India’s move to effect legislative and constitutional changes to mainstream the part of Jammu & Kashmir state it administers has driven Pakistan stir crazy on grounds that New Delhi is changing status quo of a disputed territory. This is something Islamabad itself has done periodically, including ceding parts under its occupation to a third party, China. Islamabad’s histrionics have barely stirred the global community beyond expressing hopes that it will not exacerbate the matter.
Even its all-weather patron China and the Muslim ummah it lives off have counselled restraint. The United States, despite being constrained by needing Pakistan for its drawdown in Afghanistan, has implicitly backed India’s right to ring in internal changes that came sans external aggression. Russia has been more explicit in its support, validating changes “carried out within the framework of the Constitution of the Republic of India”.
There are several reasons why the world has reacted to Islamabad’s fury with a shrug – and a nod to India, despite New Delhi’s lackadaisical presentation of its case in global forums. Pakistan is seen as revisionist state bent on changing status quo through aggression (four wars) and the use of terrorism that has fundamentally altered the dynamics in the Kashmir Valley. In a world that is seeing a resurgence of nationalism, there is little appetite to endorse separatist movements, least of all one underwritten by religious fundamentalism that has subverted more inclusive sentiment that went by the name Kashmiriyat.
Utterly parlous and barely able to govern itself amid multiple insurgencies on its western borders, Pakistan makes a poor case for Kashmir, particularly given its gratuitous use of terrorism that has affected not just India but the entire region, indeed the entire world. No one has forgotten where Osama bin Laden was finally found.
Few countries in the world have settled borders, not even great powers. China is tackling insurgencies with methods that some scholars now believe India’s current ruling dispensation may be tempted to follow. Russia is still dealing with insurrections on its border territories. Even the United Kingdom, nearly a century old now, is finding out that nation building is never complete.
The United States, 243 not out, annexed Texas (previously a part of Mexico) in 1845, something the deranged shooter in El Paso apparently forgot when he went on a bloody rampage to protest against the “Hispanic invasion”. Invariably, big powers that offer a democratic playing field are able to defuse insurgencies. That integration has been constantly undermined by Pakistan with its use of religious extremist to fuel violence in the Valley.
For 72 years India has done a poor job of explaining its claims over Jammu & Kashmir, and for that matter the origins of the rump state of Pakistan, an alphabet soup entity that did not exist in history and made no coherent or geographical sense, and hence was mercifully stripped of its eastern wing that became Bangladesh. So confident were India’s founding fathers of the state’s accession to India (beyond the legalities) that they, as Pakistan correctly pointed out, took the matter to the United Nations.
What it fails to point out is that the principal Security Council resolution that flowed from this referral enjoins Pakistan to vacate the “Azad” Kashmir it occupied before any referendum could be contemplated. Even the UN now implicitly acknowledges the resolution is infructuous given the cartographic and demographic changes Pakistan has effected.
So why does Islamabad persist in pursuing the matter? Because Kashmir is a useful distraction from the more arduous task of governing Pakistan’s restive population. A country that has survived for 72 years despite claiming that Kashmir is its jugular vein has a military that uses the issue as an ATM to withdraw unlimited resources in the name of national security. Left to itself, without infusion of jihadism, the Valley would display the same kind of disaffection that roils many parts of India, a still imperfect Union that is a work in progress. Indeed, that has been the case sporadically over seven decades. Less so now.
Most Western strategists and scholars now understand this, although sections of Western media still need to be disabused of the cliches that pervade their commentary on the issue. Among the more repugnant headlines in recent days was one in the New York Times that spoke of ‘Hindu-led India puts clamp on Muslim Kashmir’. Even allowing for exigencies of headline writing, it gratuitously overlooked the fact that Jammu & Kashmir is a composite entity with a syncretic tradition, as is India as a nation.
Are there aberrations that stain it? You bet. As much as in the United States, where on the same day, there was an instance of two white police officers on horseback in Texas leading a black man on a leash. One did not see the headline ‘Racist White Christian-led US still treating Black men like slaves’.
All this does not mean the Modi government has done something right even within the framework of the Indian Constitution. As should happen in any constitutional democracy, the matter has been challenged in court. Meanwhile, the situation in Kashmir Valley (not beyond) will be fraught for several days, perhaps several months. In this time, Pakistan will ramp up its narrative with wilful suppression of history.
India on its part needs to tamp down on any triumphalism, come out of self-congratulatory mode, and urgently send out delegations – all party parliamentary and civil society teams, not raging nationalists or Hindutva hotheads – to make its case calmly and logically. To acknowledge that there is disaffection in Kashmir Valley (and not beyond), and that what is happening, temporary curtailment of civil liberties notwithstanding, is part of a ceaseless effort to forge a more equitable Union.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.