Modi's Foreign Policy and the Kashmir-Balochistan Conundrum

THE cat is now out of the bag. Towards the end of his long and tiring Independence Day address, Modi let the Balochistan cat jump out of the bag of diplomatic silence. He said he had been getting many messages of gratitude from Balochistan and POK. And we are now told this is the new aggressive foreign policy discourse of the Modi regime. It is not just Modi and not just Balochistan, Mohan Bhagwat says the Modi government should do all that is necessary to reclaim parts of Jammu and Kashmir currently under the control of Pakistan and China. From Rajnath Singh to Arun Jaitley, every senior BJP minister is daily blaming Pakistan for the unrest in Pakistan. Occasionally Modi also invokes the much-touted 'constitutional framework' even as the security forces acknowledge the killing of Kashmiri citizens in 'unsanctioned raids' (like the killing of Shabir Ahmad Monga, a lecturer, and severe injuries inflicted on several others in Pulwama district during the intervening night of August 17 and 18).

As far as the international community is concerned, the Balochistan-Gilgit-POK remark of Modi can only mean one thing. Modi believes that he can stop Pakistan from raising the Kashmir issue in international fora by hitting it back with the issue of Balochistan. Whether this blackmail will work or not is anybody's guess (many say it is bound to backfire), but what Modi has already done is to establish an equivalence between Kashmir and Balochistan that can only expose and negate the official Indian narrative on Kashmir. Balochistan is fighting for secession and if India blames Pakistan for suppressing the Balochistan struggle, Pakistan accuses India of doing the same in Kashmir. If India attributes the unrest in Kashmir to Pakistani instigation, Pakistan levels exactly similar charges on India with regard to Balochistan. If Modi expects the world to believe his word about Balochistan, why shouldn't the international community also believe what human rights organizations worldwide say about Kashmir?

Modi has made the Balochistan remark not in any international forum though. The occasion was India's own Independence Day and he was speaking in front of his audience in India. Viewed in the context of Kashmir, his remark can only further alienate and infuriate the people in the valley who are daily losing lives and limbs and eyes to bullets and now the more indiscriminate pellets of the Indian state. According to the CRPF's own admission made to the judiciary, the force used 1.3 million pellets between July 8 and August 11. When asked when the CRPF would stop using pellet guns, Director General K Durga Prasad says 'this is like asking when will you stop beating your wife'! And now here is the Prime Minister of India talking about the gratitude expressed by the people of Balochistan for raising the issue of repression they face at the hands of the Pakistani state.

The BJP never tires of claiming that Kashmir is an integral part of India, but it blames Pakistan for the grievances of the Kashmiri people. If the people of Kashmir come out on the streets to protest, the BJP, which now shares power in the state as well, unleashes the brutal might of the state on unarmed protesters even as the PM sheds crocodile tears about the plight of the people in Balochistan and POK. By refusing to talk to the people of Kashmir, the Indian state has all along played ball with Pakistan in treating Kashmir as a bone of bilateral contention ignoring direct communication and dialogue with the Kashmiri people to address their concerns and grievances including the basic question of self-determination of the Kashmiri people. Especially now that the reins of power are in the hands of the ultra-chauvinist BJP, more than ever before Kashmir has become a game of political football between the two permanently sparring and occasionally warring neighbours. By openly tagging Balochistan to Kashmir, Modi has now made sure that the fire of discord between India and Pakistan will keep burning. And this is above all sheer survival strategy for a government which needs weapons of mass distraction to cover up its glaring failure on every front and betrayal on every promise.

While many former diplomats and foreign policy watchers have questioned the wisdom of Modi’s Balochistan-POK discourse, leaders of the Congress have rushed to the defence of this new line. Former UPA Defence Minister and senior Congress leader AK Anthony has endorsed Modi's Balochistan remark, and Karnataka's Siddaramaiah government has acted on an ABVP complaint to slap sedition charges on the Amnesty International India for discussing human rights violations in Kashmir in an Independence Day eve programme in Bengaluru. In the face of nationwide outrage against the sedition charges slapped on JNU students, Rahul Gandhi had expressed his solidarity with the students and teachers of JNU, but here is his party's government in Karnataka leveling sedition charges on noted senior journalist Seema Mustafa for moderating the Amnesty discussion on Kashmir!

Indeed, the Congress has historically often been complicit with the Sangh in matters of chauvinism and foreign policy. Beginning with Nehru inviting the RSS to join the Republic Day Parade after the 1962 India-China war, and RSS hailing Indira Gandhi in the aftermath of the 1971 Bangladesh war, to this latest occasion, there have been many instances of reciprocity and convergence between the two. The democratic opinion of India must squarely reject this competitive chauvinism along with the anti-people neo-liberal collaboration between the BJP and the Congress (as witnessed at the time of the passage of the SEZ Act a decade ago and the GST Bill the other day) and not let the Modi regime play the Balochistan-POK card to legitimize the ongoing suppression of Kashmiri protests as well as other voices of dissent and struggles for justice elsewhere in the country.

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