By Abhishek Kapoor
Concerns have been raised in some quarters that Prime Minister’s Balochistan outreach (as also sharp focus on Gilgit-Baltistan) with emphasis on Pakistan’s human rights record in these territories might backfire.
The specific fear is that mirroring Pakistan’s stance is a false equivalence which might bring unnecessary global attention to Kashmir. Also, it can potentially rile the extended neighbourhood, and bring down India’s moral standing in the comity of nations.
Let’s take these arguments one by one. In the fluttering-twittering times that we live, should we fear internationalization or losing the plot to the enemy? To be provocative, has Kashmir not had international resonance earlier? If yes, to what consequences?
From the UNCIP/UNMOGIP days in the immediate aftermath of partition, to JK Galbraith’s soft borders solution, to the Robin Raphel nadir in mid-1990, Kashmir has shown atavistically on global radar through much of its troubled history. While those might have been engaging, even tense periods for diplomats, subsequent history proves that it did not waiver India’s resolve to hold on to Kashmir in any manner. In fact, as the post-Kargil United States’ pressure on Pakistan proves, it was in India’s favor as well.
There are a couple of reasons why international focus in changed circumstances might even be to India’s advantage. First is connected with the growth dynamics of India. When Kennedy sought to push his plans with Nehru, India was also begging for PL480 wheat. Cut to George ‘Dubya’ Bush, when his Af-Pak emissary Richard Armitage, bluntly told the Pakistanis that he was no interlocutor on Kashmir. This was when India was close to becoming a trillion-dollar economy. Now we are close to 2.5 trillion with clear markers of it touching 10 trillion in a decade or so.
The second factor is connected with global currents. Ignoring Islamist radicalization much through 1990s, demarches would be issued to Indian diplomats in Washington, Geneva, and Oslo on our human rights record in Kashmir. Statements would ritually add that the problem should be solved “taking into account the wishes of Kashmiri people.” But 9/11 made western capitals realize that the Frankenstein could turn towards them too. The sermons got muted. And post-ISIS world is going to be even more receptive to India’s viewpoint on Kashmir. This year has seen nights spent by foreign tourists in France down by 8.5% due to terror risks. It has started hurting.
Now let’s come to the other two issues raised. That Modi’s picking up Balochistan could alarm neighbours has partly come undone with Afghanistan making noises of approval. Does it rile China? May be yes, but why should it be a cause for worry? That the 40-billion US dollars China-Pakistan Economic (CPEC) corridor creates security challenges for India is an accepted fact. Iran opting to give Chabahar to India is indication enough that Gwadar is a concern for them as well.
Lastly, the argument that India’s moral stature could stand diminished sounds a little antediluvian. Is it not a redundant Nehruvian argument, a relic which most of the times failed Nehru himself? Are China and Russia members of the Security Council because of their moral standing? Has our moral posturing all these years since 1947 restrained Pakistan in any manner?
There is no gainsaying that the Modi government’s handling of its Pakistan policy has ranged from clueless to confused despite Prime Minister’s restlessness to engage with the truculent neighbour. But that should not stop from a calculated innovation to be brought in. It is up to the MEA mandarins now to fine-tune the initiative.
Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.