On August 5, the day the Narendra Modi government surprised everyone with its show of audacity on Jammu and Kashmir, there was a nagging fear in the minds of Indians that reactions in the Kashmir Valley would be fierce and possibly violent. More than a fortnight later, and despite the concern over the patchy telephone communications and other restrictions on normal life in the epicentres of separatism, there is relief that violence has been minimal and lives have not been lost. While there have been stray incidents of stone throwing in the Valley, reports of firing and cluster bombs have been fake.
Undeniably, there are restrictions on democratic rights in the region but considering the magnitude of a project that upturned a 70-year-old consensus, the temporary pain has been accepted with equanimity by the Indian people. Reassuringly, the stupendous national support for the revocation of J&K’s special status has not prevented opponents of the move from protesting publicly and in the media. The credentials of India as a vibrant democracy have been unaffected. Domestically, the Modi government has won admiration for undertaking this major political initiative with meticulous planning, including at the diplomatic level.
The success in managing the immediate fallout of the changes in J&K does not, however, imply that the future will be without hiccups. The Kashmiri leaders who are under preventive detention will, sooner or later, have to be set free to resume their political life. How they will respond to the new situation is still a big question mark. Equally, it is naïve to believe that the separatists will suddenly be cowed down. It is more likely that there will be a temporary retreat, until such time as the security bandobast is less intrusive. However, there is some way to go before terrorism ceases to be a problem in J&K.
The return of normalcy in J&K is almost certain to be linked to how Pakistan reacts to a move that has left it both furious and disoriented. Judging from the speeches in the joint session of Pakistan’s parliament on August 6, there were broadly three reactions, all linked by the common commitment to stand united behind the Muslims of Kashmir.
First, were those angry politicians who saw the “Hindu annexation” of J&K as an affront to the global community of Muslims. Comparing the Modi government’s action with the Israeli takeover of Palestine, they committed themselves to total support for the separatists in J&K, regardless of what America thought and irrespective of whether the economy of Pakistan could sustain such a jang. These were variants of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s we-will-eat-grass posturing after the loss of East Pakistan in 1971.
Secondly, there were a few that coupled support to the Kashmiri struggle with the admission that Pakistan didn’t count much globally because it lacked capacity. In effect conceding that Modi had got the upper hand, they suggested that Pakistan must first strengthen itself economically and on that basis craft an independent foreign policy.
Finally, there was the official position articulated by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s dissection of the Modi government. Describing the BJP government as “racist” and “Hindu supremacist”, he held that India’s political thrust was to reduce all Muslims to a subordinate role in the country. He claimed that events in J&K vindicated Jinnah’s belief in the two-nation theory. No meaningful dialogue, he suggested, was really possible with such a regressive mindset.
Beyond supporting self-determination in J&K, Imran didn’t spell out Pakistan’s other options. However, certain key strands are apparent from his speech. First, there was a significant shift from stressing Kashmir’s cultural autonomy to emphasising the importance of a Muslim upsurge — in alliance with all those whose who wanted to restore the secular state in India — against Hindu racism. This was elaborated by other speakers who argued that the insurgency in J&K had to be joined by Muslims in other parts of India. Second, Imran advocated a massive outreach programme in the West to show up India as a pariah regime, in the same way as Israel is in Left-liberal circles.
Going by the churning in Pakistan, it is likely that separatism in J&K is likely to acquire a more explicitly Muslim dimension. Additionally, there is likely to be a greater Pakistani outreach to Muslims in the rest of the country. Along with Muslims, its potential allies will include other “useful idiots”.
The message from Islamabad is clear: the whole of India is now a target, as is its domestic politics. The implications are profound but best left unstated
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.