Political Turmoil In IOK And Its Implications For South Asia
The recent abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution as well as the reorganisation of IoK into two union territories of India – Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Ladakh – has caused much hysteria in South Asia. More important than the action of the Indian government is the manner in which they acted as it clearly exhibits a backsliding of democratic values in India which will eventually have spill-over effects into other parts of the region.
In November 2018, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled out from an alliance with Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), causing the dissolution of the J&K Legislative Assembly and thus placing IoK under President’s rule. As Indian Home Minister Amit Shah rightly pointed out in the Indian Parliament that under such circumstances based on provisions of the Indian Constitution, the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are empowered to act in the capacity as the J&K Legislative Assembly in agreeing to give up its autonomous status. This means that although the consent of the IoK government was required to pass this constitutional amendment, the BJP government has found a way to circumvent the J&K Legislative Assembly, violating the concept of consensus which is essential to democracy. Such a political manoeuvre does not display wittiness but rather coercive federalism.
Political Scientist, Samuel P Huntington, who studied democratic transitions in terms of waves and reverse waves, observed that whenever an established large traditional democracy experienced a transition towards dictatorship, it has led to a collapse of democracy in other parts of the world as this causes norms to change which could not be previously accepted. Thus if other countries in the future, including Pakistan, chooses to act in a similar manner they can always justify their action by citing the atrocities in IoK. This includes the heavy censorship in IoK whereby all communications with the outside world has been cut off.
People from IoK living outside Kashmir are unable to even give their families a simple phone call, let alone internet connection; thus the situation in Kashmir is worse than in many parts of China. The students in IoK, who need to prepare for exams, are unable to even access information online. Free movement of people within IoK is also restricted with tight curfew, thus transforming the region into an open prison. In fact, the levels of personal freedoms in IoK should not be compared with China, as the condition of the people is worse than those in North Korea.
Pakistan has been caught in confusion over this issue, as it does not really know what it should do. Therefore, it can be seen that Pakistan is attempting to do whatever it can do. The downgrading of the diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan is bound to place the reconciliation process in reverse gear, which will pose major consequences for regional cooperation and integration in South Asia.
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Moreover, India, after the Uri and Pulwama attacks, has firmly taken the stance that any terrorist attack in IoK would be retaliated by limited military action in Pakistan regardless of whether the attacks originated from within IoK or across the Line of Control (LoC). The Indian government will certainly make Pakistan a scapegoat out of any incident that happens in IoK. The ever-increasing outburst of jingoism in India has placed Pakistan under a constant and genuine threat.
Anybody who thinks that India poses no threat to Pakistan is living in a state of illusion. Since it is the primary duty of Pakistan Army to protect the country’s soil against foreign aggression, the need to match up to India in terms of military armaments has placed a strain on the resources on Pakistan. The budgetary allocations meant for poverty allocation and infrastructure development now have to be diverted to military spending. At a per capita level, every Pakistani pays more for the defence than an Indian pays for the aggression of India.
The tensions over the Kashmir issue have also serious implications for tourism and foreign investment in Pakistan. As seen in the aftermath of the Balakot airstrike when Pakistan had to close its airspace for security reasons, flights to Pakistan had to be cancelled, thus affecting visitors’ arrival in Pakistan. Moreover, travel advisories issued by foreign governments to their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Pakistan is bound to further deter tourists who want to visit the country given that it is already severely misunderstood to be a dangerous destination for travel. Foreign investors would also be very concerned with stability and security of any country where they are going to invest. Thus, it is in the interest of Pakistan to avoid military conflict; however, this is not the case with India.
The warmongering on the other side of the border has benefited the ruling BJP in gaining vote share – not to forget that the Indian media captured by state propaganda continues to feed the hatred that the BJP supporters and adherents to the fascist Hindutva ideology have for the Kashmiri Muslims and Pakistan.
Diplomatic support from the international community, especially from Muslim countries, has been extremely disappointing for Pakistan given the commercial interests of the major foreign powers in India. Pakistan needs to adopt a realistic worldview and calculate its options wisely. No doubt there is little that Pakistan can do it, but neglecting the Kashmir issue would be tantamount to betraying the Kashmiris.
The writer is an expert analyst on Pakistan’s Domestic Politics and Foreign Policy. He is currently a postgraduate student at the South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, Germany. He can be contacted at [email protected]