One year after India repealed Article 370, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, China and Pakistan seem to be the only countries that seem to oppose India’s moves. Although there has been some criticism of India’s human rights record and allegations of excesses in suppressing dissent, there is little appetite around the world to elevate Pakistan’s claims of dispute over Kashmir’s status to a serious international issue.
The erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was divided into two Union territories and the region’s special status within the Indian Union ended. But Pakistan failed to make Kashmir ungovernable through militancy. It also did not win support from either within the South Asian region or the greater Muslim world.
The Narendra Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government justified its move of August 2019 on grounds of domestic integration with an eye towards international legitimacy. Any attempt by the international community to discuss the issue of Kashmir now had to deal with the de-jure integration and bifurcation of the former state of Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh.
On the domestic front, political integration along with socio-economic development were touted as the long-term benefits to around 13 million residents of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and another 275,000 residents of Ladakh. This included adopting policies that helped the BJP successively expand its reach in other states of India, namely bringing in marginal political constituencies and expanding social benefits.
In both the new union territories there have been a slew of social welfare schemes targeting the elderly, women and the youth. In Ladakh the focus has been empowering local level government whereas in Jammu and Kashmir it has taken the shape of expanding the political landscape by including hitherto marginal ethnic groups. Whether this changes the political landscape in Jammu and Kashmir or whether the older political parties retain their support base is yet to be seen.
On the economic front the aim has been to boost tourism and horticulture and also a renewed focus on infrastructure projects to provide employment and enhance connectivity with the rest of the country. Despite promises made over the years, Kashmir, like India’s northeast, has remained physically less integrated with the rest of India. One may not agree with the way article 370 was repealed or a state converted into union territories, but we need to acknowledge that Kashmir needs greater integration with the rest of the country.
However, the transformation of Kashmir that was promised will take years and will not happen unless and until it offers the people a better, non-militarized life. India’s ramped up security presence and restrictions on movement and communications have been heavily critiqued but there has been less focus on the issue of terrorism and the role of Pakistan.
Since independence in 1947, the Pakistani state has viewed India as an existential threat and nurtured a hardline Kashmir lobby. For the country’s politically dominant military that has fought four wars with India it cannot be seen as backing off on Kashmir. For Pakistan’s political elite, Kashmir is a domestic issue, after decades of adopting an ‘all or nothing’ approach on the issue.
In his 2019 speech before the United Nations General Assembly Prime Minister Imran Khan warned of a “ blood bath ” and potential nuclear war if India did not revert Kashmir to status quo ante. For the Pakistani state it has always been important that acts of militancy inside Kashmir appear sui generis, the fault should lie at the door of India’s policies, and should not be traced back to Pakistan. This has proven difficult in the last year, though not for lack of trying.
According to information released by the Jammu and Kashmir government, there has been a rise in infiltration since August 2019. There were 78 such incidents between August 5 and December 31, 2019, reflecting 60% of the infiltration for the entire year. In 2020, thus far there have been 33 cases of infiltration.
Yet, this rise in infiltration has not had requisite impact sought by Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment. There has actually been a substantial decline in the number of protests and stone pelting incidents that took place in Kashmir during the first half of 2020 compared to the same time period last year.
In February 2020, Khan stated that Pakistan was no longer a safe haven for terrorists and yet a few months later in end June 2020, he referred to global terrorist and Al Qaeda founder, Osama Bin Laden as a martyr. Prime Minister Khan’s contradictory speeches notwithstanding, the policies of the Pakistani state with respect to terrorism and support for militant groups have not changed.
Pakistan remains on the grey list of the United Nations Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as it has yet to comply with the regulations. However, instead of taking action and tackling this menace of terrorism, the government has instead quietly removed names of terror groups/terrorists from the list so that it appears that there are fewer terrorist groups remaining.
Pakistan has been unable to raise sufficient support internationally on the Kashmir issue, but it has benefited from the support of close ally, China. Pakistan’s use of jihad as a lever of foreign policy vis-à-vis India has long been acknowledged. What is less known is China’s support for Pakistan’s use of militancy to keep India tied down.
Historically speaking, Delhi always viewed Kashmir as a bilateral dispute, between India and Pakistan. China has for long viewed itself as a partisan to this dispute. Since 1962 China has occupied 38,000 kms of territory (Aksai Chin) of the erstwhile state of Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh. Control over Ladakh is critical to China’s control over Tibet.
In August 2019 China was one of the first countries to object to India’s “actions that unilaterally change the status quo.” Since April 2020, there has been a border standoff between India and China along their 2,167 miles long border after Chinese troops occupied Indian territory at multiple locations, primarily in Ladakh.
India has been used to facing Pakistan’s tactics in Kashmir, now it has to extra mindful of China’s moves as well. India is therefore in many ways facing a two-front challenge: overt war on the China border and covert war on the Pakistan front.
One year after the repeal of Article 370, India’s moves will once again be in the spotlight. Democracy is India’s strength and holding India to its standards is correct. However, it should not be ignored that Kashmiris inside India have more freedom than their counterparts in Pakistani administered Kashmir.
And, that if Pakistan really wanted to help Kashmiris, ending support to militancy would be the best way that could be ensured. Further, Sino-Pakistan moves may gain them support inside Pakistan, but it will not change India’s policy or gain these countries support either in South Asia or the international community.
India must also address the issue of over-militarization and restrictions on civil liberties to maintain the advantage it might currently have in how the international community views the Kashmir situation.