PM Modi’s Balochistan play – foolish or master stroke?

Prime Minister Modi referred to Balochistan (in addition to Pakistan held areas of J&K) more than once in recent days. The mischievous “thanks” to Baloch people for reacting to his first remark will probably make a bigger splash given the occasion.  Clearly Modi is going where no Indian Prime Minister has gone before.  Even foreign ministers and secretaries were much more careful in the past.

So what has changed? The silly provocation by Pakistani Ambassador Basit in his own speech is no excuse since it happened AFTER Modi’s first remark. In any case a remark by a junior official is not worthy of a Prime Ministerial reply, that too from the Red Fort. A similar tough presser by MoEA babu would have been seen as sufficient.

We can look at two possibilities:

  1. Modi is being jingoistic, provocative, reckless and foolhardy because that is exactly the sort of person he is.
  2. There has been a SWOT analysis and conclusion is, it makes no sense to carry on respecting red lines of the past. The new approach will bring better benefits even counting the costs. (Mind you, we are not certifying this to be correct as only future can tell)

Dismiss the fear mongering

Obviously the left liberal media will go for Option 1 and one can expect scathing attacks. Sagarika, Barkha, Sardesai, Mihir Sharma, Bhadrakumar, Varadarajan, Venu and others will write lengthy articles explaining why this is a dangerous provocation and how it will lead to more terror attacks in the future apart from giving us no benefit.

We can dismiss most of their gloom and doom analysis and fear mongering with following facts

  1. Pakistan has anyway been blaming India, even before Modi took over. Remember the effort to sneak in Balochistan during MMS era? Now Modi is simply choosing a time and place of his choice to do so.
  2. Nothing has stopped it historically from interfering in Punjab, North East or helping out pretty much every criminal or terrorist gang, petty or big that is ready to wage war on India. Even Srilanka was not spared. Nor is it going to stop if I K Gujral were to come back to life as PM. Now it may get smoked out in the open just as its nuclear program was thanks to ABVs move.
  3. Fear cannot be the basis of foreign policy of a nation o 1.25 billion. Nor can one sided unrequited love and affection of the Bollywood variety.
  4. The same liberals tell us Pakistan is not to blame for terror, it cannot control non state players. So why bother?

Why do we think this is a great move?

  1. First and most important reason is the cause deserves support. Pakistan’s atrocities there are well documented.
  2. It can be a great way for Narendra Modi to extinguish concerns that he is anti-Muslim. Obviously lots of Balochis will sing his praise now. Given his visits to KSA, Gulf and aggressive Afghanistan policy, this will send clear and unmistakable signals to every Sunni Muslim, Indian or otherwise. If he can follow that up with sensible Palestinian policy, balancing Israeli sensibilities, that will seal this aspect.
  3. It may shift the entire fabric of the dialog. Pakistan will sure go around saying “look we were right” but no one believes them anymore anyway. Now at worse, if there’s a deal on Kashmir, we can pedal back on Balochistan and the generals can go around claiming ‘victory’. Makes a lot of sense.
  4. It cannot make our terror problem any worse than it already is given its dynamics as well as continued support from Pakistan over decades regardless of who is in PM chair. Pakistan cannot simultaneously pretend it cannot control terrorists yet argue such provocations can lead to more terror.

But hopefully PM has considered following aspects and has plans:

  1. The Iran angle – Iran’s own Baloch problem will mean it may not like India supporting this cause. However, this can be managed if Baloch separatists play along and keep focus on their Pakistan aspect of the issue (which is much bigger in any case). Iran will understand India’s main motives.
  2. The pan-Islamic angle – this can be a twin edged sword. We have seen the ‘good’ side earlier. But Pakistan can play the “islam is in danger” card although this card has lost practically all value these days. Managing KSA, Gulf reactions and opinions is the key.
  3. The China angle – Beijing has obviously a lot invested in Pakistan even before the $45b CPEC and Gwadar. Those investments are facing diminishing returns. Yet it would hate to see it overtly sabotaged or completely wrecked by India’s moves. Pakistan has been crying from rooftops that India is sabotaging CPEC on covert basis even before Modi. This could be a tough nut to crack. Here again, India’s message could be that China’s should de-focus from a failed state of fanatics, and it has far more at stake building stable relations with India which can offer a safer saner path to the western oceans too. But this may not be enough. We have no magic solutions here. Again, China has not been sensitive to India’s own red lines anyway so it doesn’t change things much.
  4. The West – which essentially means Uncle Sam. US cares two hoots if Pakistan stays in one piece or not given its frustration over Afghanistan and its reduced reliance on oil and gradual “look east, forget Middle East” foreign policy shift. But that doesn’t mean it will like India gain upper hand in this region. We need to find people like Ambassador Blackwill who articulate our point and are not shy to redraw borders if it suits their agendas.

Let us hope this is not one of those one off remarks that gets forgotten after a while. And hence not a planned shift in strategy, right or wrong. This will be disastrous as it will kill Baloch sympathy as well as confirm the left lilberals’ opinion as to Modi being a reckless jingo.