With the economy sinking and a failed bid at the UNSC, Islamabad is in no position to declare war or embrace peace. It will do well to focus on its internal problems
A fortnight after the Modi Government defanged Article 370, scrapped its illegal appendage, Article 35A and split the northern State into the Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir, Islamabad is groping for a coherent response. In May 1998, when the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee stunned the world by testing five nuclear devices (Pokhran-II) and made India a full-fledged nuclear state, Islamabad swiftly showcased its own nuclear capability.
This time, most world capitals overcame their surprise and accepted the changes in Jammu & Kashmir as India’s internal matter; Pakistan was supported by the colonial-minded Western media and China, which arranged “closed consultations” (unrecorded) in the UN Security Council. India’s action was breathtaking in its simplicity and audacity: Operating within the Line of Control (LoC), it took long-suffering Ladakh to its bosom as a directly-administered Union Territory while Jammu & Kashmir provinces were declared a separate Union Territory with an elected legislature. The Union Home Ministry will have direct supervision of both.
Political parties and dynasties that misused Article 370 to nurture separatist sentiments in the Valley while neglecting Jammu and Ladakh regions have been downsized and separatists put on notice. A zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism was already in place. Caught between a perilous economic situation with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) breathing down its neck on one side, and its jihadi groups on the other, Islamabad is in no position to declare war or to embrace peace.
Prime Minister Modi’s artful jugglery has subtly avenged India’s exclusion from the Afghanistan talks, making it difficult for Washington and Islamabad to put the Taliban in power in Kabul, with the acquiescence of Moscow and Beijing. This gives a breather to the Kabul regime that was also excluded from four-party negotiations. Washington is, thus, likely to remain trapped in the graveyard of empires because successive Presidents from George Bush Jr, Barack Obama and now Donald Trump would not consider gifting the impressive American arsenal to the Afghan Army, training it to use the same and making a dignified retreat.
Washington is unconcerned about the fate of President Ashraf Ghani, former President Hamid Karzai, their colleagues and supporters, should Taliban return to Kabul. But for India, this is a matter of deep concern. New Delhi’s checkmate has put Islamabad in a bind: It cannot clinch the Taliban deal for Washington: It cannot compensate its jihadi mercenaries with escalated action in Jammu, Kashmir or Ladakh. Its position is unenviable: To exit a cul-de-sac one must go back the way one entered but this route is not open to Pakistan. In the Mahabharata, Abhimanyu did not know how to escape the chakravyu; Imran does but it is just not possible.
Scholars Asma Khalid and Mobeen Jafar Mir of the think tank, Islamabad Policy Institute, blame Pakistan for failing to anticipate and challenge India’s hollowing of Article 370 despite clear signals. In a report, Abrogation of Article 370: Implications & Policy Choices for Pakistan, they urge Islamabad to launch a diplomatic blitzkrieg against India by emphasising the “disputed status of Kashmir”, highlighting India’s alleged human rights excesses and the threats to regional stability.
In a clear sign of Islamabad’s political bankruptcy and lack of choices, Khalid and Mir urged their Government to work for convening an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the situation; at the “closed meeting” the four other permanent members said changing Jammu & Kashmir’s Constitutional status is India’s internal matter. Islamabad is unlikely to accept the suggestion to move the International Court of Justice (ICJ) after its resounding defeat in the matter of consular access to Indian citizen Kulbhushan Jadhav.
Khalid and Mir bemoan the loss of Jammu & Kashmir’s separate Constitution, flag and autonomy in all matters barring foreign affairs, defence and communications. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), they say, always proclaimed its intentions in its election manifestoes and in 2019, reiterated its determination to annul the Kashmir-specific Articles 370 and 35A.
Article 35A, introduced via Presidential order under Article 370 in 1954, empowered the State Legislature to define permanent residents and barred Indians from outside the state from permanently settling, buying land, holding local Government jobs or winning education scholarships there. It also barred female residents (and their children) from property rights in the event of marriage outside Kashmir. The spirit behind this legislation was to protect the identity and culture of Kashmiris and preserve Kashmir’s demographic character.
Interestingly, the scholars allege that the BJP’s agenda is to secure demographic change in the Valley through resettlement of refugees from West Pakistan, Azad Kashmir and Chhamb. It is true that the BJP has been concerned about justice for the refugees, who entered Jammu & Kashmir during Partition and after, and the Scheduled Castes invited by Sheikh Abdullah to clean the city on promise of citizenship. However, Abdullah, supported by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, later denied them State subject status and its accompanying benefits. The issue is now redundant with the extension of the Constitution of India in its entirety to the new Union Territory.
Azad Kashmir is a sliver of Jammu Province, where pro-Pakistan radicals created trouble for Maharaja Hari Singh in 1946. Pakistan dubbed it as Azad Kashmir when it seized the area in 1947-48. Chhamb in Hamirpur district of Himachal Pradesh was an area of conflict in the 1965 and 1971 wars. Khalid and Mir charge that India will try to enhance Hindu representation in the Valley to reduce the influence of Kashmiri (read Muslim) political parties in the event of a plebiscite under UN auspices, an idea scotched by Kofi Annan in 2001.
Moreover, the Security Council Resolution of 1948 is explicit that Pakistan must withdraw all military and civilian personnel from the occupied territory who were not there before August 14, 1947; India is to retain its military in Srinagar to administer the plebiscite. Hence, the Pakistani scholars’ attempt to project India as an occupying power in the kingdom of Maharaja Hari Singh is a non-starter.
Pakistani fears that India’s action of August 5, 2019, may impact the Indus Water Treaty are premature as India can achieve much by merely utilising its legitimate share of the Indus waters. As for the occupied territories, Home Minister Amit Shah has reiterated India’s claim to the undivided kingdom, including Azad Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan, and Aksai Chin. Pakistan would do well to focus on its internal problems.
(The writer is Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library; the views expressed are personal)