Time for Narendra Modi, Amit Shah to actualise plan for Kashmir

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has wrapped up his meeting with US President Donald Trump as well as France’s Emmanuel Macron on a high. On Kashmir he fobbed off the US President and made India’s age-old position on third party intervention clear.

Trump appears convinced for now. But one can never tell with a mercurial president like him. More so because the US needs Pakistan ’s help to make sure that the deal it is about to clinch with the Taliban is in place. Imran Khan’s government will keep up the pressure for getting  the US or the UN involved.

Despite the bonhomie projected in photo-ops and the wrist-slapping between Modi and Trump, the fact remains that Washington and indeed the international community is now focused on Kashmir and the sooner the Modi government gets its act together the better. In the past Kashmir was a major issue.

Indian diplomats across Europe and US were relentlessly questioned by the Western media on the situation there. We could well return to that situation unless the government begins to lift restrictions on movement of people and end the communication blockade. Possibly the message has gone home as efforts are on to restore communication lines partially in the next few days.

After 9/11, with terrorism becoming the focal point, freedom movements were no longer in vogue. And Pakistan’s role in using terror to bleed India as well as Afghanistan did not help matters. The US and NATO armies found out the hard way while fighting in Afghanistan, the games Pakistan’s army could play. 

With Pakistan’s credibility at an all time low, Kashmir was all but forgotten by the rest of the world. However Modi’s dramatic move on August 5, when he stripped Kashmir of its special status and the administration ordered a lock down in the state, things have changed. Kashmir is back with a bang. Pakistan expectedly will exploit the situation to its advantage. Initially it got little traction except from China, which asked for a closed door meeting on Kashmir. 

It is not so much the scrapping of Article 370, as the almost curfew-like situation in large parts of the valley and the blanket ban on news that has raised concerns. The next few weeks will be a major test for the Modi government as it works towards getting the state back to normal. Already questions are being raised both at home and abroad.

Democratic firebrand Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has spoken out and tweeted: "We should be calling for an immediate restoration of communication; respect for human rights, democratic norms, and religious freedom; and de-escalation in Kashmir." Britain’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had also raised the issue. More and more voices would be raised if this continues. At the moment Western governments are holding their horses, giving Delhi the time to work its way out. But the international media will continue to focus on the situation in the valley.

Governments cannot indefinitely ignore their media. But easing conditions in the valley is easier said than done. The moment that happens, protests are likely to erupt across Srinagar and smaller towns and villages across the valley. It is likely that protests will result in stone-pelting and attacks on the security forces. The forces will hit back. It would be the opportunity for sleeper cells of terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and other jihadi forums to resort to violence.

The western media will naturally report these stories. The kind of buzz that will create in democratic capitals will not be pretty. The Modi government must have taken all this into consideration before making its move. It will be up to Modi, his home minister Amit Shah and NSA Ajit Doval to prove they can handle the situation. If India is able to minimize the damage and gradually get the valley to function, it would be quite an achievement.

The state administration has announced that 50,000 job vacancies in Kashmir would be filled in the next two to three months. Development projects are also likely to be announced to entice people. But would sops be enough to win hearts and minds? One has to wait and watch. The people of Kashmir fear that scrapping of Article 370 will change the demography of the state.

The special status of Kashmir helped the state to formulate land laws which barred “outsiders” from other parts of India from buying land from local Kashmiris. This was done to ensure that Kashmiri culture and identity remains intact. That clause has been blown away with the abrogation of Article 370. Kashmir is not the only state where “outsiders” are not allowed to acquire land. In the north eastern states of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram non-tribals cannot buy property.

But unlike in the north eastern tribal states, Kashmir is adjacent to Pakistan, which has since independence stirred the pot in the valley. From sending tribesmen to capture Kashmir in 1947 to pushing in terror groups to carry out strikes against Indian security forces, Pakistan has relentlessly played the Kashmir card. That gives an entirely new dimension to the problem. Caught between the devil and the deep sea are the ordinary people of Kashmir. 

The writer is a senior journalist with expertise in foreign policy and international affairs. Editorial cartoon courtesy: Mika Azizi

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