Home / News / India /  Global battleground after Operation 370

India remained focused recently on the efforts of US President Donald Trump to distance himself from his earlier statement, claiming that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate on the Kashmir issue. There were, however, serious new developments emerging from across the Line of Control (LoC) and in the Kashmir valley. While patrolling in areas near sites for use by pilgrims visiting Amarnath shrine, army personnel recovered a cache of arms.

Anticipating another Pulwama type terror attack, the entire state went on high alert. The first indication that things were really amiss in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) came when the Indian Army, paramilitary forces and police held a joint media briefing in Srinagar on 2 August. Lt General Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon, General Officer Commanding, XV Corps, displayed a captured American M 24 automatic rifle, used by the Pakistan Army. He also agreed to provide photographs of Pakistan-made hand grenades. More importantly, he provided details of how “stone-pelters" soon turned into “jihadis", who were then killed in encounters with the security forces, in a matter of months.

Most people read Dhillon’s comments as signalling of the beginning of new assaults on terrorist locations to pre-empt attacks on Amarnath pilgrims. His warnings were immediately accompanied by thousands of additional military and paramilitary personnel being airlifted to Kashmir. Pilgrims and tourists were, meanwhile, asked to leave J&K without delay.

Operation Article 370

While almost everyone was preparing for growing cross-border shoot-outs, Modi struck from a totally different direction. Politicians across the Kashmir valley soon found themselves detained amidst rumours (evidently leaked officially) that the government planned to scrap Article 35A of the Constitution. Article 35A empowered the state government to decide who could become “permanent residents" of the state. It also empowered the “permanent residents" to exclusively get employment in state government institutions and acquire immovable properties in the state.

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Opposition parliamentarians in New Delhi were preparing to reject any dilution of the Article, which was enacted by an executive order, without any Parliamentary endorsement. What emerged, instead, was the move by the Union government to annul the provisions of Article 370. This move was described as a political “googly", which completely caught the opposition by surprise.

What has emerged is a triumphant political victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has succeeded in enacting a legislation which discards the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution. The Article restricted New Delhi’s powers in J&K to defence, foreign affairs, finance and communications. Equally significant is the fact that the Ladakh region has now been made a separate Union territory.

The Kashmir valley and Jammu region have been grouped together as a Union territory, administered by a lieutenant governor, where the chief minister enjoys relatively limited powers, like his counterparts in Delhi and Puducherry. It is obvious that these changes will be challenged in the Supreme Court, though many eminent lawyers are persuaded about the constitutional validity of the legislation approved by Parliament.

Diplomatic offensive

New Delhi has launched an immediate diplomatic offensive to pre-empt any possibility of major power centres like Moscow, Washington, Beijing, Tokyo, London and Paris, issuing ill-advised statements like Trump’s comments offering mediation during his meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Washington. This statement had created avoidable and serious misgivings in New Delhi, about the US President’s intentions and credibility. India has lobbied hard in obtaining support for its views in both Houses of the US Congress.

Despite its blossoming relations with Israel, India continues to have cordial ties with major Arab powers like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE has noted that India’s move to abrogate Article 370 is mainly aimed at helping improve social and economic conditions in J&K. Given its clout in Washington, Israel could play an even more useful role in enabling India to reach out to wide cross-sections of people in the US on the recent developments.

Pakistan is being wooed by the Trump administration, with some Pakistanis expecting a major change in US policies in their favour. Realists in Pakistan, however, know about the importance that the US military and diplomatic establishment accords to relations with India. The belief of some Pakistanis that the Trump administration would “tilt" against India is just not realistic. On Thursday night, a US state department spokesperson said the US was closely following India’s legislation and urged the two countries to engage in dialogue to lessen tensions between them in a bid to curb the potential for “increased instability in the region". That said, India has to be constantly prepared to deal with “unguided missiles" from Trump.

The China factor

China evidently fears that the Pakistan establishment and particularly its military are showing signs of cozying up to the Americans. There have been murmurs of dissatisfaction emerging from Pakistan on the high interest rates and other terms of Chinese “aid", for the much touted China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Responding to the prevalence of such criticism in Pakistan, China now seems to be echoing Pakistan’s line on the issue of J&K. The Chinese government’s mouthpiece Global Times backed calls for mediation on the Kashmir issue. It hoped that China would join the US to play an active role as a mediator. Global Times noted, “China has always supported international mediation, because the peace and stability of South Asia is of great importance." It concluded: “India should not act against the will of the international community."

New Delhi has reacted in a dignified and measured manner to China’s official statements on India changing the structure of governance in J&K, stating: “The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill, 2019 is an internal matter concerning the territory of India. India does not comment on the internal affairs of other countries and expects other countries to do likewise." India has been noticeably silent on the persecution by China of its Muslim minority in its Xinjiang province.

The Chinese have been pressing hard on their border claims, asserting that Arunachal Pradesh is a part of China. In his speech in the Lok Sabha, Union home minister Amit Shah, however, reiterated India’s historic claim that Aksai Chin in Ladakh, which China claims is its territory, is an integral part of India. The entire border conflict in 1962 with China was triggered by Chinese claims in the 1950s that Aksai Chin was a part of China.

The strategic road that links Tibet with China’s Xinjiang province runs through Aksai Chin. This will be a crucial bargaining lever, in due course, as India negotiates its differences over the border with China, when President XI Jinping visits India, later this year.

The Line of Control

The present clampdown in the Kashmir valley has been accompanied by aggressive military patrolling across the international border and the LoC. There is now a clear change in India’s policies of responding to cross-border terrorism backed by Pakistan. Following the Kargil conflict, India agreed that it would respect the “sanctity" of the LoC in J&K. This was understood in the US and elsewhere as an Indian commitment not to cross the LoC, whatever the provocation from Pakistan.

This policy of constant “restraint" ended after terrorist attacks on the Indian Army units in Uri in 2016. India responded with what it called “surgical strikes" by its special forces crossing the LoC and destroying not only terrorist hideouts, but also disabling Pakistan army positions located close to the LoC, which facilitated cross-border terrorism.

Further escalation by India was undertaken earlier this year when Indian Mirage 2000 aircraft attacked and destroyed a major training camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed located in Balakot, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The Mirage 2000 air attack was undertaken after crossing not just the LoC, but also the international border. India has thus made it clear that it will strike back at a time and place of its choosing, if Pakistan chooses to go back on its assurance given to US President Bill Clinton in July 1999 that it would respect the “sanctity" of the LoC.

Pakistan has now mounted a “diplomatic offensive" against India. It has asked India to withdraw its ambassador from Islamabad. It has also indicated that it will be suspending all trade ties with India and indicated that over-flights of Indian aircraft would be curtailed. Moreover, it has pledged to launch a global diplomatic offensive against India, making it clear that the issue will also be raised at the UN Security Council. We have travelled through this road before during and after the Kargil conflict. South Block knows very well how to tackle such actions.

In conclusion

Much will now depend on how sensitively the government handles the situation in J&K, where there has been a clampdown on the movement of people. There will naturally be calls to end the clampdown, with freedom for people to go about their daily lives without hindrance. These could well rise during occasions like Eid.

One hopes that New Delhi will soon appoint a lieutenant governor for Kashmir who has a reputation of handling politically complex situations with tact and firmness. What J&K requires most of all, is effective, sensitive, and corruption-free governance.

G. Parthasarathy is a former diplomat. He served as India’s high commissioner to Pakistan and Myanmar.

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