By M.R. Josse
TAMPA, FL: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, two months into his second term, has played his most hubristic, reckless card to date – lobbing a flaming torch into the powder keg that is Kashmir, the trigger for three conflicts between India and Pakistan.
That he accomplished (August 5, 2019) by revoking Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, thereby violating the basic condition of the Instrument of Accession by which Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) acceded to India in 1947. Simultaneously, Article 35A, guaranteeing residents of J&K rights and privileges as wardens of their own territory, was eviscerated.
I will focus here, in the main, on such aspects of the question such as India’s diplomatic isolation, Russia’s desertion, China’s tough stance and her having to take comfort in Bhutan’s support!
It has included India sending more that 80,000 troops to augment her already half a million-strong presence, and imposing a draconian lockout which left Kashmir’s seven million inhabitants unable to communicate with the outside world. For good measure, mainstream J&K leaders were placed under house-arrest, while media reports say that more than 4,000 other political activists have been detained.
Putting all that aside, however, let us take note that India’s monotonously repetitive Olympian claim that Kashmir is India’s “internal matter” was shot down by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)’s closed-door consultative meeting at UN H/Q in New York, August 16, 2019.
Earlier, Pakistan had written to the UNSC drawing its attention to India’s political maneuvers vis-à-vis J&K, while China, a permanent UNSC member and Pakistan’s steadfast ally, added her weight by formally seeking a meeting of the UNSC to discuss developments in Kashmir – which was granted.
Following the closed-door consultative meeting, China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun was reported to have told reporters that “members were also concerned about the human rights situation there” – hardly tantamount to a shining endorsement by the international community of Modi’s gamble vis-à-vis the Kashmir crisis.
Revealingly, as per Anirban Bhaumik’s report in the Deccan Herald, India had been relying on Russia to block the UNSC from adopting any decision that might help Pakistan internationalize the Kashmir issue. Yet, fact that the UNSC met – even if only in a closed-door session – plainly internationalized the Kashmir question – for the first time since 1965.
What is most telling, too, are observations tweeted by Russia’s UN deputy permanent representative, Dimitry Polyansky, at that UNSC conclave, as reported in the Deccan Herald:
“We hope the existing divergences around Kashmir will be settled bilaterally by political and diplomatic means only on the basis of the Simla Agreement of 1972 and the Lahore Declaration of 1999, in accordance with the UN Charter, relevant UN resolutions and bilateral agreements between India and Pakistan.”
Bhaumik then adds this kicker: “What surprised New Delhi was reference to ‘UN Charter’ and ‘relevant UN resolutions.’ ”
All in all, shredded, basically, was India’s ludicrous claim that the dispute – on the UN’s agenda for decades – is entirely India’s “internal” matter. That no official UNSC statement was put out, or that no formal UNSC debate followed, while notable does not overturn the cardinal fact that the world body did not buy India’s “internal matter” argument.
I hold it likely that the UNSC’s collective desire to cool dangerously soaring tempers in India and Pakistan – both nuclear weapons powers – was the determining factor in the consensus that developed in that regard.
Be that as it may, the extent of India’s lonely seclusion was exposed in an Asia Times commentary by Manoj Kumar Mishra who had this to say about Modi’s two-day state visit to Bhutan (August 17-18, 2019): “The visit was timely to gain unambiguous support for India’s abrogation of the special provisions for Jammu and Kashmir granted under Article 370 to the Indian Constitution.” So, tiny Bhutan had to come to mighty India’s rescue!
Earlier too, India’s isolation on the issue had been clearly advertised, including during Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar’s recent Beijing visit – following an earlier one by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi – which witnessed Beijing putting out a formal statement saying that China has taken a “principled stand” on the “unilateral action” taken by India, and urging New Delhi to play a constructive role in regional peace and stability.
Although Jaishankar’s recent visit to Kathmandu witnessed all manner of supine – if unsurprising – obsequiousness on the part of Nepal’s current gaggle of politicos, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gwayali’s stance on Kashmir was salutary if puzzling, while further underscoring India’s diplomatic loneliness.
As Nepali media reported it, Gwayali held that the issue was not India’s “internal issue”; rather, it was a bilateral one concerning India and Pakistan! One now awaits reports on whether Gwayali is still foreign minister or has been fired!
Another conundrum regarding Modi’s risky, reckless Kashmir venture concerns the United States, or, in particular, President Donald Trump.
In an article by Richard N. Haas, in the Asia Times, Haas reveals: “When Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan visited the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump made the stunning declaration that the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate the Kashmir dispute.”
Though the Indian government quickly denied that such a request had been made, it
certainly raises the possibility that one of the reasons behind Modi’s Kashmir adventure – including its timing – was Modi’s desire to act quickly before Trump’s actions stymied such a possibility.
While on a similarly speculative frame of mind, I wonder if its timing had anything to do with China’s daunting problems in Hong Kong or Beijing’s rapidly deteriorating relations with the United States.
In the future, it will be judicious to monitor follow-up developments in India and Pakistan – and in the wider Muslim world whose reaction may not be as homogenous as many imagine. Whether Modi’s reckless gamble succeeds – or fails – could crucially depend on such considerations.