India's ramping up of diplomatic pressure on Pakistan over Balochistan and calibrated escalation of support for Baloch freedom struggle point to New Delhi's growing confidence and a new steel in its foreign policy. It also indicates that Prime Minister Narendra Modi won't limit himself to using the Balochistan brahmastra only as a strategic deterrent.
When the prime minister first dropped the Baloch bomb during an all-party meeting on 13 August, it created ripples on India's static geopolitical surface. When Modi followed it up during his Independence Day speech in presence of global diplomatic corps — referring to Pakistan's large-scale atrocities and human rights violations in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan — the ripple became a wave in India and triggered an initial stunned silence in Pakistan. But there still remained pronounced doubts whether New Delhi would have the gumption to follow through its gambit.
All gloves are off now. By taking Balochistan and PoK issue to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) India has officially jettisoned its policy of non-meddling in what it long considered to be Pakistan's "internal matter". This verily marks the beginning of a new pro-active foreign policy where decisions will be taken based on India's strategic interests, not lofty idealism of a morality play.
There are risks to this approach but New Delhi reckons that not playing the Baloch card is an even greater risk. It would not only mean allowing Pakistan a free hand to internationalise Kashmir issue but also to send a signal that India doesn't have the stomach for a fight in the intriguing game against China.
Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir are vital cogs in China's strategic wheels. Beijing has invested heavily in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with an eye on building maritime supremacy. Maintaining status quo on these two sensitive regions are imperative for Asia's most powerful nation. Flagging Balochistan and PoK on international forums, therefore, presents India with a precious bargaining chip against Beijing.
That India's UN move followed Washington's refusal to play ball with New Delhi on Balochistan is even more interesting.
According to a report in The Hindu, US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said during a media briefing on Monday that "US government respects the unity and territorial integrity of Pakistan and we do not support independence for Balochistan" in reply to a question on India's reference to human rights violations in the Pakistan province.
There are broadly two reasons behind the US stance on Balochistan.
One, the Obama administration desperately wants a de-escalation of tension between two nuclear neighbours. There could also be renewed risk of a terrorist attack. As KP Nayar writes in The Telegraph, "The US is worried that if tensions between India and Pakistan continue to be ratcheted up, a terrorist attack like the one in Mumbai eight years ago cannot be ruled out..."
Two, Americans would desperately want to avoid another Middle East in central Asia. If the Baloch freedom struggle gathers pace, it could infuse fresh volatility into the region which global jihad organisations wouldn't hesitate to exploit.
Which is why for India to go ahead with the Baloch declaration at the UN indicates a tectonic shift in mindset. It is proof that India's foreign policy is no longer tied to the apron strings of global powers.
At the 33rd session of UNHRC in Geneve on Wednesday, India's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN Ajit Kumar said in a statement that while "India's credentials as a peaceful, democratic, pluralistic society that is deeply committed to the welfare of its people are well established…, Pakistan is characterised by authoritarianism, absence of democratic norms and widespread human rights violations across the country including Balochistan," reported news agency PTI.
Indications are that raising of issue at the UN is just the start. This shall be followed through with a calibrated diplomatic offensive.
A day later on Thursday, the Ministry of External Affairs made it clear that India shall continue to highlight Balochistan as long as atrocities continue. As NDTV reported, the issue could be brought up again later this month in New York during the UN General Assembly. "Till repression exists in Balochistan, till fundamental rights of citizens there are violated, India will raise this issue," the website quoted MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup, as saying.
And that's not all. At around 4 pm on Friday, reports Financial Express, All India Radio would have finally launched the much-discussed multimedia service and a mobile app for AIR's Balochi service. It will reportedly have enough technological teeth to provide quality reception to listeners in the Baloch region and throughout the world to global Baloch Diaspora.
Pakistan media, meanwhile, has reported that exiled Baloch leader Brahumdagh Bugti, grandson of former Balochistan chief minister Nawab Akbar Bugti who was assassinated by the Pakistan army in 2006, is set to get Indian passport. Geo TV reports that Bugti and his key aides will get Indian passports that will make it easier for them to move around the world.
The well-regulated escalation of backing for Balochistan indicates that India is getting ready for the long haul. The Modi government evidently believes that Balochistan and PoK issues are a rare meeting point of realpolitik, strategic interest and moral duty. Let's take the pressure points one by one.
In its hurry to increase diplomatic and strategic influence, China has been investing furiously into global infrastructural projects. But many of these ventures, as a recent report shows, have come under the UN scanner over "lack of adequate protection for human rights". A VOA News report states: "Investigations by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) show Chinese companies and financing institutions have little concern about human rights violations surrounding projects promoted and financed by them across different countries, including some in Africa."
Realpolitik considerations hold that this presents an opportunity for India. As Aprameya Rao writes in a Gateway House article, India may "highlight China’s dismal human rights record while pursuing international projects. This strategy can pressurise Beijing to further soften its stance on India’s entry into the NSG…"
As far as strategic interest is concerned, India cannot breathe easy under the yoke of a China-Pakistan axis where two countries will have a strategic depth in each other's territory through CPEC which cuts through PoK and Balochistan. The PoK and Baloch cards, hence, are of vital importance to Delhi.
Last but not the least as Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, who was on a India visit, said on Wednesday, the "conflict" in north-western parts of Pakistan and Balochistan is equivalent to a "war" and the media is "not covering" this and use of force by Pakistan army enough.
"Around 2,700 (Pakistani) forces moved to the north-western province and also Balochistan; this violence needs to be covered (by media) as people need to talk about it to address it," Ghani was quoted, as saying by news agency IANS.
There have been countless reports of fresh military crackdown on Balochistan province since Modi government flagged the topic. Abdul Nawaz Bugti, Baloch Republican Party's representative at the UNHRC, told news agency ANI in a video message, "In different parts of Dera Bugti, Baloch civil populace have been attacked and more than 19 Baloch civilians, including women and children, all belonging to same family have been abducted."
Balochi activists protesting near UN headquarters in New York told NDTV that since the turn of new millennium, "more than 5,000 activists have been tortured and killed and more than 20,000 were missing."
This, then, presents India with a moral obligation as world's largest democracy to highlight the plight of Balochis. By all accounts, Modi government is not shying away.