Unilateral revocation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir’s status and its bifurcation into two Union Territories has increased tensions between India and Pakistan. People in the Kashmir Valley feel nearly alienated and it won't be easy for the Centre to win back their confidence as they feel betrayed.
The shutdown of the internet and telecommunication network are considered inconsistent with fundamental rights, which is why UN human rights experts have called on the Government of India to end the crackdown on freedom of expression, access to information and peaceful protests prohibited in Kashmir. They have said, "The blackout is a form of collective punishment of people of J&K, without even a pretext of a precipitating offence."
UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has reiterated his earlier stance suggesting a dialogue between India and Pakistan to resolve all the contentious issues.
The government is however prepared for the long haul and would not relax its grip until a peaceful situation prevails, which is unlikely in the foreseeable future owing largely to lack of political engagement with mainstream political parties.
Clearly, turmoil in Kashmir and stalemate between the two neighbours will continue, which poses a grave threat to worsening security situation in the region, especially at the time when India’s economy is facing a severe crisis on several fronts, such as export promotion, a slowdown in the manufacturing sector and lack of jobs.
At this juncture, the focus of policy planning has to be on reviving domestic economy rather than provoking people in Jammu and Kashmir to be on the warpath for protecting their human rights and dignity. The army and security forces ought not to be engaged in fighting its own people who have willingly accepted the Instrument of Accession to be a part of India. A short term political gain ought not to drive us away from the long term goal of making India an enlightened and prosperous country.
In this backdrop, the options that may be exercised to reduce tensions by resolving disputes between India and Pakistan, which may, in turn, ensure restoration of sustainable peace in Jammu and Kashmir. While the imminent threat of extremism and terrorism that are allegedly sponsored by Pakistan would be contained, the policy focus on fixing the domestic economy would yield desirable results.
The Centre’s aim of revoking Article 370 is to have direct control over the police, along with paramilitary forces, to strengthen the security grid. But it will not succeed in containing indigenous uprising and militancy, because almost every Kashmiri is willing to pick up arms.
The successive generations of Kashmiris they have been deceived in the garb of Article 370, which has been eroded over time and finally revoked. The manner in which it has been done with the massive support of Parliament, any worthwhile relief from the Supreme Court is not expected.
Peace Accord with Kashmir: A peace accord with Kashmir is urgently called for by accommodating the wishes and aspirations of people, as per the framework of Insaniyat, Jamhuriat and Kashmiriat, outlined by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
India is the Union of diverse states, which is why the Constitution of India provides for considerable flexibility in accommodating their socio-cultural and ethnic identities. It was precisely for this reason that Jammu and Kashmir, North East and others have been provided constitutional protection for preserving and maintain cultural identities, demographic compositions and ethnicity.
Since the decision about the dilution of Article 370 has been taken without ascertaining the wishes of Kashmiris, it may not be possible to win the hearts and minds of people for removing alienation among them. It is important therefore to make a fresh attempt to negotiate with the leaderships of Kashmir and other stakeholders to arrive at acceptable solutions to restore peace in the region.
In the past, an understanding has been reached with the federating states like Punjab, Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland and others to evolve framework of political autonomy and for promoting healthy Centre-state relations. The Central government has requisite experience and expertise to accommodate the genuine aspirations of people in different parts of the country.
The issue of Line of Control (LoC) could also be settled as International Border, as India did with Bangladesh. As known, India and Bangladesh amicably exchanged the enclaves as per the wishes of the people and finalised the Boarders. A similar exercise is needed to resolve outstanding border issue with Pakistan.
Third-Party Mediation: Kashmir dispute has international ramification. The offer of third party mediation by friendly countries or organisations may be considered. Both the countries agreed under the Shimla Agreement:
i)That the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations shall govern the relations between the two countries.
(ii) That the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them.
The option of a third-party mediation is open to both countries. The recent past experience shows on different pretext both the countries are unlikely to mutually engage themselves to arrive at a consensus on an acceptable solution to the Kashmir imbroglio. It is for this reason that, in the past, at least three major issues between the two countries were resolved through the third party mediations.
For instance, i) Indus Waters Treaty, 1960 was mediated by the World Bank for sharing the water of the rivers that flow in India and Pakistan. Even during the wars between the two countries, the treaty was duly honoured by the two countries.
- ii) The Tashkent Declaration, 1966 was moderated by the then Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin to give away the captured regions of each other in 1965 war and to return to the 1949 ceasefire line, so as to maintain the sanctity of LoC. This agreement was complied with by both the countries.
iii) The northern boundary of Rann of Kutch forms International Border, which was disputed by Pakistan. This resulted in the India-Pakistan war in 1965. Under the auspices of the UN, British prime minister Harold Wilson mediated and resolved the dispute that finally settles the western border between India and Pakistan.
The purpose of this discussion is to demonstrate that the two countries have availed of third party mediation to resolve major disputes. There is, therefore, no reason why India and Pakistan should not agree to mediation under the auspices of the UN, as before.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei said, “We’re concerned about Muslims’ situation in Kashmir. We have good relations with India, but we expect the Indian government to adopt a just policy towards the noble people of Kashmir and prevent the oppression & bullying of Muslims in this region.”
US president Donald Trump observed, “Kashmir is a very complicated place. You have the Hindus, and you have the Muslims, and I wouldn’t say they get along so great. And that’s what you have right now.” There is thus religious and ideological issues associated with the dispute. An official of the White House stated, "The United States is watching the situation in Kashmir very closely. We are continuing to call for calm and restraint, including on rhetoric."
To end the hostilities between India and Pakistan, he has repeatedly expressed his willingness to ‘mediate’ for resolution of Kashmir dispute, which poses a threat to the maintenance of peace in the region due to prolonged conflict between the nuclear-armed nations.
While Pakistan welcomes the offer of mediation by any third party, India’s resolve is clear that the Kashmir imbroglio is a bilateral issue, as per Shimla Agreement of 1972, between India and Pakistan. Therefore, both countries may resolve all the contentious issues through dialogue. But, this is not happening due to lack of Pakistan’s responsiveness to contain terror attacks on Indian territory.
There is credible evidence to prove that both countries have in the past resolved several issues bilaterally while some others have been sorted out through third-party mediation.
In the aftermath of scrapping special status of Jammu and Kashmir and subsequent developments leading to lockdown in the Union Territory as well as the discussion about Kashmir in UNSC at the instance of China, the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh categorically said, "If talks are held with Pakistan, it will now be PoK." Union minister Jitendra Singh also said that "India will free Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) from Pak clutches."
Unwilling to go for any bilateral talks with India, Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan stated that he is no longer interested in dialogue with India and that the Kashmir issue would be taken up with the International Court of Justice.
In the meantime, Kashmir issue has been internationalised since UNSC has taken cognisance of abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India and of lowering the status of the state by bifurcating into two Union Territories. Under Shimla Agreement of 1972, India and Pakistan have agreed, inter alia, “Pending the final settlement of any of the problems between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation and both shall prevent the organisations, assistance or encroachment of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations.”
A sense of paranoia prevails in Kashmir due to the scrapping of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir and the state flag, which has hurt the Kashmiris’ sentiments. To them, there is a loss of identity and dignity as the promises made to them have been belied.
As known, UN Military Observer Group monitors violations along the borders between the countries. In spite of the tight security, the Hurriyat leaders gave a call this weak for the march towards UN office in the Valley. A large number of paramilitary forces were deployed on Friday to protect the barrier on the main road leading to the office of UNMOGIP in Srinagar and public movement around the area was blocked.
Several political parties have also demanded the immediate release of political leaders, relaxation in security clampdown and communication blockade, which has totally disrupted life and liberty in the Valley.
At a meeting attended by major opposition parties, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said, “We must recognise that this is no democracy. If we fail to understand this, then we are living in a fool’s paradise. Something grave is happening in Jammu and Kashmir and the government is trying to hide it. The media is not allowed to telecast the truth."
Peace in the region offers abundant opportunities for promoting economic trade and business as well as cultural exchange programmes while the threat of growing extremism and perceived terror attacks would be effectively contained with the help and support of neighbours. The onus is on India to take initiative to end the perpetuation of tensions with Pakistan and turmoil in Kashmir.
The author is an advisor, Yes Global Institute, former member University Grants Commission and ex-interlocutor on Jammu and Kashmir.
Updated Date: Aug 26, 2019 12:34:48 IST