The mandatory mourning over the repealing of Articles 370 and 35 A can last a few day, a week or may be a month depending on the degree of sympathy that one has with the Kashmir cause and the Kashmiris. It seems that ultimately become another scar on the much bruised national psyche. It will continue to remind the nation of its travails in times of despair and dismay but nothing more will come out of it. The show of domestic moral support may end by the 5th of September i.e. a month from the day that the announcement was made to absorb the disputed territory formally into the Indian Union. It may get a momentary boost on the 6th of September that being the defence day of Pakistan. Patriotic fervour thus generated may keep the feeling alive for a few more days. The state TV and radio will continue showing video and audio feeds of the sufferings of the Kashmiris forever but interest will certainly subside. The TV anchors will speak less of it over time and the government even lesser. People will become inured and will go about their businesses with numbed senses. The delayed diplomatic offensive will likely peter down, if efforts to host a special session of the OIC does not materialise and moving a motion at the UN Generally Assembly or the Security Council may also not take place because of lack of support. There will be no meaningful third party mediation or arbitration by an honest broker. The world will advise the two nations not to disturb the regional peace and find an amicable solution bilaterally, notwithstanding the fact that India is unwilling to engage in any kind of direct talks. The sad happening of Kashmir being forcibly made part of India will be relegated to the back pages of the newspapers and the headlines will be replaced by another crisis or tragedy. The national and international attention span in this digital age is very short indeed. As the breast beating subsides over what is considered another insult and perfidy by arch enemy India, it is time to ponder why it happened and what we need to do in the future.
The doing away with Articles 370 and 35 A has been on the card for a long time. The Indian leaders of all shapes and hues have been calling Kashmir their country’s atoot ang (unbreakable part) for ages. Modi hasn’t helped matters. When he got elected as the prime minister for the first time in 2015, he tried his level best to get 44 plus votes in the state assembly. Such a majority would have given the legal leverage to get the approval of the majority of the state legislature to repeal the irritating clauses of the Indian constitution that gave the only Muslim majority state a special status and flag and protection from others buying properties on the peace of land referred to as heaven on earth. What Modi couldn’t do after the last elections, was fairly simple to do after his re-election. Since the Assembly had been suspended and there was no chief minister, all he needed to was to sign a presidential order to be announced by his sidekick Amit Shah, ending the special status and carving up the state into two union territories, one of Ladakh without a legislature i.e. reporting directly and the other of Jammu and Kashmir, with a legislature. Without going into the actual disputed status of Kashmir, which is recognized by the United Nations, it is quite clear that India had made Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh with its substantial Muslim population in Kargil, their own territory. Therefore, this legal sleight of the hand will not much will change. The repression on those demanding azadi (liberation) and human rights violations will continue unabated. Modi had made his intentions quite clear, when he moved in 35000 more troops in the occupied territory and authorities cancelled the Amarnath Yatra and issued advisories to tourists and workers from outside Kashmir. From now on, he will suppress the calls for liberation ruthlessly. The world by and large hasn’t spoken against it and Pakistan seems hopelessly alone in this moment, when it needs help the most. Pakistan has itself to blame for its present state of affairs, it is heavily under debt and its economy shows no signs of improvement in the near future and the threat of FATF continues to hang over its neck like the sword of Damocles. The law and order situation is not as bad as it was a few years ago but an occasional bomb blast still breaks the peace. Soldiers fighting the terrorists still get killed by random IEDs in the erstwhile tribal areas and Balochistan and this usually happens in tandem with ceasefire violations along the LOC.
Things are bad but all is not lost. Current and future leaders need to put their house in order. The focus should be on long term objectives. There should be no knee jerk reactions. The policy should be to place national interest before party or personal interest. Pakistan has a host of domestic problems that need to be tackled on emergency basis. The galloping population needs to be controlled. Investment should be made on the increasingly young human resource. They should be provided an education commensurate with market requirements and jobs should be created for the young people. Brain drain should stop. Corruption must be eradicated with across the board accountability. The system of justice needs a massive overhaul. Police should be re-configured to provide protection to the people and not be tool for terror and extortion. The health system should be revamped. Polio program needs to be made more effective. The massive incidence of HIV AIDS in Sindh needs to be arrested. Safe water should be made available for drinking purposes and more for agriculture and producing electricity.
The list of domestic problems is endless but in all this Kashmir should also find a place. There should be a long term plan for Kashmir. We should be very clear what do we want. A Kashmir that is part of Pakistan or an independent Kashmir or we are willing to live with the status quo? If there are any other choices they should be explored. No stone should be left unturned to build a national consensus on this plan. The hopes and aspirations of the Kashmiris (in occupied territories as well as those living in Pakistan and abroad) must be made part of this plan. Once a plan is in place, all resources of the state should be used to achieve this ultimate goal. Timelines must be set to monitor the progress of this strategy. A fulltime focal person with direct access to the head of the state should oversee this program and should be laterally in contact with all ministries for the fulfilment of this plan.
The mourning once it is over should be followed by real action. Good preparation, hard work and diligence will definitely yield positive results.
One theme that became part of the strategic narrative being churned out by the American think tanks after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 was that the in the future, if a terrorist attack on India emanated from Pakistani territory, the US will not intervene and would let India do whatever it felt necessary to do. It meant that India could resort to all options like going for surgical strikes against militant training grounds or camps, allegedly deep inside Pakistani territory, animating the much flaunted Cold Start or the Proactive Doctrine or even resort to a nuclear first strike. This was the recurrent message being communicated to Pakistan at official and unofficial level. It sounded very grave and very clear. Pakistan had to do more to rein in Jihadi groups that have their support. The Pakistani response that it wasn’t state policy to sponsor any terrorist group would fall on deaf ears. Scholars of repute discussed the fragility of strategic stability in times of crisis and the various twists and turns in the Kargil conflict, 2001-2002 standoff and Mumbai 2008 and how the US intervened to deescalate and defuse these crises. The US, it was emphasized was no longer interested in getting involved in a firefight, if South Asia plunged once again in another cataclysmic situation leading precipitously up the escalation ladder. The two countries could give up the notion of outsourcing deescalation to the US. The incessant barrage of this talk was more for Pakistani consumption than the Indian. The Indians were actually being given a green signal to feel free to do what they felt like doing to teach Pakistan a lesson, if it did not behave or did not keep its Jihadi organisations under control.
Officially India subscribes to a nuclear No First Strike Policy (NFS) but it has created loopholes to carry out a nuclear first strike e.g. in a 2003 update, it was stated that it can go for the nuclear First Use (FU) option, in case of an chemical or biological attack. Before the BJP released their 2014 election manifesto, it was made known that the party leadership under Narindera Modi was considering giving up on the NFU option was seriously considered during the BJP election campaign in 2014. More recently the Indian defence minister Manohar Parrikar has talked of giving up on the NFS option altogether. These are all indications that the extreme right wing party in power is itching to use the nuclear option in case it felt there was a dire need to do so.
Now let’s see what happened after a string of terrorist incidents that happened over the last one year i.e. Gurdaspur (2015) and Pathankot and Uri (2016). Whereas, the first two incidents got only a muted response, after the attack on a Brigade Headquarters in Uri in which a dozen soldiers were killed, the response was stronger. As usual the Indian media went into a frenzy. The government had to respond. It was an attack too many, second against a heavily guarded military target. The Indian forces seemed unable to stop the infiltration from across the heavily guarded, wired and mined Line of Control (LOC) and unable to stop the militants from penetrating inside military installations under several layers of security. So what happened? The Indian Army claimed that they had launched surgical strikes. This ludicrous claim could not be substantiated by any credible proof. Skirmishes were reported at various points along the LOC but nothing serious. Soldiers were killed on both sides but than nothing serious happened. No loss of territory was reported. In fact an Indian soldier was reported to have been captured. Artillery shelling created problems for the civilians, who had to pull out to safer places. Fishermen were apprehended for allegedly poaching inside Indian territorial waters. Very recently an Indian submarine was found lurking in Pakistani waters that the Pakistan Navy says it sent scurrying back to safety. Diplomats were expelled in a tit for tat manner for activities not commensurate of their status. Repeated demarches were issued by the Pakistan foreign office to the Indian high commissioner and his deputy for aggressive behavior on the LOC. The matter was raised in the UN. Ban Ki-Moon, the retiring UN secretary general offered to mediate between Pakistan and India but as usual there was no resonance from the Indian side. The US state department spokesperson cautioned restraint but there were no offers to arbitrate.
For the moment US policies are undergoing a paradigm shift. Trump, the President elect has made it known that he would concentrate on domestic policies. His election promise is to rebuild America and create more jobs. He has expressed his desire to leave NATO. The foreign threat he visualizes is from the Islamic state and here he would like to collaborate with Russia. He hasn’t outlined a clear cut policy about South Asia. Obama’s eight years in office indicates a fatigue from overseas wars. The US watched helplessly as Russia annexed Crimea and it took a secondary role in Syria as compared to the dominant one by Russia.
In the short term, these crises in South Asia did not climb up the escalation ladder in the traditional manner as neither the Cold Start Doctrine was executed nor was the nuclear option was resorted to. Deterrence held. The full spectrum deterrence policy was validated for now. Although the matter was raised at international forums, deescalation was not outsourced per se. Indians were held back because they could not afford to engage in war with Pakistan. This would have set back their ambitions to become an economic power. The world in general wasn’t interested in the petty squabbling in the South Asian subcontinent and the US in particular was trying to recover from the election results and trying to form new foreign policy options.
The situation may change in the coming years. The China-Russia diad is emerging as the new power pole in the new world order as role of the US as an influential power broker in the South Asian power politics diminishes. This does not mean, however, that new regional powers would be interested in intervening in Pak-India problems. These can only be resolved by the two countries themselves. Understandably, this can only be possible if India shows a willingness to discuss Kashmir and other outstanding issues. For Pakistan it is incumbent to improve its economy and law and order situation to be taken seriously internationally. One hopes that with the materializing of CPEC Pakistan may just be on the road to stability. If somehow India can be convinced that i has economic fruits to share from this regional connectivity, the bait would be taken