned to the subject in his Red Fort address to the nation on August 15. For India, he said, PoK was not merely the sliver of land along the Jhelum west of Jammu and Kashmir, as Pakistan perceived it, but the entire erstwhile portion of the Dogra kingdom to the north, now called Gilgit Baltistan. For far too long, India has been reluctant to voice this claim openly, perhaps hoping that Pakistan would take Indian acquiescence of their occupation as a trade-off for India retaining the Valley.

In the same meeting, Modi lay the blame for the current turmoil, triggered by security forces killing a social media-hyped Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, on Pakistan’s doorstep. He also announced a Rs 80,000 crore package for Jammu and Kashmir, besides steps like recruiting young people to the security forces, meant to suck the unemployed out of the resentful masses who became cannon fodder for puppeteers of the current imbroglio. The prime minister also instructed the Ministry of External Affairs to contact people from PoK living abroad to register their angst. Never before had such forthright instructions been made available to Indian diplomats abroad. The gloves were off.

Resplendent in his white kurta and pink shaded turban, Modi spent a bulk of his 100 minute speech on recounting his government’s achievements in simplifying the delivery of services and boosting infrastructure. There was little about the main issues confronting the nation today – the Kashmir turmoil, ‘cow protection’ vigilantism and the anti-Dalit epidemic amongst Sangh right-wingers.

But surprisingly, even the foreign policy segment was scanty. One reference to Qatar, another to the border agreement with Bangladesh and then the rather interesting introduction of Pakistan’s troubled regions. Significantly, the prime minister modified the reference to PoK by separately referring to the denizens of Gilgit. The clever introduction of the subject via people of those areas sending greetings to Modi unsheathed the weapon without flaunting it. There can be a number of possible outcomes

First, raising PoK/Gilgit is eminently justified as both are subjects of UN Security Council resolutions, bilateral agreements and an Indian parliamentary resolution. It is also an area seeing enhanced Chinese presence and is the route for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), thus assuming great strategic significance. As per Article 6 of 1963 Sino-Pakistan border agreement, it is accepted that the status of land ceded by Pakistan, including the Shaksgam Valley and its surrounding areas, will be finally determined “after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan” by negotiations between China and “the sovereign authority concerned.” The exception is that if Pakistan gets sovereignty, the agreement stands as negotiated. Thus both countries accepted that India could well be the post-settlement “sovereign authority”.

Thus India has been remiss for years when China has incrementally enhanced its presence in and through the entire region of Gilgit Baltistan, which is downstream from Leh, along the banks of the river Indus. Ethnically, the residents of those areas are akin to Ladakhis and are mostly Shia. Strategically, those areas have much greater significance today than the Kashmir Valley, although the Valley has become the touchstone for both India and Pakistan for defining their nationhood. Thus Modi’s broadside is a signal to both Pakistan and China that their actions will not go uncontested and India must have a voice in CPEC, linking it to the settlement of the Kashmir issue.

The second issue raised by Modi was Balochistan. This issue is fraught with complications that need adumbration. To begin with, the question of the accession by the Khan of Kalat to Pakistan is not an international issue like Kashmir. India has never contested it nor is India a contiguous state. India could have had a horse in the race had it bought Gwadar from Oman when the possibility arose. It eventually got sold for $3 million to Pakistan in 1958. It was again the absence of strategic thinking at that stage, as India today would not be worrying about CPEC had it got a toe-hold on Pakistan’s Makran coast.

The negative fall-out from raising a domestic Pakistani issue is already manifesting itself. I anticipated it on television when analysing the prime minister’s speech minutes after its delivery. Pakistan has promptly said that Modi raising this merely confirms their allegation that India is abetting terror in Balochistan. We can expect Pakistan to start speaking more forthrightly on Maoist or other domestic Indian violence. On balance, perhaps it would have been best had the prime minister kept his focus on the trans-LoC parts of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan.

Modi is attempting to break the Gordian knot of Pakistan keeping terror in play, despite international opprobrium, when dealing with India. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh tried to use conventional diplomatic tools to wean Pakistan off that strategy. They failed, as the Pakistani army is too deeply enmeshed in the terror game to abandon it altogether. Modi is now taking the battle to the ISI and the Pakistani generals. Whether it will work is uncertain. But it will certainly get messier in the short-run.

  • K SHESHU BABU

    The PM has forayed into unexpected territory by expanding the controversy to Baluchistan besides PoK and Indian part of Kashmir. This would further enhance scope of discussions and debates beyond Kashmir. In the whole mess, the real problem of kashmir will be prolonged.

  • Adhi

    This aggressive step was necessary to put pakistan on back foot by exposing their atrocities in their own balochistan