By D.C. Pathak
Prime Minister Imran Khan in his response to the message of greetings sent to him on Pakistan Day, March 23, by Prime Minister Modi, again pitched in with the ‘dispute’ on Kashmir as the central plank of Indo-Pak peace and parroted the Pak stand that without the resumption of talks on Kashmir an environ of harmony between the two neighbours could not be recreated. There was no regret expressed in Imran’s bland sounding message over the violence inflicted on Kashmir through cross-border terrorism in spite of the fact that the Indian Prime Minister had specifically pointed out that an atmosphere of trust ‘devoid of terror and hostility’ was needed to restore cordial relations between the ‘people of the two countries’.
The so called dispute about Kashmir was at best about the event of ‘accession’ — the point of its being a Muslim majority state was not relevant. However, the invidious plan Pak agencies made in the early Nineties to subvert the Valley in the name of Islam by infiltrating Mujahideen — in the hope of replicating the success of Afghan Jehad there — and to that end drive the Kashmiri Pandits out of their homes in the Valley, still guides the Pak approach even though the world community had accepted India’s stand that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India. The move of the Indian Parliament to abolish Art 370 of the Constitution in August 2019 has been accepted by the international community as ‘an internal affair’ of India barring China, Pakistan’s military ally, which has opposed it basically because of its anxiety to safeguard its heavily-invested CPEC built on the disputed POK territory.
Pakistan is reviving its demand for resumption of dialogue on Kashmir as a tactical ploy to attract attention of the Biden administration — India has done the right thing by maintaining that it was also interested in good relations with Pakistan provided Pakistan first abjured terrorist violence against this country. India welcomed the extension of the cease-fire agreement on LOC knowing pretty well that Pakistan’s posture was a desperate bid at damage control in regard to its falling image as a country harbouring terrorists from across the Islamic spectrum.
With the Biden Presidency drawing in India as a close partner in QUAD to counter China’s aggressive designs in Indo-Pacific, Pakistan realises that its alliance with China would not add to its credentials in American eyes. Pakistan, in a dire economic situation at home, is desperately trying to project its stakes in Kashmir by suggesting that an ‘enabling atmosphere’ should be created by India by restoring the special rights of the ‘permanent residents’ of Jammu and Kashmir so that the ‘demography of the state’ did not change — Pakistan is seeking a reversal of the abolition of Art 35A to get its case on Kashmir reopened. It might have thought that India was keen to show a stand of reason on Indo-Pak relations before the Biden regime whose leaders had earlier talked of human rights of Kashmiris. India, however, is well equipped to handle the US as well as the Pak front diplomatically.
It needs to be mentioned that on the issue of abrogation of Art 370, the predictable reaction of Pakistan seemed to have been endorsed by sections of the opposition in India and a powerful lobby abroad that lost no time in raising allegations of suppression of human rights in Kashmir. For years, politics in Kashmir had been dominated by a set of corrupt Valley-based leaders who fired from the shoulders of the pro-Pak separatists to remain in power and did not take development to the doors of the people. They raised no fingers on Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism and remained silent on the subversion of the state by Islamic extremists and radicals at the cost of the embedded cultural values of Kashmiriyat flowing from the legacy of Sufi saints and Pires.
The Modi government showed the political will to stem the rot in this important border state and did well to assure the state at the highest level that at an appropriate time the status of state will be restored to Jammu and Kashmir. For Pakistan and its ‘all-weather friend’ China, the abolition of Art 370 came as a strategic threat to their designs in the Pak-Afghan-Kashmir region with China feeling particularly upset over the risk its ambitious CPEC faced because of the fact of its location on disputed land. All of this explains the nature of reactions from the Sino-Pak axis to the steps taken by India in Kashmir — the rest of the world accustomed to India’s stand, did not quite show the same response.
In the initial months after the removal of Art 370 of the Constitution, the Centre’s attention was naturally focused on the security front as restrictions were needed to be put on the unfettered activities of separatists and acolytes of Pakistan in the state. Development projects have since been activated and the results are showing. Emphasis has to be put on MSMEs, revival of local entrepreneurship, grant of scholarship to students studying outside the state and encouragement to Kashmiri youth to join Central and state civil services across the country. The agents of Pakistan deeply embedded in the administration or working outside must be detected and Intelligence-based counter-terror operations kept up like before. Real mainstream politics will establish itself with the passage of time and participation of grass root Kashmiris in public life.
Separatism in the Valley was sustained by corruption and hence, for the progress of the state, there should be a rigorous anti- corruption drive against pro-separatist politicians there. The Sino-Pak combine had become active on the borders in Ladakh following the abrogation of Art 370 and the military build-up carried out by India there to deter any joint mischief of the two adversaries proved the strategic wisdom behind the decision to convert Ladakh into a Union Territory. The new external dimension of the threat to the security of Jammu and Kashmir has to be dealt with in the long range. India’s battle against the Pak-China combine now lies also in Afghanistan where Pakistan wants to have sway with the help of the Taliban while India, in friendship with the Ashraf Ghani regime, looks for the advent of an all-inclusive Afghan rule that was democratic and not under the stranglehold of Islamic radicals. India should have the endorsement of both the US and Russia for playing a key role in the Afghan peace process.
A fallout from the Kashmir tangle between India and Pakistan was that it fomented communalisation of domestic politics in India on account of the Pak stand that it had a legitimate claim on the state because of its Muslim majority. Pak-funded Hurriyat Conference, unchecked by a weak Centre and the collusive government of Valley-based parties, became a powerful rallying point of separatists furthering the Pak agenda in Kashmir and dictating terms to the elected governments there. The experience of the BJP-led NDA, which had tried to stem the anti-India forces in Kashmir through a coalition of BJP with PDP under the Chief Ministership of Mehbooba Mufti, made it clear that the Valley parties had no intention of countering the deadly mix of terrorism and pro-Pak separatism. The Centre had to intervene and take over the administration of Jammu and Kashmir to put the state on the course of security and development. The opposition parties have linked the Kashmir issue with Minority politics and strangely had not even named Pakistan for cross-border terrorism in the Valley. Kashmir was thus allowed to become a factor in accentuating the communal divide in the country. The Modi government has to take Jammu and Kashmir on the secular path of development and come down with a heavy hand on the elements in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country that endorsed Pak instigated terrorist activity on our soil.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)
By D.C. Pathak