Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
ONCE again, while addressing the Kartarpur Corridor inauguration ceremony, PM Imran Khan invited Indian Premier Narendra Modi to have a dialogue on Kashmir dispute and resolve this chronic South Asian syndrome. If the heavy-handed measures of the curfew were intended to dampen the threat of violence, they succeeded—at least for a time. But now that India has begun lifting restrictions on the Valley, Kashmiris are bracing themselves for what happens once the clampdown is over. In a Sept. 29 column, to the Times of India, former Indian Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju wrote that Kashmir would become India’s Vietnam War, a nightmare with “body bags” returning in large numbers. “Remove the restrictions, and popular protests will engulf the whole Valley. Continue them, and the pot will boil until it explodes.”
By all veritable calculations, New Delhi’s expansionist design has manifested itself in another dangerous move in three months to formally but unilaterally annex India-occupied Kashmir. The Modi’s mischievous move has come up with a fanciful newly drawn ‘map’, in blatant violation of ‘recognised geographical boundaries’. This malevolent scheme deliberately identifies Azad Kashmir as well as certain areas of Gilgit-Baltistan as Indian territory. The Modi’s led trajectory of dividing, annexing and redefining the geographical units is nothing but a show of BJP’s hedonist geopolitical approach towards Kashmir. The coercive Indian obstruction to observe the Eid Milad-un-Nabi in IoK and the arrest of chairman Kashmiri Serat-un-Nabi Committee Maulana Abdul Qayyum is indicative of Indian state policy of religious intolerance against the minorities.
“Has PM Modi thought what would happen when the curfew in Kashmir is lifted? Do you think people in Kashmir would accept that you have withdrawn the special status? They, too, will come out on the streets after the curfew in the state is lifted. There will be bloodbath when the curfew is lifted from the state,” Khan said. “If there is bloodbath, Muslims will pick up arms, not because of Islam, but because they will see there is no justice when it comes to Muslims.” While also recently referring to the situation in the occupied region as “the worst violation of human rights”, the Premier Imran Khan noted that Modi’s use of more than 900,000 armed security personnel is meant to silence and terrorise Kashmiris and not fight terrorism.
But by planning to deviously align the occupied Kashmir with the Indian Union, Modi’s game has been to build an alternative narrative of expanded stakeholders to Kashmir with the objective to dilute the stakes of the local Kashmiris as well as to dent the identical diversity of the Kashmiri Muslims.
Therefore, by incorporating the stakes of other regions— Jammu and Ladakh, along with the claims of Kashmiri pundits and ethnic sub-sects of the region, like the Paharis and Gujjars, the Central Government in Delhi seemed to weaken the case of the Kashmiris as sole representatives of the Kashmir dispute. In a nutshell, it aimed to drown out the voice of Kashmiri aspirations in the clamour of alternative stakeholders via ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiris. Fairly, it could be argued that, rather than follow this basic principle of federalism, the Modi government introduced the change in stealth, preceding the move by closing down land-line and mobile services and all internet access, banning public meetings, putting leading politicians under house arrest, and increasing the presence of the army. Further, its directive stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its status as a state altogether. It is now a Union Territory, administered directly by New Delhi.
Some analysts think that New Delhi’s decision to directly govern Ladakh is a geopolitically driven move to further expand the chessboard on Kashmir. Sameer Patil, a researcher at the International Security Studies at Gateway House, an Indian Foreign Policy think-tank is of the view that Chinese influence in Ladakh has remained profoundly increasing over time, mainly because of its economic incentives in the area. The region has suffered due to a lack of interest from the Indian government. Today, both China and Pakistan have become big trade-partners via the newly constructed Karakoram Highway, which connects the countries via the western Kashmir region. As part of the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, this former gravel road is currently being developed into a multi-lane asphalt highway that can be mainly used for the trade traffic.
Recently, a 16-member ASEAN parliamentary delegation said during a visit to Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, that the multi-national body would “seek justice for the Kashmiri people.” Parliamentary Representatives from Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand and Cambodia visited the region where they met a cross-section of people including President of Azad Kashmir Sardar Masood Khan. Pakistan’s Foreign Office has taken a positive note on the latest development in Washington where the US House Committee held a special briefing on the Kashmir issue. “The latest hearing in the US House of Representatives is timely and shows the world community’s continued concern over the unacceptable situation in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir and the need to address it urgently,” the statement said. Representative Ilhan Omar, who was part of the sub-committee, in a tweet said that Kashmiris were “restricted” from contacting the outside world – and wondered “at what point do we question whether Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi shares our values?”
The Indian Home Minister clarified on 18 September 2019 that India has not renounced its sovereignty claims over Aksai Chin. In this emerging opaque-like situation, China may not be satisfied of the future Indian intention and hence, the Chinese objections to the Indian exercised modus vivendi vis-à-vis bifurcation. And of course, Beijing holds sensitive border agreement with Pakistan concerning Gilgit–Baltistan and AJK. Nevertheless, in response to the Indian design of re-defining the Kashmir boundaries—posing constant threats on the stipulated status of the LoC and the actual line of control, it is highly suggestible both Pakistan and China should form a bilateral Kashmir Defence Council to mutually monitor the security of the said area.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.