South Block is exploring the possibility of inviting the diaspora from Gilgit-Baltistan for the next Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, in what would be a first in this direction.
The proposal being discussed among the top brass of the Indian government — between external and home ministries, as well as intelligence and security agencies — is that the diaspora from these areas should be called for the biennial event. The next Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas is scheduled to be held in Bengaluru in January next year.
The plan, according to top South Block sources, is to make the point that these people are part of the Indian diaspora. This ties in with the government’s latest diplomatic gambit that Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan are part of Jammu and Kashmir.
This narrative has gained momentum after Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the issue of Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK on two occasions earlier this month — first at the all-party meeting and then during his Independence Day address from Red Fort.
Officials privy to the discussions said there are two views on this approach. There is the hardline view, keeping in line with Modi’s remarks and upping the ante on PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. The moderate view is that the decision may lead to further deterioration of relations, as it would harden the positions in both New Delhi and Islamabad.
Sources said this will be akin to Pakistan engaging with Hurriyat leaders, which was the norm for the last two decades, until the current BJP-led NDA government stopped the practice.
Some parallels are also being drawn within the Indian establishment with China’s position on Arunachal Pradesh.
While the diaspora from Gilgit-Baltistan is spread across the US and Europe, they have been engaged by previous governments — especially by the Manmohan Singh government in 2005-06. However, sources said the engagement was not sustained, as the government of the day felt it would jeopardise back-channel talks on Kashmir between Indian and Pakistani interlocutors.
This will be New Delhi’s attempt to pick up the threads, as the diaspora has been vocal about feeling ignored by the Indian governments in the past. While those from Gilgit-Baltistan have made their presence felt in the international circuit, the PoK diaspora is not that cohesive and well-grouped.
This will also be a part of India’s approach to up the rhetoric against Pakistan on human rights violations in Gilgit-Baltistan, PoK and Balochistan.
Officials said they are also exploring the possibility of sending envoys and officials to P-5 countries, as has been suggested by some former diplomats and strategic affairs experts. “However, a political call needs to be taken at the highest level on these issues — whether to invite the diaspora and engage the international community on human rights issues. That will be done over the next few weeks and months,” said a source.
Much of this also depends on Islamabad’s blowback and response on the issue. While Islamabad has raised the human rights situation in Kashmir at every international forum, from OIC to P-5 countries to the UN, New Delhi will calibrate its response and future course of action after ta king into account all the pros and cons.