Repeal of Article 370 and time to call Pakistan’s bluff

India succeeded in snuffing out the efforts of Pakistan and China to internationalize the Kashmir issue at the United Nations Security Council last week in the backdrop of Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s altering the status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5 by withdrawing its special status under the Constitution and bifurcating it into two federally-governed territories. The failure of China and Pakistan in trying to corner New Delhi at the UNSC speaks volumes of the growing economic heft and diplomatic clout of India.

The informal closed-door consultations on the Kashmir issue at the UNSC, initiated by veto power-wielding China, on August 17 ended without any outcome nor any statement from any of the 15 permanent and non-permanent members of the Security Council barring China. Most of the UNSC members concurred with the view that repeal of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir was a matter internal to India and the issues arising out of it are in the bilateral realms of India and Pakistan. Even the UN Secretary General Antonio Gueterres has cited the 1972 Shimla Agreement according to which all disputes between India and Pakistan have to be resolved through bilateral discussions. All these constituted a major snub to China and Pakistan. 

Predictably, the change effected by India in the status of Jammu and Kashmir has drawn sharp reactions from Islamabad and its all-weather ally Beijing. The two allies accused India of “violating” the status quo on a “disputed” issue. Their claim was firmly rejected by India’s Permanent Representative at the UN Syed Akbaruddin who said the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status “is an internal matter of India and these have no external ramifications and that the Chinese envoy to the UN tried to pass off his own view as that of the international community.” This amounted to India snubbing China and effectively asking the latter to mind its business after Beijing protested against changing the status of Ladakh which Beijing claims is part of the huge strategically-located unresolved region of Aksay Chin in the western part of the Himalayas.

Ironically, Pakistan has taken measures over the last seven decades to alter a part of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and integrated with it the Gilgit-Baltistan area in 2009.  China too altered the status quo along the unresolved border in Jammu and Kashmir by annexing a part of the Indian state in 1963 occupying Aksai Chin  and building the Karakoram highway through an area Beijing calls “disputed” and agreeing to build China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in spite of India’s repeated protests. Unlike India, Pakistan has all these years allowed non-Kashmiris to settle in occupied Kashmir thereby altering its demography and permitted deployment of Chinese military there close to the de facto border with India. It is well known how China has sought to change the population profile of Tibet by settling main ethnic Hans there in large numbers and interfering with the Buddhist religious practices there. China has sent thousands of Uighur Muslims in Xinxiang province “re-education” camps and used strong-arm tactics to quell uprisings in Tibet. One is also not oblivious of China’s handling of the ongoing street protests in Hong Kong. Clearly, the double standards of Pakistan and China stand exposed.

Pakistan's ploy is to keep Kashmir on the boil and in international focus and is seeking to create the perception of an impending war as evident in Prime Minister Imran Khan's bellicose statements in recent weeks claiming altering the status of Jammu and Kashmir has the potential to set off a conflict. Khan had also questioned the safety of India's nuclear arsenal. After having failed at the Security Council, Pakistan wants to keep the Kashmir issue alive in the run up to Khan's speech at the UN next month when he would internationalize the issue once again. 

Islamabad is trying to capitalize on Trump’s desperation to get out of the Afghanistan ahead of US Presidential elections next year and making peace with the Taliban there and seek Washington to pressure India to discuss the Kashmir issue. It is part of this strategy of Pakistan that Islamabad had recently downgraded diplomatic relations with India by expelling the Indian High Commissioner to Islamabad and suspended bilateral trade. Trump needs Pakistan's role to keep the Taliban engaged in talks. Washington, at the same time, views New Delhi as a crucial ally to counter China in South and Central Asia, thereby reflecting a dilemma for the US.      

 According to the establishment in New Delhi, Pakistan will try to foment cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir also promote agitations in Jammu and Kashmir once restrictions on movement of people and communication links are eased and a move towards restoration of normalcy gathers momentum. India now faces the challenge of sensitively handling the protests against revocation of Articles 370. On the external front, India needs to further intensify diplomatic engagement with the international community. New Delhi has to put in all resources Pakistan’s Kashmir propaganda because the civil society, politicians and intellectuals in the West are not always fully informed of the legal, diplomatic, political and historical dimensions of the Kashmir issue. While some in the West talks about alleged human rights abuses in Jammu and Kashmir they tend to forget how Hindus from the area have been driven out in 1990 and how Islamabad engineered demographic changes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or Gilgit-Baltistan.

The abrogation of Article 370 and bringing Kashmir into full integration with the rest of India is set to change the fundamentals of India-Pakistan engagement in future. It is a new phase in India’s approach towards Pakistan. According to India’s former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, after the withdrawal of the special status of Kashmir, India will make the Kashmir issue a no-go area in any discussion with Pakistan citing this to be purely an internal issue. Saran said implicit in the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was a recognition that it was “disputed”. But now with that status gone, Jammu and Kashmir is now a domestic issue, Saran opined.

India will now have no reason to include Jammu and Kashmir while talking to Pakistan for which Kashmir had in the last 70 years been the core issue in talks with India. This new reality post Article 370 abolition was reflected in Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s remark a few days ago that now India’s only issues with Pakistan are Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and terrorism emanating from Pakistan. To dismiss Rajnath’s remark as rhetoric would be a mistake because continuance of Article 370 was a transitional provision that stood in the way of full and permanent integration of Jammu and Kashmir with India. This would now take the Jammu and Kashmir issue of the discussion table with Pakistan.           

After the recent snub by the United Nations Security Council, Pakistan has said it will approach the International Court of Justice on the Kashmir issue. Why is Pakistan trying to escalate the Kashmir issue? US President Donald Trump’s objective of pull-out of American troops from Afghanistan has emboldened Pakistan which deludes itself by thinking that it can face any international condemnation of its sponsorship of terror in Jammu and Kashmir by pointing to its potential to extend cooperation to help prod the Taliban for peace in that country post-American withdrawal. It is time to call Pakistan’s bluff. 

Pallab Bhattacharya is  a 

journalist based in India