ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI (Web Desk/APP) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly ignored the warning of some senior bureaucrats against mentioning Balochistan while preparing last week’s annual Independence Day address.
That dimmed prospects of bringing the bitter rivals closer together to reduce economic pain and the risk of more violence in both countries.
“The bureaucrats suggested that talking about Balochistan is a good idea but may be the Independence Day speech was not a good platform for it,” said an Indian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Referring to Balochistan in such a prominent speech would be a highly unusual move bound to ratchet up tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours more used to trading barbs over Indian-occupied Kashmir, the cause of two of their three wars.
According to a senior official at the meeting in early August, the more hawkish politicians in the room, angered by what they saw as Pakistan’s recent trouble-making in held Kashmir, thought differently, and so did Modi.
By siding with the hawks, and including Balochistan in his address, Modi signalled a more muscular approach towards Pakistan.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar “rejected these ideas”, while Home Minister Rajnath Singh “supported him (Parrikar) by saying we should do everything to silence Pakistan”, the official said.
India’s Ministry for External Affairs declined to comment on the debate about Modi’s speech. His office, and the defence and home ministries, did not respond to requests for comment.
Speaking from the ramparts of the 17th-century Red Fort in Old Delhi on Aug. 15, Modi thanked the Baloch people for their support after a number of separatist leaders published videos praising him for acknowledging their cause previously.
He also lashed out at supporters of “terrorism”, in a more familiar broadside against India’s old foe.
Pakistan has seized on Modi’s speech as evidence that India has a hand in a decades-long Baloch separatist campaign, in which insurgents in the resource-rich yet impoverished region have launched sporadic attacks and demanded independence. India denies the charge.
A senior foreign ministry official in Islamabad said Modi had “crossed the red line”.
Relations between India and Pakistan have deteriorated since the killing of a separatist leader in Indian-held Kashmir on July 8 sparked the worst violence in the disputed territory in six years.
At least 66 protesters and two security personnel have been killed and thousands wounded on both sides, according to official state figures.
Two senior Indian officials said Modi had become frustrated with Pakistan’s latest attempt to draw wide international attention to the Indian-occupied Kashmir question and the current clampdown, and to take the matter to the United Nations.