The wildest guesswork is gripping the Valley — from impending war with Pakistan to impending repression.
The most inexplicable things are happening in Kashmir, and there is no official explanation so far, no move whatever to inform the country about reasons for the extraordinary turn of events.
On the face of things, there can be little doubt that the panic and confusion caused in the Valley owe to the unexpected shift in regional geopolitics. These appear to have turned wholly to India’s disadvantage, in part because of mismanagement and complacence on the part of New Delhi.
Less than a week ago, the Centre was painting a rosy picture of the social and political climate in Kashmir, portraying the Valley as a great case of development success, indeed an extraordinary example of a turnaround due to deft government handling.
But suddenly, around 40 paramilitary battalions — or some 40,000 uniformed personnel — have had to be inducted into the Valley in recent days. These are in addition to the 25,000 added in the wake of the Pulwama attack in February. Troop numbers are probably higher than at any time in the past when we have not been at war. The Army and the Indian Air Force have been placed on alert.
The famous Amarnath Yatra, among the holiest of the holy Hindu pilgrimages undertaken in July-August, has been abruptly cancelled midway. Pilgrims and tourists have been ordered out of the Valley at short notice. Engineering students from other states have been sent back home. Panic has gripped Kashmir, easily the most sensitive part of the country on account of Pakistan’s claim to it, which has frequently had the support of the US, and now increasingly China. Citizens are stocking essential supplies and petrol and fear is in the air.
The wildest guesswork is gripping the Valley — from impending war with Pakistan to impending repression. The government is apparently letting the cauldron simmer in a calculated manner in order to keep the local populace in a state of heightened anxiety and frenzy, although it is not clear to what end.
In the RSS-BJP raj, the question is permissible whether such a situation is not on account of Kashmir’s demographics, and whether such a frenzied psychological state would have been allowed to build up in any other state or region of India?
Such situations can potentially burst out as violent retaliation from the public, or an exaggerated show of submissiveness leading up to a spectacular outburst when the opportunity presents itself. We do need to take this on board. This is another name for fragility at the level of internal security in a charged atmosphere in a super-sensitive part of the country.
Apart from guesswork about war or prolonged military skirmishes with Pakistan, it is the rapidly spreading fear of calculated alterations in Kashmir’s constitutional status in line with the RSS’ thinking — for instance, the scrapping of Articles 35A or 370 of the Constitution, which deal with the special status of J&K, as well as the trifurcation of J&K — that seems to be gripping the public mind currently.
What has caused the sudden change in the government’s outlook in Kashmir that is leading to the spread of fear at the people’s level? The answer suggests itself: the re-crafting of the US attitude to India and Pakistan under President Donald Trump in a swift manoeuvre on account of America’s need for normality with the Taliban, which only Islamabad is in a position to facilitate.
US talks with the Taliban in Doha have reached a point that needs to be catalysed. The Pakistan military and the ISI are in a position to help in this process. This is the reason why, in his talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan in Washington last month, US President Donald Trump spelt out in some detail how Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sought his help in mediation with Pakistan on the Kashmir question when they met in Osaka for the G-20 summit recently.
This was deeply embarrassing to Mr Modi personally. Mr Trump’s narration flew in the face of India’s known policy and appeared to be entreaties in secret. New Delhi was at pains to deny this in Parliament through a strong intervention by external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who insisted that only “bilateral” talks can be held between India and Pakistan on Kashmir.
This is in keeping with the traditional Indian stance, which has, since Jawaharlal Nehru’s day, been wary of great power intervention or mediation. But the external affairs minister’s statement cut no ice with the Americans. In an indirect way, Mr Trump, since then, has once again offered to be a mediator on Kashmir. Mr Jaishankar was obliged to convey the message of bilateralism even more strongly to secretary of state Mike Pompeo when they met at a multilateral forum in Bangkok last week.
From all this, Islamabad has concluded, not surprisingly, that Washington was, at the current juncture, ready — after many years — to look sideways at its promotion of terrorism in Kashmir, and its violation of the ceasefire, which is an infiltration of infiltration of terrorists into Kashmir. Clearly, the Imran Khan government and the Pakistani security establishment are overjoyed that they are in a position to leverage America’s need in Afghanistan to gain some autonomy of action in the Kashmir context.
Under Mr Modi especially, India has been prone to take the US as an all-weather friend on account of India’s market and other economic complementarities. It is for this reason that New Delhi was utterly shocked when Mr Trump spoke of Mr Modi urging him to mediate. To make matters worse, he said this in his conversation with the Pakistani Prime Minister. The Modi government had no inkling of the manner in which the US President had prepared himself for the visit of the Pakistan PM.
India’s worshipful stance toward the US has been noticed for many years even in the context of Afghanistan. At the people’s level and the Afghan government’s level, no country is as popular as India in Kabul. And yet, New Delhi has not sought to deepen its political stakes in Afghanistan. This is on account of the concern that nothing that India does in Kabul should upset Pakistan. Over the years America has made this a catechism in its dealings with New Delhi, and India has been willing to oblige.
The result is that, besides the US, all the countries around Afghanistan — China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan — have worked out their equations with the Taliban. India has avoided that path as the US didn’t want it to disturb Pakistan’s poise because it badly needs Pakistan in dealing with the Taliban.
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir are a continuum in the US dealings in South Asia. We have wholly missed the point, and are suddenly having to rush forces to Srinagar to meet any eventuality.