An act of betrayal

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Candid Corner

 

  • Opening the floodgates of violence

 

“Ah! Well-a-day! What evil looks

Had I from old and young!

Instead of the cross, the Albatross

About my neck was hung.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

 

Ever since the partition of the Subcontinent, with the Hindu-majority areas acceding to India and the Muslim-majority areas acceding to Pakistan, Kashmir has remained a lacerating wound defying cure. It has led to wars between the two (now) nuclear-armed states and has pushed them to the verge on numerous other occasions.

Abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution opens yet another chapter that is bound to deepen the wound and further vitiate the frayed relations between the two countries. But, above all else, it is going to aggravate a human tragedy as the brunt of this move will be borne by the people of Kashmir who, having suffered the cruel fate of history for over seven decades, have been under a lockdown ever since the fatal announcement was made on Monday last. Nothing is available for them to connect with the outside world: the phones and the internet facilities are suspended, television screens are blank, schools are closed and the former chief ministers, legislators of the state assembly and scores of others have been detained or placed under house arrest. Kashmir is under virtual siege. The only signs of life in the Valley are the police checkposts at every corner and a surfeit of army patrols on the move with a deadly arsenal on display.

The most noteworthy change which has occurred is the turnaround of the very group of people who were instrumental in facilitating the State’s accession to India and who remained loyal to the original commitment rooted in the grant of special status through Articles 370 and 35A. The abrogation of these articles is being dubbed an act of betrayal in the history of the linkage between the people of the State and the Indian Republic. The ones who originally espoused the idea are now lamenting the mistake they made back in 1947.

Kashmir symbolises the classic tragic flaw that has defied hope through decades. The ultimate resolution of this simmering dispute can only be secured by giving the people of the State their inalienable right to determine their future. A purposeful and peaceful dialogue between the two countries could pave the way to that end. The sooner that happens, the less would be the fear of a holocaust redefining the shape of this region

Abrogating the accession clauses has been part of the election manifesto of Prime Minister Modi, but the timing of its implementation can also be attributed to developments in the region, most notably in Afghanistan. The ongoing peace talks between the USA and the Taliban have been brokered by Pakistan, with India having remained effectively sidelined. It is expected that the success of the ongoing negotiations would ultimately lead to either a Taliban, or a Taliban-dominated, government in Afghanistan. That would change the paradigm of regional politics. With relative peace ensuing on Pakistan’s western border, it would be able to move the bulk of its troops from there and post them elsewhere, including reinforcing its eastern border. Even more notably, this development is expected to reduce the prospect of destabilisation in Pakistan, thus enhancing the capacity to redirect its energies and undertake developmental programmes for the benefit of the people.

I also disagree with the narrative that is being propounded by certain sections that Pakistan should make its continued facilitation of the Afghanistan peace process conditional on the US mediation to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Peace in Afghanistan is necessary for peace in our midst. Pakistan should, therefore, continue with its facilitation role to expedite an end to a war that has already consumed over 40 years.

Where do we move from here? Pakistan has given an outline of what it intends to do. This appears to be more in response to political pressure than being part of any pragmatic strategy. But there are other things which may unfurl with the passage of time, impacting the compass of developments in the Indian part of Kashmir. The initial steps, including downgrading diplomatic relations, cessation of trade activities and generally reviewing its relations with India, are mostly optics-driven. The more serious steps include taking the matter to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and, after an exhaustive review and evaluation of the prospects, knocking at the doors of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

On the Indian side, there are two things that I would be focussing on. First is the level and intensity of reaction that the people of Kashmir demonstrate once the restrictions are relaxed or lifted. In spite of the draconian curbs, demonstrations have already been staged in the valley. This is likely to intensify with time which would put the Indian government in a bind regarding methods and mechanisms of dealing with the challenge. In this undertaking, it may no longer have the services of its traditional allies from the State. They are now decrying their decision of having supported the original instrument of accession. If they decide to stand with the people, it could potentially tilt the balance against India.

The second factor that would be important is the legal battle that is likely to be fought in the Indian Supreme Court. This would highlight the constitutional aspects of the decision and the adjudication of this forum will have to be implemented. There are many in India who may favour the ultimate decision, but have strong reservations about the manner in which it has been taken– by sidestepping the state legislature which has been out of session for over six months, and without building consensus in the Indian Parliament so that all parties could lend the necessary support. The role of those who are against the decision for its ‘undemocratic’ and ‘unconstitutional’ aspects, including the Congress, would be of immense relevance.

But the principal component that is going to determine the trajectory the dispute takes in the near future is the reaction of the people of Kashmir. Sporadic demonstrations already reported in an environment of strangulation are indicative of the potential that the lifting of curfew and other restrictions would lead to a spree of violence which would further raise the level of tension both within the State, and with Pakistan.

It is India which has erred here. Even if one were to accept its version of the sequence of events following partition which, incidentally, is pockmarked with historic travesties, it has gone back brazenly on its commitments made to the people of Kashmir. These were written into the Indian Constitution. By abrogating the provisos, it has violated the very spirit of the original accession.

Opting for a method suspect both in legitimacy and consensus, India has landed itself in turbulent waters. While imposition of a gravely flawed decision by use of cold-blooded force remains an option, the likelihood of its success would be limited. In fact, the level of violence may be further increased when people are confronted with the Indian Union using brutal methods. This may ignite a reprisal factor. An expected attempt to trace it to Pakistan would cultivate a mutually-damning and harrowing prospect.

Kashmir symbolises the classic tragic flaw that has defied hope through decades. The ultimate resolution of this simmering dispute can only be secured by giving the people of the State their inalienable right to determine their future. This is also enshrined in the UN resolutions which hold sway over acts by individual member states.

A purposeful and peaceful dialogue between the two countries could pave the way to that end. The sooner that happens, the less would be the fear of a holocaust redefining the shape of this region.