Breaking with India’s traditionally cautious approach to diplomacy, Indian Prime Minister spoke of Pakistan’s alleged atrocities in a southwestern province reeling from separatist violence and attacks by Islamist militants.
Narendra Modi accused Islamabad of committing large-scale atrocities in Balochistan and parts of the disputed Himalayan Kashmir region administered by Pakistan.
“Pakistan forgets that it bombs its own citizens with fighter planes in its own land,” he told Indian political leaders on August 12. “Now the time has come that Pakistan shall have to answer to the world for the atrocities committed by it against the people in Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.”
During his Independence Day speech on August 15, Modi again mentioned Balochistan and Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
“The world is watching. People of Balochistan, Gilgit, and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have thanked me a lot in the past few days,” he said in an apparent reference to the reaction to his comments last week.
"It is a moment of pride that these people have looked out to India for support," Modi told a gathering toward the end of his speech at New Delhi’s Red Fort. According to media reports, it was the first time an Indian prime minister had mentioned Balochistan in an Independence Day speech in 70 years.
The comments came a day after Pakistan reiterated its support for separatists in India-administered Kashmir.
In his Independence Day speech on August 14, Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain said Islamabad “cannot forget the Kashmiris on this occasion, and will continue supporting them for their just struggle to self-determination.”
The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought three wars over Kashmir. The two countries control parts of the Himalayan region but each claims it in entirety -- referring to the part controlled by the other as “occupied.”
India and Pakistan often accuse each other of supporting insurgents and rebels in each other’s territory. But this is the first time New Delhi seems to have embraced Pakistani accusations that New Delhi is behind the unrest in Balochistan. Over the past 12 years, thousands of civilians, soldiers, and rebels have been killed in attacks by secular Baloch rebels and a wide-ranging government crackdown combining military offensives with intelligence-led targeting of suspected rebels.
“The thinking is clear: If Pakistan can use internal Indian vulnerabilities (read Kashmir), India can use internal Pakistani vulnerabilities,” wrote journalist Prashant Jha in India’s leading daily, Hindustan Times. “If Pakistan can internationalize what India considers its problem, India can internationalize what Pakistan thinks falls solely within in its remit.”
Jha added that New Delhi appears to be imitating Islamabad in building a domestic political stance on human rights violations in Balochistan. “If Pakistan can cultivate a Kashmiri separatist constituency within India, India can cultivate a separatist Baloch constituency in Pakistan,” he wrote.
In Pakistan, Modi’s comments are expected to be debated in the coming days. Senior officials are already speaking out against Modi’s pronouncements.
“The government and people of vehemently reject Modi’s statement on the situation in the province,” said Sanaullah Zehri, Balochistan’s most senior elected official.
Modi’s statements are poised to further intensify the war of words between the South Asian archrivals. They are also likely to overshadow relations between India and neighboring China.
By highlighting the situation in Balochistan, Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the adjacent Gilgit-Baltistan region, India seems to be indirectly questioning the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
More than $46 billion in Chinese investment is aimed at connecting its northwestern Xinjiang region to the seaport of Gwadar in southwestern Pakistan through Gilgit-Baltistan.
The port city in Balochistan is the lynchpin for plugging China into trade and energy corridors in the Middle East, and the road, energy, and rail network comprising the corridor is slated to link Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar.
With reporting by DPA