Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done an unprecedented thing! He pronounced the ‘B’ word, which Pakistan hates to talk about. Balochistan is a touchy issue for Pakistan. And by referring to it publicly, PM Modi is trying to be more aggressive and assertive vis-a-vis Pakistan.
But where is Balochistan? Is India interfering in it? How are Baloch people reacting to India’s new found support? How will this affect Indo-Pak ties?
1. Balochistan is Half of Pakistan!
Balochistan is one of the four provinces of Pakistan. It is the largest province in the country, covering 44 percent of the total area. The population is 1.3 crore, which is merely 7 percent of the total population of the country. Most of the inhabitants are Baloch; other communities include Pashtuns and Brahuis.
The province is rich in natural resources like oil, gas, copper and gold; the economy is dominated by its natural gas fields. Its location is extremely strategic as the province shares borders with Punjab, Sindh, FATA, as well as Afghanistan and Iran. Gwadar Port in Balochistan is of immense importance to Pakistan.
2. Baloch Nationalism
Balochistan means ‘the land of the Baloch’. The province was divided into four princely states, which were forcefully acceded to Pakistan. Despite being rich in natural resources, it is the most backward region in Pakistan. Baloch people are ethnically, culturally and socially different from the rest of Pakistan and feel exploited at the hands of the dominant Punjabis.
The Balochistan Liberation Army is a Pakistan-designated terrorist organisation. It is the most widely-known Baloch separatist group. It has conducted several attacks on Pakistani security agencies and civilians. Baloch nationalists accuse Pakistan of systematically suppressing its development to keep the Balochs suppressed.
3. Pakistani Atrocities
Pakistani security forces are accused of illegally detaining 19,000 men, women and children in Balochistan. Many of them have been raped and killed.
Balochistan is a very sensitive issue for Pakistan. So much so that when I interviewed Baloch rights activist Mama Qadeer Baloch, who had walked over 3,000 km from Quetta to Islamabad with relatives of missing persons, a top official grilled me for an hour on why I had done an interview which was “anti-Pakistan”.Meena Menon, Former Pakistan Correspondent for The Hindu
4. India’s Restrained Stand
India maintained for a long time that it would not interfere in the internal matters of other countries. Hence, it never brought up the Balochistan issue at any international platform, despite Pakistan repeatedly stoking the Kashmir issue.
5. India’s RAW Deal?
Pakistan has been accusing India of running terrorist activities as well as helping Baloch nationalists. A week back, when a terrorist attack killed over 50 people in Quetta, Balochistan, the Pakistani Chief Minister blamed RAW (Research and Analysis Wing), the foreign intelligence agency of India. Pakistan could never produce any substantial proof against India.
6. Modi Presses the ‘B’ Button!
In a departure from India’s earlier position and when the bilateral ties with Pakistan had hit a new low after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif raised the Kashmir issue in his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Modi did what Pakistan couldn’t have even thought of. Without mentioning ‘Pakistan’, he simply thanked the people of Balochistan.
7. Pakistan Furious
Pakistan is expectedly upset after India hit it where it hurts the most. Adviser to Pakistan PM on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz said that India was trying to divert global attention from the “tragedy in India-held Kashmir”. Pakistani journalists warned Baloch nationalists not to take India’s support.
8. Balochistan Welcomes India’s Tough Stand
Various Baloch nationalist organisations in Balochistan as well as those based in USA and Europe have welcomed PM Modi’s unexpected support.
Even if the statement of the Indian PM is meant to divert attention from the ongoing situation in Kashmir, it will still help the Baloch nationalists in terms of highlighting their cause because the Baloch have been struggling for ages to get international support and not a single country has ever spoken in their support. Modi is the first Prime Minister in the world who has spoken of the Baloch and their sufferings. Thus, it is a great breakthrough. We have to wait and see if India supports Balochistan as a part of an official policy or if it is using Balochistan only as a chip to respond to Pakistan. I look at Modi and the the Baloch nationalists as strange bedfellows though.Malik Siraj Akbar, Editor, The Baloch Hal
9. To ‘B’ or Not to ‘B’?
Back home, while the BJP thinks PM Modi’s new move will put India in a better position while dealing with Pakistan, Congress accuses Modi of ‘ruining’ India’s case on Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) by raking up the Balochistan issue.
It’s a befitting reply to Pakistan, which is making attempts to interfere in internal matters of Jammu and Kashmir. We’re not talking about the movement in Balochistan. We are talking about human rights violations there as thousands of cases of rapes and killings are reported. While talking about human rights in Kashmir, Pakistan is ignoring that their own backyard is burning. PM has assertively reiterated the Indian stand, which the UPA was hesitant to utter.Vijay Chauthaiwale, In-charge, Foreign Affair Department, BJP
10. Effect on Indo-Pak Ties?
India stayed away from making comments on internal matters of Pakistan as it gave it a moral high ground at the international level. But now India thinks that this high ground isn’t beneficial. An Indian PM talking about Balochistan is unprecedented. As Modi didn’t mention his Lahore visit even once, probably the government thinks it was a mistake.Suhasini Haidar, Diplomatic Affairs Editor, The Hindu