BY AFSAN CHOWDHURY
With a lot of drama the announcement was made, though the preparations were a secret. Although South Asians from different zones are protesting, generally about the loss of human rights of the Kashmiris, the future is still circling around the unknown.
India has acted out of a sense of majoritarian domination and asserting that it can impose its will if it so wishes on any part of its geography as it interprets. It’s a very popular move within India and political parties have also supported it in the Lok Sabha which makes Modi feel smarter and stronger than ever.
It’s basically trying to undo 1947 and its legacy and that is the general objective of the Indians that matter and the national objective of most. While politically and polemically that’s fine, but unless it translates into market benefits, it will be an expansion without economic gain, a victory that tastes weaker after a while. And it may come with a cost as well, both political and economic.
India has read the international scene well
Pakistan is the most affected country in every sense, as India goes one very large step forward in denying or ignoring that Kashmir is “disputed.” By invalidating a clause of the constitution and making it part of the mainland, it made fundamental adjustments to the way the state will be governed.
However, two points are significant. First, such acts have enormous public support from which BJP draws its strategy and the Lok Sabha’s consensus on the issue gives legitimacy to such acts. Hence, the step was a calculated one, knowing it was meeting near universal approval. In the process, the sources — UN resolutions and various international agreements and understandings — were scrapped. But this is an age of “securitarianism” so India hasn’t met with any international furor on its actions either.
Compared to this act, many other more violent ones — the Rohingya eviction being one — occur which the world has turned a blind eye to so India has read the scene well before acting.
Pakistan of course has reacted strongly. It has called off its envoy to India, downgraded its diplomatic representation status, and halted Indo-Pak trade but this was to be expected. If Pakistan was caught off guard, then it would be embarrassing for its security agencies for being caught napping.
But now the army is being asked to be “readied.” A skirmish or two is possible and long-term hostility will continue of course.
The Indian threat will also legitimize the military’s grip on political power more than before. A security state from birth, largely produced with the assistance of the Kashmir issue, it will be able to justify many more acts with greater confidence. For them, the Indian decision will be welcomed.
Bangladesh and other South Asian countries
Bangladesh and other South Asian countries have reacted with fear and anxiety. Facebook is full of condemnation of the “aggression of Indian expansionists” and other such statements. Solidarity with the rights of the Kashmiris are also being mentioned.
Such feelings are echoing all over the region. It proves that India’s size and intent matched by action doesn’t make it exactly the big brother neighbour everyone would like to have.
However, the reality of current post-colonial India is the rise of the powerful states that can decide its position on what it calls, “the best interest of the state” and act without fear of any threat.
The decision also means that India doesn’t need a friendly region. It feels it has nothing to gain from having to treat such small neighbours with respect and concern. It is not bothered about the kind of signals it sends. However, small state securitization will now be more commonly discussed and the rulers of small states will have to show some concern as public opinion will demand some actions.
Bangladesh’s reaction to the issue, “it’s India’s internal matter” expresses the reality. Public opinion shows that’s not what people think but Bangladesh’s hands are tied given the India that exists now. Collectively, no South Asian discussions on Indian policies can take place but it is what is being discussed most in diplomatic and security zones of South Asia.
China’s take on the issue
China has said that it opposed India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status and that New Delhi needed to be cautious on border issues. “India’s action is unacceptable and would not have any legal effect,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement. “The recent unilateral revision of domestic laws by the Indian side continues to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty, which is unacceptable and will not have any effect,” Hua added.
But China may also read it as a windfall advantage as its access to the entire neighbourhood will be more now. India has tried to brand BRI as an “expansionist” plan and warned that the smaller countries will face “sovereignty” issues if they participate in the project. But with Kashmir for all to see now, BRI looks rather tame in comparison as a threat. China will have a smoother sail with BRI now, particularly when it is planning to add a more reciprocal approach to the plan which Beijing now wants to sell to the region.
The Kashmir episode, therefore, is an oddly mixed one. India’s motivation is not fully clear as no extra threat was visible, either from militants or internally.
It has lost a region’s sense of security, who were powerless by themselves but may seek a more powerful ally for support in China. Pakistan may make noises but they would be insignificant. And of course, the people of Kashmir do not matter at all. But China does.
Will it be odd to speculate that the only one to gain without any risk may well be China, which becomes more entrenched in the region than India or even China may have expected?
(Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.)