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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 38 New Delhi September 7, 2019

Kashmir developments triggered by Trump-Imran meet?

Saturday 7 September 2019

by Mahendra Ved

Cutting through the maze of triumphal justification and angry opposition to the structural, legal, constitutional and political changes pertaining to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, there is no doubt that it has garnered widespread support in the rest of India.

 Kashmir has shaped independent India’s troubled psyche and any firm resolution would, and has, caught the popular imagination. This is akin to the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government’s nuclear tests, but closer to the hearts and minds of the public.

 It must also be acknowledged that popularity of this controversial measure is not criterion enough for its correctness. It has revoked the special status and a way of life, howsoever troubled or privileged, of an entire state of 12.5 million people, forcing them to start anew. It has unilaterally taken away guarantees incorporated in the country’s Constitution.

 Despite virtual separation of a Hindu-majority Jammu and a Buddhist-majority Ladakh, the perceived challenge from a Muslim populace that forms a majority in the Valley, sections of it espousing separatism, some even preferring Pakistan, shall persist.

 This is the biggest risk the Narendra Modi Government, armed with an enhanced popular mandate, has taken and it could determine its performance over the coming years.

 Since it is within the territory it controls, despite a dispute that India has acknowledged, it is irreversible and offers a big part of the solution. While securing the territory from internal unrest and sabotage and cross-border movement, New Delhi will have to reach out to people. This remains its most daunting task.

 The external fall-out is also a major concern. India has hit Pakistan where it hurts most. The two could be close to a war in the near future. For Pakistan’s domestic dynamics, it is a defeat that, like Kargil, could generate serious internal trouble, despite the military and civil leadership claiming to be “on the same page”. The current Army Chief cannot afford to go down as a present-day Yahya Khan. The diplomatic war, already intensified, is bound to escalate. Terror attacks will certainly be attempted.

 India has rudely shaken China, pushing back the bilateral Wuhan understanding with Beijing. It has hit not just China’s prime ally, but has moved close to Aksai Chin, the Kashmir territory Pakistan ceded to China. Through it passes the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, where China has invested billions to gain access to the Indian Ocean. It is the flag-ship of its multi-nation Belt and Road Initiative. China cannot afford to ignore this Indian challenge, with claims on the ceded territory reinforced, when the United States is doing all it can to counter Chinese dominance in Asia.

 India has angered its closest ally, the US, too. The Kashmir factor rudely disrupts President Donald Trump’s hasty plans to quit Afghanistan, for which he needs Pakistan. Islamabad could now be most recalcitrant with Washington for the latter not weighing in on India. This is bound to impact any Afghan resolution and India’s presence, or any role in it, can be ruled out. Pakistan would want to keep India out at any cost.

 The Kashmir developments have been triggered by the Modi Government’s (and its mentor the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s) oft-stated political agenda to revoke Article 370 and precipitated by diplomatic moves by key stakeholders in Afghanistan. For the Modi Government, it was a now or never moment in Kashmir.

It is possible to surmise that the Trump-Pakistan Premier Imran Khan meeting on July 22 triggered India’s action. Trump, with little idea of the Kashmir issue’s complexities, made the mistake of offering to mediate or even arbitrate on Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

 If this was a lollipop to Khan to ensure his Afghanistan cooperation, we do not know. But it did thrill Khan, who returned home showing “V” for victory signs. The Pakistani surmise could be that Khan offered cooperation in Afghanistan and, in return, earn money, arms and support that such cooperation would yield. Trump’s Kashmir mediation offer came as a ‘bonus’.

 An angry India rejected Trump’s explicit and public, offer, especially when made in Imran’s presence. Pakistan sought to press Trump through a question placed, probably by a Pakistani reporter at a media interaction. And a mercurial Trump, unaware or unable to understand how Modi’s mind may be working, repeated the offer.

 India, that sees itself as a bigger ally of the US than Pakistan, has reasons to be angry at Trump and Khan linking exiting Afghanistan with Kashmir. In the past also, American administrations and even British governments have bought the Pakistani line that if the Kashmir issue was resolved (in effect, India gives up control over the Valley) the Afghanistan issue would get resolved and there would be peace in South Asia.

 It makes sense to link the Trump-Khan-Afghanistan line with Kashmir and India for another reason. Assuming Trump is able to leave Afghanistan, with or without Pakistan’s support, and the Afghan Taliban gain control of Kabul—which appears inevitable now— Pakistan would be super-confident in the region and, with help from the Taliban and its own militant outfits, could create havoc in Jammu and Kashmir.

 The rise in militancy in Kashmir in 1991, too, was immediately after the erstwhile Soviet Union left Afghanistan and the US and the West declared victory. India cannot countenance another round of anarchy in Kashmir caused by Pakistan, now bolstered by China and Trump’s America. It has done on its own territory what it thought best. And this was urgently needed.

The author is a veteran journalist and President of the Commonwealth Journalists Association. He can be contacted at mahendraved07[at]gmail.com

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