The current Kashmir uprising is unprecedented. It is known not as an armed insurgency but as truly a mass uprising. Kashmiri activism for freedom from India has reached a decisive phase. A number of factors have been steadily building up to the current scenario.
With the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, the prospect of Nehru Gandhi dynasty’s continued rule in India dimmed and with it, the emotional attachment of New Delhi to the state of Jammu and Kashmir also ended. India’s first Prime Minister, Nehru, was a Kashmiri Pundit. His fascination for Kashmir was no doubt handed down to his descendants who ruled India, with a brief interlude of Lal Bahadur Shastri’s premiership, until 1989. Thereafter, Kashmir became a peripheral rogue state in New Delhi’s perception, where people had to be beaten up to stay in line
The armed insurgency in Indian Occupied Kashmir, (IOK) backed by popular support, that started in 1989, led New Delhi to counter it with a martial law called the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. With the passage of time, AFSPA turned into a draconian practice as none of the practitioners suffered a single act of accountability despite innumerable reports of rape, murder, and other heinous acts that promote the hatred of one group of people for the other. A new generation of Kashmiris grew up in the shadow of this hatred and when they decided to defy it with or without guns, they no longer covered their faces with balaclavas. They took pride in their righteous struggle and called for all young ones to join them in the fight for freedom from Indian bondage.
Against this backdrop in Kashmir, Narendra Modi enters Panchavati and brings with him a new style of ruling India. Under Modi, Hinduism in India has degenerated from being a ‘dominant’ culture to a ‘domineering’ one. Narendra Modi’s style of ruling India is a departure from one thousand years of governance practices in India. While Modi government’s state sponsored Hindutva culture infused the Indian minorities with anxiety and insecurity in all parts of India, it made the Kashmiris ever more defiant of New Delhi.
Instead of placating the Kashmiris, Modi made attempts to repeal article 370 of the Indian constitution that grants the only Muslim majority state of Kashmir a special status in India. Among other provisions, the Article disallows non Kashmiris to own land in Kashmir. When the bid to repeal article 370 was frustrated by the inadequacy of numbers in the parliament, the BJP declared in May 2014 that abrogation of article 370 of the constitution was part of the party’s core ideology and it will work in that direction whenever it gets the required numbers in Parliament.
There is now a new sense of endangerment in IOK – that the demographics of Kashmir will be engineered against the Kashmiri people.
Burhan Wani’s murder was the straw that broke the camel’s back. What poured out of every house at Burhan’s funeral was grief at the death of a young boy who dared other young boys to join in the struggle to protect Kashmiri women from rape and Kashmiri houses from intrusion at will – plus a show of mass defiance of the Indian rule. The same is likely to grow from strength to strength. Kashmiris are not likely to stop now because they feel they have nothing to lose.
The mass uprising in Kashmir creates a catch 22 for the Modi government. Modi rose to power appealing to Hindu chauvinism. His very mystique is sectarian antipathy that instigates Hindu arrogance. If Modi mollifies the Kashmiris during their most provocative narrative against Hinud India, his Hindu chauvinist appeal will diminish. It will seriously undermine his credibility with his Hindutva constituency while earning him little or no credibility with the Muslims in Kashmir. If he continues to suppress the mass uprising with brutalities, his government will receive negative publicity at home and abroad for killing and maiming unarmed people who are a minority in India. With the passage of time, a brutal policy in Kashmir will begin to affect India’s entire Muslim community. The blow back could be in the shape of rampant terrorism.
Modi’ has three options. Option 1 is to defer to the various resolutions at the United Nations India has been a signatory to and sell a plebiscite in Kashmir to his constituency as a rite of passage that will facilitate India’s permanent membership at the UN Security Council, a status India has been lobbying for throughout the last decade.
Option 2 is to let the Kashmiri struggle for freedom evolve into a struggle for a sovereign state of Kashmir in the subcontinent – a new state carved out of both India’s and Pakistan’s side of Kashmir. Modi will welcome this because it would help scuttle the CPEC ambition of Pakistan as the territories that could go into the making of the sovereign state of Kashmir could consist of areas that are vital to Pakistan’s connectivity with China.
Modi’s third option is a history maker and requires erudition and vision that transcends biases that currently govern the politics of the subcontinent. He can agree to a plebiscite as soon as possible under UN aegis and respect the outcome of the plebiscite which, in all likelihood, is going to be IOK joining Pakistan. Kashmir is the only apple of discord between India and Pakistan. With the issue resolved, there will be no more rationale to Indo-Pak hostility. With visionary diplomacy conducted between India, Pakistan Iran and China, China Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) could evolve into India-Pakistan-China – Iran- Central Asia trading bloc, which would give tremendous boost to regional economy. If Modi works to promote harmony between three nuclear armed states in Asia, and conducts himself in such a way as to promote trade in the region, history will remove the stigma of sectarian prejudice that surrounds Modi’s persona at present.
Which option is Modi likely to choose depends a great deal on how Pakistan handles the current Kashmiri uprising on the diplomatic front. i.e., whether it comes out the door running to support the Kashmiris or it sits on the fence long enough for the second option to materialize to India’s benefit.
Timing is critical to the realization of Pakistan’s long term security goals during the current Kashmiri uprising. During the first few months of the Kashmiri uprising, Pakistan can help shape an outcome that is favorable to Pakistan. Not just robust diplomatic activity on Pakistan’s part but the speed at which it is carried out is also critical.
If Pakistan sits on the fence as India keeps brutalizing the Kashmiris, the ethos of the Kashmiri uprising could cease to be unity with Pakistan. Their struggle will instead get hinged to ‘Kashmiriat,’ in other words, a sovereign state for the people of Kashmir in South Asia. The ‘Azadi’ desire will develop an inevitable clamor for reunification of the two parts of Kashmir. In other words, the struggle in IOK could become one for Kashmiri unity and independence. In due course, the Pakistani side of Kashmir will have elements who will resent Islamabad’s complacency in the face of cruelty meted out to their brethren in Kashmir. These elements will tow the unity and independence line in IOK. Funding and covert support from New Delhi will make the same elements grow in influence.
With the passage of time, Pakistan could become a hapless spectator of the Kashmiri clamor for independence from both India and Pakistan as New Delhi, at this point, will be amenable to a plebiscite in all of Kashmir. The ‘Kashmiriat’ clamor could impact the entire belt of Pakistan bordering China, leading to a decline in China’s enthusiasm for CPEC.
Give India time and New Delhi will use every means to make ‘Kashmir for Kashmiris’ cause hurt Pakistan. Kashmir is a peripheral state for India. If the Kashmiri clamor for freedom can be a means to thwarting Pakistan’s economic prospects, New Delhi will have an incentive in letting Kashmir go. In the event a new state of Kashmir is born in the subcontinent, it will not be allowed to grow and prosper in its own right. It will likely become an arena of cold war between India and Pakistan and China and India.
If Pakistan acts with speed, it can preempt negative developments for itself. Pakistan needs skillful diplomacy to make headway during the current Kashmir crisis. It needs fast track diplomacy. It needs to act not like a third party but the first party, one with Kashmiris. It needs to project internationally that the matter is between Pakistan and Kashmir on one side and India on the other. If a third party is to be acknowledged in the crisis, it is UN. Pakistan should set aside bilateralism and push for UN involvement.
A multilayered diplomatic approach is required. Involvement of media diplomacy requires the construction and projection of a skillful narrative. “Political diplomacy” requires skillful utilization of multilateral forums and bilateral avenues. “Muslim diplomacy” requires reaching out to Muslim multilateral forums where sympathy for Kashmiri Muslims can be invoked on the basis of religious ties. “Historic context diplomacy” requires making the world see the insanity implicit in the division of Kashmir wherein the very body of water the indigenous people are gifted by providence has been cut into half, making it impossible for either side to utilize the water, for such is the state of affairs in the Neelum valley. “Morality based diplomacy” requires building a moral narrative that enervates the conscience of the international community. “Domestic pressure aspect diplomacy” in which Pakistan’s love for Kashmiris in IOK is expressed on the streets of Pakistan and “emotional diplomacy,” in which the world is made to see how a people with a common bond have been torn asunder and how the torn part, under brutal occupation, is causing trauma to the mother part. Last but not the least the skillful enactment of “nuclear diplomacy” whereby the world sees that the Kashmir issue could be a nuclear flash point and thus requires attention. Nuclear diplomacy is a war of nerves and requires tough leadership.
Erudite, rigorous, speedy and skillful diplomacy is need of the hour. Today, this is a crisis for India and an opportunity for Pakistan. Tomorrow, time could shape it into a worse crisis for Pakistan. If Pakistan does not take control of the “timing” in this matter, time could move the flow of events against Pakistan.
The good news is, either way, our Kashmiri brethren are likely to get their freedom and unification finally, after long years of what can be fairly described as one of the most insane divisions of a community.