Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election rally of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters at The YMCA Grounds in Chennai in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu in this file photo. — AFP

Baloch card will not help India


SANGH PARIVAR of which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the political arm was dead against the partition of the Indian subcontinent to create the new nation of Pakistan. So the Congress party which was in power most of the time after India won independence in 1947 had to tread cautiously while dealing with Pakistan lest it should be accused of being too soft on national security by the opposition BJP. So everybody expected Indo-Pak relations to take a turn for the worse under Narendra Modi, the most hard-line leader of a hard-line party.

But this did not happen. On the contrary, there were signs of a thaw in relations immediately after Modi took over. In December last year he made an unscheduled visit to Lahore — the first by an Indian prime minister in a decade — to meet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. The two leaders had met on various occasions in the past two years. But in the past few weeks things have changed so much that nobody thinks Modi will visit Pakistan for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in November.

What has changed the situation was the killing by Indian security forces of Burhan Wani, a field commander of Pakistan-based militant group Hizbul Mujahideen who enjoyed wide support. The July 8 killing led to widespread protests and violence of the kind rarely seen in the last two decades in Kashmir. More than 64 people have died and thousands have been injured in clashes with security forces. Statements by Pakistani leaders only worsened matters. Pakistan observed a “Black Day” on July 20 to protest human rights violations in Kashmir. Sharif dedicated his country’s 70th Independence Day to the “freedom of Kashmir” from Indian rule.

India resorted to the familiar refrain: Everything is OK in Kashmir except the cross-border terrorism from Pakistan.

Unfortunately, India did not stop there. In his Independence Day address from the Red Fort on Aug. 15, Modi spoke of human rights violations in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. It was the first time an Indian PM was openly doing something which amounted to an interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs.

Balochistan, bordering Iran and Afghanistan, has a long history of unrest arising out of a grievance that the central government in Islamabad and the richer Punjab province unfairly exploit their resources. But it is not Kashmir which is recognized as an international dispute by the United Nations. While Pakistan thinks that by the logic of partition, Kashmir should have joined them, India has never staked any territorial claims over Balochistan.

Modi’s reference to Balochistan may be a “diversionary tactics.” Or he may be saying that Pakistan is not a paragon of human rights virtues. But this is likely to prove detrimental to Indian interests. Pakistani authorities have always claimed Indian intelligence agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) is aiding the Baloch separatists. New Delhi’s involvement was suspected in last week’s suicide attack in the western Baloch city of Quetta in which over 80 people were killed. Islamabad can cite Indian premier’s speech as proof of Indian meddling. Any suspicion that Balochis fighting for their rights have foreign backers will only make things difficult for them. This may also encourage those in Pakistan who want to help Kashmiris who have been fighting against Indian rule. This will only add to India’s trouble in the Kashmir Valley.

A greater danger is the escalation of tension in the region. Fears of a nuclear conflagration in South Asia may be unjustified but ceasefire violations and border skirmishes can poison the atmosphere. It is doubtful whether using the Balochi card will help New Delhi counter Pakistan’s anti-India narrative on Kashmir. India should realize that harping on Pakistan’s atrocities in Balochistan, real or imagined, will not address the root cause of its problem in Kashmir: The deep and continual alienation of Kashmiris from India.