What lies ahead for Pak-Indo relations after New Delhi’s scrapping of autonomy for disputed Kashmir?
On Aug. 5, New Delhi revoked the autonomous status of India-Occupied Kashmir through a vote in the Upper House of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha, where it did not have a majority. It revoked Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution, which allowed special status of autonomy to the occupied territories, through a presidential decree. Neutral observers reacted by predicting that if the ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was to hold elections after this revocation it would win by an even bigger margin.
The much-dwindled opposition in Rajya Sabha did react violently, predicting the end of India as its founders had envisaged it and fearing dire consequences for the rest of India. Congress leader P. Chidambaram said: “The BJP government’s commitment to federalism can be gauged by the manner in which bills are passed in the Rajya Sabha, the lower house. Lok Sabha is the House of the People while the Rajya Sabha is the Council of States.” But the Indian constitution allows legislation in the Rajya Sabha.
The unkind cut
Amit Shah, India’s home minister who has been president of the BJP since 2014, presented the bill that separated Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir in the new status of union territories. Reportedly, after the scrapping move, New Delhi also put pro-India party leaders, Omar Abdullah of Jammu & Kashmir National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti of Peoples Democratic Party, under house-arrest, while more recalcitrant anti-India leaders of Hurriyat Conference were already confined to their homes. It also sent in 30,000 more troops to join the 50,000 already shooting pellet guns into unarmed Kashmiri protesters, now openly carrying Pakistani flags.
Jammu and Kashmir were placed under curfew, which “sources in the security and defense establishment” said was “triggered by suspicion that a batch of Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists succeeded in crossing the Line of Control over the past 10 days.” The Modi government cancelled the Amarnath Yatra, the Hindu journey of thousands going through Kashmir to the source of the sacred river Ganga at Amarnath. It asked pilgrims, students and tourists to leave the Valley, again, over a ‘terror’ threat that it appears was merely eyewash for New Delhi’s actual plans to revoke Articles 370 and 35A. According to Pakistan P.M. Imran Khan, India also fired internationally outlawed cluster-bombs into Neelam Valley in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, where children became victims of the “toy bombs.”
The constitutional curb
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution contains several special provisions for Jammu and Kashmir: 1) it exempts the State from the provisions of the Constitution providing for the governance of the States, allowing Jammu and Kashmir to have its own Constitution within the Indian Union; 2) Parliament’s legislative power over the State is restricted to three subjects—defense, external affairs and communications. The President can extend to it other provisions of the Constitution to provide a constitutional framework if they relate to the matters specified in the Instrument of Accession. For this, only “consultation” with the State government is required since the State had already accepted them by the Instrument. 3) But if other “constitutional” provisions or other Union powers are to be extended to Kashmir, the prior “concurrence” of the State government is required under Article 35A which, in the view of some Indian experts required the concurrence of the State’s government and ratification by its Constituent Assembly. (The italics emphasized that India could never rescind Article 370 as the Constituent Assembly no longer existed.)
Now that India has annexed Jammu and Kashmir, a number of “legal” changes have taken place: the Line of Control between India and Pakistan virtually becomes a border and Indians from outside Jammu and Kashmir can settle there, buy property and thus change the demographics of the now-union Muslim-majority state, the only one in India, thus putting an end to the Indo-Pak Kashmir dispute as enshrined in the documents of the United Nations. This also puts an end to the Simla Agreement (1972), which required India and Pakistan to solve the dispute bilaterally. In realistic terms, India has put an end to the Kashmiri Muslims’ protestations of “independence” and unilaterally taken Pakistan out of the equation.
Misdiagnosing the misadventure
Some Pakistani analysts think that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi grabbed Kashmir after being strategically ousted from Afghanistan and rebuffed by India’s ally the United States, currently applying punitive restrictions on Indian exports. However, this can’t be the immediate trigger because the BJP’s election manifesto clearly speaks what it would accomplish after coming to power:
The BJP election manifesto proposed abrogating Article 370 of the constitution, which gives special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, it also promised to scrap Article 35A, which empowers the Jammu and Kashmir state’s legislature to define permanent residents of the state and provide special rights and privileges to those permanent residents which are excluded for non-permanent residents. It would also remove Article 35A to allow non-residents to buy land in Indian-administered Kashmir.
The BJP could have been inspired by the merger of Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan in 2017. Gilgit and Baltistan were two separate entities inside the former Princely State of Kashmir. Baltistan was part of Ladakh “wazarat” (district) right up to August 1948; and Gilgit was a separate “wazarat. The annexation came after many years of demands by the people of Gilgit-Baltistan to be a part of Pakistan and be ruled normally.
However, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir the merger was seen as a violation. Former prime minister, Sardar Atique Ahmed Khan, held that any such decision would be tantamount to the division of Jammu and Kashmir, which would never be acceptable to the Kashmiri people: “Kashmiris living on either side of the Line of Control as well as in Ladakh, Aksai Chin and Gilgit-Baltistan are party to the Kashmir issue along with Pakistan and India.”
In 2017, then-United States Defense Secretary James Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington that Pakistan’s region of Northern Areas or Gilgit-Baltistan was disputed between Pakistan and India and therefore the passage of China’s One Belt, One Road project through it amounted to China dictating terms in the region. India, too, objected to China’s game-changing trade route through Pakistan.
Defiance of the deflated
Raja Farooq Haider Khan, the current prime minister of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, was predictably unrestrained in his condemnation of India and threatened action across the Line of Control to “teach India a lesson.” President Sardar Masood Khan, meanwhile, was more restrained and called on Islamabad to launch a diplomatic campaign against India at the United Nations and among the states friendly to Pakistan and those disturbed by the illegal act of annexation by India.
Most commentators advised diplomatic campaigns without making a realistic assessment of how the world would look at the latest development in South Asia. Some commentators were realistic and referred to the “inspiration” India had got from the impunity with which Israel had shifted its capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. No one, however, referred to the “precedent” of Gilgit-Baltistan.
After coming to power and feeling threatened from the eastern and western borders of Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan had reached out to his Indian counterpart to seek “normalization” of relations. Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had equally sought relief on the eastern border by offering “connectivity” with India, implying peace through free trade.
The Kartarpur Corridor offered to Sikh visitors was seen as a unilateral gesture that India had not properly responded to. It is quite possible that Prime Minister Modi, while busy planning the abolition of Article 370, thought it improper to respond to the friendly phonecalls made by Prime Minister Khan. Unfortunately, after the abolition of the said Article, it will no longer be possible for Khan to accept a cooperative response from Modi.
Belly-up and bypassed
Pakistan is going through another of its tough periods: it is politically unstable while its economy is once again belly-up. The world, through the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), is asking it to disarm its nonstate actors—read terrorist organizations bred out of infiltrations into India-Occupied Kashmir—and end money-laundering that builds the muscle of terrorism mainly against neighboring India.
While the world is disturbed by what India is about to do to its Muslim minority, it doesn’t trust Pakistan enough to support Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi telling reporters in Islamabad that he had approached the United Nations on India’s latest misadventure and “also passed a note on Ladakh” to China—Beijing being the third party in occupation of a part of Kashmir. Most probably, China will remain restrained. Chances are that the international community will accept the new status quo in South Asia while Pakistanis agitate in the streets expecting the world to punish India. However, it could be the best moment for Imran Khan to ring Modi once again and talk normalization.