Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mention of Balochistan in his Independence Day address sparked a debate within the Congress, seven years after its mention in the India-Pakistan joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh had triggered disquiet within the party.
Hours after Modi spoke, former External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said the Prime Minister should not have spoken openly about Balochistan. His colleague Kapil Sibal said the Balochistan mention will have “consequences” but Anand Sharma, Congress Deputy Leader in Rajya Sabha, said New Delhi had spoken about Balochistan in the past as well.
Officially, the Congress disagreed with Khurshid’s views altogether and said India should aggressively raise the issue of atrocities being committed by Pakistan in Balochistan, both bilaterally and in international fora.
Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said Khurshid’s comment about Balochistan being an internal matter of Pakistan may be his personal opinion. He said the Congress believes that human rights violations in Balochistan is an issue related to India.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Khurshid asked whether Balochistan was part of India and said the doctrine of Panchsheel does not allow India to interfere in internal matters of other states.
“Is Balochistan a part of India? Doesn’t India believe in Panchsheel? Is it not a departure from that?” By raising Balochistan, he said, the government is “ruining our case on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir”.
He said while India does have concerns about human rights violations in other countries, New Delhi has never interfered so openly. “We do this in private conversations… between diplomats and leaders… and convey our concerns. We don’t make these pronouncements as policy pronouncements.”
“We have been complaining about Pakistan… Should we be doing the same, then are we not ruining our case and losing the high moral ground… It would give an additional handle to Pakistan to target India,” he said.
Khurshid referred to the Sharm-el Sheikh controversy saying the BJP had then asked “why are we conceding to Pakistan… and now the Prime Minister is saying we are with the people of Balochistan. Is it right? Have you considered what it will lead you to?”
Sibal echoed Khurshid: “I don’t know who advised him to speak (on Balochistan) from the ramparts of the Red Fort because this has never been done by any Prime Minister before. I don’t know what the fallout is going to be, but there is going to be a fallout… If they talk about Kashmir which is an integral part of India and you talk about Balochistan which is an integral part of Pakistan… what is the difference between you and them… So it has consequences. What, only time will tell,” he said.
The Congress differed with Khurshid. Surjewala said the Pakistan army and its agencies have been committing human rights violations and murdering democracy in Balochistan and PoK. “And all these issues, India should raise not just with Pakistan but in the international fora… We all respect Khurshid. He is a senior leader. But his comment that the Balochistan issue is an internal matter of Pakistan may be his personal opinion. India and the Congress believe that the human rights violations in Balochistan is an issue related to India.”
Sharma, on the other hand, delinked PoK and Balochistan. “PoK is a territorial issue. That was part of J&K and Ladakh… so is Gilgit-Baltistan. So when India speaks on PoK or on Gilgit-Baltistan, we are not interfering in any internal matters. It is an integral part of the state which acceded to the Indian Union and is under illegal Pakistani occupation. Balochistan is a separate issue.”
“Balochistan is not a territorial issue between India and Pakistan. That is part of Pakistan. We have never disputed that. But at the same time, we have expressed concern over the developments there and the brutal use of force to suppress people,” Sharma told The Indian Express.