Pakistan’s response to India’s withdrawal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status is so short of moderation, it seems Islamabad was caught completely off guard. It has not only snapped off the standard diplomatic channels maintained via envoys, its top leadership has reportedly made references to a possible war, with hints of a probable nuclear catastrophe, in internal discussions on the matter. That Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa should raise the ante this way on relations already fraught with tension suggests a political need on their part to recover from a stunner. Khan expressed a fear of violent protests by Kashmiris that New Delhi would blame on Pakistan, possibly resulting in a full-blown military conflict between the two nuclear-armed nations. Separately, General Bajwa declared that Pakistan’s forces would go to “any extent" to defend the rights of Kashmiris. It appears to have escaped both that no violence has been reported in the erstwhile state so far. But then, it is admittedly consistent with Islamabad’s disposition towards India on Kashmir. No matter what a bristly neighbour has to say, New Delhi would be better off using diplomacy to win favourable opinion worldwide, as India’s two newest Union territories come into the glare of global attention.
There is little doubt that Khan is under pressure from Pakistan’s “deep state"—a loosely allied coalition of military interests, spymasters and non-state actors, including religious hardliners and militant groups—for his “India policy", now seen as both naïve and disastrous for the 1947-created country. Pakistan’s international isolation for its terrorist group links had already worsened domestic conditions and weakened Khan’s political standing. With his “Naya Pakistan" agenda faltering, a loud promise to take the “Kashmir issue" to the United Nations is perhaps his only face saver. But regardless of his political compulsions, it does him little credit to put out scare scenarios of the future. Raising a public frenzy over Kashmir may be a temptation that few Pakistani leaders can resist, but a rational assessment would make it clear that doing such a thing is too risky for a fragile democracy that isn’t entirely free of army overlordship.
Doubts over Pakistan’s ability to “internationalize" Kashmir, however, do not mean that New Delhi can afford any complacency on global perceptions of the former state’s full and formal integration with India. The message that this move is aimed at enhancing our ability to aid its development and uplift its people has reached Indian citizens far and wide, but a global outreach is needed as international reports spotlight the unease in the valley. The heavy military deployment, snapping of telephone and internet services, and impositions of curfew could be construed as a state lockdown that has left local voices muzzled. To ensure global support, New Delhi would do well to engage locals on one hand, while charting a carefully thought-out diplomatic exercise in world capitals, on the other. It’s a good sign that curfew is gradually being lifted in different parts of the valley. The action that the government intended to take has been taken. The sooner normalcy is restored, the better. The success of Jammu and Kashmir’s integration with the Union is likely to be judged by historians on many measures. Peace and prosperity would be among them.