As India and Pakistan celebrated their 70th Independence a few weeks back the recent unrest in the Kashmir valley, after the killing of Separatist Islamic terrorist Burhan Wani by the Indian Army, has again brought the two countries to verbal blows. Weeks of protests in the Kashmir valley have left around 50 dead and many injured. India has blamed Pakistan for this newest unrest.
Amidst all this, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has signalled a major policy shift towards Pakistan. Just before the run up to the Independence day celebrations Modi’s speech in an all-party meeting mentioned how Pakistan bombs its own people using fighter planes in Baluchistan. 'The time has come when Pakistan shall have to answer to the world for the atrocities committed by it against people in Baluchistan and the PoK'
(Pakistan occupied Kashmir). Interestingly the timing of this is even more important as the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi was in India to seek India’s support on the South China Sea dispute at the upcoming G-20 meeting in China. The Chinese are building the Gwadar port in the Baluchistan region which will also pass through the northern region of Pakistan (PoK). It is a part of the 46 Billion USD CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), a major component of the One Belt, One Road Chinese strategic project. India objects to this project because of its claim on the PoK and the Baloch people allege that this is a part of Pakistani strategy to exploit the Baluchistan region with the help of the Chinese, not to forget that the Chinese nationals and its assets in use to develop Gwadar are being safe-guarded by a 15000 strong Pakistani army.
Baluchistan region comprises of about 45 percent of the total Pakistani area but consists of only about 5% of its total population. It has borders with Iran and Afghanistan and is rich in natural resources. This region has seen years of conflict with reports from human rights groups claiming that about 10,000 people were 'disappeared' just in the last decade and in 2014 alone three mass graves were found with hundreds of decomposed bodies. The atrocities intensified after the killing of the Baloch tribal chief, Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006 by the Pakistani army. The Baloch nationalists exiled in different countries claim a Baloch genocide has occurred over the years by the Pakistani army.
Some claim Modi’s statements were a knee jerk reaction to please his domestic audience and divert attention from the Kashmir valley protests, however it seems it is both. It is a short term tactic and a long term offensive strategy aimed at both Pakistan and, indirectly, China.
If we look back just a few days before Modi’s statement on Baluchistan & PoK, there were no sympathy messages by the Indian Prime Minister following attacks in Quetta, Baluchistan on the 9th August that killed approximately 72 people, which is unusual given his past pro-activeness in communicating his condolences via Twitter or other social networking media. He did this, for instance, after the gruesome attack on a school in Peshawar last year.
And then to keep the momentum rolling the Prime Minister raised the issue of Baluchistan & PoK again, this time from the ramparts of the Red Fort in the symbolic Independence Day speech, acknowledging the thanks and tacit support he received from the people of Baluchistan and PoK for raising this issue. A Junior Indian minister for the Prime Minister’s office stated on record that India will provide “diplomatic and moral support” to the Balochi movement and reclaim Pakistan occupied Kashmir to reunite it with India.
Afghanistan’s ex-president Hamid Karzai voiced his support for India’s new offensive against Pakistan. Although it will be a tightrope walk for India to proceed with this new Baluchistan policy in dealing with its friend Iran, which borders Baluchistan, as Iran would not prefer to see new disruptions there. This policy shift is bound to have a huge impact on the geo politics of the entire South Asian region. India’s tactic of publicly declaring support to the Baluchistan movement will be a game changer in the dynamics of the region, as Iran and China will certainly be watching these developments closely.
Baloch nationalists are “already upbeat about these developments and are thanking India for raising their plight, asking India to liberate Baluchistan just like it did Bangladesh in 1971. That seems unlikely; but with India looking at bringing Pakistan’s worst kept secret out of the closet, the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in September could mark the beginning of a new, bold 'Modi-fied' strategy by India to encircle Pakistan and check China at the same time.
Ashish Bansal is a Masters of International Relations & National Security student at Curtin University.
Image credit: Koshy Koshy (Flickr: Creative Commons)