In a significant development on Saturday, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj held talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, during which bilateral and regional issues were discussed. As per news reports, the discussion featured China’s decision to scuttle India’s bid for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Beijing’s attempt to block India’s bid to get Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar designated as a terrorist by the United Nations, and New Delhi’s concerns on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). It is imperative to note that there seems to be a concerted attempt by the Modi government to change the conversation on Kashmir by shifting the focus on the atrocities committed in PoK. Pakistan has sought to fan the flames of the current unrest in the Indian-administered Kashmir Valley. During the all-party meet on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed cross-border terrorism supported by Pakistan the root cause of turbulence in the Valley. He also used the occasion to hit out at Pakistan for its human rights violations in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir and Balochistan. He added that Pakistan will be answerable to the international community for the atrocities the country has committed in these regions. On the eve of Pakistan’s Independence Day, protesters took to the streets in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) against human rights abuses and the crackdown by Pakistani security forces. Over 500 youth, including Gilgit’s top political activist Baba Jan, have been taken in custody by the Pakistani security forces. Angry protesters said these young men were imprisoned for demanding political rights and asking the Pakistani army to leave Gilgit’s soil. The political crackdown and arrests in Gilgit were made against people protesting against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which they said would only benefit China and Pakistan’s Punjabi traders.
During the all-party meet, Modi had also asserted that there was a need to track persons who had fled the PoK so that their accounts could be publicised. Modi’s comments on PoK come soon after Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made provocative statements on the ongoing unrest in the Valley. Sharif referred to slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani as a martyr and also made repeated calls for a plebiscite in the region. The aggressive posture taken by the Modi government on issues pertaining to PoK and Balochistan is a well-calibrated attempt to corner Pakistan on their domestic concerns. Although this could force Pakistan to answer some uncomfortable questions about their domestic insurgencies on international fora, it does not change the situation in the Valley. Moreover, no attempt to corner Pakistan on international fora could come to fruition unless New Delhi can devise a strategy to either co-opt or nullify Beijing’s influence in the region. China has decided to use Pakistan to not only further their economic interests in the region, but also a buffer against potential security threats. In a recent column, Praveen Swami, a leading Indian analyst on international and security issues, writes: “Although the world sees China as a fire-breathing dragon, its leaders know their power rests on pillars of the most fragile porcelain. The armies massing (ISIS) in West Asia, Beijing fears, could bring the roof down on their half-century-long effort to build a great power. Facing a serious transnational terrorism threat, China’s security establishment finds itself under-resourced and ill-prepared. Its intelligence services don’t have the global reach of the US. Beijing, moreover, is sceptical of America’s expensive way of war. Instead, Beijing seeks to use regional clients like Pakistan to contain the threat.” As the United States found out, it is a strategy fraught with risks.
Coming back to Kashmir Valley, the Prime Minister said that the government was ready to address the “grievances” of Kashmiris as per the principles of the Constitution. However, he made it clear that there cannot be any compromise with the nation’s integrity. As argued in these columns, laws like Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Public Safety Act have no place in a democratic republic. There must be a concerted effort to revoke these laws from parts of the region, if not in their entirety. Revoking these draconian laws and partial demilitarisation of the region are within the principles of the Constitution and they do not compromise national integrity, despite what some security hawks may suggest. Reports indicate that Pakistan plans to invite for a dialogue on Kashmir, just days after New Delhi insisted that it would discuss only PoK with Pakistan. This sort of approach from both sides cannot work. The Kashmir issue must be discussed by both sides in its entirety, including PoK. Any hopes of demilitarisation on either side of the border rests on concrete talks between India and Pakistan.