Modi did the Baloch no good with his thank yous. Silencing their dissent will now be even easier with the ‘Indian agent’ tag.
Mama Qadeer Baloch, 74, is the most credible and respected human rights activist of Balochistan. He is the loudest “Voice of Baloch Missing Persons” (VBMP) and has been protesting against rights violations in Balochistan since 2009 when his young son was allegedly kidnapped and killed by security forces in its capital Quetta. He walked more than 2,000 km in 2014 on his feet from Quetta to Islamabad along with some women and children to protest against the enforced disappearances in Balochistan. He broke the record of Mahatma Gandhi who marched 390 km from Ahmadabad to Dandi in 1930. When I invited him on my TV talk show, I was ‘asked’ to avoid an Indian agent, and when I wrote something about him, I was accused of promoting an Indian agent.
Whenever someone wrote or spoke about injustice in Balochistan, self-proclaimed patriots and pro-establishment elements in the media would ask why they didn’t speak about Indian atrocities in Kashmir. I always said there is no comparison between Kashmir and Balochistan. The Pakistan establishment has often used the “India card” to silence voices of dissent in Balochistan.
Maybe PM Modi is not aware that many Baloch militant outfits want to unite Pakistani Balochistan with parts of Sistan-o-Balochistan province of Iran where India is building Chabahar port. Modi could be trying to divert attention from Jammu and Kashmir by playing the Balochistan card, but some of the Baloch people think he actually helped the Pakistan establishment. Pakistan’s ruling coalition was badly divided after a bomb blast in Quetta on August 8 that killed more than 60 people, including prominent lawyers. Baluchistan CM Sanaullah Zehri blamed RAW for that blast, but ISIS and a splinter group of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan also claimed responsibility. Modi’s speech on India’s Independence Day changed the whole scenario.
I visited Balochistan recently to condole the death of some lawyer friends who were killed on August 8. The whole of Balochistan is still in shock because they lost dozens of vocal lawyers in one blast. Generally, the mood was not in support of Modi. Lawyers and civil society activists said Modi, instead of condoling with them, was sending words of thanks to a few people staying in Europe without ever bothering to share the pain of those living in Balochistan.
Modi provided a great opportunity to elements in the Pakistan security establishment for making noise about Indian interference in Balochistan. Some Baloch separatists living in Western capitals thanked Modi, but not a single Baloch leader living in Balochistan followed suit. When I asked Mama Qadeer about his reaction to Modi’s speech, he said, “I lost many well-wishers and supporters in the Quetta blast. I am in shock and am not bothered about Modi,” and then asked how those who criticise Pakistani agencies for enforced disappearances could praise Indian agencies that have been doing the same in Kashmir.
There were processions against India not only in Balochistan but also in Muzaffarabad and Gilgit because the Indian PM had also thanked the people of these areas. There is no insurgency in Pakistani Kashmir and Gilgit. The Indian media cannot name a single person in these areas working for a merger with New Delhi. Some elements in Bangladesh and Afghanistan may have appreciated Modi’s statement, but it didn’t stop UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon from endorsing Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir after the speech.
Balochistan cannot become another Bangladesh because there is no India across the border. Some people think India can help the Baloch insurgency through Afghanistan, but that is easier said than done because there are Pashtuns living in the areas of Balochistan bordering Afghanistan. The Baloch-majority areas share borders with Iran.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of the Hurriyat and Yasin Malik of the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front live in Srinagar. Some Kashmiri leaders are detained in their homes and some are in prison, facing charges from treason to terrorism. Not a single Hurriyat leader is operating from any Western capital. On the other hand, most of the separatist Baloch leaders are thanking Modi from the West. They are not present on the ground because they lack public support.
When Mama Qadeer visited the US last year to speak at some seminars, Baloch separatists put pressure on him to not return to Pakistan. He came back despite having survived two assassination attempts in Pakistan. This doesn’t mean, however, that things are normal in Balochistan. Many Baloch youth are not happy with Islamabad but they want their rights within the federation of Pakistan. They understand that the Baloch are divided among Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Oman and UAE. It is difficult to break five countries and make a new country. They understand there are UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir, but no UN resolution on Balochistan. India gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir through Article 370 of its Constitution, but the status of Balochistan is nothing like that in Article 2 of the Constitution of Pakistan. It enjoys the status of a province just like the other provinces (Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).
Many in India claim that Pakistan forcefully occupied Balochistan in 1948. But facts are different from fiction. There were four princely states ruled by Baloch leaders in 1947. The Baloch tribal areas and Quetta Municipality were separate entities. On June 29, 1947, the Tribal Jirga (54 members) and Quetta Municipality (10 members, including Hindus and Sikhs) voted in favour of joining Pakistan. The tribal elders who voted for Pakistan included Nawab Akbar Bugti, grandfather of Brahmadagh Bugti, who thanked Modi for his August 15 statement. Akbar Bugti not only voted for Pakistan but also helped Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League financially.
The princely states of Makran, Kharan and Lasbela also decided to join Pakistan in 1947. On August 15, Khanate of Kalat announced it would stay independent and started negotiations with the government of Pakistan to formulate a new relationship. This state remained independent until March 26, 1948. A small broadcast by All India Radio the next day caused panic for Khan of Kalat. It was V.P. Menon—an Indian government functionary responsible for dealing with princely states—claiming that Khan of Kalat wants to join India but his government is not interested. Maybe he was trying to pressurise Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, but his statement backfired. Khan of Kalat immediately announced to join Pakistan the same day to prove he had no Indian connection.
Biggest problem of Balochistan is poverty and unemployment. They want equal rights. It is not the case in Jammu and Kashmir, and yet Modi compared Kashmir with Balochistan. Unfortunately, the Baloch are the ultimate losers and the Pakistan establishment the gainer after the controversial statement. Modi gave Pakistan a reason to suppress all those who were raising their voices against injustice in Balochistan. It will now be difficult for Mama Qadeer to take to the streets against enforced disappearances. People like Asma Jahangir never supported the independence of Balochistan, and yet they were declared Indian agents just because they demanded equal rights for the Baloch people. Imagine how difficult it would be for me or others to speak for the rights of Balochistan. Whoever speaks against injustice will be declared an Indian agent.
Sorry to say that Modi actually strengthened the Pakistan establishment in Balochistan and that’s why the pro-establishment home minister of the province, Sarfraz Bugti, openly thanked Modi for providing “evidence” of Indian interference. This evidence is nothing but the Indian PM’s speech. Time will prove that this speech was one of Modi’s biggest political mistakes. It will be difficult for Nawaz Sharif to warmly welcome him in the forthcoming SAARC conference in Pakistan. Many political and religious parties are planning to organise rallies against Modi. If Modi doesn’t come to Pakistan, who will be the beneficiary? No doubt it would only benefit the enemies of peace with India and their ultimate facilitator would be Modi himself.
The Indian PM tried to internationalise Balochistan but, in fact, he internationalised hatred between India and Pakistan and helped the hate-mongers.