Following extraordinary changes in the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, all eyes were on Pakistan. In a first concrete reaction, it has expelled the Indian envoy. And ordered its High Commissioner-Designate not to take up his posting in New Delhi. This was announced in Islamabad on Wednesday after a meeting of the National Security Committee presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Among those who attended the meeting was the army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, ISI chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, and army spokesperson Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood were other attendees. The Pak NSC termed the revocation of Article 370 as ‘unilateral and illegal’. Pakistan also decided to suspend trade with India. None of these decisions are likely to bother New Delhi.
Indeed, these must have been expected. India had expelled the Pak envoy after the attack on Parliament in December 2001, while in reaction Pakistan had withdrawn its envoy from New Delhi. Full diplomatic ties were resumed two years later with both countries posting high commissioners in respective capitals. The suspension of bilateral trade too was expected. Official trade is about $ 2 billion while through third countries like Dubai it is said to be far more. Unofficial trade too might taper off for a while before the Indo-Pak ties get back on an even keel. It must be appreciated that Islamabad is under tremendous pressure to counter the Indian move in Kashmir.
Proceedings in the special session of the National Assembly following the abrogation of the special status for J and K saw members vending their violent spleen, with the Opposition members taunting the government for its weak response. Prime Minister Khan was at pains to counsel restraint, reasoning that armed hostilities between two nuclear-powered neighbours could well escalate into something terrible which could impact not just India and Pakistan but the rest of the world as well.
Quite aside from the pressure felt by the political class in Islamabad, the top military brass which virtually lords over the politicians, too feels under tremendous pressure. There is a widespread resentment among ordinary Pakistanis that the ~fauz~ is parasitical, living it up in luxury while they suffer in back-breaking poverty.
Periodically renewing its anti-India and pro-Kashmir ‘azadi’ credentials by covert and overt hostile actions against India is meant to justify its disproportionately high claim on the public purse. In other words, a misadventure either directly or through its proxies or non-State actors, as terror groups funded by the ISI have euphemistically come to be called. Of course, Pakistan will try making noises in world capitals, try to raise in the UN Security Council, hammer the ‘grave human rights atrocity on Kashmiris’ in next month’s General Assembly session. Indian diplomats can be trusted to blunt the Pak onslaught. Even China aside from paying lip service may not want to dirty its hand in the long-standing Kashmir dispute.
China can hardly protest alleged human rights violations when it is suppressing under the army jackboot more than a million Uighur Muslims, demolishing their mosques, forcibly separating children from their parents and imposing restrictions on their movement and religious freedom. However, far more relevant for the Modi Government will be the reaction of the people in Kashmir itself. When the strict restrictions on free movement are lifted, communications restored, and ring leaders under protective house-arrests set free, all eyes will be on the first public reaction of those who feel they are immediately affected by the abrogation of the special status. The authorities cannot lower the guard in Kashmir. Having taken the plunge, there cannot be any going back.
But a combination of cool persuasion and armed power will be an ideal mix even as the authorities try and isolate the so-called ruling families of Kashmir. Meanwhile, the sections of the commentariat class which is ceaselessly harping on the horrible fall-out of the revocation of Article 370 should take a pause. Their dire scenarios only fuel further the anti-India elements, obliging them doubly to perpetrate a violent deed.
- S Sadanand