Following the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, Sudha Ramachandran assesses the implications for Kashmir and the wider region
On August 6, the Indian Parliament voted to revoke Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. In doing so, India stripped the state of Jammu and Kashmir of the autonomy guaranteed to it under Article 370. It also voted to bifurcate the state into two Union Territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, which means that henceforth the two regions will be administered directly by New Delhi.
The government’s unilateral decision to fully integrate Jammu and Kashmir into India was widely supported in the country. But the reaction in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh was mixed. While Ladakh and Jammu celebrated the decision, people in the Kashmir Valley were, and are, enraged.
Across the Valley, Indian security forces have been deployed in large numbers. Separatists as well as leaders from the political mainstream have been placed under house arrest and communications have been shut down. In the coming weeks, public agitation and unrest in the Valley is likely to erupt and is expected to take the form of mass demonstrations, stone-pelting and worse. Angry youth can be expected to join anti-India militant groups in large numbers. And with the Indian government likely to use force to deal with hostile protests, Kashmir could find itself trapped in a cycle of spiralling violence and counter-violence.
A day after Parliament revoked Article 370, India’s Home Minister Amit Shah announced that Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Aksai Chin are also part of Jammu and Kashmir. POK is that part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir that has been under Pakistani control since 1947, when tribal invaders backed by the Pakistan Army invaded Jammu and Kashmir and took control of about a third of its territory. As for Aksai Chin, an icy plateau in the Ladakh region, it has been under Chinese control since the 1962 Sino-Indian border war.
Pakistan reacted swiftly to India’s unilateral moves in Kashmir. In addition to expelling the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, it suspended trade ties and train and bus links between the two countries.
It dispatched its Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to China for consultations on co-ordinating their responses to India’s move.
China too came out strongly against India’s controversial move. It said India’s claim that Ladakh is part of Kashmir involved Chinese land and ‘hurt Chinese sovereignty’.This was ‘not acceptable and was not in any sense binding,’ it said.
The coming months and years are likely to see Pakistan and China challenge Delhi’s moveson Kashmiron the ground by stepping up pressure along the Line of Control (LoC) and the Line of Actual Control (LAC), India’s de facto borders with Pakistan and China respectively. Thus, India can expect more ceasefire violations by Pakistan along the LoC. In addition, Pakistan could step up its infiltration of terrorists into the Kashmir Valley. According to recent Indian intelligence reports, Pakistan plans to infiltrate Afghans and Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists into India to carry out attacks on political leaders and Indian security forces in Kashmir, as well as in New Delhi.
Pakistan and China are also likely to rally the international community against India’s move. Their first such coordinated effort was to take the matter to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in mid-August. Pakistan is also approaching the International Court of Justice.
So,post-revocation of Article 370, how has India fared so far on the external front and what can New Delhi expect in the coming years? An examination of how things unfolded on August 16 at a consultation on Kashmir called by China at the UNSC provides useful pointers.
That the UNSC met to discuss Kashmir, albeit only at an informal closed-door consultation, after a gap of around 48 years was a setback for India.
However, not much came out of the consultation. UNSC members failed to come up with even a statement to the press on the situation – the lowest level of UNSC action. Also, the majority of the UNSC’s permanent and non-permanent members, including the US and France,endorsedIndia’s stand by describing the Indian government’s decision to revoke Article 370 as an ‘internal matter’.They also called on India and Pakistan to resolve the issue through bilateral dialogue, the traditional Indian position.
And yet the UNSC consultation is likely to have set alarm bells ringing in New Delhi. Russia, one of India’s closest friends – Moscow’s repeated useof its veto in support of Indiaon UNSC resolutions on Kashmir that favoured Pakistan thwarted Anglo-American plans to deny India the strategic territory – displayed wavering, even diluted support for India’s position on Kashmir.
Although it did extend support to the traditional Indian position that India and Pakistan should take the bilateral dialogue route to resolve their dispute over Kashmir, Russia called on the two countries to resolve differences not only through bilateral agreements, but also the ‘charter’ and the ‘relevant’ UN resolutions.
Russia’s call for resolution of the Kashmir dispute via UN resolutions has raised eyebrows in New Delhi, as it goes against India’s long-standing approach to the Kashmir issue.
India is opposed to this route to resolve the Kashmir dispute as UN resolutions call for a plebiscite and open up space for a third party role in dispute settlement. This has been unacceptable to India, especially in the context of the manner in which the western powers backed Pakistan in the UNSC.
Following Pakistan’s aggression on Jammu and Kashmir in 1947, India took the issue to the UNSC, expecting it to call on Pakistan to vacate areas it had occupied. It did not. Instead, it made India and Pakistan equal parties to a dispute that did not exist in the first place. Moreover, the UN called for a plebiscite. With Pakistan joining US-led military alliances and western powers backing it in the UNSC, a string of anti-India resolutions on Kashmir followed. It was the Soviet Union’s veto that saved India from UNSC action.
Moscow’s reference at the recent UNSC consultations to ‘relevant UN resolutions’ therefore came as shock to New Delhi. India’s growing proximity to Washington and Russia’s own warming relations with Pakistan and China are likely to have prompted the dilution in Moscow’s support to the Indian position on the Kashmir issue.
Since the 1990s, the western powers have come closer to supporting India’s position and approach on Kashmir. Even the UN admitted that its resolutions on Kashmir had become ‘obsolete’. By the late 1990s, Pakistan’s attempts to focus world attention on human rights abuses in Kashmir failed to evoke a response; it was Islamabad’s support for terrorism that drew international criticism and concern.
Post-revocation of Article 370, the UN is back to discussing Kashmir, even if only in closed-door informal consultations so far. Should India’s clampdown on Kashmir continue, it will find its record there under international scrutiny again. Third parties will make unsolicited offers to mediate the dispute. Indeed, US President Donald Trump is already making such an proposal.
None of these developments is likely to be received positively in New Delhi.
As for its disputed border with China, India’s assertion of control over all of Ladakh, including Aksai Chin,may prompt China to dig in its heels in negotiations, thus complicating the quest for a negotiated settlement of the Sino-Indian border dispute.
Indian security analysts have said that the ‘broad contours’ of a settlement of the Sino-Indian territorial dispute have been worked out by special representatives of the two countries. They have argued that with both countries helmed by strong leaders, an agreement was within reach.
By reasserting control over all of Ladakh and establishing a Ladakh Union Territory, India may have jeopardized chances of reaching a border agreement with China.