The Article 370 bomb that burst in the Rajya Sabha on August 5, 2019, was very much like the then Prime Minister AB Vajpayee’s Pokhran II of May 11, 1998. Both were essential for the security of India, both should have been done much earlier, many Indian leaders had thought of both, but nobody before had the courage to do them for fear of internal and external repercussions. Both were carried out in utmost secrecy, with only a handful of people being privy to the decisions and the elaborate preparations which preceded them.
Pokhran II had the support of most people in India (80% according to US estimates), but it was very unpopular abroad as it was considered a violation of international norms. However, the reaction on the latest abrupt move on Kashmir, which could be deemed as a Pokhran III, will be the exact opposite. Most countries will look at it from the point of view of the UN Charter, which prohibits interference in the internal affairs of states, while many people in Kashmir and the rest of India will see it as coming to fruition of the BJP agenda and oppose it for political reasons. Like Pokhran II, the current Kashmir action will also be eventually accepted by the whole of India and the international community.
No one is happy with the situation in Kashmir today despite the best efforts to alter the course of violence and destruction. The expectation was that Article 370 will serve as an incentive for the people of Kashmir to gradually integrate with India as they will be able to preserve their “Kashmiriyat” under that provision of the Constitution. Most people in India accepted it as a positive measure, but the so-called moderates began to see Article 370 more as a bargaining point to gain more concessions rather than to give their loyalty and to discourage separatism. For this reason, the value of the Article diminished and the time came to remove it. But the concern was the negative message this would give to the Kashmiris. Moreover, the climate in the Parliament was not conducive to take such a drastic measure. The Modi Government gathered the courage and determination to take a calculated risk. The disruptive action taken by it may well lead to a solution even if a period of uncertainty and chaos will prevail for some time.
The methodology used was constitutional and democratic. Consultation and consensus building was preferable, but 70 years were not enough to unfreeze the situation without a disruptive action. Any operation is painful, but the final outcome may benefit the new Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and the rest of India. The deployment of security forces became necessary to prevent bloodshed, given the explosive nature of the change and the Pakistani tactics to incite the people of Kashmir.
The negative reaction from abroad has come so far only from Pakistan and China. Pakistan took extreme measures like threatening to close down its diplomatic mission in New Delhi and pledged to oppose the Indian action tooth and nail. China said that it opposed India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status and that New Delhi needed to be cautious on border issues. “India’s action is unacceptable and would not have any legal effect,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement, drawing an immediate rebuke from Delhi that Kashmir was an internal affair.
China urged India to strictly abide by the agreements reached by both countries in order to avoid any actions that would further complicate boundary issues, Hua said. India and China have a longstanding dispute over the border including in Ladakh, the high-altitude area.
Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said splitting Jammu and Kashmir into federal territories was a domestic issue. “India does not comment on the internal affairs of other countries and similarly expects other countries to do likewise.”
Both Pakistan and China have a stake in the issue, as they hold parts of the Kashmir region, Pakistan in the west and China a thinly populated high-altitude area in the north. This gives Pakistan and China some locus standi, but the legitimacy of their occupation itself is in question. The United States, whose President recently expressed an interest in mediating between India and Pakistan, has merely stated that it was following the events closely. The UN Secretary-General issued the customary appeal for restraint by India and Pakistan for the sake of peace and international security.
Technically, the UN still has a role in Jammu and Kashmir as the “dispute” over Kashmir was taken to the UN Security Council by India and it remains on the agenda of the Council. But the issue has not been raised in the Council except when an all-out effort by Pakistan to agitate the issue in every UN forum soon after the end of the Cold War. Pakistan failed as none of the permanent members had any interest in raking up the issue. The general consensus in the international community is that the matter should be settled through bilateral discussions between India and Pakistan.
Pakistan is likely to argue that Jammu and Kashmir have been recognised as a disputed territory, and marked as such on the UN maps, with the notation that the final status of the territory is yet to be determined. Moreover, Pakistan will argue that the relevant Security Council resolutions have not been implemented, by playing down the stipulation that the first step in implementing the resolution is the withdrawal of Pakistan from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK). When India and Pakistan converted the cease-fire line into the Line Of Control (LoC), India had suggested that that the UN Peace Keeping Operation (POK) inducted at the time of the cease-fire was no more relevant and it should be withdrawn. But since both the parties have to agree to such withdrawal, the UN Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) continues on the Pakistan side of the LoC. India does not recognise UNMOGIP but extends the courtesy of hosting an office in New Delhi with limited contacts with it. In the last several years, a report on the situation in Kashmir has made its way to the UN Secretary General’s Annual Report, much against India’s wish. It is easy to take an issue to the UN, but hard to withdraw it! Many vestiges of old disputes linger in the UN even years after the concerned parties have moved on.
Another UN body which is likely to be involved at Pakistan’s behest, if the law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir deteriorates, is the Human Rights Council (HRC). But no resolution is likely to be adopted even if a draft is floated by Pakistan as it will be seen as a political move.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has traditionally taken a strident position on Kashmir and Pakistan has already decided to raise the matter in the OIC. But it has no great credibility in the matter, particularly after the then Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj (RIP) was invited to speak at a meeting of the OIC in the UAE.
The Foreign Secretary has already briefed the Heads of Mission in Delhi about the steps taken by India and the expectation is that the external ramifications of the Kashmir move can be contained. But the situation in Jammu and Kashmir itself has to be carefully watched to prevent bloodshed inside or on the border.