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Above: Some believe the move is likely to stop the buzz of third party mediation, as fuelled recently by US President Donald Trump/Photo: UNI

Prime Minister Modi’s muscular politics in abrogating Article 370 has ensured that Kashmir remains an internal matter despite Pakistan and China trying to rake it up in many forums   

By Seema Guha

The scrapping of Kashmir’s special status has once again demonstrated Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s muscular politics. Not only has the state been stripped of the limited autonomy it enjoyed, it has been bifurcated into the two Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir, both under the direct control of Delhi. The government believes that this unilateral action will once and for all take Pakistan out of the Kashmir equation. Islamabad will have no right to work towards a negotiated settlement of the “core dispute’’ between India and Pakistan.

Many believe it is a smart move. This would stop the buzz of third party mediation, more so when an unpredictable US president such as Donald Trump has spoken of his desire to play peacemaker.

Modi’s supporters believe he has delivered a masterstroke. It has been welcomed by a majority of Indians. The decision, forced on a reluctant people without prior consultation, may be the final nail in the coffin for the Kashmir Valley. India has permanently lost the battle for the hearts and minds of those in the Valley unless better sense prevails and a dialogue begins. Yes, the Buddhists of Ladakh are delighted, but Ladakh is not just for Buddhists. There are a large number of Shia Muslims living there. These sections want to be with the rest of J&K and there is simmering anger among them.

Islamabad is naturally crying itself hoarse, calling Delhi’s action illegal. It has raised the alarm and is determined to fight what it regards as a blatant violation of the UN resolution as well as a grave injustice against the people of the Valley. As a first step, Pakistan has downgraded ties with India and sent India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan, Ajay Bisaria, home. It has put a stop on the limited trade between the two countries and threatened to take Kashmir to the UN Security Council (UNSC). Its first attempt to do so has failed, with Poland, the country currently heading the Council, asking Islamabad to solve the issue bilaterally. Pakistan will continue to raise the issue at the UNSC.

India believes all this is to raise an alarm at a time when the US is hoping to work out a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The idea is to tell Washington that Pakistan is in no position to help in the peace talks as its attention has been diverted to the Indian border. Pakistan PM Imran Khan has hinted at war, knowing that this is a constant worry for the world. Yet, Pakistan’s Afghan card has not made much of an impact on the Americans. The Taliban, which is itching for a deal, has also said that Kashmir should not come into the equation.

Can Pakistan drum up enough support and make India sweat? Is the world in a mood to listen? During a press conference aired on PTV on August 11, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said: “Giving vent to emotions is easy and raising objections is much easier. However it is difficult to understand the issue and move forward. They (United Nations Security Council) are not waiting for you with garlands in their hands. Any members out of the P-5 nations can be a hurdle…Do not live in a fool’s paradise.”

It is a fact that Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley should have gone to Pakistan at the time of Partition considering that India was divided on the basis of religion. The Hindu raja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, wanted to remain independent. But found out soon afterwards that he was not in a position to fight the tribal raiders sent by Pakistan to invade his state and had to ask for India’s help.

Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 came about because of this. The issue of Pakistan’s aggression was taken to the UN by India. In 1948, the UN passed a resolution on Kashmir. There were three parts to it. First, Pakistan was to take out all its fighters from the state. India had to progressively reduce the presence of the army. A plebiscite, conducted by a UN-appointed nominee, had to be held in the Valley to determine the people’s wishes.

None of this happened. India has ensured it remains a bilateral issue. Over 70 years have gone by, and today, no one is in the mood to rake up the past. The liberal world is fast crumbling and liberation struggles no longer elicit the same response they once did. The world has watched Israel steadily take over Palestinian lands and extend its boundaries without a murmur. Obsessed as the international community is with terrorism, all this does not resonate.

Pakistan’s credibility is at an all-time low and both Delhi and Kabul have repeatedly charged Islamabad with fomenting terror in both Kashmir and Afghanistan. Considering all this, the chances of the UNSC getting after India appear distant. Yet, one can never tell how this will finally pan out. China is the wild card here. But even China does not want a war in the region.

Kashmir borders both Pakistan and China. Pakistan’s foreign minister, who flew to Beijing to appraise the Chinese, has been reassured that China will back its move. India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, on his three-day visit to China, briefed the Chinese on Kashmir. Beijing expressed its concern.

While it is not known what was said behind closed doors, Jaishankar made Delhi’s position clear while addressing a meeting of the India-China media forum in Beijing. “The future of the India-China relationship will obviously depend on mutual sensitivity to each other’s core concerns. It is natural, both as neighbours and as large developing economies, that there would be issues in our ties. Properly managing differences is therefore vital. As our leaders agreed in Astana, differences should not become disputes. That is how India-China relations can remain a factor of stability in an uncertain world,” he said.

The points made were substantial—both nations must be sensitive to each other’s core concerns and there would be issues but these have to be handled with maturity if Asia’s two largest nations want stability in the region. So the message is—don’t rock the boat by making Article 370 an issue as Pakistan would like it to be and don’t let the positive outcome of the Wuhan summit go waste.

China has called for restraint on both sides, but it is not yet clear what its ultimate stand will be. China has already raised its concern about Ladakh.

“China always opposes India’s inclusion of Chinese territory in the western section of the China–India boundary under its administrative jurisdiction,” it said in a statement soon after India changed the status of Kashmir. “The recent unilateral revision of domestic laws by the Indian side continues to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty, which is unacceptable.’’

The ministry of external affairs reminded China that the reorganisation of J&K is India’s internal matter. For good measure, it added that India did not comment on Beijing’s domestic issues. China has cracked down on local Muslims in Xinjiang and on followers of the Dalai Lama in Tibet, and is facing the wrath of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on India and Pakistan to exercise “maximum restraint” and refrain from taking steps that could affect the status of J&K as he highlighted the 1972 Simla Agreement to sort out differences between the two countries. The UN is well aware of what is happening in Kashmir.

In a 43-page report released in July this year by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, there were serious concerns about abuses by state security forces and armed groups in both Indian and Pakistan-held parts of Kashmir. The Indian government dismissed the allegations as motivated.

The UN is in no position to take action without support from the UNSC. Among the five permanent members, Russia has openly sided with India. France has been quiet while the Labour Party in Britain is raising the issue but not the government. The US has asked for restraint on both sides. China is the only country that may raise Kashmir at the UNSC and bat for Pakistan. But beyond that not much can happen.

The Muslim world has so far not reacted as it would have done decades ago. Pakistan had called for an urgent meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation where the important countries are Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But as Talmiz Ahmad, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and an expert on the region, said: “The Saudis and UAE are busy with developments in their region, Yemen and Iran. They have little appetite for Kashmir. At best, the OIC would release a statement.’’

India’s relations with the Gulf nations have also improved by leaps and bounds. Saudi Aramco recently announced buying a 20 percent stake in Reliance Industries Ltd. Economic interests are vital and no country is now in the mood to sacrifice its interests for a cause that does not directly affect it.

While China needs to be watched, the rest of the world will possibly not make much of a fuss. The internal dynamics and total alienation of the Kashmir Valley is more of a problem. Delhi would have to make some overtures to the people unless it wants Kashmir to become a hotbed for jihadi elements. Pakistan will certainly do all it can to stoke the flames.

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