Seven years after an India-Pakistan joint statement mentioned Balochistan and led to an outcry over the then UPA government’s Pakistan strategy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi put it back on the agenda Monday, bringing it up in his Independence Day address to corner Pakistan on human rights violations in its own backyard.
His remarks drew an angry reaction from Islamabad which claimed this “only proves Pakistan’s contention that India, through its main intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing, has been fomenting terrorism in Balochistan”.
In his address, Modi said, “Today, I want to especially honour and thank some people from the ramparts of the Red Fort. For the past few days, the people of Balochistan, people of Gilgit, people of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the way their citizens have heartily thanked me, the way they have acknowledged me, the goodwill they have shown towards me, people settled far across, the land which I have not seen, people I have not met ever, but people settled far across acknowledge the Prime Minister of India, they honour him, so it is an honour of my 125 crore countrymen, it is respect of my 125 crore countrymen, and that is why, owing to the feeling of this honour, I want to heartily thank the people of Balochistan, people of Gilgit, people of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for having an expression of thankfulness.”
He took on Pakistan over its recent utterances on Kashmir and its “move to glorify terrorists” like Hizbul Mujahideen’s Burhan Wani who was killed on July 8. “What kind of people are those who get drive from humanity and, what kind are those who reward terrorism? I want to place two pictures before this world, and I say to the world, I say to those who believe in humanity… when terrorists brutally killed innocent children in a school at Peshawar… Hindustan, Parliament had tears… every Indian school was in tears… this is our humanity.”
“But if you look around, you will find a move to glorify terrorists. When innocent people are killed in terrorist attacks, they celebrate… what type of terrorism-inspired life is it, what type are these creations of terrorism-inspired governments? The world will understand these two differences properly.”
His statement on the situation in Balochistan and PoK is the second in the last one week, and possibly the first by a Prime Minister in an Independence Day speech.
Pakistan responded swiftly, saying the situation in Balochistan cannot be equated with Kashmir. Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs, said the Indian Prime Minister was only trying to divert world attention from the “grim tragedy” unfolding in Kashmir over the past five weeks.
Earlier in the day, Pakistan invited India for talks on Kashmir, saying it is the “international obligation” of both the countries to resolve the issue, a move already rejected by New Delhi which has said it will talk on “contemporary and relevant” issues in Indo-Pak relations. Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria said in a statement that Indian High Commissioner Gautam Bambawale was called to hand over a letter of invitation for talks.
Modi’s remarks are being seen as a retaliation to Pakistan’s strategy of attracting international attention to the situation in Kashmir. Three days ago, Modi told an all-party meeting on Kashmir that Pakistan “bombs its own citizens using fighter planes” and the “time has come that Pakistan shall have to answer to the world for the atrocities committed by it against people in Balochistan and PoK”.
While India has always said the entire Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the country, it has rarely raised the human rights situation in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. What is even more unusual is New Delhi’s bid, at the highest political level, to draw attention to rights violation in Balochistan.
In the past, in 2005-06, India had made at least two public statements denouncing Pakistani military operations against Balochs and had expressed concern on the “spiralling violence” in Balochistan.
Kanwal Sibal, former Foreign Secretary, said, “By raising the Balochistan issue, he (Modi) has changed the rules of the game. From the PM’s point of view, this is a warning signal to Pakistan.”
G Parthasarathy, former High Commissioner to Pakistan, said some would call it “long overdue” but he would describe it as a “necessary measure… there has to be some inducement for Pakistan to fall in line”.— With PTI