PM Narendra Modi in his third Independence Day speech makes an oblique reference to the human rights situation in Pakistan's Balochistan province and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir
New Delhi: Signalling a major shift in foreign policy that would include an aggressive countering of Pakistani propaganda against India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an oblique reference to the human rights situation in Pakistan’s Balochistan province besides Gilgit and other areas of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
In a no-holds-barred attack on Pakistan that came towards the end of his almost two-hour-long Independence Day speech, Modi said he was laying out two scenarios for the world to evaluate.
“I want to place two pictures before the world... and I say to the world, there are those who believe in humanity and others who glorify terrorists, please weigh these two scenes," he said. “When innocent people are killed in violent acts of terrorism (in India), there are celebrations (in Pakistan).
“What kind of life is this, inspired by terrorism? What kind of government set-up is it that is inspired by terrorism?" said Modi. “The world will know about it and that’s sufficient for me," he added.
The first picture, he said, was one in which India stood in solidarity with Pakistan when Islamic militants targeted a military-run school in Peshawar in December 2014, killing more than 140 people, including 132 school students.
In contrast was the picture of glorification of the death of a terrorist, he said. The reference was to Pakistan describing Burhan Wani, whom India considers a militant belonging to the Hizbul Mujahideen group, as a Kashmiri leader.
Wani was killed by Indian security personnel in Kashmir last month.
Then, in a surprise remark, Modi said: “In the past few days people from Balochistan, people from Gilgit, people from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the people of these areas, they have thanked me and have expressed gratitude towards me, people sitting very far away and from places that I haven’t seen; when they respect me, then it is respect for 1.25 billion Indians. And so I want to thank the people of Baluchistan, Gilgit and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir," Modi said.
Though Modi did not spell out why the people of Balochistan, Gilgit and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir would have approached him, the implication was clear—Modi was referring to alleged human rights abuses by Pakistan in these regions.
Gilgit-Baltistan has witnessed massive protests that erupted against a crackdown by Pakistan’s security forces in recent weeks and in resource-rich Balochistan province, Pakistani authorities have been trying to quell a decades-old insurgency. In the past, Pakistan has accused India of supporting the Baloch insurgency.
In his response, Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s adviser on foreign affairs to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said Modi was only trying to divert world attention from the “grim tragedy" in Kashmir, according to a statement from the Pakistan foreign office.
And on Modi’s reference to Balochistan, Aziz said it was an integral part of Pakistan and the remark proved Pakistan’s contention that India through its intelligence agency has been fomenting terrorism in the region, said the statement made available by the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi.
India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir, the trigger for three of the four wars between the two countries since 1947. Both administer the region in parts.
Modi’s references to Balochistan, Gilgit and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir point to a major departure from India’s Pakistan policy that has refrained from commenting on the internal matters of Pakistan.
Successive governments in India have always spoken of highlighting Pakistan’s alleged human rights abuses, but have stopped short of doing so.
Modi’s remarks seemed in response to Islamabad trying to highlight what it terms human rights violations in the past few weeks in Kashmir, where more than 50 people have been killed as Indian security personnel tried to put down protests and demonstrations.
Pakistan’s government has briefed envoys of countries with diplomatic missions in Pakistan besides writing to United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon on the subject. It has also offered to send relief supplies to Indian-Kashmiri people, drawing a sharp response from India on Sunday.
During a visit to Islamabad earlier this month for a South Asian home ministers’ meeting, Indian home minister Rajnath Singh had to use a helicopter to reach Islamabad from Rawalpindi because of protests organized in Pakistan against the situation in Kashmir.
Modi’s remarks are the latest salvo in a recent war of words that has erupted between India and Pakistan. The sharp exchanges over Kashmir has seen ties plummet after a seeming thaw in relations in December, the high watermark of which was a visit to Pakistan by Modi—the first by an Indian prime minister in a decade—to meet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif.
“The prime minister did the right thing. There has been no disincentive for Pakistan to stop terrorism vis-à-vis India or its active support to terrorism. There hasn’t been any strong response by India so far except verbal and defensive," said former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal about Modi’s aggressive anti-Pakistan posture on Monday.
“Pakistan has a lot of internal fractures and vulnerabilities. Its crackdown on insurgency has been brutal; they have used tanks, artillery, air force against the Balochis, the people of North and South Waziristan. We have never made this an issue. But Pakistan has not shown any reluctance in referring to internal matters of India. Pakistan has not shown the kind of sobriety that India has shown. In that context, it is right to remind Pakistan of its vulnerability," Sibal said.
India, he said, need not do anything but give encouragement to the Balochis, or allow them to speak on Indian television, Sibal said, to expose Pakistan’s double standards on human rights and terrorism.
The only negative was that India would now find it tough to make gestures to Pakistan like it did in the past—for example, Modi pulling aside Sharif for a brief meeting like he did in Paris in November on the sidelines of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Sibal said.
“Until recently, the door for bilateral dialogue with Pakistan was open with the Prime Minister making such gestures. After this, it would be difficult," he said.
That India would react aggressively to counter Pakistani propaganda was first suggested by remarks Modi made at the all-party meeting on the situation in Kashmir on Friday.
“Pakistan forgets that it bombs its own citizens using fighter planes. The time has come when Pakistan shall have to answer to the world for the atrocities committed by it against people in Baluchistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir," Modi had said.
In his speech, Modi recalled that he had invited the leaders of all South Asian countries to India at the time of his inauguration on 26 May 2014.
“I had then said that our common problem is poverty and let’s fight this together. Fighting among ourselves has only led to destruction. Let us fight poverty together and go forward on the path of prosperity. I invite all our neighbours to fight poverty together. When the citizen of a neighbouring country becomes prosperous, it is a matter of happiness for all of us," he said.