Space for Manoeuvre: Kashmir and International Politics

A lot will be dependent on how the security situation in Kashmir valley pans out and how quickly the ease of livelihood can be improved in the Kashmir valley. 

By Paras Ratna, Research Associate w/Strategic & Foreign Relations Practice at Rashtram & Sanjay Pulipaka , Senior Fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library

This article was published in the Economic Times

The source of this image is Economic Times

On August 05, the President of India issued an order which declared that all the provisions of the Constitution would apply to the State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Through this order, the Government of India revoked the special autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir. Subsequently, Indian parliament adopted J&K reorganisation legislation 2019 carving out Ladakh (without legislature) and J&K (with legislature) as Union Territories. 

The statements by political leaders suggest that these changes were ushered for variety of reasons such as establishing legislative complementarity with the Union, increasing administrative efficiency, facilitate easier movement of people across the provincial boundaries and enhance ease of doing business in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh regions. If the Indian government plans succeed in the next 5 or 10 years, then it may plug Kashmir deeper into the Indian economy and also create more broad-based stakeholders in Kashmir valley who will benefit from greater economic interactions with the rest of India. These changes are premised on the assumption that intensified movement of people for commerce and greater investment from across India will result in a relatively more peaceful situation in Kashmir valley over the next few years.

Now that legislative actions have concluded, the epicentre of action will shift back to Kashmir valley. It should be noted that there is recognition in Indian policymaking circles that these changes, in the short-run, will not result in dramatic transformation in the security environment in Kashmir valley. There is a distinct possibility that current levels of violence will continue or may even register an increase in the coming few months. The deployment of large numbers of forces is an indication that the Indian government is anticipating enhanced levels of violence in Kashmir valley. While the constitutional changes constitute an internal matter, the probable violence in the Kashmir valley will also get determined by actions of various international players. 

Pakistan, which claims Kashmir valley, will not sit back and allow the constitutional changes to consolidate. Islamabad will scale up its current two-fold strategy of fomenting trouble in the valley and seeking international support for its position. It has a well–tested apparatus to increase the scale of violence in Kashmir and beyond. Given, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s admission that his country hosts “about 30,000-40,000 armed people,” and his warning about Pulwama like attacks, the possibility of Islamabad intensifying the proxy war in the valley seems very real. Pakistan’s military leadership has already stated that it is “prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfil [their] obligations [to the Kashmiri people].“

On the diplomatic front, even prior to the legislative changes (on August 1st) Pakistan’s foreign minister has reached out to the United Nations Secretary-General, Presidents of the United Nations Security Council and United Nations General Assembly and called on them to: “urge India to… halt any actions that could bring about a material change in the situation on ground..” Subsequently, Pakistan downgraded the diplomatic relations with India and suspended bilateral trade among other measures. Pakistan will be expecting substantial support from Islamic countries and China. Islamabad has already reached out to the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), and the organisation has expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in Kashmir. On the other hand, the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to India, Dr Ahmad Al Banna, stated that the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir constituted an internal matter and was aimed at reducing regional disparity and improving efficiency.  

There was some speculation that China, because of its trade spat with the US, economic slow-down and trouble in Hong Kong, may not pile-up pressure on India. Contrary to such assessments, Beijing has sharply criticised the changes to Jammu and Kashmir. The criticism had three components: first, China refrained from referring to Ladakh explicitly. Instead, it referred to Ladakh as its’ ‘territory in the western sector’; second, Indian legislative changes were termed as “as an attempt to undermine Chinese sovereignty”; Third, China said the changes to India’s domestic law are “unacceptable and will not come into force.” Chinese response indicates that it is not responding as a strategic partner of Pakistan but as an aggrieved party that has a legitimate claim on the Ladakh region.

Interestingly, a Chinese scholar observed that Indian legislative changes have resulted in the separation of ‘two major disputes (one with Pakistan and another with China) from each other.’ While that may be ‘a’ Chinese perspective, India has never approached these issues as requiring tripartite dialogue. The reasons for the delay in the resolution of the border dispute with China were never located in the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir. However, one wonders if the observations indicate the prevalence of opinionin China that Pakistan should now substantially reduce the geographic spread of its claim in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. 

For the moment, the Chinese government has stopped issuing visas to Kailash Mansarovar Yatris. A few weeks earlier, China reportedly threatened India with “reverse sanctions” if New Delhi does not permit Huawei to participate in the 5G trails. India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar visit to Beijing in the next few days, will have to navigate the complex terrain of territorial disputes, regional geopolitics,and economics. 

Indian interest will be well–served if the US approaches the current developments through the lens of Asian balance of power rather through the narrow prism of Afghanistan. However, the US president, much to the discomfiture of India, has already indicated that he is keen on mediating between India and Pakistan. If the security situation deteriorates, then US President may renew the offer again. In a welcome move, the US Department of State called for restraint from all parties along the Line of Control LOC and characterised the recent constitutional changes as “strictly an internal matter” of India. Given the unpredictable policy positions of President Trumpand improved relations between Islamabad and Washington, the Indian government cannot be certain about the US position on Kashmir. 

In spite of such uncertainties, India need not get over-anxious with attitudes of various international players towards its Kashmir policy. At the moment, there are far too many hotspots that are engaging international attention. The larger East Asian region is engaged with the North Korean nuclear negotiations and has two ongoing trade wars (US-China and Japan-South Korea) as well as two territorial disputes (Senkaku and the South China Sea) with varying degrees of intensity. The Middle East is too preoccupied with Saudi-Iran contest for regional dominance and the collapse of Iran nuclear deal. Europe is experiencing a prolonged Brexit and a refugee crisis. American politics is dominated by an increased partisan discourse on various domestic issues ranging from immigration to Medicare. 

Given the multiplicity of issues that are competing for attention, it would require considerable violence in Kashmir for it to become another international hotspot. Some in Pakistan, as the statements from its military and political establishment suggests, may want to diligently work towards undermining the security situation in Kashmir and the sub-continent. Given the severe economic crisis and growing dependence on international financial institutions, Pakistan will be vulnerable to external pressure to recalibrate its Kashmir policy. Pakistan is on the grey list of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and this will come up for review soon. It is possible that countries such as the US, for short-term gains in Afghanistan, may abandon India and support Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. However, countries such as Russia and France, with which India shares robust defence relationship, will be there to step-in with support in the UN Security Council if the need arises.    

The prospect of ‘abandonment’ of India by all P-5 countries in case of increased violence in Kashmir looks bleak at the moment. South Asian neighbours like Sri LankaBangladeshand the Maldives have termed the developments in Jammu and Kashmir as neighbour’s internal issues. The absence of international backlash demonstrates that the Indian government found a window of opportunity not only in domestic politics but also in the international realm to usher in changes in Jammu and Kashmir. A lot will be dependent on how the security situation in Kashmir valley pans out and how quickly the ease of livelihood can be improved in the Kashmir valley.