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What’s the Cost of Changing the Narrative on Balochistan?

Modi’s Balochistan comments could put India on equal footing with Pakistan in the perception battle, says Ashutosh.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mention of Balochistan in his Independence Day Speech instantly reminded me of one of the great heroes of 20th century, Franklin D Roosevelt, who was called the ‘warrior statesman’ by none other than Henry Kissinger, the guru of all diplomats.

Roosevelt believed that power ultimately decides both the balance of politics and of diplomacy. He once wrote to his friend, “If I must choose between a policy of blood and iron and one of milk and water ... Why, I am for the policy of blood and iron. It is better not only for the nation but in the long run for the world.”

Roosevelt was a great leader who changed the course of history with his iron will and made America what it is today – a super power of a nation. His leadership during the Second World War was exemplary and a matter of envy for many statesmen.

But can we say the same thing about our Prime Minister? Is India passing through the same phase of its life as the US did then? Does India really need a policy of blood and iron? Is the time ripe for such a gamble? Have the dynamics of Indo-Pak relationship reached that level of engagement that nothing less than adventurism will work in India’s favour?

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Support to Rebel Balochis Changes the Narrative

These questions are crucial. I am sure foreign policy advisers to the Prime Minister must have done enough homework before embarking on to this path of diplomacy. But as a student of international politics, I will sound a note of caution. The mere mention of Balochistan is indicative that if Pakistan will not stop meddling in the internal affairs of Kashmir, and if it keeps exporting terrorism, then India will have no other option but to resort to the same kind of tactics; not that Pakistan has not blamed India in the past.

But vocal articulation of support to rebel Balochis changes the age old narrative pursued by the Indian government since Independence. This will always be read as an open admission that India has been creating trouble and will keep doing so in the future too. A policy like this is a major turnaround, and it will demand muscular support from the Indian state.

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Modi’s Balochistan comments could put India on equal footing with Pakistan in the perception battle, says Ashutosh.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New Delhi. (Photo: Reuters)

Modi’s Words Give Pakistan Argument to Further Its Mischief in Kashmir

Roosevelt was successful because Europe was on the decline, Great Britain as the number one empire was on the verge of collapse, the future challenger USSR was wounded by Germany, and the USA was a booming economy.

A ‘blood and iron’ policy requires extra POWER to successfully implement its intent. America was far superior to other nations. It emerged as an unquestioned leader in the post-world war era. Unfortunately, India despite being the fastest growing economy is no match for the USA. Our military might cannot even be compared with the middle rank super powers. We have 1.25 billion mouths to feed.

India is undoubtedly superior in comparison to Pakistan, whose economy is in tatters; its army embroiled in fighting insurgents and terrorism. The general population is too traumatised and fractured due to the fanatical rise of radicalism and the Islamisation of every institution. The world is ready to declare Pakistan a failed state. But let’s not forget that it is still a nuclear power and controls very dangerous non-state actors who are capable of creating havoc anytime, anywhere in India.

The open articulation by the Prime Minister gives Pakistan an additional argument with which to further its mischief in Kashmir, and also a reason to justify to its citizens the diversion of its resources towards arms and armaments. This could lead to a further militarisation on the border; escalation of tension will force India to also divert its resources from welfare measures to the military-industrial complex. Can India afford this?

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“PM Modi’s Statements Can Put India at Par with Pakistan”

India is the country of Gandhi and Nehru; idealism and morality have been the guiding principles of Indian foreign policy. India has always adhered to the principles of the UN charter that no country should interfere in another’s internal matters.

On the issue of Kashmir, India has always used this argument against Pakistan and it has also not let any other force interfere in the matter of Kashmir. Today, when India openly supports Balochi rebels and they congratulate the Indian Prime Minister for his support, then in the international fora, India loses that moral argument which could lead to reduction of support in India’s favour on Kashmir.

Till now India has always projected itself as the victim of state-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan was the rogue state, and was called names by the international community. Pakistan was blamed for making South Asia the most dangerous spot on the atlas. The Prime Minister’s statement could now put India at par with Pakistan, and there is the serious danger of India being unfavourably compared with a rogue state.

India’s reputation as a peace-loving country could take a serious beating. The world might look at us not as victims , as a bully. India can never win the perception battle, as Pakistan will perennially be treated as the underdog – and an underdog always wins the sympathy.

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There is another angle too which has been broadly ignored in today’s jingoistic debate. The Balochistan conflict is not simply confined to Pakistan. It is true that Balochis are 3 percent of Pakistan’s population, which occupies 44 percent of the country’s geography – but the idea of greater Balochistan comprises of Balochistan province in south western Pakistan, Sistan and South eastern province of Iran, and southern region of Afghanistan.

Christophe Jeffrelot writes in his book The Pakistan Paradox that the Balochistan liberation army formed in the early 1980s by Khair Bux Marri, campaigned for the creation of a Great Balochistan that would include Baloch territories in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Jaffrelot records:

The Baloch movement has become an international issue with the awakening of Baloch separatism in Iran. In October 2009, the Jundallah movement fighting for the independence of Iranian Balochistan killed forty two Iranian state officials in suicide attack.

This clearly underlines the fact that the Prime Minister’s Baloch statement can potentially upset Iran and Afghanistan. Both the countries are strategically important in our policy to contain Pakistan. Iran is an emerging nation and can work as leverage against the Wahabi terrorism which has engulfed the globe. Afghanistan has been a friend for a long time. India can’t afford to isolate itself from these two nations.

My question is: Has any cost assessment been done before such an articulation? This is a serious question that needs deeper introspection. As a nation, it has to be understood that the global community looks up to India with far greater respect and expectation; the world expects far more nuanced and subtle responses from India.

It will be a tragedy if India is compared with Pakistan and the same yardstick and parameters are used to count our place in world history. Kissinger was right when he wrote, “In the end, it is reality, not publicity that determines whether a leader has made a difference.”

I hope Mr Prime Minister understands that.

(The writer is an author and spokesperson of AAP. He can be reached at @ashutosh83B)

(This is the author’s personal opinion, The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

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