Indian-occupied Kashmir: A new American dilemma

By QANTA AHMED
August 24, 2019 20:29
Demonstrators hold signs and chant slogans as they march in solidarity with the people of Kashmir, d

Demonstrators hold signs and chant slogans as they march in solidarity with the people of Kashmir, during a rally in Karachi. (photo credit: REUTERS)

With the recent dismantling of Article 370, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s actions are more consistent with imperial dictatorship than with democracy. This is a shameful tragedy for the world’s most diverse and biggest democracy.

The United Nations Security Council met recently in an emergency closed session to discuss Indian-occupied Kashmir for the first time since 1965.

Dismantling Article 370 upends long agreed-upon UN resolutions. The UN Security Council Resolution 47 adopted on April 21, 1948, asked India and Pakistan to resolve the contested Kashmiri territory in a stepwise approach.

The freely elected popular socialist Sheikh Abdullah, as a Muslim Kashmiri, championed Kashmir’s accession to India, choosing to align with what was in 1951 a secular democracy over what he saw in Pakistan as a nascent theocratic state.

Pakistan was asked to withdraw its nationals from the territory under its control. India was asked to reduce its forces in its part of the territory with an independent plebiscite to follow. Instead, India committed to respecting absolute autonomy for Kashmir with its own regional government, parliament and elections.

Jammu and Kashmir are unique among Indian states as an amalgam of three cultural regions. Jammu apparently backed closer integration with secular India, and Kashmir advocated for greater autonomy by seeking freedom from theocratic oppression.

Both were seeking to safeguard statehood. Article 370 sought to defuse and find compromise among these competing and conflicting tensions. Yet today it is one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world.

Sadly, these differences have all too readily communalized and exploited regions. Tragically, on this altar Jammu and Kashmir are to be sacrificed by the rest of India, which itself is at best a quasi-union or a federation of states.

The outcome of Modi’s occupation of Kashmir will have grave ramifications for the rest of the nation. If occupation can happen here, it can happen in any other state in the union.

Hindu nationalism is on the ascent, under the watchful eye of a national leader who was diplomatically banned for almost a decade by the United States, Britain and other European nations because of Hindu nationalist riots resulting in the massacre of Muslims as he governed Gujarat.

Since then Modi has only intensified his mastery of corralling and directing anti-Muslim violence, empowering Hindu extremists toward unmitigated vigilantism. The subjugation of Kashmir will only ignite them further.

CRITICS IN India are quickly and efficiently chilled. Dissenting opinions, even those supportive of Indian democracy but critical of Modi’s unilateral authoritarian actions, are jailed to prevent them informing the public. India has already arrested more than 4,000 citizens within occupied Kashmir since it was stripped of autonomy in its intensifying occupation, as reported in the Indian press.

Pro-Modi Indians argue that this move was democratic because an elected Prime Minister made the decision. The reality is that the unilateral occupation of Kashmir can only be seen under Indian law as profoundly anti-democratic and has been labelled as such by Indian opposition parliamentarians, and not merely for the sake of opposition, but out of fear and shock.

Back in New Delhi, in parliament, there are only a few representatives from Jammu and Kashmir. Most of them were not present and only one spoke during the dismantling of Article 370.

Modi preempted all due democratic process consistent with the Indian constitution, shocking the core of the Indian Parliament who, bearing witness passively, know this can now set precedent for any other state in the federated union of India.

Modi feigned legitimacy asserting that the majority of parliamentarians voted to dissolve Article 370, even as that majority came from only six of India’s 29 federated states and seven union territories.

Certainly, a handful of states may form a voting majority. But astute critics correctly expose this as not democracy but majoritarianism, or the tyranny of a brute majority quashing the rights of vulnerable minorities.

In the background is China, watching the affairs astutely and supporting Pakistan at the UN Security Council emergency consultation recently in New York.

Over recent decades, China has heavily invested in Pakistan, building both the warm water port of Gwadar on the Indian Ocean and engaging Pakistan in the Belt Road Initiative. Both bring Pakistan economic opportunity and stabilization.

Note that not even authoritarian China has dared do this in Hong Kong, nor has Israel, despite almost 70 years of lethal regional conflict which threatened her existence.

Though US President Donald Trump remarked during the recent visit to the US by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan that he would help broker the issue of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, Trump has yet to follow through. 

Such casual disengagement may prove disastrous not only for Pakistan and Indian-occupied Kashmir but for the United States in particular.

THE US needs Pakistan for an exit strategy from Afghanistan, where Afghanis are realizing that the troops will be leaving, even as violence has escalated to intense levels recently. Perhaps this is a prelude of what is to come.

This is particularly worrying as the little recognized Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS Central Asian offshoot) begins to unfold its ambitions in the Central Asian region.

At the same time, many ignore the rise of Hindu nationalist fundamentalism against Muslims inside India. The Gujarat riots have been politely disregarded, but must be taken in context.

Now that Kashmir has been muzzled, India’s 200 million domestic Muslim population must rightfully fear for local reprisals from emboldened nationalist fanatics.

It is conceivable that India is emboldened by witnessing Israeli settlement efforts on disputed territories. Though deeply criticized – including by Israelis and counter to international law – Israel has been able to pursue that without significant sanction.

Looking ahead there is no doubt this crisis will draw in regional powers into an international geopolitical crisis. India has taken a grave risk. While Pakistan’s military may be smaller than India’s, its capabilities are far greater. 

Pakistan is battle-hardened from decades of jihadist guerrilla warfare, first with the Afghani Taliban, later with its own Pakistani Taliban, and since then with countless numerous violent Islamist groups domestically. Perhaps only the Israeli military has had as much experience combating radical fundamentalism.

Pakistan demonstrated its military prowess and readiness for battle by retaliating at India in February after India struck Pakistan in reprisals for a jihadist attack that claimed the lives of 40 Indian soldiers.

In swift response, Pakistan shot down two Indian Air Force jets, capturing one pilot and humanely releasing him back to Indian custody shortly thereafter. The incident shook India, whose military has not been engaged in widespread warfare of any scale for decades.

Pakistan also has assessed the sober reality. It has few allies in the world. The Americans have long proven exploitative and fair-weather friends. Pakistan has been looking beyond an American allegiance since the Bin Laden raid revealed America’s profound distress of Pakistan.

A friendless nation with a deeply martial spirit, a highly trained and enormously powerful military and a deep sense of pride, Pakistan will not allow Kashmir to be extinguished by Modi’s ambition.

India may be unprepared for what will follow. While Western commentators fear Pakistan’s nuclear capability, neither Pakistan nor India is ready to trigger a nuclear apocalypse that will enshroud millions in South East Asia. India has poked an enormous tiger, and she is ill-equipped for the consequences.

The writer is a fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom. On Twitter @MissDiagnosis.


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