Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to Balochistan in his Independence Day address from the ramparts of the Red Fort is a significant departure from India’s foreign policy as far as Pakistan is concerned. By highlighting Pakistan’s atrocities in Balochistan and acknowledging the gratitude of the Balochs, in one stroke, he has turned the tables on Islamabad. Seen in the backdrop of the increased activity on the Kashmir front, it is an indicator that India can administer a dose of its own medicine to Islamabad.
How will it change the India, Pakistan dynamic? Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh had almost legitimised Pakistan’s allegations of Indian interference in Balochistan in a joint statement with the then Pakistan prime minister after talks at Sharm-el-Sheikh in 2009. The statement had said Pakistan had some information on threats in Balochistan — an indirect reference to alleged Indian support to the so-called Baloch insurgents. It was seen as a setback since Pakistan had always sought to keep India out of Afghanistan by portraying it as a destabilising force in the region. No wonder that Singh was forced to backtrack following an uproar in India. Modi has now taken up the same issue and turned it on its head. The difference in approach is stark. Unlike Singh, he has put Pakistan on the backfoot on the same issue.
Embedded in his remarks is the threat of internationalising Pakistan’s Baloch problem and a signal to Beijing too which has been keen on developing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor through Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. How will this new approach unfold depends largely on consistency. There is a section which feels Modi has not acquired a new leverage vis-a-vis Pakistan but, has only given it an ‘additional handle’ to interfere in India’s internal affairs. But going by Pakistan’salmost knee-jerk invite to Baloch leaders for talks, it appears Modi has got this one right.