Editorial

Kashmir: the unending conflict

Political promises made on the campaign trail are all too often never fulfilled. But on August 5,India’s newly re-elected BJP government delivered on one of its key pre-poll pledges by revoking Article 370 of the Indian Constitution in what it says is a long overdue step to integrate the state of Jammu and Kashmir into the Union.

The move has generally received support across India, largely due to the fact that Article 370 is today, in essence, hollow. Although it was introduced in 1949 to grant special status to Jammu and Kashmir, in practice the political autonomy it allowed has been greatly diluted since then.What is more, most Kashmiris have long considered themselves part of India anyway, making this clause of the Constitution little more than nominal.

Yet ironically,by withdrawing this largely obsolete Article, the government has drawn negative attention to it.
One of the main issues regarding the abrogation of Article 370 is that it extends to a provision known as Article 35A, instituted in 1954, which gave special privileges to permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir, including state government jobs and the exclusive right to own property there. While Article 35A was intended – with justification –to safeguard J & K’s distinct demographic character as the only Muslim-majority state in India, many have argued – also with justification – that it discriminated against non-Muslims and prevented development in the state.

So even though the revocation of Article 370, and by extension 35A, is not in itself a negative move by the Modi administration, what is damaging is the way in which it was revoked, without consulting the people of J & K. This is, after all, a matter that will directly affect their lives and, while the government has a large mandate following the election, that mandate did not come from J & K.
India is a great democracy yet what is currently happening in Jammu and Kashmir scarcely reflects that: two senior Kashmir opposition politicians and former Chief Ministers in detention, a communications ‘lockdown’, and some experts even claiming that the move is not legal, as such constitutional change requires a two-thirds majority in both Houses of the Union Parliament.

So what lies ahead, post-Article 370?In the wake of the move, the long-running insurgency in Kashmir risks intensifying. Those in the region who do not wish to be part of India, and who engage in terrorist activities on Indian soil, placed their hopes in Article 370 in order to elicit funds from local sources and Pakistan. And since Pakistan has a history of supporting Kashmiri militants – as recently as February there was an attack on Indian troops in Pulwama – this revocation will do nothing to improve the persistently tense relationship between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, bringing with it a very real threat of nuclear war.

It all seems a far cry from the days of the 1972 Simla Agreement, which sought to end India-Pakistan conflict,including the Kashmir dispute, by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations, which might explain why the UN Security Council’s attempts at mediation failed.

Yet some of the world’s great powersareignoring the bilateral nature of the Kashmir issue. China, as Pakistan’s strongest ally, is showing an interest (although it also wants to maintain good relations with India), and US President Donald Trump – not the most trustworthy ally – has already offered twice to mediate.

There is, however, no room for outside mediators.Kashmir has been and remains a matter for India and Pakistan to resolve between them. The re-elected Modi government must therefore work to bring normalcy to Jammu and Kashmir, doing everything in its power to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiris. Otherwise, Pakistan will not hesitate to exploit the current situation of lockdowns and detentions for their own advantage. Indeed, at a recent cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Imran Khan called Kashmir the ‘first line of defence for Pakistan’.

Without a resolution, the Kashmir issue will add yet more fuel to the fiery Indo-Pakistan relationship, causing a conflagration that could reverberate far beyond Kashmir.

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