“Baat niklegi to phir door talak jayegi."
This otherwise immortal line from Ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh’s rendition appears to have acquired a new, dramatic relevance in the aftermath of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech. The prime minister had, just in a passing reference, spoken about the current state of affairs in Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir.
Right from the moment the ‘B’ word was uttered by Modi from the Red Fort on 15 August, the ghost of Balochistan has been travelling far and wide, causing intermittent political tremors across our western borders.
Here are just three instances that show the kind of impact the speech is seen to be making already:
First, rattled by the Indian prime minister’s rather sudden reference to atrocities in Balochistan and PoK, the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif got his skates on to send 22 parliamentarians as special envoys to as many world capitals to highlight the issue of Kashmir. “I have decided to send these parliamentarians to fight the Kashmir cause in different parts of the world”, Sharif said.
Second, not too far away from Islamabad, the political and military leadership at Quetta hustled to invite self-exiled Baloch leaders for negotiations. Extending the offer for talks, Balochistan's Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri and Pakistan’s Southern Command chief Lt. General Aamir Riaz made it clear that they would welcome the Baloch leaders if they returned home. The Dawn newspaper, which covered this development promptly, quoted Zehri as saying: “It’ll be their choice to join national politics or do politics on a nationalist basis. We will honour it if the people of Balochistan give you the mandate.”
Third, within nine days of the prime minister’s Independence Day speech, Baloch freedom fighters staged a rally, raising the Indian tri-colour in Balochistan in support of PM Modi. And, in an interview given to an Indian newspaper through E-mail, Brahumdagh Bugti, founder-leader of Baloch Republican party said that he expected India to play the same role in Baluchistan as it did in erstwhile East Pakistan.
Bugti further elaborated: “We expect India to play a role as a responsible neighbour to intervene in Balochistan and stop the genocide. We seek help from all countries but a greater responsibility lies on the shoulders of India to become the Baloch people’s voice in the international community."
However, the Pakistani authorities were quick to slap sedition charges on three Baloch leaders— Brahumdagh Bugti, Harbiyar Marri and Banuk Karima Baloch— for backing the Indian prime minister’s supportive words. But Bugti remained undeterred. “Pakistani forces are engaged in a tsunami of human rights violations in Balochistan”, he said adding that “the Baloch people don’t want to live with Pakistan any more”.
This apart, President of Baloch Students’ Association, Karima Baloch sent Modi a Raksha Bandhan message urging the latter to be the voice of Baloch people. “Hum apni jung khud lad lenge; aap bus hamari awaaz ban jayein (We’ll fight our own war; but for God’s sake you please be our voice)”, she said in as many words.
Within India too, the prime minister’s speech was, by and large, lapped up by the masses – diplomatically, politically and emotionally. They saw it as a game changer in India’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Pakistan. They could also recall the nation’s emotional bond with Balochistan.
Excited over Modi’s new policy-putsch, Swapan Dasgupta wrote in his Sunday column: "The prime minister’s outreach to the peoples in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan assumes importance. Narendra Modi hasn’t signalled India’s direct involvement in their battles, he has merely signalled the recovery of our natural frontiers. This outreach now needs to be complimented with institutional capacity building and, most important, the enlargement of our mental horizons. The reach of India must transcend its national borders, as it always had."
Another writer, Tilak Devasher, did some thorough historical research to demystify the legal status of Balochistan in wake of the heat and dust generated by Modi’s putsch. He presented solid arguments to prove why Balochistan is not an internal matter of Pakistan. In a column in The Indian Express he wrote: "The whole issue hinges on whether or not Kalat (as Balochistan was then called) was an Indian princely state or an independent non-Indian state under British rule. If it is the latter, then clearly what the Baloch nationalists say about Pakistan’s illegal occupation has merit."
Devasher, who retired as special secretary in the cabinet secretariat, Government of India, wrote further: "At a round table conference held in Delhi on 4 August, 1947 – attended by Lord Mountbatten, the Khan of Kalat and Jinnah – it was decided that the Kalat state will be independent, enjoying the same status as it originally held in 1838......Thereafter Khan declared the independence of Kalat on August 12, 1947, two days before the creation of Pakistan. The independence, however, was short-lived. At the end of March 1948, Pakistan occupied Kalat and forced the Khan to sign the instrument of accession."
"It is one of the ironies of history that Jinnah who, as Kalat’s lawyer, had argued for its independence and, as governor general-designate of Pakistan, agreed to its independence was later to force its accession to Pakistan," Devasher concluded.
The diplomatic fireworks have already begun. And so has process of political upheaval in the region. Let’s stay alert. All the time.