While previous legal attempts of the Indian government to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir or making demographic changes were in bits and pieces, the major blow came on August 5, 2019 when the ruling BJP came up with the most serious and dangerous blow to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian constitution. Prior to that, India first asked all non-Kashmiri tourists to leave Kashmir; moved in additional forces; imposed curfew-like restrictions; shut down educational institutions as well as telephone, mobile, and internet services; and arrested political leadership including pro-India leadership. On August 5, Indian president, through a notification, amended Article 370 of the Indian constitution that had granted a special status to Kashmir. In the amendment, the reference to the government of Jammu and Kashmir was changed to the Governor while the words Constituent Assembly were replaced with Legislative Assembly, suggesting that India plans to get these changes endorsed from any future assembly of Jammu and Kashmir. With this move, the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir stands abolished thus leaving no bar on restricting Indian citizens to purchase property in Kashmir and settle there permanently. Similarly, the Indian president issued another notification on August 6 making further changes in Article 370 to an extent that all other clauses of the said articles were removed while only one clause was left behind that allowed application in Kashmir of all laws and legislation passed by the Indian parliament. Similarly, the Indian government also introduced an amendment in the parliament and bifurcated Kashmir into two union territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh; with the former having legislature and the latter without legislature. With such drastic measures, India went ahead with its plan of annexing Kashmir despite the fact that the issue is still on the UNSC agenda. The unilateral Indian action on Kashmir has virtually nullified the Simla Agreement between the two countries that called for resolution of the dispute through peaceful bilateral means.
Pakistan strongly condemned and rejected the move by the Indian government. It stated, "No unilateral step by the Government of India can change this disputed status, as enshrined in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions" adding "The decision will never be acceptable for the people of IoK and Pakistan”.1 Pakistan downgraded diplomatic relations with India, suspended bilateral trade, called back its ambassador in New Delhi and expelled the Indian envoy, banned all cultural exchanges with India, and suspended bus and train services with India."2 However, Pakistan showed a commitment to completing and opening the Kartarpur Corridor. International humanitarian organizations including Amnesty International, World Human Rights Watch, etc. strongly condemned Indian moves.3 Genocide Watch issued a genocide alert for Occupied Kashmir.4 Indian communication blockade and the curfew-like situation continues in Kashmir as I write this article.
International media also raised the issue of Kashmir, criticized Indian moves and continued human rights violations. The New York Times in its editorial hinted at a threat of nuclear conflict in South Asia due to Indian moves. The Times also identified Kashmir as “the central source of friction between India and Pakistan and a hotbed of separatist aspirations.” On August 7, United Nations Human Rights spokesperson expressed "great concern" over the information blackout in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K). In a statement, the spokesperson said that what had already been observed to be a pattern was taken to a "new level" with the latest restrictions placed by India which he said, "will exacerbate the human rights situation in the region".5 The U.S. think tank Stratfor in its report warned that Kashmir could provide the spark that lights South Asia’s nuclear fuse. The report highlights the “specter of nuclear war” looming over tensions between nuclear-armed neighbours Pakistan and India, which have spiked since New Delhi’s illegal revocation of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. It states that the possibility of the conflict going nuclear increased after India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh made a veiled threat of nuclear war in the region. The report disagreed with the view that Kashmir is “India’s internal affair” or even a “bilateral issue between India and Pakistan”. According to the U.S. think tank, the only way to save the world from nuclear war is by asking the Kashmiris what they want. “The question is, what do the people of Kashmir want? No one is asking them, but that may be the only way to save them, and the world, from a nuclear war,” the report reads. The New York Times published a 1500-word report on Kashmir on August 23 stating that “Kashmir is silent as a graveyard”.
Among the international governments, condemnation came from China who rejected India’s move. Later, Turkey, Malaysia and Iran put their weight behind Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir, however, the rest of the international community remained tight-lipped, which Pakistani authorities translated as a decision made for the strategic and economic interests of those states. However, national legislatures of various countries including the U.S., UK, and the EU parliament took up the Kashmir issue, raised objections to Indian clampdown and communications blockade, raised concerns for human rights violations, and asked India and Pakistan to address the issue through peaceful negotiations.
In Pakistan, few quarters had believed that BJP’s anti-Pakistani rhetoric was due to their internal political compulsions and relations between the two countries will normalize after Indian general elections. However, this optimism remained short-lived as the BJP government continued her anti-Pakistan tirade after securing victory in the general elections. After moves in Kashmir in August, Pakistan criticized BJP for espousing a radical ideology that puts Hindus above people of all other religions and seeks to establish a state that represses all other religious groups. Pakistan also feared ethnic cleansing of Kashmir. Prime Minister Imran Khan said the Indian government's policy in IOJ&K was in line with the "ideology" of the Hindu nationalist RSS – the parent organisation of the ruling BJP — that believed in "Hindu supremacy". He said: "The curfew, crackdown and impending genocide of Kashmiris in Indian-occupied Kashmir is unfolding exactly according to RSS ideology [that is] inspired by Nazi ideology". He termed the RSS as the "Hindu supremacists’ version of Hitler's Lebensraum". He expressed concern that the "RSS ideology of Hindu supremacy, like the Nazi Aryan supremacy, will not stop in IoK; instead, it will lead to suppression of Muslims in India and eventually lead to targeting Pakistan". He said that the BJP government is attempting to "change [the] demography of Kashmir through ethnic cleansing".
Since India’s Kashmir move, Pakistani leadership, especially the Prime Minister on numerous occasions highlighted the Indian fascist agenda under Narendra Modi. Passing of the highly discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) by the BJP dominated parliament confirmed Pakistani apprehensions. Muslims, civil society and political parties raised their voices against CAA and widespread protests in India started that is yet to subside. India has moved a long distance from a secular country to a Hindu nationalist state. Ill treatment of minorities, Indian Supreme Court’s verdict on Babri Mosque, and lynching of various Muslims by cow vigilantes on allegations/suspicions of cow slaughter raised fears among the minorities and polarized Indian society on ethnic and religious lines.
UNSC Maintained its Position on Kashmir but Failed to React Forcefully
On August 8, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on all parties to refrain from taking steps that could affect the status of Jammu and Kashmir. A statement issued by his office clarified that the UN position on Kashmir was tied to its own charter and applicable Security Council resolutions. The Secretary-General recalled that the 1972 agreement on bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, also known as the Simla Agreement, “calls for the final status of Jammu and Kashmir to be settled by peaceful means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.” Referring to reports of restrictions on the Indian side of Kashmir, Mr. Guterres warned that this “could exacerbate the human rights situation in the region”.6
Pakistan asked UNSC president to convene an emergency meeting of the council to discuss India’s “illegal actions” that also “violate UN resolutions on Kashmir. China actively supported the Pakistani demand for a UNSC session. Subsequently, on August 16, a consultative session of UNSC member states was held but no official statement was issued regarding the outcome of the session. The statements from relevant quarters including China suggested that the UNSC session asked both Pakistan and India to resolve the issue through dialogue. According to CNN, “France, Germany and the United States objected to language that might have broadened the issue beyond the possibility of future bilateral talks between India and Pakistan”. The report added, “The priority must go to bilateral dialogue.” Another report by Al Jazeera television network noted that in the meeting, members of the Security Council were guided by their longstanding relationships rather than the need to help the people of Jammu and Kashmir. During the UN General Assembly session, Pakistan forcefully took up the issue of Kashmir and highlighted BJP’s racist ideology.
Pakistan managed to garner support from China, Turkey, and Malaysia as leaders of these countries in their respective addresses to the UNGA touched upon the issue of Kashmir. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on September 24 called for a solution through dialogue for the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India. In his address at the General Assembly, Erdogan criticised the international community for failing to pay attention to the Kashmir conflict, which, he said, has been awaiting a solution for 72 years. The president said that the stability and prosperity of South Asia cannot be separated from the Kashmir issue.7 In his address to the UNGA session on September 27, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad censured New Delhi for invading and annexing Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir despite United Nations resolutions deeming it as a disputed territory. He called for settling the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan through “peaceful means”. He said, “Ignoring the UN would lead to other forms of disregard for the UN and the rule of law.”8 Also on September 27, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi raised the Kashmir issue in his address to the General Assembly calling for a peaceful resolution of the dispute between Pakistan and India based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements. Yi said Kashmir issue was a dispute left from history. “China opposes any unilateral actions that complicated the situation,” he said.9
Silver Lining: Opening of Kartarpur Corridor
Amidst all the negative trends at the bilateral level, the opening of Kartarpur Corridor was the only silver lining as Pakistani government courageously went ahead with its plan of the opening of Kartarpur Corridor in November 2019 on 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak. Despite freezing of relations between the two counties throughout the year, Pakistan preferred to engage India on Kartarpur though India was much reluctant but could not oppose the move due to a large Sikh population. Since such initiatives are meant to facilitate cultural relations and people to people contacts – which India has over the last few years tried not to encourage – it could have a positive impact on bilateral relations but given India’s attitude, initiatives like the opening of Kartarpur are likely to go down the drain, so it did.
Deployment of Additional Forces: LOC Ceasefire Violations
Since the start of the year 2019, ceasefire violations on the Line of Control (LOC) became a permanent feature of India-Pakistan relations. Pakistan also called India out for the use of cluster bombs on the civilian population in such ceasefire violations. OIC also voiced concerns over the deteriorating situation in the IOJ&K including the use of banned cluster munitions by Indian forces on unarmed civilians across the LOC and the deployment of additional paramilitary forces.10 According to AJK Disaster Management Authority, as many as 59 civilians, including women and children, were killed and another 281 suffered injuries in different areas along the LOC in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) in 2019 as a result of ceasefire violations by Indian troops.11 This does not include the security forces personnel killed in such violations. Pakistan’s Foreign Office claimed that Indian forces breached the ceasefire along the LOC on more than 3,000 occasions in 2019.12
India’s Belligerence After Removal of Article 370
After August 5, 2019 it has been observed that India may try to occupy Azad Kashmir. In a letter to the President of UNSC, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister stated that over 3,000 ceasefire violations (by India); partial removal of the fence on the LOC (by India) in five sectors; deployment of Brahmos Missile regiments, anti-tank guided missiles and Spike missiles; and conduct of numerous missile tests since August 2019 constituted threat to regional peace and security. One reason behind these actions, he believed, could be to distract the world’s attention from the protests going on in India against a controversial citizenship law. “In this situation, India can do mischief at LoC,” he said.13 Pakistani Prime Minister also warned that India under Narendra Modi can carry out some sort of misadventure in AJK to divert the world’s attention from protests at home against certain official steps mainly targeting Muslims.
In the wake of current happenings in India over CAA protests, the possibility of adventurism cannot be ruled out. Throughout the last year and for the last many decades, Kashmir issue continued to present itself as the most daunting issue and a nuclear flashpoint between Pakistan and India. While India has been making all-out unilateral efforts to internalize Kashmir through various legal and administrative measures, the issue remains a bilateral and international dispute warranting world attention particularly when the possibility of war between Pakistan and India on the issue of Kashmir is no more a remote reality, especially when hardline RSS-BJP are at the helm of the affairs in India. In Kashmir, India is likely to use all measures including the use of excessive force against unarmed Kashmiris. Pakistan stands ready to respond to any provocation by extremist belligerent India in the most befitting manner.
The writer is the Executive Director of an Islamabad-based think tank Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies. He tweets @AbdullahKhan333
E-mail: [email protected]
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