Decked up in his Sunday best, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressed the nation — and the world — from the ramparts of the famed Red Fort in Shahjahanabad, Delhi, on Independence Day this year. Amidst the usual pronouncements, he also mentioned Balochistan and Gilgit, which led to a severe reaction from Pakistan. While there was also criticism of Modi’s mention of Balochistan in India, these mentions are significant and need closer scrutiny.
Modi’s mention of Gilgit was not surprising; India claims not only the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir, but also Hunza and Nagar, and even Chitral. India has had this maximalist position since independence as it gives it leverage whenever Pakistan raises the issue of human rights abuses in the Indian-held Kashmir valley. So this is nothing new. Of course, the reality of Gilgit is that only a small part of the erstwhile Gilgit Agency, the Gilgit Wazarat, was part of the Kashmir State. The rest of it — tribal areas, and the small states of Hunza and Nagar — were part of the British political agency but not the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Also, in October-November 1947, the people of Giglit rose against the Kashmir Durbar and declared their allegiance to Pakistan. This popular revolt was led by the British commandant of the Gilgit Scouts, Major William Brown, but the feeling that Gilgit should join Pakistan was overwhelming. My book on the princely states describes all these events in detail.
The mention of Balochistan is more significant. It is the first mention of the area after the Sharm el-Sheikh joint declaration in 2009 where then Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani inserted a reference to ‘threats’ in Balochistan in the statement. This led to a flurry of negative reaction in India, with several claiming that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had done a ‘sell out’ and a ‘blunder’ by allowing Balochistan to be mentioned in the joint statement. Seven years down the line, not only did Modi mention Balochistan, he also indicated that if Pakistan keeps raising the issue of Kashmir, India will raise the issue of abuses in Balochistan. This is a thought-out and serious change of stance.
Obviously, there is no equivalence between Kashmir and Balochistan. Pakistan’s legal case rests on the premise that the accession of the Jammu and Kashmir state to India was not legal as Indian troops were already in Srinagar by the time the alleged Instrument of Accession was signed. In the case of Balochistan, where about 80 per cent of the now province was the state of Kalat, the accession to Pakistan in March 1948 was legally done and the insurgency led by Prince Abdul Karim did not begin till June 1948. Hence it was never in dispute that the Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, legally and in his own right, signed the Instrument of Accession.
That said, the mention of Balochistan in Modi’s speech indicates that India is angling itself to make that equivalence. It also shows that India is now not averse to accepting that it has a role and say in Balochistan, and is ready to highlight it internationally. This does not augur well for Pakistan. Since the Baloch insurgency is older and more frequent than the Kashmir one, and since there are a myriad of issues in Balochistan, the fact that Kalat acceded to Pakistan legally might just be considered a historical detail. Also, if India keeps talking about Balochistan, Pakistan’s energies might be easily repositioned to dealing with the fallout of that scenario, and the Kashmir dispute might fall on the back burner. India’s public relations are far better than Pakistan’s and with our international image, Balochistan might become a millstone around our neck on the international stage too.
Pakistan should see Modi’s reference to both Gilgit and Balochistan as an opportunity and a challenge. The people of Gilgit have long wanted to join Pakistan, and the time has come to regularise their status within the Constitution of Pakistan. The passing of the CPEC route through Gilgit also gives this issue an added urgency. Pakistan should also now strive to resolve all outstanding issues in Balochistan through real dialogue and effective action. Any more vacillation on both these issues will give licence to Pakistan’s enemies, and in the end only Pakistan itself will be to blame.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2016.