Responding To The Revocation Of Article 370
Pakistan does not have a path free of risk and it will have to choose its way carefully while learning from the Kashmiris themselves, as they develop their own understandings of the way forward in their struggle, writes Ahmad M. Siddiqi.
With the developing crisis in Indian-administered Kashmir after the BJP government’s lockdown of the region and unilateral revocation of Article 370, the question arises as to whether the BJP’s attempt to force its preferred solution on Kashmir is likely to succeed, and what, if any, effective response can be mounted by Kashmiris or by Pakistan. preliminary and penned in haste in response to a rapidly developing situation.
There should be little doubt about the BJP’s aims and resolve. Deployment of troops, the blanket ban on communications and public gatherings under Section 144, and the arrest of former pro-Indian chief ministers make clear that this is not a government likely to be swayed by public or parliamentary criticism, to whatever extent that is forthcoming.
The BJP is emboldened after its enhanced mandate in the elections this summer, built upon a campaign that – unlike in 2014, where the economy and corruption featured heavily – was centred around demonization of the Muslim and Pakistani other. The evidently unconstitutional maneuverings by which it has revoked Article 370 may yet draw a challenge in the Indian Supreme Court, but the simple majority it claims is required to push through its Kashmir bills will be tabled in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
That allows the BJP to push forward with its desired policy of imposing a new demographic reality on Kashmir, echoing the likes of Israeli policies in Palestine or Chinese policies in Tibet. Separating Ladakh from Jammu & Kashmir creates a territory with a Buddhist majority and Muslim minority, while the revocation of article 35A opens Jammu & Kashmir to Indian (primarily Hindu) settlers who can be offered special incentives to move to Kashmir.
The hope thereby is to create majorities in each region which are pro-India and use their competing interests as justification for further action against separatists, until the separatist movement is isolated and pacified.
Pakistan’s options to challenge the Indian government’s takeover are limited in the short-term. There is no hope that Prime Minister Narendra Modi might negotiate to reach a settlement the way his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee did.
Modi’s BJP is different from Vajpayee’s. All the ‘reasonable’ figures involved in the Vajpayee government – Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, and even the relatively hard-line LK Advani – were sidelined or driven out in the course of Modi’s rise to power; some, like Shourie, have become earnest critics.
Pakistan must remain alert to opportunities for dialogue as they arise, for a negotiated settlement is ultimately the most likely route to a permanent settlement of the conflict. Nevertheless, the nature of the stop-start ‘discussions about discussions’ over the past five years should underline the low probability of any substantive negotiations emerging in the near future.
Mediation and international engagement are equally unlikely to alter this fait accompli. Kashmir barely registers as a concern in international capitals, save when it is perceived as threatening nuclear war. To take but one example, we need only look at the muted response to the Indian state’s draconian suppression of the mass protests following the killing of Burhan Wani in July 2016, which included the use of pellet guns that blinded unarmed protesters and bystanders.
And despite US President Donald Trump’s off-the-cuff offer to mediate in the Kashmir dispute, which appears to have caught his own State Department by surprise, US foreign policy since the Cold War era has consistently sought to woo India. From the USSR and later as a regional counterweight to the rise of China, a move that India has reciprocated in recent years.
Present tensions over the balance of the trade relationship and India’s oil imports from Iran are not significant enough to substantially change this collaborative dynamic. That is not to say Pakistani diplomats should refrain from presenting the Kashmir crisis at international forums; they should, preferably be highlighting the words and resistance of Kashmiris themselves, rather than a Pakistani state narrative.
Such action can at least create a sense of solidarity and awareness, and help Kashmiri morale, and should be engaged in for those reasons alone. In terms of practical outside intervention, however, it is unlikely to produce more than condemnatory statements at best.
More radical intervention, which might take the form of an armed buildup across the Line of Control or material support for Kashmiri separatists, is fraught with risks – of international isolation, of Indian escalation – and would amount to a reversal of policy for a Pakistani government which has in recent years moved to reduce the footprint of Pakistan-based militant organisations in Indian-administered Kashmir.
In the short-term, isolated attacks like Uri or Pulwama will not cause the Modi government to back down; rather, they can only help the government in silencing dissident voices in parliament and civil society and reinforcing its jingoist narrative.
Limitations of the BJP’s strategy
If no immediate reversal of the Indian government’s move is likely, its strategy is not without inherent weaknesses. The highly dubious legal grounds on which the revocation of Article 370 has been forced through may yet result in a legal challenge to the Indian Supreme Court.
I am not qualified to comment on how independent that institution is in present-day India or on the likely outcome of such a challenge. On the face of it, it seems absurd that Delhi’s self-appointed governor can stand in for the consent of the Jammu & Kashmir state legislature, which in turn can stand in for the state constituent assembly required to revoke Article 370; and secondly, that the subsequent articles of incorporation and territorial division of the state can be passed as legislative bills requiring a simple majority rather than the two-thirds required for constitutional amendments.
But I suspect that any outcome to overturn the decision will be years in the making. Moreover, it can at best restore Kashmir to the status quo ante: a heavily militarized state, where much of the autonomy promised by Article 370 is flouted in practice.
The BJP’s goal of achieving a demographic transformation will nonetheless be a slow and uncertain process, as the Israeli experience suggests. In the occupied Palestinian territories, Israeli settlers are of two types: religious Zionists who have moved there for ideological reasons and economic settlers who have moved owing to government subsidies and incentives such as low-cost housing.
Only the former can be relied on to remain regardless of practical circumstances. In the case of Kashmir, settlement would mostly be of the latter type, and would therefore be prone to reversal if the security situation deteriorates. Even the Kashmiri pundits, who have preexisting ties to the land, are unlikely to return en masse if the only option is to live as potential targets of separatist violence in heavily guarded military enclaves.
Most importantly, the revocation of Article 370 has likely cost the Indian state whatever residual legitimacy it still possesses among Kashmiri Muslims. The manner in which the Modi government carried out the move suggests that it recognises that Kashmiri ‘hearts and minds’ are effectively lost. A blanket silence has been imposed on the state and even pro-India leaders like Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah are under house arrest, deemed untrustworthy of supporting the government’s policies.
As the reality of Indian oppression worsens, such leaders will continue to hemorrhage support to separatists. This dynamic creates fertile ground for continuing Kashmiri resistance, which, in the last analysis, is the force most likely to change Delhi’s policies in the long-term.
Pakistan: from condemnation to centring Kashmiri aspirations
Essential to Pakistan’s response is to move beyond short-term reactions to take a longer view of the evolving dynamic in Indian-administered Kashmir. The conclusions of such an analysis are not immediately obvious, but I can suggest some questions it will have to answer and certain principles on which it should be founded.
The first and most vital principle may be paraphrased by what has become the mantra of the Afghan peace process: a genuine commitment that the Kashmiri struggle should be Kashmiri led and Kashmiri owned. The reasons are moral as well as strategic.
First, in the face of deepening state repression, the people who will continue to suffer the most, take the greatest risks and endure the greatest losses will be Kashmiris. It is a moral imperative that they do so in ways that they decide upon and for aims that they desire. Pakistan can at best facilitate those aims; it should not seek to supplant them.
The strategic rationale is no less compelling. Insurgencies are most effective when they are embedded among the people: able to gauge public sentiment, the likely impact of a mass protest or general strike, the opportunities and limitations of armed struggle.
An insurgent movement will not always make such assessments correctly, but its understanding of its struggle will invariably be more refined than that of an external supporter.
One need only recall Pakistan’s military incursion across the ceasefire line in 1965, founded on the mistaken notion that the Kashmiri population would rise in its support, to underline this point. Any attempt to direct the struggle in ways that are at odds with Kashmiri understandings – for example, providing weapons to a movement that has decided on resistance through mass protests – will only serve to weaken it.
Moreover, the most crucial asset for a movement of self-determination is legitimacy: the support that it enjoys among its people as their representative. That is a reality incumbent states like India always seek to deny. We might recall the French claim that the revolutionary Algerians were puppets of Egypt, the US claim that the Vietnamese were puppets of the USSR, or countless other examples.
Such claims are generally made out of self-delusion or for international consumption. But if the people who are participating in the struggle begin themselves to fear that the motivations of their leaders are externally determined, as a substantial section of Afghans did with regard to the mujahideen leaders at the end of the Soviet occupation, that is when an insurgency begins to lose its public support and becomes critically handicapped.
Approaches to tackle the difficult questions that arise from the Indian action must be founded on this principle. The first question is what should be the aims of continuing Pakistani involvement? If it is to genuinely represent Kashmiri aspirations, then Pakistan should pronounce itself satisfied with any solution to the conflict which is acceptable to the broad spectrum of Kashmiri opinion, whether that means acceding to Pakistan or no.
In reality, so long as any such solution additionally guarantees the flow of Indus waters to Pakistan, it does not conflict with Pakistani interests. To their credit, Pakistani leaders have since the end of the 1990s shown a greater flexibility in their conception of solutions to the conflict, both in comparison to earlier history and compared to continuing Indian attitudes. This was most evident in the Pervez Musharraf – Manhoman Singh dialogue, which very nearly reached an agreement which would have entailed no transfer of territory to Pakistan.
Pakistan cannot afford to repeat the mistake of the early 1990s, where its act of favouring pro-Pakistan versus pro-independence separatists created unnecessary divisions in the Kashmiri liberation movement, which only redounded to India’s advantage.
The second question is what should be the nature of Pakistani involvement? If it is to be purely at the level of moral and diplomatic support, can it move beyond the existing policy which, however legally well-founded, has achieved no substantive victories, whether in the corridors of the UN, in regional organisations like the OIC, or in important international capitals?
Can a growing international perception of Indian belligerence and Pakistani restraint, as after the Pulwama attack, coupled with the fear of nuclear escalation, be furthered and translate into meaningful intervention?
While the attempt should be made, I suspect that for the time being the only realistic goal is to keep an awareness of the Kashmiri struggle alive at the international level. As India attempts to silence Kashmiris altogether, Pakistani diplomats can at least engage with diaspora Kashmiris and Kashmiri organisations, assist them in their efforts at outreach in society and at potentially sympathetic organisations like the OIC, and let them tell their tales.
In specific places and to specific audiences, such action may help in the gradual formation of networks of supporters and pressure groups.
If Pakistan decides to extend material support to Kashmiri insurgents, it will have to grapple with the question of what risk it is willing to bear in that service, particularly in an international environment all too ready to tar any struggle for self-determination with the broad brush of terrorism, and with a BJP government that has shown itself willing to escalate matters beyond any common understanding of the ‘rules of the game’.
Refraining from such support, on the other hand, will not render it immune to accusations of meddling as the Indian state seeks to deflect blame for the rising discontent its policies are bound to generate. With no path free of risk, Pakistan will have to choose its way carefully. It could do worse than to listen and learn from the Kashmiris themselves, as they develop their own understandings of the way forward in their struggle.
The writer is a novelist and academic, currently associated with the Lahore University of Management Sciences as an Affiliated Research Scholar. He completed his doctorate in History at Oxford on the topic of Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan and the impact of the Soviet occupation. His recent research interests include revolutionary war and counterinsurgency, war and politics in Afghanistan, and the Israel-Palestine conflict.