With seemingly casual remarks from the ramparts of the Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has changed the political template in Balochistan and Jammu and Kashmir, both on the Indian side and in the territory occupied by Pakistan in 1947-48 in defiance of international law and the directives and resolutions of the United Nations.
The new strategy, first articulated at an all-party meeting on Kashmir on August 12, means that New Delhi has crossed the rubicon, smashing the decades-old paradigm of Indian foreign policy, viz., to ignore the Pakistani annexation of Balochistan (March 27, 1948) and downplay its occupation of roughly one-third of the erstwhile kingdom of Jammu & Kashmir which acceded to India on October 26, 1947.
Regardless of the pace at which events now unfold in Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan and so-called Azad Kashmir, Modi has sent multiple signals to the international community. For Beijing, the message is simple: The One Belt One Road (now called Belt & Road) from Xinjiang through Gilgit Baltistan, Balochistan, and on to Gwadar Port, will only be viable with Indian agency, as New Delhi alone is trusted by the native populations. Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s unequivocal support to Modi’s speech underlines the goodwill and trust for India in Pakistan’s penumbra.
As legal adviser to the Kalat state, Muhammad Ali Jinnah had agreed it would be independent on August 5, 1947, and would return to its original status of 1838. He annexed it a few months later, without murmur from the international community. Later, this encouraged President Zia ul-Haq to seek “strategic depth” in Kabul, an ambition not renounced by subsequent rulers, despite Afghanistan’s formidable reputation as a ‘graveyard of empires’.
In time, Beijing may reconsider its dependence on Islamabad. After the abortive coup of July 15, Turkish President Recep Erdogan lost his desire to join the European Union and visibly tilted towards Moscow and Iran; all three nations are negotiating a deal to ensure the survival of President Basher al-Assad and the territorial integrity of Syria. There is talk that Russia may be offered the Incirlik base, which currently houses NATO troops and nuclear weapons, for its operations in Syria. This is an amazing about-turn. Beijing is nothing if not diplomatically agile, so surprises cannot be ruled out.
Beijing knows Islamabad cannot adequately pacify either Gilgit Baltistan or Balochistan to ensure the security of the enormous investment ($46 billion) involved in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). An added risk in Balochistan is that it is used as a base by the Afghan Taliban which is fighting the regime in Kabul, and by Sunni groups alienated from Tehran. These armed groups, added to a rebellious populace in both places, will make the operation of the Belt & Road and Gwadar port a logistical nightmare. However, disengaging both regions from Pakistani control would leave Islamabad responsible only for the security of that portion of the Belt & Road that passes through its own territory. It is an idea worth thinking about.
Perhaps a small signal has already been sent with the state-run Global Times referring, twice, to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as PoK, rather than as Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The article said that Beijing is unlikely to take sides with Pakistan or India on the Kashmir issue, though tension between the two countries is keeping “PoK” undeveloped.
Modi’s signal to Islamabad is that the silence and stalemate over the illegal occupation of 1947-48 has ended. In time, the pro-India surge in the erstwhile kingdom of Maharaja Hari Singh, as also in Balochistan, will unleash its own dynamics. To the India-held portion of the State of Jammu & Kashmir, the promise is that the Srinagar valley will no longer be the sole voice that will be heard from the erstwhile kingdom and that the entire State of J&K would be the unit for consideration. This, as the Prime Minister emphasised, involves Jammu, Kashmir valley, Ladakh and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and future talks with Islamabad would be held only along these lines. Of course, these issues will take time to ripen as vested interests can be expected to dig in their heels.
With one stroke the Prime Minister has decimated Pakistan’s attempts to legitimise its occupation of one-third of J&K and claim that the rest is disputed territory over which the international community must take a stand. Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism and its atrocious human rights record in Balochistan and Occupied Kashmir has also been brought out of the shadows. Since this conforms to our constitutional position, it is surprising that New Delhi has hitherto neglected to doggedly articulate the same at all talks with Islamabad, and before the international community.
Nor has New Delhi attempted to fill the five Parliamentary and 24 Assembly seats reserved for Occupied Kashmir. Most of the luckless refugees from POK, who have been languishing without rights under the dispensation of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and his successors, are Hindus and Sikhs. The failure to nominate persons to fill these seats, therefore, has perpetuated a communal agenda to maintain Muslim dominance in the State. This gross injustice needs to be redressed; it will also fulfill the promises made by Modi during the 2014 general election.
With hindsight, raising the Balochistan issue was not a bolt from the blue. New Delhi had allowed Baloch activist Naela Quadri Baloch to visit some months ago and speak about Pakistan’s atrocities. She spoke eloquently about human rights violations, the abductions, the daily killings, including of young children, which has assumed genocidal proportions.
The Balochistan gambit is remarkably bold because Narendra Modi has leap-frogged over India’s 1947 boundaries into distinctly foreign – Muslim – territory, and poked an Indian (predominantly Hindu) finger into a dispute between Muslim antagonists, viz, the annexed Baloch and their Pakistani aggressor. This is an unprecedented act of boldness that surpasses the liberation of Bangladesh, where India had little choice but to intervene to stop an ongoing genocide and staunch the flood of refugees into its territory.
India is a long way from acceding to Baloch requests for military assistance. But it will support their cause bilaterally and in international forums. It is heartening that the Congress realises that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh erred at Sharm-el-Sheikh (2009) by equating Pakistan’s allegations of Indian interference in Balochistan with India’s well-documented case on Pakistani support to terrorism on its territory, and has decided not to oppose Modi’s tentative new moves.