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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 36, New Delhi, August 27, 2016

Implications of Raising Balochistan and Gilgit issues by PM

Sunday 28 August 2016, by Sandeep Pandey

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has raised the issue of Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistani occupied Kashmir in his Independence Day speech on August 15, 2016 in response to Pakistan dedicating its Independence Day, celebrated a day earlier, to ‘Freedom of Kashmir’. This is the first time India has officially expressed support for the cause of Balochistan. People in these areas are unhappy with the Pakistani Government. While there is a full-fledged movement in Balochistan going on to demand autonomy from Pakistan, people in Gilgit-Baltistan want basic civic rights and democracy.

Pakistan has said that this is proof of India’s involvement in Balochistan. While it may not be a well-known fact in India, people in Pakistan widely believe that just like Pakistan aids the secessionist movement in J&K, India is helping the separatists in Balochistan. It is also a common belief that India, through the Afghanistan border, provides military and other assistance to the freedom fighters there through its intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing. The Pakistani Government has blamed India for a recent suicide attack in Quetta killing 80 people, believed to have been perpetrated by the Taliban. Such allegations are as common as in the Indian media, fed by the government agencies, Pakistan is blamed for any violence in Kashmir or terrorist act in India.

Modi has obviously responded to the obnoxious Pakistani statements on Kashmir offering aid after the violence in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s killing. For long India-Pakistan relations have been marked by the tit-for-tat policy. So there is nothing new about it; but what is new about the Balochistan statement is that from now on India will have to support the cause of the people fighting in Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir on the issue of human rights violations in these areas, unless it was an impulsive reaction to the pre-Independence Day Pakistani adventure. If India is taking a morally high position, then it’ll have to stand by the people of Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK like it has done with Tibetans taking on the Chinese wrath.

The question which then will be raised is: if India is so concerned about the human rights violations by the Pakistani Army and actually supports the cause of freedom in Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK, then why does it carry out human rights violations in its own Kashmir? India as a soverign country has a right to deny entry to UN Human Rights Commission in Kashmir only if it responsibly dealt with its people. Using pellet guns on its own people, including women and children, is no sign of a mature government sensitive to human rights concerns.

The Right-wing nationalists are compli-menting Modi for giving a befitting reply to Pakistan but in the long run such a belligerent attitude will not help. If we accept the fact that dialogue and not war will solve the India-Pakistan problem, then Modi has just taken us away several steps from the process for establishing peace and friendship. Of course, the Pakistani side is equally to be blamed for provoking India.

In a way Modi has done a repeat of Vajpayee. Before India tested the nuclear weapons in Pokhran, India enjoyed a traditional military superiority over Pakistan. However, chest- thumping declarations of having made a nuclear weapon gave a chance to Pakistan to carry out its tests too, thereby starting a nuclear weapons arms race which has acted as a leveller in terms of the destructive power of the two neighbours now. So far India concerned itself with only Kashmir, Pakistan was seen as an intruder and India received international sympathetic support on this issue. Now India’s public position of Kashmir being an integral part of India will be weakened as from now on both countries will accuse each other of interfering in their internal matters. With Modi’s posturing India is going to lose certain credibility on the Kashmir issue. Whether we like it or not, Pakistan has been able to make inroads in the Kashmiri psyche whereas India does not have any emotional relationship with the Balochis. At best it can offer long-distance moral support.

India will also have to face the uncomfortable question from both the dominant parties in Tamil Nadu and internationally on why it did not stand up for the rights of Tamilians when they were being massacred by the Sinhalese dominated Sri Lankan Government. Tamilians in Sri Lanka are ethnically closer to the people of Tamil Nadu than the people from Balochistan are to people anywhere in India. Balochis are fighting for an independent country with Balochis from Iran and Afghanistan.

As a matter of principle India must support the people of Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK just as it is supporting Tibetans. At the same time it must also support Tamilians in Sri Lanka. But instead of admitting our failure in having won the hearts of the people of Kashmir if we continue to blame Pakistan for all the wrongs in Kashmir, we are not going to be able to solve this problem. As we kept alienating the Kashmiris, Pakistan’s interference increased. Just as Pakistan’s failure to keep the people in Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK happy is giving India a chance to raise the issue now.

Leaders of both Pakistan and India must realise that we are not engaged in some competition where we can score points over each other with our display of nationalist fervour of the jingoistic kind. There are real people in Indian J&K, PoK, Gilgit-Baltistan, Balochistan and Sri Lanka. The two governments must respect the sentiments of the people and cooperatively solve the issues so that the local people’s aspirations are taken care of. A Right- wing-dominated thinking, which treats it as a prestige issue, is doing this only at the cost of people’s lives and sensitivities.

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey was recently sacked this year from the IIT-BHU where he was a Visiting Professor on the charge of being a “Naxalite” engaging in “anti-national” activities. He was elected along with Prof Keshav Jadhav the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India) at its founding conference at Hyderabad on May 28-29, 2011.

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