Modi’s Kashmir gamble and Pakistan’s policy options
The abrogation of Article 370 of India’s constitution, which stripped the state of Jammu and Kashmir of its limited political autonomy, was undoubtedly a bold political move that was designed to end the long struggle of the region’s persecuted Muslim masses. The implicit assumption was that the resistance movement in the area would lose steam, making New Delhi’s hold over the territory absolute.
The government of India was hoping to reduce military presence in the disputed Himalayan state as normalcy returned. There was also a belief that more development allocations would result in socioeconomic emancipation, ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity in Kashmir.
Apart from all these considerations, the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wanted to market Kashmir’s annexation with the rest of the Indian union as a historic achievement. The integration exercise was also meant to satisfy the ruling party’s ideological godfathers in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a group of rightwing Hindu nationalists whose followers have frequently perpetrated mob violence against Indian Muslims.
One year on, most of these assumptions seem to have been invalidated.
The restrictions imposed on the people and political leaders of Kashmir have not been lifted; public meetings are banned; internet access is restricted; communications channels are regulated; and dissidents in great numbers remain under detention. Media access is also very limited, and censorship is ruthlessly enforced in the region. Kashmir’s economy has been strangulated, its agricultural produce is rotting due to the closure of markets, and its transport system has come to a standstill.
How long can such imprisonment last? When will markets, transport services, and education institutes reopen? When will Kashmiri political prisoners be released?
The risks inherent in India’s August 5, 2019, action were not fully understood by the ideologically driven leaders of the BJP who appeared to be pandering to the anti-Muslim sentiments among their supporters instead of thinking about humiliation and despair their action would cause their country. Could there be a reassessment of the situation in view of the emerging realities? There is no possibility of that as long as the BJP-led government is in power in India.
Confronted with such a dismal situation on its border, what are Islamabad’s options?
The strategy must be to help generate support for the Kashmir cause within India. This should be linked to the broad principles of human rights, excesses by Indian security forces, and the plight of hundreds of thousands of people living under harsh conditions in the disputed region
Rustam Shah Mohmand
It is important to raise this question since Pakistan’s response, as usual, is long on symbolism and short on substance. The annexation day was observed with a lot of pomp and fanfare. There were processions, TV talk shows, speeches at rallies, a great deal of rhetoric, tall claims, and promises. Kashmir was shown to be part of Pakistan in a new political map that was widely publicized as if an important milestone had been crossed. Perhaps few other countries can beat Pakistanis in such display of aggressive pronouncements and raw emotions.
Among the more serious options exercised was to bring the factual position and ground realities of Kashmir to the notice of the international community in a bid to put pressure on India and make it review the action it took last year. While this may work to an extent, however, it is not likely to be enough to force a reappraisal on New Delhi. The reason for that is obvious. India is a big country and, aside from its savagery in Kashmir, has largely remained a functional democracy. No country, big or small, is likely to risk jeopardizing its relations with such a huge state for the sake of eight million people of Kashmir.
So what can work?
Resistance to the annexation by the people of Kashmir will be indispensable to any endeavor that aims to restore the status of Kashmir. That will only happen, however, when New Delhi begins to realize that the cost of maintaining the indefinite lockdown is no longer acceptable. Whether that can happen will depend upon the resilience and patience of the masses and their leaders.
Another more down to earth approach will be to create an environment, premised on the quantum of resistance in the valley, in which the opposition Congress party wins an electoral victory. Muslims in India have to be galvanized to support Congress. Any Congress victory, based on a comprehensive support of 200 million Muslims, will create an environment for a possible return to Kashmir’s pre-August 2019 status.
Regional countries may play a role in a reappraisal of policy by a Congress-led government. If it is realized that India’s credentials and secular foundations are under threat, Congress will be expected to move vigorously to recreate India of Gandhi and Nehru.
The role of the UN will largely be irrelevant. The US has a strategic partnership with India. Other Western countries have strong and enduring political, economic and cultural ties with New Delhi which they are not likely to sacrifice to address the situation in Kashmir.
The strategy must therefore be to help generate support for the Kashmir cause within India. This should be linked to the broad principles of human rights, excesses by Indian security forces, and the plight of hundreds of thousands of people living under harsh conditions in the disputed region. Publishing new political maps in which Kashmir is shown as Pakistan's part will not have any impact on the ground situation. If anything, it may actually damage the cause of Kashmiri people since the rest of the world may begin to view the situation solely as a territorial dispute. How will Pakistan then generate sympathy for its stance?
Only policies and options that are rooted in ground realities and have an awareness of regional dynamics are likely to succeed in such situations. Any approach driven by sentiments and emphasizing rhetoric and populism is not likely to work.
- Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.