Volume 2, No. 3, March 2020
Editor: Rashed Rahman
Kashmir is on a heightened boil again after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government unilaterally revoked Article 370 of its Constitution (according a special autonomous status to Kashmir) as well as Article 35A that protected the disputed territory from outsider influx, their buying local property, changing thereby the demography of the region, etc. This unprecedented act was preceded by the induction of an additional 35,000 troops into the most heavily militarised area in the world and followed by a complete curfew, lockdown, and communications severance within Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) and to the outside world.
Resistance within India to this draconian wrecking of the long standing political and constitutional arrangements for IHK was expected and mounted, but a crackdown within IHK and throughout India against dissidents and critics has stifled the voices of protest partially for the moment. Inside IHK, there are reports of the Indian authorities easing restrictions incrementally, but if Kashmiri protests break out again (as is expected), the lockdown could once again be enforced.
Pakistan finds itself in a difficult position. Unable to stay silent in the face of Modi’s blatant oppression of the Kashmiris and their UN Security Council-recognised right of self-determination (albeit limited to a choice between India or Pakistan), the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government of Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as the opposition have been shouting themselves hoarse for the ‘international community’ to take note of the development and intervene. This strategy has been tested by calling for the UN Security Council to take up the Kashmir issue after half a century of ‘benign neglect’. The UN Security Council has met for a closed door consultative meeting, from which the result is not contrary to realistic expectations. No communiqué followed the deliberations, but what can be gleaned from media reports so far is that apart from China, the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council have either mumbled mealy-mouthed platitudes about ‘restraint by both sides’ (the US, UK, Russia) or adopted a pregnant silence (France). This is a reflection of the reality that the world at large (including the Muslim world) has tacitly accepted the long standing status quo in IHK, and now the dictatorial wrecking of even that status quo by Modi.
Pakistan’s options are few and not very promising. (1) Continue to mount a diplomatic offensive in support of the Kashmiri people and adhere to the principled position of the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir. Given the concatenation of international opinion and stances though, this is likely to reap limited gains, if any. (2) Raising the stakes through increased support to jihadi groups fighting in IHK to raise the temperature to a point where the big powers are compelled to intervene, a risky strategy that risks not just a catastrophic war with India but having the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) noose tightened round our necks. The hopes for an international intervention not only point to Pakistan’s despair at bilateral solutions based on the track record, they also reflect (as does the loud chest thumping) an air of desperation in the face of Modi’s relentless pursuit of a ‘final solution’ to the Kashmir conundrum. Even were such an international intervention to take place, it is unlikely to disturb the new ‘facts on the ground’ created by Modi’s move, which include the bifurcation of IHK into Jammu and Kashmir under Governor’s rule with the prospect of the resurrection of a legislative Assembly at some point, and Ladakh under direct rule from New Delhi without any Assembly at all. China’s concern about the unilateral upsetting of the status quo by India cannot be separated from its border dispute/s with India, particularly related to the Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin area of the historical state of Jammu and Kashmir. (3) All-out war, with its horrendous possibility of escalation to a nuclear exchange, is simply unthinkable. For this reason alone perhaps the big powers will seek to cool down the state of affairs but not go beyond that.
The slim chances of a historic compromise over Kashmir that leaves ‘borders’ unchanged but demilitarises both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) and softens this dividing line to allow people-to-people exchange, contact for divided families, trade and other confidence building measures, logically the only feasible solution to the long running dispute, seem for the foreseeable future dead in the water. In its place, the people of Pakistan (and India) face the prospect of a dreadful ratcheting up of tensions, increased clashes along the LoC and Working Boundary, and anxiety and fear on both sides of the divide about what the future may hold.