Pakistan has an abysmal human rights’ score card in Balochistan, the country’s largest province which is currently in the grip of a separatist movement.
Pakistan denies human rights abuses in Balochistan as well as the presence of a separatist insurgency. Yet, it reacts hysterically whenever Balochistan is mentioned at a conference, foreign news article or a report by an international organisation.
Such frantic reactions have skyrocketed in Islamabad in the wake of the recent statements by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who, in his first speech, asked Pakistan to provide accountability for the violations in Balochistan.
In his address on the Independence Day, Modi recounted how the Baloch masses had thanked him for his comments. And most Baloch leaders, in fact, did welcome his statement and thanked him.
Why Has Modi Chosen to Speak up Now?
Pakistan says these statements by Modi confirm their previously stated position that India is supporting the Baloch insurgency. So why has Modi chosen to speak up now?
After all, Balochistan has been suffering for several years; Indians were fully aware of what was going on there but still snubbed Baloch miseries. The Indian leadership neither spoke up when mass graves were found in Balochistan nor did they ever protest the forced disappearance and killing of thousands of Baloch political activists. These sufferings continue till today.
For instance, a Baloch publisher, Comrade Wahid Baloch, has been ‘missing’ for weeks while a student leader was found dead on Pakistan’s Independence Day.
Talking About the Baloch Issue
Within Baloch circles, there is little questioning of the timing of Modi’s statements or even his motivations. They just seem thrilled that for the first time, the prime minister of a foreign country has spoken about Balochistan. This is unprecedented.
Whether or not this has come in the backdrop of the ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, this standoff will still help in highlighting the Baloch conflict to a broader audience. Baloch leaders have been desperate for years to get Indian and American support for their movement.
In April this year, senior Baloch activist Naela Qadri travelled to India, spoke to several news outlets and addressed numerous seminars educating Indians about the history of Balochistan, the aspirations of the Baloch people and argued why India should support a free Balochistan. Qadri’s trip was a great success in terms of raising public awareness in India about Balochistan.
Dissent First Emerged From Within Pakistan
Pakistan’s insistence that Modi’s remarks prove their allegations about India’s involvement in the Baloch insurgency is nonsense. What Modi is saying today has already been stated by Pakistan’s own top human rights activists, journalists and professors for almost a decade.
For example, Asma Jahangir, Pakistan’s top human rights lawyer, has repeatedly spoken in public and on television about Pakistan’s repressive policies in Balochistan.
In 2014, when senior journalist Hamid Mir spoke up in support of the Baloch, he was attacked and narrowly escaped an assassination attempt for which the country’s top intelligence agency was blamed.
Similarly, when Sabeen Mahmud, another leading champion of dialogue and civic engagement, hosted an event on Balochistan in Karachi in April 2015, she was shot dead soon after the conference.
After all, these are some of Pakistan’s most respected and trusted voices. They have spoken up years before Modi decided to break his silence. Blaming India for the uprising in Balochistan is not an acceptable explanation for the excesses and injustices Pakistani forces are carrying out in Balochistan.
Skeletons in Pakistan’s Closet
Throughout history, India has distanced itself from the Baloch-Islamabad conflict. It was actually Pakistan who purposely dragged India into this conflict. This was simply done in an effort to divert attention from Islamabad’s crimes against the Baloch.
In October 2015, Pakistan submitted dossiers to the United Nations and the United States to prove India’s involvement in Balochistan. Within a month, Sartaj Aziz, the country’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs, conceded to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs that those dossiers did not contain any ‘material evidence’.
In April 2016, Pakistan said it had arrested an alleged Indian spy named Kulbhushan Jadhav who had confessed that he had provided assistance to the Baloch nationalists. While Jadhav still remains in Pakistani custody, Islamabad has finally succeeded in pushing India in this conflict.
India’s Involvement Endangers Baloch Movement’s Credibility
Baloch leaders are currently ecstatic about the Indian statements, but it has its drawback too. Many years’ struggle waged by Baloch political activists and leaders will go wasted and Pakistan will be able to discredit the Baloch initiatives and sacrifices and label their indigenous movement as India’s brainchild.
When Balochistan emerges as a new dispute between India and Pakistan on the global arena, it will be the first time the world will hear about Balochistan. For them, it will appear like a product of the Indian foreign policy instead of a homegrown conflict.
Indians have little background and expertise on Balochistan. I wonder how they will bridge this knowledge and expertise gap before countering Islamabad’s propaganda.
Indians will either own and advance the Baloch movement or they will break it. Should they decide to withdraw their support half way, the Baloch movement will take many years to regain its legitimacy.
This is going to be a long ugly battle if India chooses to pursue it. Unfortunately, many more Balochs will lose their lives in this proxy war.
This article originally appeared in The Quint