CHENNAI, India, 4 August 2019
Part of Kashmir is in Indian territory and the remaining part is under the governance of Pakistan.
There have been unending controversies and arguments on whether entire Kashmir should belong to India or Pakistan. Both the countries have fought wars and there have been no solutions so far for this vexed issue. Given the complexities and the tough and inflexible stand taken by India and Pakistan, one cannot be sure as to whether any amicable solution can be reached at all, that would satisfy India and Pakistan and the people of Kashmir in the foreseeable future.
After the recent “successful” visit of the Pakistan Prime Minister to meet the US President, President Trump has thought it fit to say in public that Indian Prime Minister Modi has requested him to mediate in the Kashmir dispute. India immediately denied that such request has been made. After a few days, President Trump, in his characteristic style, modified his statement saying that he would mediate if both the countries would request him to do so. Again, India clearly said that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, which it has said several times in the past, and that no external mediation would be acceptable to India.
Now, the question remains as to where the Kashmir issue stands today.
In the last few days, the Government of India has suspended the pilgrimage of people to Amarnath, and said that there is threat of terrorist attack on the Amarnath pilgrims and that the cancellation of the pilgrimage is necessary for security reasons. India has accused Pakistan and the terrorists of posing a threat to the Amarnath pilgrims.
This decision of the Government of India has been widely welcomed in India, as most Indian citizens think that Pakistan government, military, and ISI are hand-in-glove with the terrorists to create unrest by violence in the Kashmir region under India’s governance.
However, what surprised most people in India and abroad was the move of the Government fo India to put the Indian military and air force on high alert and send thousands of troops to Kashmir valley as precautionary security arrangement.
Indian media, which is known for making unverified claims and spreading rumours, has said without any basis that the Modi government proposes to abolish Article 35A which provides special status for Kashmir. It is said that the objective of the determined and strong Modi government is to integrate Kashmir with the rest of India by withdrawing special status for Kashmir.
Article 35A for Kashmir contains several regulations, such as that no other citizen of India other than a permanent resident of Kashmir can own property in Jammu and Kashmir or get a state job. Such special status for Kashmir has certainly prevented emotional integration of Kashmir residents with citizens in the rest of India, causing lack of interaction and contacts in various ways.
It appears that the Modi government thinks that emotional integration of residents of Kashmir with the rest of India is necessary to stop the unrest in Kashmir that is encouraged by the terrorists and separatists, who are suspected to be receiving military and financial support from the Pakistan army.
Overwhelming Indian population seem to approve the strategy of Modi government to promote emotional integration of residents of Kashmir with India, and want Article 35A to be abolished. However, there is no way that the views of the residents of Kashmir on the matter can be ascertained by a careful survey in the present surcharged atmosphere in Kashmir. However, the overwhelming participation of residents of Kashmir in the recent assembly and municipal election point to the fact that Kashmir residents would prefer integration with India in all respects. Except for two or three districts in Kashmir where the militants hold sway and are creating fear of attack among the voters, the participation of residents in the polls has been impressive.
Abolition of Article 35A would be a decisive move by the Modi government, with far-reaching implications. Of course the terrorists, the separatists, and the Pakistan military would oppose such a move by launching a vigorous adverse campaign and violent methods. The Modi government know this, and that is perhaps why the military and air force have been put on high alert and massive additional troops were deployed in Kashmir during the last few days.
Many Indians believe that if the strong Modi government would not be able to abolish Article 35A successfully in Kashmir, it is highly doubtful whether any other government can do so in the foreseeable future.
While there is a strong Prime Minister in India in Mr. Modi, the present Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan is facing several difficult and uncertain conditions, and many observers doubt whether he is in full control of the government of Pakistan. Many observers also believe that Pakistan military generals, ISI, and several terrorist groups in Pakistan are overseeing the Imran Khan government and he is not in a position to take independent decisions to find solutions for the Kashmir issue.
Pakistan is in dire straits on the economic front, with huge debt accumulated and China having successfully gained a sort of control over Pakistan government by making huge investments in Pakistan in several infrastructure projects including port and roadways and mines and getting strategic control over them. Pakistan Prime Minister is certainly not in a position to defy Chinese government in any manner, and at the same time he desperately needs grants, aid, and loans to overcome the impending economic collapse in Pakistan. China is unwilling to extend unconditional loans and USA is putting several conditions, and IMF is also not very helpful in viewing Pakistan’s problems.
Several utterances of Prime Minister Imran Khan in recent times give an indication that he would prefer an amicable solution to the Kashmir issue, as Pakistan cannot anymore afford the military adventures in Kashmir, but it seems he is not in a position to act decisively.
Perhaps the Modi government can facilitate a solution to the Kashmir problem by promoting emotional integration of Kashmir residents with India, and perhaps ultimately recognising the ground reality and agreeing that the present Kashmir territory under the control of Pakistan would stay with Pakistan and the territory under the control of India would stay with India.
However, Pakistan faces some problems in agreeing with such a solution, as it has “gifted away” part of the occupied Kashmir to China and it does not have the resources or the conducive atmosphere to promote emotional integration of the residents of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir with the rest of Pakistan. Further, military generals and terrorist groups are other stumbling blocks.
While Indian Prime Minister Modi has the strength and courage of conviction to implement his plans in Kashmir, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan does not enjoy such advantages.
While Mr. Modi may succeed in the emotional integration of residents of Kashmir with India and in suppressing the terrorists and separatists in Kashmir by force or otherwise, it appears that the Pakistan side of the Kashmir problem will still linger on for quite a long time for India. At this stage, it appears to be impossible to reasonably make any conclusions about the end of the road.
About the author
NS Venkataraman is a chemical engineer as well as a social activist in Chennai, India. He is the founder trustee of Nandini Voice for the Deprived, a Chennai-based not-for-profit organisation serving the cause of the deprived and down-trodden, and working for probity in public life.