PM Narendra Modi’s 94 minute long I-day speech could have been known for many things- the longest speech from the ramparts of Red Fort in the last 15 years or a report card of Union government’s performance or PM Modi’s vision for the coming years, but it will be known for posterity as the speech that made open reference to PoK, Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan.
It is unfathomable why it took India’s political leadership 7 long decades to clearly state the obvious- The whole of former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir legally belongs to India, including PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. For years, Pakistan has been aggressively fomenting trouble in Kashmir, painting it as a movement for Azaadi, while India has been perennially on the defensive by merely rejecting Pakistan’s claims. In a way, India was fighting a battle waged by Pakistan on its own soil.
Modi’s I-Day speech changes that paradigm. By explicitly raking up the issue of PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan, the government has made it plain that the Kashmir dispute is not about the state of Jammu and Kashmir under Indian administration but of parts of Kashmir under illegal Pakistani occupation. Additionally, by invoking Balochistan, PM Modi has effectively internationalized a long simmering conflict in Pakistan, putting it on the defensive.
Morally speaking, Pakistan can ill-afford to criticize India’s human rights record in Kashmir, given the thousands of youth who go missing in Balochistan every year, only to return pockmarked with bullets. The impact of PM Modi’s I-Day speech can be easily understood by the confusion it has unleashed among the opposition parties and our pro-Pak, liberal media.
For instance, while Salman Khurshid initially criticized Modi’s speech, he was silenced by his own party. Sold Media on the other hand, while initially asking the government to focus on its own track record in Kashmir have belatedly been forced, by public opinion to talk about Balochistan and PoK in their programmes.
A bit of history:
Jammu & Kashmir
The territory now called Jammu and Kashmir has forever belonged to India, even when ruled by Afghans or Mughals or Persians and Turks.
British intervention in Punjab in the 19th century created the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir under the Dogra dynasty. The dynasty, of which Hari Singh was the last ruler, governed all parts of the state including Gilgit-Baltistan in the North West, Kashmir valley at the Centre, Jammu to the south and Ladakh in the East.
At the time when the partition of India became inevitable, the last Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Hari Singh desired to remain independent of both India and Pakistan. But his position was untenable. As the Hindu King of a Muslim state, he enjoyed limited popularity amongst the masses. Sher-i-Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah, the avowedly secular leader of National Conference enjoyed greater popularity but was wary of Jinnah. Be that as it may, as partition came, Hari Singh continued to dither.
Pakistan took advantage of the restlessness among Hari Singh’s subjects and raided the state with tribal lashkars from Waziristan, supported by Pakistan army irregulars. In a matter of days, the Maharaja had lost control of the Western parts of his Kingdom. Soon, the tribal forces threatened Srinagar, at which time, the Maharaja appealed to India for help.
India’s help was conditional on the Maharaja acceding to India. Given his precarious condition, Maharaja Hari Singh unconditionally acceded to India, signing the instrument of accession on 26th October 1947. It was Sheikh Abdullah, already in Delhi who, persuaded Nehru to accept the accession immediately.
Indian troops landed in Srinagar on 27th October to re-establish control in the coming days. However, the status-quo could not be altered. Pakistan was in control of western parts of the state and the larger Gilgit-Baltistan region, while India retained Jammu, Kashmir valley and Ladakh region.
In 1963, Pakistan ceded Shaksgam tract in Gilgit Baltistan to China. India proposed a plebiscite in Kashmir, contingent on the withdrawal of Pakistani forces, which never took place. Pakistan unilaterally separated Gilgit-Baltistan from rest of Kashmir under its occupation and created Northern Areas,which it until recently ruled as its colony.
PoK, which Pakistan refers to as ‘Azad Kashmir’, is anything but Azad as de-facto governance happens from Islamabad. Northern Areas, or Gilgit-Baltistan was treated even more shabbily. Until now it had no democracy and no representation and oppression was rife. As a part of administrative overhaul, cosmetic changes were introduced in 2010, which have failed to meet people’s expectations. The whole region is replete with strong anti-Pakistan sentiment, as was widely broadcast on TV sets last year.
Unlike Jammu and Kashmir, Balochistan has seldom been a part of India. It belongs instead to the Persian-Afghan world. In fact, the Baloch homeland today is shared between 3 countries- Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, as a result of a quirky line drawn on maps by Colonial cartographers. Located in one of the world’s most desolate and difficult terrains, Balochistan was brought under British rule in the 19th century, who governed it through local Khans.
At the time of partition of India, the largest of these Khanates, Kalat, decided not to opt for Pakistan. Pakistan then played devious politics, coaxing other leaders and Kalat’s feudatories to sign separate instruments of accession with it. Soon thereafter, Pakistan invaded Kalat and ended Balochi independence.
Interestingly, the Balochistan assembly had already rejected suggestions forfeiting its independence on any pretext. Pakistan’s policies promoted Punjabi colonialism over other ethnicities and soon resulted in a full-blown mutiny in Balochistan. Balochi rebels battled the vastly superior Pak armies in 1948, 58-59,62-63, 73-77 and 2003-till date.
Balochistan continues to be the poorest of Pakistan’s provinces and continues to lag even Pakistan’s miserable socio-economic indicators. China’s massive investment in Balochistan is also bitterly rejected by the Balochis as they stand to gain nothing from the billions of dollars of investment. Almost all of Balochistans’ resources are mined and shipped off to Punjab, leaving Baochistan with nothing but poverty. Pak military’s high handedness has also distanced generations of Balochis from Pakistan, who have regularly been picking up arms to challenge Pakistan.
There are also concerns that Pakistan is altering the demographics of the region by flooding Baloch homeland with Pashtuns. Human Rights activists mention the thousands of Balochis who go missing every year, many more who are shot dead and buried and the numerous who are held in detention without any lawful process. No wonder that Balochis are now actively struggling for freedom.
The way ahead:
PM Modi’s mention of PoK, Gilgit and Balochistan in his I-day address has galvanized activists who long for restoration of human rights in these regions. Balochi nationalists, in particular are hopeful for active Indian support like India extended in Bangladesh. However, a realistic assessment of ground realities indicates that India’s position is nothing more than propaganda to force Pakistan to mend its ways in Kashmir.
However, growing internationalization of these issues is bound to help India’s strategic objectives. Firstly, it forces Pakistan on the backfoot, secondly, it created anxieties in China on how stable a country Pakistan really is, thirdly, it enables the international community to pressurize Pakistan to improve its human rights record and lastly, by forcing Pakistan to focus on its internal problems, it helps countries like Afghanistan who have been at the receiving end of Pakistan’s nefarious plots.
In short, Modi government has played a masterstroke by forcing Pakistan on the backfoot. Unlike his predecessors, who were hoodwinked by Pakistan into foolishly accepting India’s role in Balochistan, Modi government seems to be deploying a forward policy on foreign relations front with Pakistan.
How this will turn out- Only time will tell, but for now it is a welcome respite from India’s historically inept handling of Pakistan.