The developments on 5 August 2019 (Abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A, and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh — were unprecedented and bode well for the integration of the nation. However, only future can tell us whether these actions of the Union Government would bring holistic positive changes to the region and its people, according to Lt-Col C R Sundar (retd), strategic analyst and author.
Initiating an interaction on the topic “Twenty Years after Kargil War” at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai, on 10 August 2019, Sundar pointed out that the recent developments compel us to take all the underlying facts on the issue since Independence. He stated that the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru faced a lot of problems regarding J&K during his time, necessitating the need for granting ‘special status’ to the State through Articles 370 (allowing the State to have a separate constitution, a State flag and autonomy over internal administration) and 35-A (empowering the State’s legislature to define ‘permanent residents’ and provide special rights and privileges to those permanent residents). It was also agreed between the then princely State of J&K and the Dominion of India that the Union would continue to handle Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications.
Sundar remarked that the recent developments were a watershed moment for the region and its people. If the changes pass off well, we can say that the State’s population has accepted the Centre’s decision, else, certain other legislation may need to be passed to mollify the people and gain their confidence, he said.
Before going into the details of the Kargil War, 1999, Sundar pointed to the need to revisit the sequence of events since Independence that led to the war. On 26 October 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of the then princely State of J&K, executed the ‘Instrument of Accession’ under the provisions of the Indian Independence Act 1947, agreeing to accede to the Dominion of India. Jammu and Kashmir includes the whole of J&K, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) and Ladakh. However, POK remains a continuing headache, Sundar remarked.
Sundar also stated that from the time of Accession, India had been compelled to engage in some major military operations against Pakistan every decade or two, citing the examples of the 1948, 1965 and the 1971 wars. In 1984, in response to the Pakistan Army’s intrusions into Kargil, India launched ‘Operation Meghdoot’, taking control of Siachen and its tributary glaciers.
In response to this, then Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen Pervez Musharraf, who had headed the failed ‘Siachen operations’, vowed to occupy Kargil. The Kargil War of 1999 was brought about as a result of the personal ambition of Gen Musharraf, said Sundar.
Responding to the Pakistani intrusions, the Indian Army began operations on 3 May 1999, and in less than three months, removed the Pakistani troops from the Kargil heights and sent them across the International Boundary. India comprehensively won the war on 26 July 1999, the date celebrated each year as ‘Kargil Vijay Diwas’.
Elaborating further on the recent developments since 5 August 2019, Sundar pointed out that the Reorganisation of J&K had pros and cons. He stated that the people of Ladakh were happy that their long-standing demand to be declared as a separate Union Territory was finally met. However, they were also concerned about the removal of the ‘Special Status’, owing to fears regarding migration of people from the plains to their territories, resulting in their displacement and in new culture shocks.
On Pakistan’s responses, Sundar noted that they were largely knee-jerk in nature. He said that the closure of Pakistani airspace was a double-edged sword and that it would result in the loss of revenue for them. Even Pakistani civilian airliners cannot fly this zone as anti-aircraft artillery are in standby mode and despite all precautions, even a small error could be catastrophic, he pointed out.
On the issue of unilateral suspension of the bilateral trade by Islamabad, Sundar expressed doubts whether Pakistani traders were on the same page as the establishment and were willing to wait for an official call on the resumption of trade. He said that they would protest this move and could refuse to pay taxes, resulting in further revenue erosion for Pakistan.
He also pointed out that Islamabad’s going to the United Nations (UN) was not going to bring any goodwill to Pakistan. The UN had asked Pakistan to go by the bilateral Shimla Agreement. The Agreement, signed by India and Pakistan in 1972, following the ‘Bangladesh War’, commits both nations to bilateral dialogue on issues of disagreements. India has questioned Pakistan’s externalisation of New Delhi’s internal measures. This is another diplomatic embarrassment for Islamabad, said Sundar.
He also noted that the Centre had assured J&K regarding restoration of ‘State’ status once the situation normalises. As per the Constitution, India is a confluence of States and not Union Territories, Sundar pointed out.
After the War
Mr Sundar emphasised on the need to look at Pakistan, in relative terms, from 1999 to the present, in three important parameters, namely, politics, military and economy.
Politically, Sundar opined that India is in a much more advantageous position now due to a strong Centre, and its ability to bring dissidents under control. Even constitutional amendments and other key pieces of legislation can be passed without many road-blocks once the ruling party at the Centre obtains majority in the Upper House of Parliament in 2021. The popularity of the Narendra Modi Government has gone up after the announcements of 5 August. In addition, the Prime Minister’s international trips have brought a lot of goodwill and managed to isolate Pakistan internationally, he said.
Militarily, Sundar said, the competence and readiness of Indian officers to lay down their lives for the nation has grown manifold since the Kargil War, but the same cannot be said for Pakistan. The grit and morale of Indian soldiers are also high. He also said that the higher commands had become much more adept in the use of modern technology in warfare and there continues to be better supply lines of weapons from foreign countries.
Economically, India has a vastly higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP) than Pakistan and this works to our great advantage, as economic feasibility largely dictates the ability to sustain for long periods in situations of war, noted Sundar. He also stated that our economic superiority allows for faster mobilisation of our Armed Forces and better build-up of armaments and war-necessary material.
This report was prepared by Arjun Sundar, Research Associate, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai