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PM Modi's Balochistan Remark Signals Shift in Foreign Policy; Will it Work?

By: Parikshit Luthra

CNN-News18

Last Updated: August 15, 2016, 19:00 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to the crowd from the ramparts of the Red fort in the national capital during the 70th Independence day celebrations. (Picture courtesy: Narendra Modi on Twitter)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to the crowd from the ramparts of the Red fort in the national capital during the 70th Independence day celebrations. (Picture courtesy: Narendra Modi on Twitter)

Main Opposition party Congress tore into the Prime Minister’s speech saying PM Modi has given Pakistan the licence to rake up Kashmir in international forums.

In the sharpest rebuff to Pakistan yet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to human rights violations in Balochistan, Gilgit and PoK in his Independence Day speech from the patriotic setting of the Red Fort. Till now these were one-off propaganda statements made by politicians and ministers but this time the Prime Minister was openly acknowledging people from the region.

"In the last few days the way the people of Balochistan, Gilgit, from Pak occupied Kashmir have thanked me, it is the honour of 1.25 billion people of India. I thank those people from Balochistan, Gilgit and Pak occupied Kashmir," Modi said.

The PM in his I-Day speech also warned Pakistan not to glorify terrorists, a statement which has to be seen in the backdrop of repeated attempts by Islamabad to exploit the unrest in Kashmir valley post Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani's killing.

It all started with Nawaz Sharif calling Wani a martyr and the last nail in the coffin was Pakistani envoy Abdul Basit's statement dedicating Pakistan's Independence Day to people of Kashmir; but most importantly the PM's speech indicates a clear shift in the foreign policy.

Within minutes, political activists in Balochistan welcomed the statement with Ashraf Sherjan of the Baloch Republican Party even going to the extent of saying he hoped India and Balochistan would one day celebrate azadi together.

By openly referring to Balochistan in his Independence Day speech the PM has embarked on risky territory. There is little scope for bilateral dialogue or back channel talks now.

Pak-based terror groups may plot more attacks and increase infiltration, but many in the Indian government justify the PM's speech saying it is Sharif's provocative statements that have brought about this retaliation.

Foreign policy experts say it was high time India sent a signal to Pakistan that if you poke us on Kashmir we could pay you back in the same coin.

But well-known defence expert from Pakistan, Lt General Talat Masood, said statements coming from India will only escalate tension and that PM Modi is trying to brush the Kashmir problem under the carpet by drawing parallels with Balochistan.

PM Modi is under pressure from Kashmir. I am convinced there are serious problems there. There is an uprising which cannot be suppressed by military force and it needs a political solution," Masood said.

Former diplomat G Parthasarthy who has served as ambassador to Pakistan feels the reference to Balochistan was long due since Pakistan had been going on and on with its Kashmir propaganda for decades.

"Our restraint was being taken as weakness. Pakistan has no moral authority to question us on Kashmir. Unlike Kashmir, Balochistan never acceded to Pakistan, but it was forcibly taken over," Parthasarathy said.

Modi's Balochistan reference in his Independence Day address must be seen in the context of his speech in an all-party meeting three days earlier.

The PM told political parties that,"time has come for Pakistan to explain the atrocities in Balochistan and PoK". Clearly the tone for his Red Fort speech was set then and there.

Former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran agrees that the PM's speech reflects a shift in strategy, but refrains from calling it a policy change.

He said, "We have to see how consistent we are. Is it a one-off statement, or are we going to incrementally follow it up". Saran also cautioned that there can be no alternative to dialogue.

He says there can be ups and downs in the relationship but we need to engage, especially when the atmosphere is tense.

Former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing AS Dulat agrees with Shyam Saran. He said it may take a while but India has to talk to Pakistan.

Dulat also feels a lot of Nawaz Sharif's rhetoric on Kashmir is because of domestic compulsions. The Pakistan PM is feeling the heat because of the Panama Papers expose and is under pressure from the Army as well.

"The PMs speech certainly indicates a shift, but it's more rhetoric. The Pakistan High Commissioner has said silly things and some parts of the PM's speech must be retaliation to that," Dulat said.

Main Opposition party Congress tore into the Prime Minister’s speech saying PM Modi has given Pakistan the licence to rake up Kashmir in international forums.

Top party leader Kapil Sibal said, "It’s a shocking statement. No PM has ever spoken like this. Narendra Modi has exposed himself. He has talked about something which doesn’t concern us directly."

The Prime Minister’s Pakistan policy has always been questioned by the Opposition. His surprise visit to Lahore last year to meet Nawaz Sharif and the move to allow a Pakistani investigation team to visit the Pathankot attack site has not yielded any dividends.

It is also unlikely that because of his Balochistan reference Pakistan will stop its Kashmir propaganda. And now, after this sharp war of words, it remains to be seen whether PM Modi will visit Pakistan for the SAARC summit in November.

first published:August 15, 2016, 18:56 IST
last updated:August 15, 2016, 19:00 IST