Former secretary, Ministry of External Affairs
Technically, Pakistan has no reason to go over the top on account of changes in the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir. It does not prima facie alter or erode Pakistan’s basic position on what it calls the Kashmir dispute. This is because, for Pakistan, the entire state of J&K is a disputed territory and a solution lies in the implementation of the United Nations (UN) resolutions.
Thus, Pakistan could have taken the view, in keeping with its basic position, that the creation of two separate union territories in place of the state of J&K does not legally alter or degrade its position. It could have lodged a protest and left it at that. India also protested against the changes made in PoK, for it holds that as the occupying power, Pakistan has no legal basis to do so. However, unlike Pakistan, it did not take the matter further.
Pakistan’s true ‘worry’ is that the withdrawal of autonomy would lead to demographic changes of such a dimension that a plebiscite envisaged in the UN resolutions, if ever held, would lead to a decision of merger with India. The fact is that Pakistan has also allowed demographic changes in PoK. It cannot, therefore, credibly or legitimately object to the steps taken by India. In any event, demographic changes are hardly on the cards. Thus, the real reason for the Pakistani establishment’s anger lies elsewhere.
The international community, including the Islamic world, has simply no appetite to mediate, let alone get the UN Security Council involved in India-Pakistan differences on J&K. It is now firmly of the view that J&K is a bilateral issue which the two countries need to address bilaterally. Some countries add that the views of the Kashmiri people have to be ascertained.
Nobody goes beyond that. Whoever does so, gets an immediate reality check, as US President Donald Trump experienced after his offer to ‘mediate or arbitrate’. In this
context, it is also significant that the UN Secretary-General mentioned the Simla Agreement in his October 8 statement, even if he totally misread it.
Pakistan is, therefore, aware that any forward movement (from its viewpoint) on J&K can only be through bilateral negotiations. These constitutional changes have convinced it that India has now ruled out the possibility of concessions of the kind it was earlier willing to consider.
After 1960, India and Pakistan have seriously engaged each other twice on J&K. The first was in 1962-63 when the two countries explored the possibility of a territorial compromise around the then ceasefire line. Pakistan did not clearly spell out what it wanted, but did indicate that it desired to acquire the Muslim-majority areas of the state. Clearly, it wanted to apply to the state that principle which led to the partition of India. India firmly rejected the offer, though it did indicate its willingness to make adjustments to the CFL (ceasefire line).
Back-channel talks ordered by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharraf comprised the second long-term engagement to address the J&K issue. No authoritative account has been given by either government on what transpired. However, it is believed that the talks proceeded on the principle that no territorial changes could be made. Instead, both governments would facilitate greater intra-Kashmir interaction through facilitating movements of goods and peoples. It also considered cooperative/joint mechanisms in certain areas such as environment. These mechanisms included committees of the legislatures of both sides of J&K.
Thus, the move to bifurcate the state into union territories has been interpreted in Pakistan as India now taking an inflexible position on the Kashmir Valley. With India unwilling to make any concessions, the entire dynamics for finding a ‘final settlement’ has changed.
Pakistan cannot think rationally on J&K. Hence, it must keep the ‘struggle’ alive through the old violent and terrorist actions of the tanzeems. However, it may also consider innovative means of stoking the flames. It will do its best to keep the situation in the Kashmir Valley volatile despite its own troubles on various fronts.
As in the past, so now, India will have to contain the contaminant that flows from Pakistan. While doing so, it will have to convince the people in the Kashmir Valley that the constitutional changes do not constitute an attempt to dilute or change their identity. The desire for economic betterment does not weaken the desire to maintain cultural and religious traditions. Along with fulfilling the stated objectives behind the constitutional changes — better governance, more progressive laws, economic development — the government will have to assure the people of the Kashmir Valley that no attempts will be made to interfere with these traditions. Naturally, no compromise can be made with separatism or terrorism.
It is interesting that the BJP has not directly invoked its ideological opposition to the notion of autonomous units in the Union while justifying the constitutional changes.
This opposition was encapsulated in the slogan that a country cannot have two flags, two sets of laws and two heads of government. It is perfectly valid for a political party to hold such a view on how a state should be constituted. Is it that the BJP leadership is aware that it may have to extend major elements of autonomy to resolve other
longstanding issues and, hence, has sought to spell out the motivations for the changes in security and development terms? It is unlikely that either the government or the BJP will clarify this matter anytime soon.
Two last points to make:
Both the Kashmiri leadership and successive Central governments contributed to the failure of the autonomy compact. Above all, it was the Indian state’s inability to prevent Pakistan’s intervention and intrusiveness that led to the present situation.
The new arrangements cannot also succeed unless Pakistan’s covert involvement in Kashmir affairs is effectively dealt with. From some perspectives, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
(Two-part series concluded)