For thousands of Kashmiris it was a rude shock last week to abruptly discover that the Indian Government had overnight changed the status of the Jammu & Kashmir State. The Home Minister passed a resolution in the Upper House of the Parliament, in effect voiding Article 370 and associated clauses and amendments.
Without getting into too much details and nuances of law, suffice to say that the Indian Government nullified the special status granted to Jammu & Kashmir State and integrated that state effectively into India as a Union Territory, directly to be administered by the Central Government. The resolution cancelled all the special privileges accorded to Kashmir, such as separate laws, separate flag, approval of Kashmir legislature required for central government laws, discrimination against Indian citizens settling down in Kashmir, et al.
Of course, this abrogation of Article 370 goes against the premise under which the Jammu & Kashmir kingdom joined the Indian Union way back after India’s independence from the British. This is another instance when the British walked away from the mess that they had created in the first place, among many other things in the Indian subcontinent.
Pakistan lodged a vehement protest against the changes that India had promulgated. Kashmir is considered as an occupied and disputed territory by Pakistan, and India’s position, obviously, is opposite. India claims the whole of Kashmir, including the Pakistan-occupied region as well as the China-occupied region.
Like the Israel-Palestine dispute, this one is never going to be resolved during our lifetime.
Let us now see where India stands on this entire matter. India is very clear that Kashmir belongs to India as a whole. It is just another state of India, and therefore, there should be nothing special – it should have as much rights and obligations as any other state. Moreover, the Indian government wants to bring in more private investments into Kashmir, integrate it better with the rest of India, settle more non-Kashmiris in the state as that would bring more integration and investments, etc., The BJP Government had outlined its principles on Kashmir integration very clearly in its election manifesto earlier this year, before the conduct of the Indian Parliamentary elections, so it says that it is just implementing its manifesto commitments.
Pakistan does not see it that way. I was watching Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.N., being interviewed by Christiane Amanpour on CNN yesterday. I have to acknowledge one thing – Ms Lodhi was suave and articulate, perfectly balanced in her delivery to the questions: I would say that she did a great job as an individual interviewee with a tough journalist. However, her scathing remarks on India startled even Ms Amanpour. At the end of the day, it does not matter – whatever Ms Lodhi does at the U.N. or U.N.S.C., is not going to change the ground situation in Kashmir or the will of the Indian government.
From my own personal perspective, I am bothered more about the bottled up feelings and reactions of millions of Kashmiris who are likely to burst out and protest after the curfew is lifted. The government or the military cannot control an entire population by the lockdown imposed – eventually, it has to be lifted. People have to get back to their daily routines, offices have to function, schools have to start, markets have to work, internet has to be restored, phone connections have to be re-established, et al………the Indian Central Government cannot pursue the approach of non-stop military intimidation against ordinary Kashmiris who are not terrorists. Sympathies cannot be used as excuses for such aggressive lockdown – ordinary Kashmiris will have their own sympathies lying with protesters, and antipathy against government machinery. Can that be changed for the better? for the benefit of India as a whole?
Things could easily get out of control when protests begin again. Police and para-military forces may not have much choice, and they are prone to commit grievous mistakes under pressure of assault by protesters. Pakistan will try to exacerbate the volatile situation by sending in official terrorists. The Indian government will take very aggressive police actions which would lead to human rights abuses and cries for international intervention. Thousands of people are likely to be killed or maimed.
So, the Indian Government has to think very, very carefully about escalating the situation. It needs to use social media and TV/Radio/Newspapers to communicate its approach lucidly and elaborate on its first 90-day plan to improve the lot of the common people of Kashmir. It also needs to explain its plans for the huge investments being planned, the jobs that can bring to Kashmiris, the improvements envisaged in the education system, the increased potential of tourism in a peaceful state, and so on and so forth. I do not see any evidence that such things are being planned.
The other thing that should happen is a global campaign by India to explain its actions on Kashmir and bring to light the atrocities committed by Pakistan-based terrorists over the past 3 decades in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. Why not a roadshow in the top 10 nations of the world and at the U.N. itself (though it is a useless organization in my opinion)?
It is critical for India to (a) strengthen its defences along the actual Line of Control separating the two Kashmirs; (b) launch a campaign to explain its principled position to the global audience; (c) strictly avoid human casualties going forward; and (d) directly communicate to the Kashmiris via social media on the benefits of integration with India.
Police or military atrocities in Kashmir will not be a good idea at all, irrespective of the provocations, as that will lead to continued alienation of all Kashmiris from mainstream India.
Hope Mr Modi and Mr Shah will think through the consequences extremely carefully.
Cheers, and have a great long weekend,
10th August 2019