Back Baloch, reclaim PoK: Modi moves to fix India's biggest geopolitical failure
India has a huge opportunity to wrest the Kashmir initiative. Whether or not Modi seizes it will define his legacy.
The elephant isn't easily provoked. But if it is boxed into a corner and incited with a thousand cuts, the aggressor runs the risk of being trampled in the wake of its eventual rage.
For decades since Independence, India has historically and inexplicably let Pakistan run away with the Kashmir narrative. Pakistan has forced three battles on us over the Valley and lost each of those. But Islamabad still managed a permanent seat on the high horse of morality. It got to set the terms despite being the vanquished. And as victors, all that successive Indian governments could do was to adopt a defensive posture.
While we have always tended to ignore, even play down our legal claim over the part of Kashmir (the so-called Northern Areas now known as Gilgit Baltistan) occupied by Pakistan, our neighbours have never failed to claim its writ on the area on our side of Line of Control through diplomatic, overt and even covert means.
A combination of Pakistan's sustained campaign and India's lazy response meant that the world now assumes "Kashmir problem" to be pertaining only to the area under our possession. International spotlight has consequently remained permanently focused on India and the way it manages to handle an unquiet land, allowing Pakistan to carry on with large-scale muffling of voices and untold atrocities on PoK. Recent Chinese interest has served to complicate matters even more.
Forced to deny alleged human rights violations in the Valley, forever on the defensive and repeatedly goaded by international agencies to "fix" and "solve" the "Kashmir dispute", India has remained mired in its biggest geopolitical failure.
In the last few days, however, there have been visible signs of a remarkable shift in India's foreign policy. It remains to be seen how the script pans out but Pakistan's cynical attempt to turn the killing of a terrorist into an inflection point for Kashmir insurgency seems to have finally broken the elephant's patience. The green shoots of a new muscular, counter-offensive strategy is visible.
The line of a new tactic, first articulated through external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup and then hammered out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an all-party meeting on Kashmir on Friday is clear.
India will categorically reclaim its writ over Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, no longer tolerate interference in matters internal and intrinsic to India's sovereignty, rebuff Pakistan's efforts of whitewashing cross-border terrorism and most significantly, expose globally its gross human rights violations, brutalities and untold atrocities in Balochistan and PoK.
Turning the tables on Pakistan which has always sought to include Kashmir within the ambit of bilateral talks, Modi said: "When we talk about Jammu and Kashmir, we should talk about four parts of Jammu and Kashmir —Jammu, Kashmir Valley, Ladakh and PoK," thus totally redrawing the contours.
His categorical statement that "PoK is ours", is as big a strategic shift as any. This denies Pakistan the right to peddle a one-sided narrative on Kashmir and simultaneously stonewalls China's long-term ambitions in altering the ground situation in South Asia. This is of huge significance.
Defence analyst Alok Bansal who has earlier widely commented on the radicalisation of Kashmiri youth and the dangers posed by influence of the Islamic State in Kashmir, told ANI that Modi's statement on PoK is an important step.
This is an important step,India has now categorically stated that PoK is a part of India-Alok Bansal,Security Expert pic.twitter.com/OmblEAcgdE
— ANI (@ANI_news) August 13, 2016
Security expert Ajay Sahni concurred, explaining that the statement, coming from the Prime Minister, puts Islamabad on the mat and is important both for international discourse and domestic discourse.
"For the first time at this level we have had a very clear statement on what is essentially the Indian Constitutional position that should have been articulated by the Indian State even in view of the UN Council Resolution," he told ANI.
"It is very important that the Prime Minister has chosen himself to put up a statement. It will have two crucial consequences — one, it will result in a better informed national-international community because the world has always accepted the Pakistani position that has always been very aggressively articulated."
Narratives do not emerge on their own. Often it is the effect of meticulous effort and an efficient communication strategy. Expats who have fled PoK can voice concerns that have systematically been silenced by Pakistan.
"Foreign ministry should get in touch with expats from PoK living in various parts of the world, gather information from them on the pitiable condition in the region and let the global community know about it," said the Prime Minister. This takes the battle straight up Islamabad's alley.
India'a position vis-à-vis Balochistan, whose struggle for Independence has met with large-scale state-sponsored brutality from Pakistan, has long been ambivalent and a lost opportunity.
During a recent visit to India, Balochistan activist and women’s leader Naela Quadri Baloch, who has long been campaigning against Pakistan’s presence, opened up about the war imposed by Pakistan on her people.
Speaking to Times of India, Naela Qadri Baloch said: "For the last 15 years, we are facing war imposed on us by Pakistan, human rights violations and their kill-and-dump policy. 25,000 people including women and children are missing. They are abducted by Pakistan Army and abducted in front of people. There are testimonies and witnesses to these abductions. But it is not simple human rights violations or missing person’s issue. It has reached the level of genocide."
"There are a hundred mass graves in Balochistan. It is a war situation; they are combing our villages. They fire indiscriminately, they kill anything–one-year-old babies, girls, women, anything living, even our cattle. They abduct women, they take women with them, they have rape cells… They have abducted thousands of women; no one knows their whereabouts. They are using rape and dishonour as an instrument to crush a nation."
In the interview conducted in May this year, she also appealed to India, specifically requesting Modi to lend moral and diplomatic support to Balochistan in its battle for freedom.
"Modi is a bold and strong leader. None of his predecessors had this kind of mandate with a flourishing economy and enormous international support. Indira Gandhi had internal problems and despite that she stood up for Bangladesh. So why can’t Modi?"
There is a clear case of a clear Indian policy on Balochistan and Modi's comments on Friday during the al-party meeting indicated a shift in approach.
"The violation of human rights in Balochistan should be brought to the attention of the global audience," Modi said. "Time has now come that Pakistan will have to answer to the world about the atrocities being committed on people in Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir."
India has a huge opportunity to wrest the Kashmir initiative and open new front against Pakistan, which anyway has little international credibility beyond the backing of Asia's largest power. Whether or not Modi seizes it will define his legacy.
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