‘Islamabad has made appeals to all key capitals around the world seeking intervention. But few countries will respond positively to that appeal, given that much of the world continues to view Kashmir as an internal or bilateral matter.’
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s explosive decision to scrap Article 370 on Monday made more noise in the national and global media, in the subcontinent and around the world, including among Kashmir watchers in the United States, than when the country conducted its nuclear tests at Pokhran in 1998.
The removal of Article 370, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and the overwhelming public support across the country to the announcement made by PM Modi’s “commander-in-chief”, Home Minister Amit Shah, broadly exposed the chinks in previous governments’ handling of the Kashmir issue and the complete absence of a clear policy on the region and its people.
For long Kashmir remained a tool of politics in which the locals were used as the fuel to stoke the fire of “azadi”, but the region and its people were not the beneficiaries in all this.
Interestingly, PM Modi’s decision has not only won millions of hearts in India, but has also scripted a new narrative, globally, that Kashmir is India’s internal matter and it is within India’s sovereign right to make amendments to its Constitution.
“It’s a game-changer in Indian politics… It’s not like a third party can get India to walk back its decision. The deed is done,” says the usually strong India critic, Michael Kugelman, at the Asia Program in Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC.
Apart from Kugelman, the top Kashmir watchers on the Capitol Hill in the United States think similarly, and so does a top US newspaper like the New York Times, which is usually seen as a big critic of PM Modi’s policies and India’s strong stand on Kashmir.
In the last five days, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has lost the “Great Game on Kashmir”. As the NYT wrote in a column on Friday, “Pakistan runs out of options on Kashmir”.
Even the naysayers, including the US media and the “influential Kashmir lobby” both in India and overseas, have got it all wrong about the ramifications.
Five days later, with no killing, no bullets fired and no bloodshed, Modi critics seem to be running for cover. And those making fun of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval eating biryani on Kashmir’s streets must read his action—he’s out to ensure PM Modi’s agenda for peace and security in Kashmir and is not doing arm-chair politics on the valley as the Opposition benches.
Back in Washington DC, Kugelman only cautions against the excess presence of security forces in the valley and says that winning the trust of the locals is “most urgent” for the Central government. “India must ensure to stop any unrest after the restrictions are lifted in Kashmir,” he says.
Noted South Asia expert, Aparna Pande of the Hudson Institute, tells The Sunday Guardian, “The decision of the Modi government to repeal Article 370 is meant to resolve the long-standing issues of national integration and international legitimacy with respect to Kashmir.”
According to Pande, “While the decision may, in Delhi’s mind, resolve the issue of legitimacy, in itself it is not sufficient to end either Pakistan-backed terrorism or the restiveness of Kashmir’s population. For that, a lot more needs to be done on ground. If in a few years from now, young Kashmiris still feel alienated, repeal of Article 370 will mean little for India’s security or national integration.”
As a democracy, India will need to ease restrictions in the valley and return to normalcy soon, otherwise there will be continued global scrutiny, she says.
For those who are foreseeing unwarranted action in the government move must see the Northeast as an example to clear their doubts. Perhaps PM Modi’s address on Thursday night was only towards this direction.
Top diplomatic sources in New Delhi and in Washington DC are of the view that India is within its “Constitutional right” to amend its Constitution for the “development of a particular region”. That the United States, Russia, China and to some extent the Muslim countries, including Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia have silently ignored Pakistan’s rant seeking support on Kashmir, spells out India’s increasing influence as a growing economy, with which all will have to do “meaningful diplomatic business and trade”.
And why will any country ram into India on Kashmir? It has not tinkered with any officially designated boundaries like the Line of Control or intruded into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or annexed the territory under Chinese control. And to allay the “unwarranted fears” on the complete lockdown of Kashmir with no outside connect, including through mobiles and the internet, all this has been done to save the Kashmiris and secure their lives, which could be threatened by the rumour-mongers on social media using the internet.
The government is of the view that once normalcy returns to the valley, restrictions will be lifted and the development agenda will get a full impetus.
But in these five days, Pakistan has started losing the plot, which it has been cashing in on for decades by instilling fear in the name of religion and terror attacks. Worse, it is losing its war on Kashmir even among its allies and the traditionally supportive Muslim nations. The biggest setback it got was from the United Arab Emirates, which stated that Kashmir was India’s internal matter, thus refusing to raise the issue internationally.
Kugelman told The Sunday Guardian: “You can be sure that Islamabad has made appeals to all key capitals around the world seeking intervention. The problem is that few countries will respond positively to that appeal, given that much of the world continues to view Kashmir as an internal or bilateral matter.”
Another top Kashmir and Pakistan expert at the South and Central Asia Center in Hudson Institute, Husain Haqqani too feels that “Pakistan needs to change its ‘inflexible position’ on Kashmir”.
Haqqani, the former Pakistan ambassador to the US, was quoted in the media and on his Hudson website saying, “India’s latest moves might require a change in Pakistan’s inflexible position that Kashmir is the unfinished business of Partition. That view, notwithstanding its legal merits and the strong sense of injustice among Pakistanis that stems from it, has fewer takers internationally than ever.”
It is also to be noted that those in Pakistan, who had high hopes from PM Imran Khan’s recent meeting with US President Donald Trump are suddenly speechless with Islamabad’s latest isolation in the global community. Pakistan faces a double whammy—it cannot pressurise the US by waging a proxy war on Kashmir when it is already facing sanctions from the global superpower and cannot risk further cuts in foreign aid, and it cannot also wage a conventional war over Kashmir amidst its worst financial crisis in years.
Not to miss, Washington’s public silence after India’s move to revoke Article 370 is telling. It doesn’t mean that the US is taking India’s side, but it clearly shows that it’s not jumping to Pakistan’s defence either—even at a time when it badly needs to cultivate goodwill with Islamabad so that Pakistan helps the US pursue peace in Afghanistan.
For the US, Kashmir remains a bilateral issue to be worked out by India and Pakistan. Additionally, Washington’s strong interest in deepening its security partnership with New Delhi will ensure that is offers little, if any, public reaction.
Kugelman is bold enough to say, “New Delhi’s move was bold, unilateral, and controversial… But the reality is that India, particularly relative to Pakistan, enjoys a strong standing and high favourability on the world stage. So it will get a pass—and particularly given that much of the world views Kashmir as an internal matter that doesn’t warrant any type of public position.”
Adds Pande: “New Delhi is benefitting from the international community’s willingness to no longer see Kashmir as an international dispute. There might be little or no support for Pakistan when it tries to raise the matter at the United Nations Security Council.”