Thursday September 16, 2021

Modi’s Kashmir blunder

August 5 will be remembered in history as the day when the BJP government led by RSS-trained and Hindutva-inspired Narendra Modi robbed Kashmiris of their special status and identity by abrogating Article 370 and all other associated legal provisions such as Article 35-A.

One year down the line since that fateful day, it makes sense to analyse the broader implications of what the political commentators and keen watchers of the region have described as Modi’s Kashmir blunder not only for Kashmir but for India as well as Indo-Pakistan bilateral relations.

Modi advanced very flimsy, and self-serving reasons to justify the “integration” of Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian Union; it did not find traction with the Indians themselves, leave alone Kashmiris and the world at large.

From the clichéd mantra of stopping “cross-border terrorism from Pakistan”, a refrain that has outlived its usefulness, to the ‘promise’ of the ‘merger’ ushering in a new era of economic development for J&K region, the prevailing situation, grim and serious as it is in one of the heavily militarized regions of the world, makes for depressing reading.

If anything, Modi’s reckless action that flew in the face of international law, the UN resolutions and bilateral treaties between India and Pakistan has ended up achieving the opposite. The sense of grand betrayal among Kashmiris of all hues and colours has been informed by the experience of living in an environment of massive rights abuses, illegal detentions, kidnappings and mass killings for demanding their UN-sanctioned right to self-determination.

Modi’s action brought all of Kashmir on the same page with the ‘hardliners’, with ‘reconcilable’ Kashmiri leaders convinced about the real designs of the BJP-led Hindu nationalist government.

Former CM Mahbooba Mufti told the BBC in the wake of the annexation of Jammu & Kashmir: "They just want to occupy our land and want to make this Muslim-majority state like any other state and reduce us to a minority and disempower us totally."

From Farooq Abdullah to Ms Mufti, who always advocated political engagement with New Delhi and spurned armed resistance, Kashmiri leaders have learned the hard way how it feels to live under a brutal and repressive regime.

Modi’s action brought the international spotlight back on the region. The issue had not been a talking point for much of the world that has failed to differentiate between legitimate armed struggle and terrorism since 9/11, thanks to its obsession with the latter. The international media highlighted, probably for the first time since 1989, how India presided over brutal repression, igniting a renewed global interest in a region that has been on the periphery of global attention.

From President Trump offering to mediate over Kashmir to President Xi Jinping ‘carefully reading’ the situation in IOK to President Erdogan and the supreme Iranian leader calling on India to respect the human rights of Kashmiris, prominent American politicians such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Ilhan Omar and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have urged India to restore the rights of the Kashmiris and expressed their disappointment with the constitutional changes that, they said, were designed to target Muslims.

In the wake of August 5, the Kashmir issue made it to the UN, like never before, with the UNSC meeting twice in a span of a few months in closed doors to discuss the explosive situation.

India was never subjected to this level of global scrutiny. Its image of being the largest democracy has come in for severe criticism with Indian leaders unable to respond to the questions around their actions in IOK, the repressive lockdown and curfew extended to months on end, political leaders incarcerated and an information blockade in place.

Other than arranging ‘managed’ tours of New Delhi-based diplomats and international delegations to the valley with people confined to their homes, India has failed to give any cogent and convincing answers to an increasing chorus of international calls for lifting the lockdown and restoring the normalcy.

Modi’s action in IOK has practically closed all the doors to bilateral dialogue. As explained earlier in this space a few weeks ago, there was a broader consensus amongst Pakistan’s political parties, government, and the national security institutions on the need for engagement with India.

This consensus demonstrated itself when former PM Nawaz Sharif flew to New Delhi to attend Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. And also in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s peace overtures to his Indian counterpart, indicating his government’s policy to root for peace and offering his country’s desire for regional stability.

Such a major shift in Pakistan’s policy direction was caused by the potency of the challenge of homegrown terrorism as well as the need for a stable regional environment to pursue socio-economic development, something that suffered on account of this country’s decade and a half old fight against different terrorist outfits.

In what appears to be an action inspired by ideological considerations, Modi and his junta of hardcore ideologues repudiated the peace overtures and embarked on a potentially dangerous course that will redefine the political and strategic landscape of South Asia.

Pakistan has little incentive to engage India in negotiations unless space is made available to Islamabad through the restoration of the status quo ante in IOK. The possibility of such a scenario playing out remains non-existent, given the fact that the annexation of J&K is part of a larger project to refashion India as a Hindu country.

The dismantling of secular credentials undermines the very idea of India as envisioned by its founding fathers. August 5, 2019 has been followed by changes of great import such as the enactment of the Citizenship Act that have deepened divides along the lines of religious affiliations and caused massive protests across India.

What the world looks at as India’s descent into chaos is more like its fast-paced journey towards becoming a fascist state powered by popular, rightwing nationalism that draws its identity from religious exclusivity at the cost of the principles of pluralism.

Another sign of fascism being legitimized is the increasing kowtowing of state institutions to the ‘supreme’ leader and the ideology he espouses. Indian human rights activists have noted a slow but sure process of erosion in the independence enjoyed by the Indian judiciary and a discernible reluctance to confront the government’s highly questionable policies vis-a-vis minorities.

The manner in which the Indian media has conducted itself in the aftermath of August 5, 2019 is a case study in how the media can descend to the level of the ruling party’s mouthpieces in violation of foundational principles of journalism.

In the absence of any chance for dialogue starting in the near future with even routine diplomatic relations downgraded and skirmishes along the LoC becoming more frequent, Kashmir has emerged as a South Asia’s most dangerous nuclear flashpoint.

The dynamics unleashed have injected greater volatility into the region. The possibility of even a tactical misunderstanding spiraling into a full-fledged war, leading to a nuclear holocaust, is more real than before.

Given the reality of India-Pakistan relations in the background of the revocation of the constitutional status of J&K, the world does not afford to feign ignorance and remain indifferent. Modi’s Kashmir blunder has brought South Asia to the precipice of a disaster.

The writer, a Chevening scholar, studied International Journalism at the University of Sussex.

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Twitter: @Amanat222