Prime Minister Modi’s Independence Day speech with a specially hard-hitting mention of happenings in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Balochistan has visibly unnerved the Pakistan establishment and made its government nervous. This comes in the wake of stepped up Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in the valley in the aftermath of the killing of Burhan Wani. Pakistan was caught off guard by the Indian Prime Minister’s aggressive and unexpected rhetoric highlighting the excesses perpetrated by security forces in Balochistan and PoK .
The wariness in Pakistan is clearly evident from its media with sceptics recalling the creation of Bangladesh 45 years ago when a series of belligerent orations, as noticed now, preceded the dismemberment of the nation and creation of a new country.
Not surprisingly, the Pakistani media has come down heavily on Mr. Modi for “interfering” in the internal affairs of Pakistan and blamed India’s Research and Analysis Wing for fomenting trouble in Balochistan including the recent deadly blasts in a Quetta hospital that killed 70. However, such a blame game does not seem to have gained currency with the Baloch who have been reeling under severe oppression unleashed by the military and the notorious ISI. Significantly, Mr. Modi’s speech made Baloch leaders, mostly those exiled abroad, to come out openly in support of India as seen in their statements and in open and candid appearances on Indian TV shows .
Ashraf Sherjan of the Baloch Republican Party was extraordinarily vocal in criticising Pakistan and praising India. He and his ilk kept thanking India and its Prime Minister for holding the hand of Balochs in their fight against the establishment for freedom and liberty. Such an open uprising against their government is perhaps unprecedented and indicates that more trouble looms in the not so distant future. One Baloch enthusiast appearing on a TV channel, kept addressing India as Mother India with folded hands and head literally bowed.
This apart, the Pakistan military also appears shaky after the Quetta terror blasts. Lt Gen Aamir Riaz, commander of Southern Command of Pakistan army, at a hurriedly held function (August 12) made allegations against India for launching an unconventional war against Pakistan and said Indian agencies (clearly implying RAW) were involved in acts of terrorism. He further castigated India for trying to create hurdles in development projects of Balochistan. Such statements, laced with panic, are a sign that even senior military commanders now feel helpless about how to handle growing turbulence in Balochistan .
Early signs of similar simmering were noticed in PoK too where voices of dissent on August 14 (Pakistani Independence Day) were more than noticeable. Such developments in PoK and Balochistan are likely to keep Pakistan under check and their misadventure in Kashmir in abetting terrorism may see a clear setback. The writing on the wall is visible.
Pakistan is feverishly trying to bring around separatist Balochs to stem the uprising. Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri has made an appeal to separatist leaders exiled abroad to return to Pakistan. In the same vein, however, Zehri has ruled out any talks at gun point. So far there are no signs of any rebel Baloch leader returning in response to Pakistani overtures.
Operationally, India needs to whip up its propaganda offensive against Pakistan with concerted and periodic rhetoric on Balochistan and PoK to keep up pressure on Islamabad to restrain it from interfering in Kashmir.
Meanwhile, selection of the next Pakistani army chief is on the anvil. Gen Raheel Sharif retires in November this year. He maintained a belligerent stance against India and would be too happy to work on extension in order to crush the “rebellion” in PoK and Balochistan. He has been calling the shots on Kashmir and other critical areas of security concern. There are four Lt Generals waiting in the wings to replace Raheel Sharif and all the candidates are ambitious .
Chief of General Staff, Lt Gen Zubair Hayat is the senior most followed by Multan Corps Commander Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed. Next in line are Bahawalpur Corps Commander Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday and IG Training and Evaluation, Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a veteran at choosing army commanders, wants to pick as the head of the 550,000 strong army someone who is personally amenable, politically palatable and would not like to do a Musharraf or and a Zia-ul Haq (Zia was a nominee of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Musharraf a choice of Sharif and both generals betrayed their mentors).
Having said this, one should remember that Nawaz Sharif is not in the best of health and his statements are feeble and faint though he is made to parrot ISI’s views. It is therefore Gen Raheel Sharif who calls the shots due to his well entrenched position in the country with both ISI and khaki on board.
While dissent in Balochistan in all probability is likely to gain momentum in the not so distant future with a more proactive participation by the rebels, it would be worthwhile to watch the rapidly unfolding developments. Crucially much will depend on how India addresses the ongoing Pakistan-sponsored terror incidents in Kashmir.
The writer, a retired IPS officer, is a security analyst. The views expressed are personal.