Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent reference to the sufferings of people in Balochistan and Pak-occupied Kashmir has created quite a buzz. In one stroke, he has cast away our decades of pusillanimity in dealing with Pakistan. For any subsequent government in Delhi, it will now be politically suicidal to settle the Kashmir issue without invoking PoK. Surely, Modi knew that he could neither liberate Balochistan nor annex PoK militarily, but he still chose to alter the rules of engagement to the discomfort of both Pakistan and China. Some of his officials and politicians who are brought up in timidity must have reasoned with him not to lay claim on PoK so forcefully or show concern for atrocities committed against Balochs by the Pak Army. Characteristically, he ignored them and decided to force Pakistan to taste its own bitter medicine of interfering in India’s internal matters.
His needling has not stopped with a statement. Delhi has announced `5 lakh compensation for PoK residents who are victims of terrorism and a `2,000 crore package for people displaced in Jammu and Kashmir, following wars in 1947, 1965 and 1971. There is also a move to invite PoK leaders for Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas in India. For the first time, Balochs and residents of PoK are cheering for an Indian Prime Minister, flying Indian flag and giving calls to fight for freedom and plebiscite to choose their political destiny.
It is not that PoK and Baloch people were not protesting earlier, but Delhi always looked the other way because it did not want to antagonise Pakistan. Actually every Indian Prime Minister has tried to persuade Pakistani leadership to live as peaceful neighbours. Even Modi went for it rather expansively but unlike his predecessors, he has wasted no time in correcting himself.
The reaction to Modi’s jibe is no surprise. Peaceniks complain that he has exposed our involvement in fomenting trouble in Balochistan and thus lost all moral rights to accuse Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism in India. Worse, the Simla Agreement has been dumped, which bound both countries to resolve their contentious issues bilaterally, opening the way for Pakistan to internationalise Kashmir. They argue that Balochs and PoK residents are going to suffer more, for the Pakistan Army will now be more brutal in oppressing them and that the strategy to use them to tie Pakistan in its internal problems is seriously flawed. But they do not realise that morality has no place in real politics. Pakistan has always preferred terrorism to bilateralism; pain is intrinsic to liberty and people in Balochistan and PoK do need a powerful outside voice to back up their resistance against Pakistan’s repressive regime.
Expectedly, Islamabad has accused India of violating its sovereignty. The Balochistan assembly, controlled by ruling PML(Nawaz), has adopted a resolution condemning India of promoting terrorism in the province. Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif is dispatching 20 of his parliamentarians to various countries to highlight alleged human rights abuses in the Valley.
Chinese, however, have real concern. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that runs through Gilgit and Baltistan is part of PoK. Being built at a cost of $46 billion, it gives Chinese an access to the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, and connects Gwadar in Balochistan to Xinjiang in China. Their worry is that if Baloch insurgency picks up, its strategic investment in Gwadar and infrastructure projects may be at the risk of flattening out. Their other concern is that India may insist on discussing illegal transfer of 5,180 sq km of land in PoK by Pakistan to China whenever the demarcation of LoC is taken up. No wonder, Chinese analysts have given a veiled threat of intervention. What India, therefore, needs is to strengthen its deterrent capability to call their bluff.
Indian intelligence agencies will hopefully not sit idle at this hour. Independent of what the Foreign office does, they must begin renewing their contact with dissident leaders in Balochistan and PoK to obtain information on human rights abuses and mobilising them to oppose any attempt by Pakistan to further erode their demography, culture and distinct political identity. Not only the agencies have to sustain the unrest, but also not be seen as promoting terrorism. It is a double-edged sword that they have to walk on. Balochistan and PoK may not get a representative government of their choice in the immediate future. But who knows? If Pakistan becomes brutally repressive in quelling dissent, anything can happen with a little nudge from Delhi.
The writer is former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing