POLITICS

Is Balochistan As An Answer To Kashmir A Self-Goal?

How can India pay lip-service to Baloch rebels while suppressing Kashmiri rebels?

16/08/2016 9:56 AM IST | Updated 16/08/2016 10:18 AM IST
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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he delivers his Independence Day speech from The Red Fort in New Delhi on August 15, 2016.

When there is an India-Pakistan match, it is amusing to see people from Srinagar cheer for Pakistan on social media, and people from Quetta cheer for India. Some Kashmiris change their profile pictures to the Pakistani flag or its top cricketers, and some Baloch to that of Indian icons.

On one such occasion, I got talking to a secessionist Baloch online. His posts used to be all about how Balochistan wanted azadi from Pakistan, how Pakistan was plundering the resources of his Baloch land, and the human rights atrocities that occurred daily.

"How bad is it?" I asked him.

"Pretty bad," he replied, "but can I ask you something? Why do you Indians care so much about Balochistan but do in Kashmir exactly what Pakistan does in Balochistan?"

I didn't have a reply.

Those who live in glass houses, the Bollywood saying goes, don't throw stones at others. India and Pakistan both live in glass houses. Here, for instance, is a video of a Pakistani TV show where young Baloch students are questioning Pakistani hypocrisy over supporting Kashmiri rebels and suppressing Baloch ones. We want azadi, they say unequivocally, a line heard all the time in Kashmir.

"Why do you Indians care so much about Balochistan but do in Kashmir exactly what Pakistan does in Balochistan?"

By bringing up Balochistan in response to Pakistan's activism on the turmoil in Indian-administered Kashmir, India hopes to put the Pakistani government on a back-foot. Pakistan will now have to pay a new price for its diplomatic activism on Kashmir: face Indian activism on Balochistan. Not just Balochistan, prime minister Modi also brought up Pakistani bombing of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to flush out militants of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, and human rights violations in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, including Gilgit.

Defence minister Manohar Parrikar says Pakistan is the only country to bomb its own citizens. That is a self-goal born perhaps out of ignorance, because India bombed Aizawl in 1966 to suppress the Mizo National Army.

By bringing up Balochistan, India could be scoring a similar self-goal. It is almost as if India is pleading guilty to charges of repression in Kashmir but saying hey, what about your own human rights record?

If India is equating Balochistan with Kashmir, it may beg the question: is India admitting Kashmir is more than that Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and actually a homegrown freedom struggle?

Besides, India openly speaking up on Balochistan could also blunt the edge of India's argument of Pakistan meddling in India's internal matters while India is a hapless victim. Pakistan's accusations of Induan interference in Balochistan could now have greater currency.

There are indeed many similarities between Kashmir and Balochistan, but there's a major difference. Both India and Pakistan lay claim to the territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and the territory lies divided between the two. Pakistan's Balochistan province is not claimed by any other country. This is why Pakistan says it has a right to worry about the plight of Kashmiris.

That is not good enough to explain Pakistani hypocrisy in condemning in Kashmir while it does the same in Balochistan. But if India makes the point, the reverse question could be asked just as easily: how can India pay lip-service to Baloch rebels while suppressing Kashmiri rebels?

Mirror image

It's incredible how similar the two stories are. Both stories begin in 1948, a year after India and Pakistan came into being. Balochistan and J&K were both independent princely states. In both cases, accession is contested and rejected by the people.

Both Kashmir and Balochistan are examples of the failures of colonial map-making, living proof of the messy British exit in 1947.

Many in Kashmir say they would rather have their independent Kashmir, an Islamic state, and reject Indian secularism. Kashmiris detest the word secularism because it is said to be one of the reasons cited why Muslim-majority Kashmir could stay with Hindu-majority India.

Similarly, Baloch nationalists make it a point to stress on secularism, as they reject the idea that Islam unites them with Pakistan.

Pakistan alleges that the conflict in Balochistan is fuelled by India, and India says the conflict in Kashmir is fuelled by Pakistan. Both countries pretend that but for this external provocation, these regions would be safe and sound. There is no local rebellion.

Baloch nationalists make it a point to stress on secularism, as they reject the idea that Islam unites them with Pakistan.

The history of military intervention to suppress the Baloch rebellion sounds a lot like Kashmir since 1989: detentions, disappearances, suspension of rights, and muzzling of press freedom. If India used a "catch and kill" policy in Kashmir, Pakistan used "kill and dump" in Balochistan. Armed forces in both places have faced allegations of rape. In both places, security forces have been accused of creating their own militants; the Ikhwanis in Kashmir, and the Haqqani faction of al-Qaeda in Balochistan.

Pakistan talks about giving development to Balochistan, and India says development is the issue in Kashmir. Kashmiris say India is using their rivers to make hydro-power that is used by the rest of India, even as Kashmiris suffer power outage in the bitter winter months. But the resource grievance is much greater in Balochistan, a vast region rich with copper, gold and oil.

Looking at the similarities between Balochistan and Kashmir, India and Pakistan, and their citizens, should stop pointing fingers at each other and look within. Both should ask their governments to stop human rights violations, use talks and negotiations with rebels, think beyond 19th century nationalism and borders.

Instead, they want to play the whataboutery game, like a competition on whose dirty war is dirtier. Already, Pakistanis on social media are responding to India's Balochistan taunt by saying, "What about India's north east?"

It would have been funny if it weren't sad.

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