‘Reform, perform, transform’ was perhaps a new slogan imparted to us this Independence Day as Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort for the third time since he assumed office. But the listing of achievements, as is the wont of all prime ministers, was overshadowed by a departure in rhetoric when he spoke of Balochistan, Gilgit and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and how the people in these regions had thanked him in recent times. While he was not clear on what exactly the expressions of gratitude were about, he seemed to be referring to the allegations of human rights violations by Pakistan in that region.
In recent time, Gilgit-Baltistan had seen huge protests against a crackdown by Pakistani security forces and one in Balochistan against what Pakistani authorities termed an insurgency. The raising of this thorny issue has both merits and demerits for India. In the first place, it must be asked whether India can involve itself in the movements in these areas where the population has been very restive and opposes the diktats of Islamabad and oppression by the army. India is not the only party which has a vested interest in the area, Iran has a long contiguous border with it, the Taliban has been active there and the China-Pakistan economic corridor passes through this region. In a way, it could be said that India is raising Baloch hopes of help in gaining independence or autonomy which it has been seeking without really taking into account its limitations. It is not a responsibility that India can, and perhaps should, take up at this juncture. The obvious advantages in raising this is that India is not letting Pakistan get away with internationalising the Kashmir issue at several multilateral forums. But in a way, this goes against the grain of India wanting to be de-hyphenated in all respects from Pakistan. But now that the PM has mentioned this, Pakistan can be expected to up the ante in its efforts to make the Kashmir issue even more the central focus of its utterances on the international stage.
While it is no\t secret that Pakistan is investing substantially in men and material in the Kashmir unrest, India seems unable and unwilling to do so in Balochistan, Gilgit and PoK. The prime minister is no doubt disappointed by the fact that even though he took several conciliatory steps, Pakistan’s response has been found wanting. But, it must be understood by those who feel that the India is signalling a change in policy — this is natural given that the PM raised this in the Independence Day address — that there is little India can do on the ground that will change things in the regions in Pakistan. A change in policy must always be backed by the appropriate action and this seems unlikely in this case. It must also be debated whether beyond scoring brownie points, this is a path which India wants to pursue in the long run.