A passing reference to the plight of Balochistan's people in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Independence Day address has rattled India's neighbour and garnered a sea of responses from within and outside the two countries. A Baloch activist, Karima Baloch has sent the Prime Minister a Raksha Bandhan message, urging "Brother Modi" to be the "voice of the Baloch people".
"On the day of Raksha Bandhan, sisters from Balochistan will consider you a brother," she said.
Karima, who according to her video is the president of the Baloch Student's Association has tweeted out a video appeal to the Indian Prime Minister, urging Modi to raise the plight of the Baloch people at international forums. Karima, called Modi "brother" in her Raksha Bandhan message and sought help from India to help bring the "excesses" committed by the Pakistani Army.
Addressing Modi, she said, "Many of your Balochi sisters still await the return of their brothers murdered or disappeared by the Pakistan Army."
The Baloch activist, however, added that Balochistan's people will fight their own battle and all they needed from Modi is to help voice their concerns at international fora. "Hum apni jung khud lad lenge aap bas humari aawaz ban jayein," she said.
"We will fight our battle on our own. We only expect you to be our voice and let our plight be known to the world... We expect you to be the voice of Balochistan’s people at international forums against the genocides, war crimes and human rights violations in the region by the Pakistani Army," Karima said in her video. She also thanked Modi for bringing up the issue in an important way. Concluding her message, she thanked Modi in Gujarati for taking up the Balochistan issue.
However, this was not the first such incident of Baloch activists welcoming the PM's comments. While encouraged by Modi's supportive words, leaders of the Baloch nationalist movement have sought support from the US and European countries against the oppressive Pakistani regime. Some other groups urged India for granting "practical support" besides raising their struggle globally.
Modi had raked up a controversy by referring to the plight of Balochistan's people twice: In his Independence Day address and in the all-party meet held to mull over the Kashmir crisis. Modi, in tit-for-tat tactics, brought up Balochistan in his speech to highlight the hypocrisy of the Pakistani demand for Kashmir while ignoring a pertinent independence movement in their own country.
While many foreign policy analysts termed it a watershed event, stating India’s Balochistan strategy could indeed become what dissuades Pakistan from further fuelling the Kashmir crisis. It could also be designed in a way that the “nuclear stakes,” as one analyst called them, are annulled.
However, the Indian External Affairs Ministry chose to tread with caution and said PM Modi's Balochistan remark does not indicate a policy shift. External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said the Prime Minister had been thanked by the people of Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, including Gilgit-Baltistan, for flagging their problems at an all-party meeting and, moved by their messages, he talked about them in his speech from the Red Fort.
At the same time, he said, Modi also gave "certain instructions" on the next course of action but refused to divulge details or how those instructions will be implemented. "I cannot at this stage share with you. However, MEA will do what it has to because after all people of PoK are also our people," he said.
In the din of voices coming from across the border, several from Balochistan have certainly expressed gratitude to the PM's bid to attract international attention towards the region. Brahumdagh Bugti of Balochistan Republican Party, quoted by ANI, said that he thanks "Prime Minister Narendra Modisahab on behalf of the whole Baloch nation. And we hope that the Indian government and Indian media and whole nation will not only raise voices for the Baloch nation but also strive to help practically the Baloch independence movement."
Ashraf Sherjan, leader of the Baloch Republican Party also hailed Modi's speech and thanked him for highlighting the atrocities faced by the people of Balochistan. According to reports, he also said "Jai Hind."
Meanwhile, as expected, Pakistan has taken strong objections to Modi's comments on its strife-torn state. The Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri said no one in the Pakistani province had supported Indian Prime Minister's statement denying that no one from Balochistan had thanked him for his support. Besides this there is the age old allegation from Pakistan that India's spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), has been stoking trouble in the region by sponsoring the separatist campaign there.
India, on its part, has always denied such allegations.
Balochistan and Kashmir are Pakistan and India's Achilles heel. But Pakistan's largest province has not received as much international attention as Kashmir — mostly because the region, often described as a "black hole", is "no-go area" for journalists — unlike Kashmir. On the other hand, Pakistan has always raked up the Kashmir issue globally and spoken about the alleged rights violations in India's only Muslim-majority state.
So, needling each other on the issue can give some strategic stronghold to the two neighbours. However, it is ironical that both states blame each other of funding terrorism and spreading anti-state sentiment in Kashmir and Balochistan, while trying to assume a moral high ground.