Assessing Modi’s action on Kashmir

Kashmiri Muslims shout slogans during a protest after Eid prayers in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. Troops in India-administered Kashmir allowed some Muslims to walk to local mosques alone or in pairs to pray for the Eid al-Adha festival on Monday during an unprecedented security lockdown that still forced most people in the disputed region to stay indoors on the Islamic holy day. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)

Four days after the Indian government hastily scrapped the special status that the border state of Kashmir enjoyed under a controversial Article 370 of the Indian constitution and bizarrely locked down the State and its people after stationing thousands of soldiers in battle fatigues, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, came on national TV reaching out to the people of the State promising them good life and freedom from terror and want.

Modi, who tried to show his government’s Kashmir decision as an internal matter that had nothing to do with neighbouring Pakistan with which India had fought three wars over the disputed state, was calm and comforting to the people of Kashmir. There was no hint at triumphalism, despite succeeding in annulling the special status that he and his Hindu nationalist party had campaigned hard for decades. Due to the blackout imposed on Kashmiris, his conciliatory message of peace and economic rejuvenation did not reach them.

 Modi’s circumspection and promise of accommodation after Kashmir “integration”, did not really reach his millions of supporters in the Northern part of India that celebrated by distributing sweets and bursting crackers. Some BJP lawmakers went a step further and took to social media and boorishly informed their followers that they can now go to Kashmir and marry a fair woman. This search for spoils after this symbolic integration of Kashmir found an echo with all kinds of people who had misinterpreted Kashmir’s special status with India. Blame for this largely falls on those who campaigned for the abrogation by suggesting that Article 370 was a fountainhead of terror, corruption, poor governance and fomenting anti-India feeling. 

The rapturous response from the supporters of the ruling party and those who have little understanding of asymmetric relations between regions to deepen the federal character of a country- hence was understandable. What was also downplayed was that the central government could only fight insurgency and secessionism in restive Northeastern states of the country once it sealed an asymmetric agreement that preserved local values and identity.

In 1947 when British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan, the fabled valley of Kashmir was a preponderantly Muslim state ruled by a Hindu King. Ideally, it should have gone to Pakistan, but the Hindu King signed an instrument of accession with India when the Pakistani army in the garb of tribals attacked State capital, Srinagar. A Kashmiri nationalist leader, Sheikh Abdullah, also cemented the relationship when he reiterated the commitment of his party to go with India, which was a socialist, secular, democratic republic. India’s first Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, a quintessential democrat, also promised a plebiscite once peace returned to Kashmir. The Kashmir issue, which has blighted relationship between India and Pakistan, was taken to the UN and continues to be one of the most intractable and enduring disputes in the world.

Pakistan has claimed for a long time that solution to the Afghanistan problem cannot be solved until the Kashmir issue is resolved. Their argument is as follows: After the 1971 war, Pakistan lost its eastern part (now Bangladesh) and saw India on the threshold of capturing one of their main city, Lahore. Pakistan claimed that if it had to save itself from India in future wars then it would need strategic depth in Afghanistan, which would allow them to shift their assets and leadership to theirs. Hence they needed a friendly regime in Kabul. 

This logic is a bit convoluted, but this has kept Afghanistan hopelessly destabilized. An unwilling participant in the Soviet Union’s great game, Afghanistan saw US use Pakistan and its Islamic radical assets to bring down their communist government. Post 9/11 Pakistan got an opportunity to emerge as a frontline State on US-led global war on terror. Rise of violent Taliban with medieval views on women and foreigners that were fostered in the refugee camps of Pakistan always allowed Pakistan’s powerful army to have sway over Afghan affairs.

After long years under US occupation, US President Donald Trump wants to pull out its troops from war-torn Afghanistan. It’s bewildering though that world’s greatest military power could not quell Talibanians and the fast-rising Islamic State terrorists in the 18 years that they were there. President Donald Trump had pompously said that it would take 10 days for his defence forces to flatten the country, but he did not want to kill millions. Instead, he wanted a quick agreement with the Taliban and Pakistan to get out. A special US Representative for Afghanistan, Zalimay Khalizad, is hammering out a deal with Afghanistan, which was to be ready by September 1. 

Trump tried to rope in Pakistan PM and former cricketer, Imran Khan, during his visit to Washington, to hasten the Afghan deal. Khan reassured Trump and perhaps India and Afghanistan that his country was not looking any more for strategic depth. Hence, Pakistan’s participation in US peace efforts was premised on its eastern border remaining quiet with India. A hot violent border would prevent Islamabad to fulfil its part of the deal. In other words, Islamabad was expecting the US to restrain India from any adventurism- did not want any surgical strike or an airstrike similar to the one engaged by India earlier in February this year.

But the revocation of Kashmir special status by New Delhi has changed the status quo rapidly. An incensed Pakistani leadership believes that India is forcibly trying to end the Kashmir dispute without taking cognisance of the UN and the will of the people of the State. It has ejected India’s Ambassador, declared its skies no-fly zone and ended its trade ties. In short, the two nuclear warriors, Pakistan and India are at daggers drawn imperilling Trump’s Afghanistan deal. Pakistan has been conveying to Washington that it cannot fulfil its part of the Afghan deal due to its preoccupation with India. It has also conveyed to New Delhi that it would take the Kashmir issue to all international forums including UN, OIC etc. It has got support from China, which disagrees with Jammu Kashmir’s bifurcation and making the region of Ladakh a Union Territory.

Once the haze of BJP government’s attempts at integration, which Kashmiri’s call colonisation, ends- hopefully without bloodshed- and troops from the valley are thinned out then Delhi and the world would know whether what Modi did was worth it.

Sanjay Kapoor is the Editor of Hard News in India, He is based in Delhi, India.