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Post-370 options?

Updated August 11, 2019

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THE Modi government’s move to scuttle Article 370 and 35A was anticipated. Yet when it happened, it came as a shock.

Reaction by Pakistan has been sharp while response internationally is so far predictably muted. This reaction and response will evolve with time especially as the Kashmiri voices currently stifled are heard and the youth uprising griping the Kashmir Valley revives with the weakening of the unsustainable Draconian military clampdown in India-held Kashmir.

Read: Pakistan suspends trade ties with India, asks Indian envoy to leave

So what are the implications of the move and what are the challenges and options for Pakistan?

The immediate and far-reaching consequence of the Indian move is the rapture of diplomatic and political interaction between Pakistan and India.

With formal Indian annexation of held Kashmir, from Pakistan’s point of view, the heart of any dialogue process for normalisation has been removed. The faint hope for a reasonable settlement based on optimum self-governance for Kashmiris and protection of vital interests of the two countries is extinguished. And so is gone the possibility of any workable joint arrangement for Siachen and Sir Creek to underpin a new cooperative paradigm for bilateral relations. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer “you move one step, we will move two” is rendered meaningless. Ahead lies a path fraught with tension, risks and dangers.

The Bharatiya Janata Party move is likely to be challenged in the Indian Supreme Court, but chances of a reversal or a remedy are next to nothing. What can force the Indian government to eventually take a step back will be the determination of the Kashmiri people to thwart Indian designs, especially demographic change. They will need to be steadfast in the face of every possible BJP tactic, massive use of brute force, massacres, political manipulation and economic incentives. Today Kashmiri leaders in the Valley, including the veteran pro-India personalities, display a rare unity in rejecting the Indian move. They need to convert this unity into a strong coalition for non-cooperation and resistance. Kashmiri diaspora in the UK and the US has a critical role to play, and herein lies one of the challenges for Pakistani politics and diplomacy.

Pakistan has vowed to go to any extent in support of the Kashmiris. War is no option, but if imposed it may become unavoidable. Barring that apocalyptic scenario, arguably, Pakistani options appear to be limited but they must be put into play in a sustained manner. We must continue to agitate about the situation as it develops at all international forums including the UN Security Council regardless of whether or not the UNSC is able to give it consideration. Such support, even if lacking in the desired results, will be necessary for the Kashmiri morale. We must take the Kashmir case to every human rights forum. Our initiatives should be well considered but undeterred by possible setbacks; we are in for a long haul. If the situation worsens, the international community will have to take notice.

Pakistan will come under pressure to extend material help beyond diplomatic support if the Kashmiris face genocide. The Kashmiri struggle for self-determination has echoes of the past anti-colonial struggles which for success often depended on outside help. However, we have the experience of the 1990s when infiltration of Jihadi elements was used by India to effectively malign and distort the indigenous Kashmiri uprising. Since then, India keeps justifying its repressive measures in Kashmir as counter-terrorism. This poses inevitable dilemma, but Pakistan must not allow India this pretext to misrepresent the Kashmiri struggle internationally. This is irrespective of our own counter-terrorism commitments including those in the context of Financial Action Task Force.

No amount of Delhi’s contrived explanations for the abrogation of the special status of the occupied Valley can conceal the fact that it is a step towards the implementation of BJP’s aggressive and sinister Hindutva ideology with neo-fascist undertones. BJP stalwarts make no bones about their intentions. This poses an almost existential challenge to not just the Kashmiri Muslims but also to the Muslims and other religious minorities in India. Pakistan also faces a grave threat. Kashmiris have a protracted struggle before them for preserving their identity and achieving self-determination. Indian Muslims have to address the challenge within the context of their own political circumstances and in step with segments of the Indian population whose future depends on the espousal of values of secularism and a pluralistic society.

Besides the responsibilities that the Kashmiri struggle will place on it, Pakistan faces two distinct dangers: direct intervention in Azad Jammu and Kashmir or Gilgit and Baltistan or subversion in these territories and inside Pakistan. Direct intervention would mean war with incalculable consequences. Subversion is a real possibility that may warrant preemptive political and administrative measures besides vigilance. We are not handicapped to take any advisable measures in consultation with the people, government and administration in these territories, if necessary with the proviso similar to that adopted in the case of Pakistan-China boundary agreement that any agreed arrangement would be subject to a review in the remote eventuality of a Kashmir settlement.

Hindutva raises larger questions for South Asia and the Indian Ocean region. India is seen as a major power, but, under Modi, it is actively seeking the status of a regional hegemon. However, no nuclear power has accepted another power’s hegemony, and Pakistan is not and cannot be an exception to this reality. On the other hand, the aspiring hegemon will be encouraged by the dismal predicament evident in our frail economy, political dysfunction, narrow technological and knowledge base. This state of affairs will also be dispiriting for the Kashmiris and for South Asian Muslims with whom we have shared history of the freedom struggle. Our strength will help equanimity in South Asia. Therein lies the greatest challenge we face as a society, as a nation and as a country.

The writer is an author and former foreign secretary

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2019