NARENDRA Modi’s risky and reckless move to divide and annex India-held Kashmir carries catastrophic consequences not only for the region but also for India itself. By revoking the special status for the disputed territory, India has removed the thin veil hanging over its occupation. In the process, it has united Kashmiris as never before in challenging the usurpation.
Indian belligerence will also have serious ramifications for the region with the danger of the conflict turning into a wider conflagration. By removing the so-called instrument of accession, India has further complicated the Kashmir dispute. It is now back to the pre-1948 situation. The timing and the circumstances make India’s action more intriguing.
Modi had long promised to strike down Article 370 of the Indian constitution that provided Kashmir a semi-autonomous status. But the urgency and the way it was done demonstrate hubris and overreach on the part of the Indian prime minister after he returned to power with a greater mandate. The Indian opposition parties have called it the darkest chapter in Indian democracy and have also challenged the legality of the action through a presidential order.
Days before the move, India had deployed thousands of additional troops in the occupied region to crush mass protests. Kashmir has been in a state of lockdown under curfew-like conditions. Even those Kashmiri leaders who had sided with India in the past have been detained. The remarks by Mehbooba Mufti show the across-the-board outrage in occupied Kashmir over Modi’s sinister design.
It is an extremely ominous situation. The Indian escalation will have global implications.
“They just want to occupy our land and want to make this Muslim-majority state like any other state and reduce us to a minority and disempower us totally,” the former chief minister said. The sentiments of Omar Abdullah, another former chief minister, have not been very different. Delhi is now left with no ally in Kashmir after Modi’s hubristic action.
It will now be more difficult for India to maintain its hold over the occupied territory through brute force. The Kashmiri people are already up in arms and have been fighting the occupation forces for the past several decades; the deployment of more troops will not be able to defeat the resistance. The disputed territory is already one of the most heavily militarised areas in the world.
There is no way the attempt to turn Kashmir into another Palestine will succeed. The latest Indian action has given further impetus to the freedom struggle that is now being led by a young generation of Kashmiris who have grown up in an atmosphere of violence. Brutality perpetrated by the Indian military and the latter’s gross human rights violations have failed to crush the Kashmiris’ struggle. The situation in the disputed territory is worse than at any time in the past and it’s likely to get more explosive after India’s latest action.
Surely, the latest development has a direct bearing on relations between New Delhi and Islamabad. The change in Kashmir’s status has already sucked Islamabad into the crisis. There has been an escalation in shelling across the Line of Control with India reportedly using cluster bombs with increasing civilian casualties.
There is every possibility that the Modi government will step up cross-LoC attacks to divert international attention from the worsening Kashmir situation. Just as the military stand-off triggered by the Indian incursion in February had begun to subside, the war clouds are back. It is an extremely ominous situation. The Indian escalation will have global implications.
Although there have been serious international concerns over the rising tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations, the reaction over India’s incendiary action in Kashmir has been somewhat muted. It seems that the BJP government made that calculation before moving on the issue.
The condoning by Western powers including the United States of the Indian air strike on Balakot on so-called counterterrorism grounds seems to have encouraged the Hindu nationalist government to implement its agenda of destroying the Kashmiri identity. Some reports quoting Indian officials maintain that the Modi government had sounded out Washington on its intentions months ago.
In February this year, Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had reportedly phoned his American counterpart John Bolton and told him about the Modi government’s plans to do away with the ‘special status’ for India-held Kashmir. Then just weeks ago, the Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar is said to have briefed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the issue.
Although American officials deny that any such information was shared with the Trump administration, the Indian claim raises some serious questions. It becomes more intriguing when we recall that President Trump offered to mediate on the Kashmir dispute during his talks with Imran Khan last month.
Was the American president aware of the Indian plan then? It seems that we took his offer of mediation too seriously while there were already signs of a build-up of Indian forces in the occupied territory. It should be a cause of serious concern for Pakistan that there is complete silence over the Indian action. That makes India more belligerent.
But the use of brute force will not silence the Kashmiri freedom struggle. Modi has been described as the most divisive and most powerful Indian leader in decades, and his jingoism presents a bigger threat to India’s secularism. India is much more politically polarised with Modi trying to turn the country into a Hindu rashtriya. Secularism, which kept the multi-ethnic and multifaith country united, has been weakened by the Indian move to abolish Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status.
Pakistan needs to remain prudent in the wake of Indian provocation. Indeed, we must extend political and moral support to Kashmir’s struggle for the right of self-determination and expose India’s sinister designs at every international forum. But we must not return to the disastrous policy of the 1990s that did more harm than good to Kashmir’s indigenous uprising.
The people of Kashmir have shown that even the massive use of force by India has failed to destroy their resolve. Modi’s latest action has only reinforced their determination. The India action has proved that Kashmir is the most dangerous spot in the world and a potential nuclear flashpoint. It is also time for the international community to realise the seriousness of the situation.
The writer is an author and journalist.
Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2019