During Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Independence Day speech, he spoke about Balochistan and its grave human rights situation, which is likely to open up debates about India, Kashmir and Pakistan.
Earlier, at an all-party meet on Kashmir, Modi first broached the subject by saying, “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 Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.” During the speech on August 15, he brought up Balochistan again and said that the people in Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir 'thanked me a lot in the past few days, I am grateful to them'. The history of Balochistan is similar to that of Kashmir, and Modi's statements have raised curiosity, support and anger.
Here's a quick round-up on the situation in Balochistan and the reactions to Modi's statements:
The land of Balochs
The region of Balochistan is administered by Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Each country has a sizeable population of Balochi ethinicity. In Pakistan, it is the largest province, made up of four princely states. Out of these, Makran, Kharan, and Las Bela joined Pakistan during independence, but Kalat was forcibly acceded in 1948. The land is bestowed with natural resources such as oil and gas, but is backward and its people make up for seven per cent of the population of Pakistan.
Resistance against being part of Pakistan rose after its forceful annexation. Demanding greater autonomy, a home-grown freedom movement found its roots in the 1970s. A Baloch separatist group called the Balochistan Liberation Army is deemed a terrorist organisation in Pakistan. With the help of Irani forces, Pakistani army came down heavily on the people of this region.
Over the years, as insurgent forces and armed forces came into conflict, the civilian population of Balochistan suffered immensely. Rapes, disappearances, illegal detainment and extra-judicial killings by armed forces have contributed to major human rights violations. In 2014, more than 18,000 people were deemed missing, while there is a major clampdown on media freedom.
Alleged Indian aid
Pakistan has often accused India of secretly aiding Baloch insurgency. Most recently, after the Quetta blast that killed more than 50 people, Pakistan deemed India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) responsible. Sartaj Aziz, advisor to PM on Foreign Affairs, said that Modi's speech was “proof of India's involvement” in Balochistan.
Diverting attention from Kashmir
After Modi's speech, Pakistan said that India was trying to 'divert attention' from its own Kashmir issue. Modi was accused of bringing up human rights violations in Pakistan even when the situation in Kashmir is worsening. In response to Modi, former Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted, “6 protestors dead in Kashmir in 24 hours but let's go sort out Balochistan since we are doing such a good job in J&K at the moment!”
Throwing light on an international issue
Baloch nationalist groups applauded Modi's support, saying that this might bring international attention to the region and its situation. “Modi is the first Prime Minister in the world who has spoken of the Baloch and their sufferings. Thus, it is a great breakthrough,” said Malik Siraj Akbar, editor of Baloch Hal. “We have to wait and see if India supports Balochistan as a part of an official policy or if it is using Balochistan only as a chip to respond to Pakistan.”