At an all-party meeting convened to defuse the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly targeted Islamabad for what he described as “pitiable conditions” in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan. And three days later he rubbed it in; in his Independence Day address on Aug. 15, Modi claimed that he was inundated with thank-you messages from Kashmiris and Balochs for his supportive statement.
But India’s seasoned diplomats, political parties and the strategic community are aghast. The broad consensus is that Modi has scored a self-goal in football parlance and that India will have to bear the “consequences” of his Pakistan-related remarks obviously made to deflect attention from Jammu and Kashmir — where Indian government’s record is dismal.
What is most astounding is that a leader as astute as Modi clubbed together Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan. While Kashmir is a disputed issue, Balochistan is purely and utterly Pakistan’s business.
Modi’s remarks on Balochistan, far from intimidating anyone, confirmed the worst suspicion that the Pakistani government has always harbored. Within hours, Pakistani Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz said: “PM Modi’s reference to Balochistan, which is an integral part of Pakistan, only proves Pakistan’s contention that India through intelligence agency RAW has been fomenting terrorism in Balochistan”.
I am clueless about why Modi was so brazen about Balochistan, especially because his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was livid when the Sharm El-Sheikh joint statement of India and Pakistan of July 16, 2009 accommodated Pakistan’s concerns over India’s alleged role in Balochistan. The BJP had then accused Congress Party Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of betraying India. So, if the BJP believes that certain matters are never to be conceded, discussed or endorsed publicly, why did Modi trumpet India’s support for Balochs?
Happymon Jacob, Associate Professor of Disarmament Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, found Modi’s Balochistan reference “quite disturbing.”
“When the PM says this, it will be seen as evidence of Indian involvement in another country. This could get us bracketed with Pakistan, which India accuses of interfering in our internal affairs.”
Islamabad recently arrested a former Indian Navy officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav, and charged him with assisting Baloch separatists. India has denied the accusation and said he was abducted from the Iran-Pakistan border by Pakistani agencies. But in the wake of Modi’s remarks, India’s denial will be inevitably viewed differently by Pakistan and world powers Islamabad had complained to after Jadhav was caught.
If Modi’s goal is to magnify and internationalize Pakistan’s problems as a tit-for-tat for Islamabad’s advocacy of Jammu and Kashmir’s independence from India, he should be prepared for a joint Sino-Pakistan response. Beijing has a huge stake in Balochistan and Gilgit-Batlistan as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor runs through them. CPEC is a part of the new “Silk Road” or the Chinese-sponsored One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project. China is spending $46 billion on CPEC, which will link Kashgar in Xinjiang with Gwadar port in Balochistan.
Peace and stability in Pakistan, particularly in Balochistan and Gilgit-Batlistan, are vital for the CPEC’s successful completion. Any attempt to disturb the status quo there is bound to anger not only Pakistan but China too. One of India’s current foreign policy priorities is to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). And it’s no secret that China stands between India and NSG. In mid-2016 China’s opposition prevented India’s entry into the elite group. Subsequently China softened its stand and said it was open to negotiations. But Modi’s latest remarks, which directly impact China’s geopolitical goals, may have queered India’s pitch beyond redemption.
India’s Pakistan policy is in tatters because Modi has tied himself in knots. No one seems to know who is his senior-most foreign policy adviser — Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar or National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. Modi has oscillated between a quick stopover in Lahore to wish birthday to his Pakistani counterpart and supporting Balochs which, according to Sartaj Aziz, amounts to “fomenting terrorism” in Pakistan.
Modi’s latest remarks have united its nuclear neighbors. In July, China for the first time issued a statement on the unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir, which has claimed many lives. And now Modi has gifted China the perfect excuse for throwing its considerable weight behind Pakistan, which India will find difficult to cope with.