26.08.2019 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Tensions over Kashmir Issue Continue to Rise

KAS

It appears as if the situation developing in the South Asian region has taken on even darker undertones than those described by this author two weeks earlier, i.e. almost immediately after Article 370 of India’s Constitution had been de facto revoked. The Parliament of India passed the corresponding Act on 5 August of this year, with an overwhelming majority voting in favor of it.

We would like to remind out readers that according to Article 370, which came into force in 1957, the state of Jammu and Kashmir (with Muslims comprising the majority of their population) enjoyed a unique status, almost equivalent to that of an independent nation, with the government in New Delhi responsible for only its security and foreign policy issues. Residents of other states had no right to reside or run businesses in the state of Jammu and Kashmir on a permanent basis.

We would also like to highlight again that the aforementioned Article represented that compromise reached in negotiations between New Delhi and the local ruling political forces, which allowed the latter to more or less smoothly ‘integrate’ the residents living in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (a territory equivalent in size to slightly more than one half of the former princely state of Kashmir) into the Republic of India. The rest of this princely state became primarily a part of Pakistan, but some regions also went to China.

Now that the Parliament passed the bill on 5 August, the former state of Jammu and Kashmir is to be divided into two Union Territories which will have a lower status than before, and will be under full control of the central government. One part (the ‘Muslim’ territory) will still retain the former name of Jammu and Kashmir, and will have its own legislative assembly. The second Union Territory, which is far less heavily populated (primarily by Buddhists), called Aksai Chin (or Ladakh), will not have its own legislative body. And residents of other Indian states will now be able to move to either of the two territories.

This latest development is one of the key reasons why the situation in Jammu and Kashmir (now a Union Territory) and the relationship between India and Pakistan have now worsened. In Pakistan and in the aforementioned region, there are fears that very soon this Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will lose its ‘Muslim’ identity (especially when the natural beauty of the Kashmir Valley is taken into account).

Earlier, the author expressed a pessimistic outlook about the consequences of the previously mentioned act of India’s Parliament, and for now, its foreign policy-related effects have already begun to manifest themselves quite visibly.

In addition, the forecast that any possible future negotiations between India and Pakistan to even attempt to resolve the Kashmir conflict were out of the question for some time to come, is turning out to be correct. And the dispute over Kashmir has, on more than one occasion, resulted in military confrontations (different in scale) between these two (now) nuclear powers.

Never before have accusations, demands and threats (made by both sides) led to so much tension as in recent weeks. It is no longer possible to speak of any potential negotiations involving Pakistan since Rajnath Singh, India’s Minister of Defence, stated that ‘there would be no talks with Pakistan unless it acted against terrorists and stopped supporting terror activities’ on 18 August. According to the Minister, the only topic of discussions between the two nations could be the fate of the so-called “PoK” (i.e. Pakistan-occupied Kashmir). This is what the former part of the princely state, which became a part of Pakistan at the end of the 1940s, is called in India.

We should also mention that a day earlier, Rajnath Singh had openly suggested that ‘India’s no-first-use nuclear posture might not be sacrosanct’ (and there have not been any official statements about his comments thus far).

In turn, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan drew parallels (on at least two occasions in mid-August) between the recent measures taken by the Indian government in Kashmir and the policy of ethnic cleansing in Nazi Germany. Having launched a number of verbal attacks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he then urged the world to ‘seriously consider the safety and security of India’s nuclear arsenal’. And to think that only recently fairly positive gestures were made by Islamabad towards New Delhi.

As for the leading global players, it appears as if they do not know what to do next and are bracing themselves for the worst. Only China has taken a more or less definitive (pro-Pakistan) stance for now. It was at PRC’s initiative that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held an informal closed-door session on 16 August on the situation in the region after India’s decision to revoke Article 370 of its Constitution.

It is noteworthy that neither of the ‘culprits’ responsible for the aforementioned situation were present at the session, and public statements regarding its outcomes have been far from unequivocal. For instance, they express concern about the governments’ abilities to uphold human rights in Kashmir, and urge both Pakistan and India to refrain from any unilateral actions that could further exacerbate the current tensions. In the meantime, in New Delhi and Islamabad, the previously mentioned session results are only being discussed from one perspective, i.e. which of the rivals ‘emerged victorious’ at the UNSC.

It is worth highlighting that the reason for Beijing’s active involvement in this issue is not only (and perhaps not so much) its concern about the situation developing in the Kashmir Valley and the problems its ally (Pakistan) is now facing, but also the fact that Aksai Chin, a part of the Ladakh Union Territory, is now an administrative unit of the Republic of India.

The issue is that, in reality, 85 % of Aksai Chin has been under China’s de facto control since the end of the 1950s. A highly strategically important motorway, which links China’s two (turbulent) special administrative zones (the Tibet and Xinjiang autonomous regions), traverses Aksai Chin. In fact, a dispute over who controls the previously mentioned territory resulted in a war between the two Asian giants in 1962.

India’s openly voiced territorial claims (which have, admittedly, always been implied) over the entire territory of Aksai Chin may once again escalate the territorial dispute, which also concerns a number of other areas along the Sino-Indian border, and make the bilateral relations worse. One such region is the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

Open or implicit territorial claims from either nation are a sure means of irreparably ruining their bilateral ties. Incidentally, there were signs that the relationship between China and India was improving after an unofficial summit, held in Wuhan at the end of April 2018. One year later, the positive developments in these bilateral ties were lent further credence during the scheduled G-20 Summit in Osaka, where the leaders of the PRC and India had a two-way meeting.

A quote used by a famous Russian politician in response to developments similar to the ones in China-India relations that may still occur seems apt here: “Here we go again.”

There is visible confusion in Washington. The fact that Article 370 was revoked has disrupted the entire game played by the United States in South Asia, which has experienced some new shifts after the meeting between Imran Khan and Donald Trump on 22 July, during the visit of the former to the United States.

In the meantime, in his search of support on the global arena, which India so badly needs, its Prime Minister has had a 30-minute telephone conversation with the US President on 19 August. Donald Trump tweeted a comment about this dialogue, which essentially said that the current situation was tough, but negotiations with both of his friends (i.e. Imran Khan and Narendra Modi) had been productive.

It appears as if the US President chose to ignore the fact that one of his ‘friends’ had been comparing the other to Hitler recently.

According to a short general statement issued by the US Department of State, the visit of Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan to New Delhi (3 days earlier) would have no real impact on any possible resolution of the new conflict situation facing Pakistan and India.

Finally, it seems apt to briefly comment on the impact of the internal environment in India on the aforementioned situation. It is perfectly natural to observe the triumph felt by the supporters of the saffron-colored flag (i.e. members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)) at present.

As for the oldest party in the nation, the Indian National Congress (INC), despite its devastating defeat in the recently held general elections; lack of new unifying leadership (Rahul Gandhi resigned from his post as the President of the party), and the feelings of euphoria fueled by patriotism prevalent throughout the nation, it is the INC that seems to fully understand the seriousness of potential consequences (both internal and external) of the removal of Article 370 from the Constitution. Hence, we cannot exclude the possibility that the INC may attract the support of opponents of the BJP, because of their rejection of the decision with regards to Article 370 (among other reasons).

Still, even the current leadership, despite its optimistic rhetoric in public, seems to understand the serious nature of the consequences of revoking Article 370. The ongoing legal wrangling as to the ownership of the ‘sacred’ (for Hindus as well as Muslims) hill in the city of Ayodhya is evidence to this effect. And any sudden eruption of tensions surrounding this issue, which continue to rise, may have equally serious consequences to the ones stemming from the scrapping of the previously mentioned Article.

From this perspective, the appearance of a supposed ‘descendant’ of the Muslim Mughal dynasty, which ruled in India at the end of the Middle Ages, is noteworthy. Naturally, he has not provided any proof in support of his claims so far. However, on behalf of the aforementioned dynasty, the descendent proposed a politically correct resolution to the ‘territorial dispute’ over the hill in Ayodhya.

It is also worth highlighting that there has been a very untimely increase in focus on the issue of the unconstitutional nature of quick divorces practiced in Islam today (in accordance with the ‘triple talaq’ custom). As the BBC article once triumphantly stated, the ruling made by India’s Supreme Court in 2017 was a ‘major victory for women’s rights activists’, whose movement strives for gender equality.

However, it is highly doubtful that anyone took an interest in the opinion of either Muslim women or men (for that matter) on this issue.

We are seemingly at the very start of the process that began when India’s leadership revoked the special status granted to one of its former states. And its consequences may turn out to be not only of regional but also of global significance. However, for now the process has taken a negative turn.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

 


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