Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks on Balochistan sparked protests across the Pakistani province and chief minister Sanaullah Zehri accused New Delhi of fomenting terror in the region, stoking fears that bilateral ties could worsen in the coming days.
Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said Modi’s remarks – especially at a time when relations were frayed by the violence in Kashmir – had further strained ties between the two sides.
Zakaria noted that Tariq Fatemi, the special assistant to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on foreign affairs, had said Modi’s comments “could set back relations in a far more serious manner than anything that’s gone before” because the Indian premier had “crossed a red line” by discussing Pakistan’s internal issues.
Proof of that breakdown came when Pakistan International Airlines announced one of its flights was barred from entering Indian airspace. The PIA flight from Peshawar to Kuala Lumpur was reportedly told to change its route by Indian aviation authorities.
Pakistani media reported the Indian government had not given any response when it was asked about the reason for the PIA flight not being allowed to use Indian airspace.
Analysts in Pakistan warned that barring flights of national carriers from each other’s airspace would be only one of many steps that the governments could take if bilateral talks break down.
“We are also looking at a reduction in trade between the two countries as well as making it difficult for nationals of one country visiting the other,” said analyst Mosharraf Zaidi.
Thursday’s protests in Balochistan, believed to have been orchestrated by the local government, were held in all major towns of the province. Chief Minister Zehri said the demonstrations and rallies were evidence that Balochistan’s people did not like what Modi had said about rights violations in the province.
Zehri said the Kashmir and Balochistan issues were entirely different as people of his province were in favour of Pakistan while people in Kashmir were resisting “state-sponsored oppression”.
He castigated Brahumdagh Bugti, the self-exiled head of the banned Baloch Republican Party, for thanking Modi for taking up the issue of Balochistan. Zehri called Bugti a traitor and said he should have thought about the friends of his grandfather Akbar Bugti who had made many sacrifices for Pakistan.
“By saluting Modi, Brahumdagh has proved he is a traitor,” Zehri told the media.