Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech referred to Pakistani atrocities in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan. This is a brilliant move to put both China and Pakistan on the backfoot after their nefarious anti-India collaboration of the last 40 years. I am referring to the transfer of nuclear weapons and missile technology along with other conventional weapons at “friendship prices” from China to Pakistan, the “gifting” of a part of PoK to China by Pakistan, the Chinese-built Gwadar Port in Balochistan, the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which will connect China to Balochistan and then to Europe as part of China’s One-Belt-One-Road (OBOR) policy to revive the ancient land and maritime silk routes, and finally China’s open opposition a few months back to India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
India must now politely refuse to support China in its claims on the South China Sea following the recent adverse award given by the International Tribunal (Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague). To ensure that Mr Modi’s new move is strategic and not merely a tactical short-term ploy, sustained periodic follow-up actions like diplomatic support for the regions mentioned by Mr Modi is essential, specially while speaking at the UN General Assembly in about two months time. However, some domestic actions need to be taken in view of the ongoing serious situation in Kashmir. The state of Jammu and Kashmir is undoubtedly a Muslim-majority state, but a closer study would reveal that of the approximately 15 million populating its three constituents (Hindu-majority Jammu, Buddhist-Hindu-majority Ladakh and Muslim-majority Kashmir), only about seven million Sunni Muslims living in the Kashmir Valley have been traditionally agitating, and that too in only four districts (Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag), while other Muslims living in Ladakh and Jammu (including Shias), along with their Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist neighbours, are not a part of the ongoing agitation which is fomented by Pakistan and ISIS.
The solution to the Kashmir conundrum perhaps lies in trifurcation of the state into three separate states of Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, and removing Article 370 from Jammu and Ladakh, while giving some autonomy (after discussions with Kashmiris), within the Indian Constitution to the Kashmir Valley. This simplistic solution has been suggested at various times and more recently by noted economist Mohan Guruswamy in his article of August 16: J&K: Time to break the fiction. I personally believe that sometimes, bold, simple and common-sense solutions do work for complex issues. Any delay would be an open invitation to more terror — aided and abetted by Pakistan and ISIS. However, given recent reports that terrorists and separatists are having a free run in the four troubled districts (Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag) of southern Kashmir, where only three of the 36 police stations are manned and functioning, it is essential, that the “rule of law” first be restored in these four districts by ruthlessly neutralising terrorists before initiating any talks on autonomy to the Kashmir Valley. Also, the safe return of over 200,000 Kashmiri pandits to the Kashmir Valley, who were forced to flee Kashmir by terrorists, must be ensured as a part of this political solution. The Hurriyat separatists need to be deported to Pakistan or arrested.
The issue of Balochistan is of strategic importance, as an independent Baloch nation will neutralise China’s dream OBOR project and also its plans to convert China-financed Gwadar Port into a Chinese Navy base. Pakistan, whose Punjabi Muslims form 65 per cent of the present population, while its Punjab has only 35 per cent of the land mass, are a naturally domineering lot, who by their brutal actions in 1971, helped in creating Bangladesh, thus nullifying the two-nation theory. The atrocities of the Punjabi-dominated Pakistan Army and paramilitary are frequently reported in the press, as Pakistan attempts to crush the Baloch freedom movement, so that the 13 million poverty-stricken Balochs, who live in an area which is almost 60 per cent of Pakistan are deprived of jobs and the natural mineral wealth of natural gas, coal, chromite, sulphur, marble, iron ore, fishery, etc. A brief history of Balochistan would explain the travails of these deprived people, who are the poorest of the poor in Pakistan.
On August 11, 1947, a part of Balochistan under the Khan (Prince) of Kalat attained independence from British rule, followed by Pakistan and India on August 14 and 15, respectively. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was also the lawyer of the Khan of Kalat, but failed to convince the Khan to join Pakistan. Similar to the Pakistan raiders who invaded Kashmir in 1947, the Pakistan military occupied Balochistan and arrested the Khan. His younger brother, Prince Karim, continued a guerrilla struggle, but made the mistake of accepting an invitation by the Pakistan Parliament for talks, and was arrested on arrival on March 27, 1948. Every year the Baloch mark August 11 as Independence Day and March 23 as “Black Day”. Baloch armed uprisings and insurgencies have continued since 1948.
In 1955, the various pre-1947 princely areas of Balochistan were formally amalgamated into one state (Balochistan). Surprisingly, the enclave of Gwadar (including the strategic Gwadar Port), which till now had been under the Sultan of Oman, was in 1958 “purchased and transferred” to Pakistan courtesy British diplomacy, to later formally become part of the new Balochistan state in 1977. Unlike East Pakistan (which became Bangladesh after the 1971 India-Pakistan war), India does not share a direct border with Balochistan. It can therefore, for now, only offer diplomatic and moral support to the Baloch freedom struggle at all suitable international forums. Last week, a Baloch leader in exile in Switzerland publicly stated that they only want India’s moral support and will win their independence by own efforts. These are brave words, but given the fact that Pakistan has the largest military in the Islamic world, and its strategic ally China too has a major stake in Balochistan (including Gwadar Port), PoK, Gilgit-Baltistan, due to the central role played by Pakistan, in its ambitious OBOR plans, the Baloch would need more than only moral support.
India needs to garner international support to stop the ongoing genocide in Balochistan, and perhaps provide medical help and sanctuary to those Baloch who flee to India. Also, since India does not have a land border with Balochistan, it needs to look at other options like enhancing our naval capability (“naval diplomacy” is a global time-tested option, used over centuries to influence events on land, sometimes without firing), and discussing the “Baloch problem” with the US, Afghanistan, Iran, Oman (the owner of Gwadar enclave till 1958). If a start is made now, it must be persevered with for the future by successive Indian governments. For the first time since 1947, India has responded diplomatically to protect its national interests against the designs of our two nuclear-armed neighbours — China and Pakistan. Mr Modi must be given due credit, but he has only made a start and cannot afford to rest on his oars. The oppressed Baloch people need support, sympathy and help.