On Friday, during an all-party meeting on Kashmir, Narendra Modi had hinted at a radical shift in India's foreign policy. Firstpost had pointed out how the Prime Minister intends to fix India's biggest geopolitical failure till date by completely changing the rules of engagement with Pakistan. The bold, new strategy would include two major thrust areas. One, reclaiming India's writ over Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK). Two, exposing globally Pakistan's gross human rights violations, brutalities and untold atrocities in Balochistan and PoK.
But it is one thing to outline a tactic while addressing heads of India's major political parties during a closed-door meeting and something quite another to announce it from the ramparts of Red Fort during an Independence Day speech in presence of the entire foreign diplomatic corps.
This wasn't just the Prime Minister "poking" a neighbouring country to earn some domestic brownie points. In fact, Modi's reference to PoK and Balochistan wasn't even aimed solely at Pakistan.
Considering that Pakistan-occupied Gilgit and Balochistan are regions through which the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes, the Prime Minister was sending a message to more than just Islamabad. He just made a calculated move in the great game of chess against China, Asia's largest power and an aggressive, rising force in world politics.
"Today on this occasion from the Red Fort I want to speak a bit about the people in Balochistan, Gilgit, Baltistan, and PoK," Modi said during his speech to mark India's 70th year of Independence.
"The world is watching… In the past few days people from areas such as Balochistan, Gilgit and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have thanked me, wished me well and have expressed gratitude towards me. They are far away from us. I have never visited these places nor have I ever met them. When they respect and congratulate the Prime Minister of India, it gives me great joy… It is a respect for 1.25 billion Indians. And so I want to thank the people of Balochistan, Gilgit and PoK," Modi said.
'People of Balochistan,Gilgit and PoK have thanked me a lot in past few days, I am grateful to them' PM Modi pic.twitter.com/usvFpSUE9J
— News18 (@CNNnews18) August 15, 2016
Though Modi didn't clarify why people from the troubled areas of PoK, Gilgit-Balitistan and Balochistan have approached him, he didn't need to. Pakistan's large-scale human rights abuses in these areas, which some Baloch activists allege are of genocidal proportions have been widely reported.
During a recent visit to India, Balochistan activist and women’s leader Naela Quadri Baloch spoke to Times of India about the war imposed on Pakistan on people of Balochistan province for the last 15 years where 25,000 people including women and children are missing due to Pakistan's "kill and dump" policy. She spoke about mass graves and said "far from being simple human rights violations or missing person’s issue, it has reached the level of genocide."
As Pakistan employs its security forces to crush the separatist movement with a brutal hand, it has given rise to widespread resentment and massive protests in Balochistan.
The situation has been further complicated by China, whose intention to use the CPEC to seek strategic depth inside Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir for installing military installations is clear. Head of ORF's Neighbourhood Regional Studies Initiative Ashok Malik recently pointed out in his piece how actual construction of roads and facilities make it evident that CPEC is aimed at serving a purpose quite different from its stated goal of being an economic corridor. "They seem to be designed to support military logistics. Both China and Pakistan are seeking a strategic depth in each other’s territories, and there can be only one possible target."
By invoking Balochistan's freedom struggle from the Red Fort, therefore, the Prime Minister on Monday was openly acknowledging the threat and targeting both Pakistan and China, whose CPEC depends on a safe passage from Gwadar Port.
There is no reason, however, to think that the international community is blind to Pakistan and China's foxtrot. In a recent piece for eptoday.com, European Parliament member Alberto Cirio wrote: "The CPEC has generated major resentment in Balochistan, and the Gwadar Port project is perceived as merely facilitating further exploitation of the area." The project allows China access to Balochistan from its western province of Xinjiang.
But India had so far appeared ambivalent if not disinterested towards Balochistan's struggle.
It is important to note, however, that Modi gave absolutely no indication of India supporting an armed insurgency against an elected government abroad. This caveat is significant. It tells us that even as India highlights human rights abuse in PoK and Balochistan, New Delhi shall use diplomatic means to ramp up global pressure on Islamabad. This serves a dual purpose. It gives India an effective counter-narrative strategy and also the moral high ground vis-à-vis Pakistan, whose sponsoring of terrorist forces to incite insurgency in Kashmir is well-documented.
The claiming of the moral high ground is a recurrent theme in Modi's message. Towards the end of his speech, he recounted two incidents to present a crucial distinction in the moral fibre of India and Pakistan that determines their respective foreign policies. This was an attempt to convince the global community that Pakistan cannot be hyphenated with India.
“I want to place two pictures before the world… There are those who believe in humanity and others who glorify terrorists, please weigh these two scenes," he said. "When innocent people are killed in violent acts of terrorism (in India), there are celebrations (in Pakistan). What kind of a government that is inspired by terrorism (is this), this is what the world needs to see and evaluate."
"In Parliament there were tears for all the innocents killed in Peshawar in the terror attack there by Pakistanis. Indian children were traumatized. This is the example of our humanity, but there are some countries who glorify terrorists." The reference was obviously to Pakistan describing Burhan Wani, whom India considers a terrorist belonging to the Hizbul Mujahideen militant group, as a Kashmiri leader and a martyr.
This was Modi at his best, answering Pakistan's non-stop propaganda war and turning it around, exposing the hypocrisy behind Islamabad's approach.
If Modi's mention of Balochistan and Gilgit in an Independence Day speech shows a huge stiffening of rhetoric against Pakistan, it will be pertinent to remember that Modi arrived at this juncture after spending a considerable amount of time and energy playing the dove.
From gifting saris to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's mother to dropping down for impromptu chitchat, Modi has invested a lot of personal capital in building a relationship which he may have thought would be based on friendship instead of animosity. This 'new awakening', in that sense, has also been necessitated by a sense of personal betrayal.
This would also indicate that the time for dangling carrots is now over. Pakistan must be ready for some stick.