Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t just mention Indian states in his third Independence Day speech on Monday, he also brought up a few provinces that were once in India but are now part of Pakistan: Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The reference to Pakistan’s troubled states, for perhaps the first time in an Independence Day Speech, represents a significant shift in Indian messaging and a clear attempt to push back against the Pakistan prime minister’s references to Indian Kashmir of late.
“The people of Balochistan, the people of Gilgit, the people of Pak-occupied Kashmir have thanked me in such a manner, from places that I have never been and never had a chance to meet, they have sent wishes to the people of India and thanked us,” Modi said. “I am grateful to them.”
The reference comes days after Modi had brought up Balochistan at an all-party meeting over Kashmir in New Delhi last week, where the prime minister claimed that Islamabad would have to answer for its actions against its own people.
“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 PoK.”
That mention resonated with some activists in Pakistan’s Baloch province, which has had a nationalist movement since Partition, with many residents believing that the Punjab- and Sindh-dominated Pakistani state systematically suppresses Balochistan. Prominent Baloch leaderes, such as the chief of the Baloch Republican Party, came out in praise of Modi after the mention and sought Indian help for their efforts.
Modi’s decision to bring up the Pakistani provinces, a day after Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif dedicated his country’s Independence Day to Kashmir, represents a clear shift in the way India is talking about its neighbour.
Indian diplomats and policy-makers have always been hesitant to bring up Balochistan as part of its overall narrative while dealing with Pakistan, with the presumption being that it can demonstrate how Islambad interferes in Indian affairs without reciprocation. Although this has allowed India to take the moral upper hand when it comes to international posturing, many have doubted whether this approach has brought New Delhi any dividends, and calls to be more active in the Baloch struggle have always been around.
In respond to Sharif’s raking up of Kashmir on August 14 with a reference to Balochistan, Modi is making it clear that India is no longer afraid to question internal matters within Pakistan.
Of course, this also brought up a few questions from people within India pointing out that Modi was evidently aiming to get headlines while also failing to say much about what is happening within India.
Modi also, rather unusually, brought up the Peshawar school attack in Pakistan – when terrorists killed 141 people, including 132 schoolchildren – as a way of explaining what he sees as the differing approaches to terror.
Modi’s Pakistan approach has seen many shifts over the past few years, with clear outreach from the beginning, when the prime minister invited Sharif to his own swearing-in ceremony in 2014 and then followed it up by making an unscheduled visit to Lahore. Soon after that visit, however, the Pathankot attacks – when cross-border terrorists attacked an Air Force base in Indian Punjab – soured relations.
This year’s Kashmir protests in the aftermath of the killing of Burhan Wani, a local militant, has made things worse, with New Delhi blaming the Kashmiri protests entirely on Islamabad. India has made it clear that in response, it is now willing to take on not just Pakistan but also its internal battles.