The repeal of Article 370 – that provides special status to Jammu and Kashmir – by the Narendra Modi government is meant to resolve the long-standing issues of national integration and international legitimacy with respect to Kashmir.
The ruling BJP has successfully catered to the demand of its base and, for now, a large segment of the Indian intelligentsia and public seems to support its decision. But, like all defining decisions, this solution to a 70-year problem must also stand the test of time before being described as a permanent triumph.
The erstwhile state of Kashmir –the one Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India in October 1947 – no longer exists. Part of it is with Pakistan, which has already ceded a portion to China, and the part that was with India has now been bifurcated into two union territories.
By changing the reality on the ground, even with a potential legal hurdle before the Supreme Court of India, the government appears to be presenting a fait accompli. Any attempt by the international community, the US, the UN, or even Pakistan, to discuss the issue of Kashmir will now have to deal with this changed reality.
A new Kashmir
New Delhi will most likely benefit 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.
From India’s perspective, Kashmir has now been completely integrated, and India can forego the parts occupied by Pakistan, provided Pakistan stops questioning the 1947 accession of Kashmir or stirring trouble among Kashmir’s Muslim population.
This might mark the end of the India-Pakistan aspect of the Kashmir issue. India has been moving in that direction gradually since 1952. But two other dimensions of India’s Kashmir problem remain unresolved: terrorism remains a challenge and the grievances of Kashmiri citizens will not go away until the two new union territories offer people a better, non-militarised life.
A preemptive move
New Delhi has always been sensitive to any global, especially American, statements on the Kashmir issue. India has also consistently pushed back against any external pressure or any notion of international mediation or third-party involvement in any India-Pakistan bilateral issue, including and especially over Kashmir.
In this context, President Donald Trump’s remarks on 22 July while he hosted Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan that he would be willing to mediate between India and Pakistan, apparently sent different messages to each country.
Islamabad (and Rawalpindi, where Pakistan military headquarters are located) may have interpreted the US President’s remarks as suggesting that the United States would mediate talks between India and Pakistan. New Delhi read it as a signal that the American desire to withdraw from Afghanistan may lead Washington to be amenable to pushing India to talk to Pakistan and reopen a chapter India thinks has been closed.
The de-jure integration and bifurcation of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir is India’s way of pushing back on any attempt to change the territorial status quo. It also provided an opportunity to the Modi government to fulfil an item on the Sangh Parivar’s wishlist dating back to the 1950s.
India has always maintained that Kashmir is Indian territory and the instrument of accession signed by the Maharaja of Kashmir, and successive elections within the province, demonstrate that the people of Kashmir wish to remain with India. Pakistan’s argument that as a Muslim majority area, Kashmir should have gone to Pakistan at Partition has lost whatever traction it once had.
Pakistan has nurtured a hardline ‘Kashmir bazor Shamsheer’ (Kashmir by the sword) lobby that portrays India as an existential threat to Pakistan – a view also supported by the country’s politically dominant military. Each of the four India-Pakistan wars (1948, 1965, 1971, and 1999) was initiated by Pakistan, which tends to maintain an ‘all or nothing’ approach on the Kashmir issue that has often surfaced after periods of bilateral dialogue.
As a status quo power, India had, until now, preferred to be reactive in its policies. The uncertainty with respect to American policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the hint of Pakistan’s role in fomenting terrorism in Kashmir, may have led Modi to believe that he had to change Kashmir’s legal status to pre-empt any potential demands by Trump about talks with Pakistan.
The Israel way?
In this respect, the repeal of Article 370 is like Israel’s steps to legally annex Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Just as Israeli annexation has not, of itself, brought terrorism in the Arab occupied territories to an end, this decision, too, will not be 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 couple of years from now, young Kashmiris still feel alienated, repeal of Article 370 will mean little in enhancing India’s integration or security.