No brakes on Modi

Updated August 10, 2019


THE recent Indian move to remove the ‘special status’ accorded to the part of Kashmir under its control has drawn flak from Pakistan, as well as many Indian pundits, politicians and human rights groups.

But the reaction from the rest of the world has been predictably muted. China has condemned the absorption of Ladakh — split away from Jammu and Kashmir under the new dispensation — into the Indian union. But it has also called on “the two sides [India and Pakistan] to peacefully resolve relevant disputes through dialogue and consultation and safeguard regional peace and stability”.

This advice is not very helpful when India has consistently refused to discuss Kashmir with Pakistan for years. The US State Department has also contributed a mealy-mouthed statement. And despite India’s unilateral move, The Times of London placed both countries on the same level in a recent editorial:

“Ultimately it is for the two neighbours to take their fingers off the trigger. Mr Khan should keep his vow to crack down on terror groups. Mr Modi needs to consider whether he wants to go down in history as a modernising peacemaker or as a leader willing to risk regional security for the dubious ambitions of his nationalist sympathisers.”

India’s current belligerence does not inspire confidence.

No prizes for guessing which of the two options the Indian prime minister picked long ago. The Lok Sabah, India’s lower house, has voted for the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill with an overwhelming majority of 370 to 70. Now only the Indian Supreme Court has the power to reverse the BJP government’s sudden change of policy.

What happens if it decides that the government acted legally, and has the power to set aside Kashmir’s special status? We can expect many Indians flocking to the Valley to buy property. Not before long, the Muslim majority there will be eroded. In the occupied West Bank, for example, around half a million Israeli settlers have moved into subsidised housing under the protection of the Israel Defence Force.

Conquest and occupation change demographics, something we have seen around the world. A military spokesman said recently that “Pakistan would explore all options” to counter India’s move. What does this mean? We have already been to war with India over the disputed territory three times, to no avail. For decades, our diplomats have been pushing for a plebiscite as called for by the UN, again with no success. We have tried and failed in our attempts at preventing jihadist groups to launch cross-border operations in the Valley.

So what remains? The Muslim ummah remains unmoved at the plight of the Kashmiris, as does most of the world. The size of the rapidly growing Indian economy trumps morality and human rights. And by allowing the rise of militant extremism, we have effectively cast ourselves as the regional villains.

Every time there is a crisis in Kashmir, the government of the day is urged to use diplomacy to ‘internationalise the dispute’. Been there, done that. Our politicians have no idea of the degree of Kashmir fatigue that has set in around the world. The only reason there is any concern over the issue is the fact that both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. But apart from a handful of academics, journalists and foreign service professionals, nobody knows much about the convoluted and painful history of the Valley.

Given the absence of credible and effective options, what are we left with? Infil­tration by jihadist groups is now very hard as India has electrified much of the fence along the Line of Control. Diplomacy has failed as Pakistan has no support for its stance, even among its closest friends.

That leaves war, something I, for one, strenuously oppose. An armed adventure by either side would be disastrous for us as previous Pakistan-India conflicts have proved. Given the military imbalance between the two sides, escalation to the nuclear level is not inconceivable.

Strategists have long suggested that both sides could use conventional forces under a ‘nuclear overhang’ up to a certain point. Thus, regular artillery duels over the LoC in Kashmir have little chance of going nuclear as they are local exchanges that do not threaten the status quo. However, a cross-border armoured thrust aimed at capturing territory could well cause either side to use small battlefield nuclear warheads to break up an invading military formation.

In this worst-case scenario, things spin out of control very quickly. Hopefully, good sense will prevail on both sides and they will stay well away from the brink. Unfortunately, India’s current belligerence does not inspire confidence.

Earlier, it was Pakistan that was seen as the aggressor. Now, as demonstrated by the air raid over Balakot, Modi seems determined to show Pakistan who’s boss. This dangerous display of machismo has perilous consequences for the region.

And given his overwhelming parlia­mentary majority and his rabid Hindutva base, there are no brakes to restrain his ambitions.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2019