Millennium Post

Proceeding with caution

India must amicably resolve the Kashmir conundrum and not let its focus on the region’s development delegitimise Kashmiris

The world is aware of developments in Kashmir but not yet alarmed. India needs to ensure these concerns do not go beyond a certain threshold. United States President Donald Trump's communications with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan PM Imran Khan were about lowering the temperature between two countries. This is a minor victory for New Delhi since Trump's offer to mediate for the second time have now been banished into the fantasy world they had come from. Trump indicated that he might discuss the issue when he meets Prime Minister Modi on the sidelines of the upcoming G7 summit in France.

He did urge dialogue between the two countries, something that the international community and Pakistan converge on. But the Modi government's position on talks is not without merit. Dialogue in the past has led to a dead-end and served only to provide cover for Pakistan to resume terrorist attacks against India. Modi is well within his rights to argue that dialogue must be conditional on Pakistan's ending support for terrorism and Islamabad acceptance of the changed realities in Kashmir. There is no evidence of Pakistan accepting either stance.

While New Delhi emerged from the informal United Nation Security Council meeting on Kashmir unscathed, the real diplomatic test will come as security restrictions in the Valley are gradually lifted. If protests follow, the government must minimise violence and ensure no bloodshed, even as it moves towards restoring democracy in Jammu and Kashmir. The transition will be tricky enough on the domestic front and any turbulence on the international front will complicate matters. New Delhi has enough friends to avoid sanctions and withstand any critical resolutions. But a sense of global delegitimisation of India's actions will make it more difficult to get the Valley residents to at least wait to see if New Delhi fulfils its promises.

Trump and other world leaders seem ready to give India some time to roll out its policy. However, New Delhi has done poorly in explaining its policy to international civil society. This is a shortcoming that needs to be addressed. India needs to make it clear why an older Kashmir policy, built around autonomy and Pakistan, is no longer relevant and why its new policy deserves a chance to succeed.

Will revoking article 370 and 35A bring peace in Kashmir? The government and its supporters have outlined their theory of the case. The new economic order will bring development, transforming the political preference of Kashmir Muslims towards India. Law and order will be removed from electoral politics because of Delhi's control over security forces. The mainstream political parties will be tossed aside in favour of a new generation of Kashmir loyalists who rise through local politics. As more non-Kashmiris move into the territory, its Muslim majority will fade. And by refusing to involve Pakistan, the government will firewall the internal dynamics of Kashmir from regional context.

This is a bid to depoliticise Kashmir. The big question of Kashmir's status, the government decrees, is no longer a big question but instead a settled issue. There is nothing more to discuss, so Kashmiri Muslims should occupy themselves with development.

There are many ironies in this strategy. The first is that flies in the face of decades of Delhi's line. Having insisted that normalcy was soon returning to Kashmir, that only a marginal bloc of Kashmiri malcontents was causing trouble, and that sceptics were biased against India, the consensus has now pivoted to the position that seven decades of policy were a hopeless and obvious failure. If one isn't careful, the switch from "normalcy is round the corner" to "this unsustainable disaster" could cause serious whiplash.

The second irony is the broad acceptance by both proponents and opponents of Article 370 that reducing Kashmir's autonomy in the past did not end well. The outbreak of insurgency in the late 1980s had key roots in the moves made by Delhi and its favoured political allies in the state to restrict Kashmir's autonomy. Indira Gandhi's bid for centralised political control over the states in the 1980s and the rigged election of 1987 are widely seen as triggers for the outbreak of militancy, against the backdrop of central intervention from 1953. Security forces have had extensive freedom to act in Kashmir with little accountability for credible allegations of human rights abuses.

Thus, much of the violence and political dysfunction that made Article 370 allegedly "unsustainable" were, in fact, the result of government policy. It is not obvious that a more ambitious version of this strategy will have radically different results. If Article 370, at this point, is mostly symbolic, then its revocation is unlikely to be a game-changer. The record of other Indian states makes clear that corruption, inadequate development, discrimination, demands to economically favour local populations, and dynamics politics are not unique to those with special status. IPA

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

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