Of course, Pakistan media would slam Prime Minister Narendra Modi for giving Balochistan a speaking role on his stage. And what a role. If our neighbour is gnashing its teeth in anguish, so be it. For sure, Modi is not one of their most popular folks at present. After 70 years of pussyfooting around and being on the backfoot over Kashmir, this man has taken the genii out of the bottle and it is not going back.
Suddenly, the equations have changed. When a Prime Minister publicly accuses his neighbour of air bombing its own people, the gloves are surely off. An undiplomatic uppercut out of the blue.
He is using exactly the same cards that Pakistan has used against India all these years and it is, in Islamabad’s mind, reminiscent of 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh. The Baloch connection has come out so strong and with so little warning that it has to be causing great concern in the Islamabad corridors of power. That Modi chose the twin Independence Days as the occasion to send out the message that India would be an eloquent supporter of the Baloch freedom movement not only gives that PoK region a huge ally but neutralises the often soaked-in-righteousness rhetoric with which successive Pakistani regimes attack India at home and in global forums.
They may have won the PR war but this is a game-changer.
Of more concern is the fact that with terror strikes, a regular phenomenon in Pakistan, the opening of another aggressive front would send panic signals and spread its security resources very thin.
While in Islamabad, the Sharif regime, the army and the ISI may well label Modi a warmonger, it is pretty much certain that footage of atrocities and excesses committed in Balochistan will now awaken the world to another troubled spot that has largely been overlooked. It will embolden the muted freedom movement and we will see more Balochis living in other countries voicing their opinion. Vociferously.
The Baloch problem has come to stay and the Modi regime will fuel it.
Does this bring these two inimical neighbours closer to open conflict? Yes, it does. Whether they go for it or not in this customary post-monsoon season when armour can move, the weather cools off and the terrain in the west is not hostile to infantry cannot be totally eliminated as an option, especially with Pakistan’s despair now tangible.
If there is a brake, it is that neither side has any battle experience nor any officers or men who have been through actual war. Weaponry has been untried in conflict conditions and the cost in terms of life, property and economic losses would be immense.
But they have gone to war on three occasions and can do it again. Much will depend on how swiftly the PoK issue flares up.
So, why now when since 1971, no Indian government thought of calling this possibility as a gambit?
At some point, Modi’s generous overtures to Islamabad in the past year have been misunderstood as weakness. On a personal level, he has felt slurred, especially after that stopover he made to Sharif’s decorated home. Like with Vajpayee’s bus ride, it looked like India was again the nervous Nellie holding the olive branch. Modi got the message...it was all an illusion and he was being taken to the cleaners.
This sudden muscle flex by the Indian leader was not a factor in Pakistan’s scheme of things. Modi’s flinging of the gauntlet has that dangerous texture of acceptance to it, the sort of feel one gets when one acknowledges that peace talks and rapprochement will not happen. That there is no point trying, more so when intelligence has convinced Modi that terror strikes in India are fine tuned across the border and will not stop.
Ergo, let’s put the ball deep into the other side of the court.
It is a calculated risk because you cannot discount a Pakistan response. The firing in Poonch within 24 hours of the Baloch issue becoming a cause in that sense cannot be ignored as one of those customary infringements of the LoC.
On the contrary, New Delhi would do well to be on a very high alert.
For now, the Modi manoeuvre has reworked the bottom line on Kashmir. He has changed the dynamics overnight. That one-sided PR exercise better done by Pakistan than by India is truly over.
If there is a price to pay, India and Modi might think it worthwhile.