View Full Version : Understanding the Kashmir knot By Asma Khan Lone - 8th September 2014

8th September 2014, 10:25 AM
The calling off of the foreign secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan by New Delhi while seemingly upstaging a fragile India-Pakistan rapprochement, is aimed at consolidating just that by aligning the symmetry in New Delhi’s favour. The state of Jammu and Kashmir (the part under Indian administration) is due to go to the polls later this year. After winning a landslide victory in the national elections in May, including in the key state of Uttar Pradesh with a sizeable Muslim vote bank, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is keen to replicate the precedent in Kashmir. This will allow Prime Minister Narendra Modi an opportunity to overcome the political baggage of the 2002 Gujarat carnage while also better manage key constructs of the interlinked Pakistan and Kashmir policy — tipping points towards his statesmanship aspirations.
The central strategy of this electoral gambit is to monopolise the non-Muslim vote, especially of the Hindu majority Jammu region. The toughened posture towards Pakistan for meeting Kashmiri separatists was aimed at this very gallery. If the BJP is able to win majority seats of the Jammu region along with the Ladakh region, it will only need another few seats from the (Muslim majority) Kashmir Valley to clasp the majority in the Jammu and Kashmir legislature. Besides pursuing local partners in Kashmir, the BJP is also banking on the Pandit refugee vote and zeroing in on constituencies where their vote may sway the results.
Another manoeuvre behind the cancellation, particularly over the separatists meetings at the Pakistani High Commission, was to ensure a strident poll boycott in Kashmir — a separatist tradition increasingly reaping diminishing returns. A lower voter turnout will help reduce the margin of victory while improving the BJP’s chances of securing seats especially where there is a substantial Pandit vote. The poll boycott in the earlier parliamentary elections had also enabled the BJP to secure a telling majority.
The immediate electoral stratagem apart, New Delhi cannot afford to polarise the region. It also cannot prolong the impasse with Pakistan or Kashmir in the long term. The timing and pretext of the present move were aimed at consolidating Indian interests not derailing the process. With a history of now-on-now-off political engagements this was a calculated continuation of the same. The internal political situation in Pakistan being in a flux there was nothing substantive India could have gained from the talks.
Of late, both India and Pakistan have switched roles, with Pakistan pursuing a broader gamut of engagement while India continues to harp on the issue of terrorism (as Pakistan earlier did on Kashmir). Even if keeping within the purview of India’s ‘terrorism’ paradigm, it will have to soon revert to engagement with Pakistan, given the emerging regional dynamics in the form of militant radicalisation within Pakistan, increasing securitisation of Afghanistan, shocking advances of the ISIS and the implications these developments have for Indian national security.
In Kashmir, too, India will need to pursue partners for peace, especially in the backdrop of its proclaimed developmental agenda. It will have to deal with the separatists who still represent an overwhelming sentiment even if facing eroding political credibility. A rigid stance will legitimise the hardliner separatists along with their radical agenda. It will further alienate the youth and reverse the post-2008 switch from violent to peaceful methods of protest. If this reversal does take place, violence may return with a vengeance — something India can ill-afford.
Hopefully, the present posturing was just a tactical interlude and not the glimmerings of an evolving strategic doctrine. Beyond the electoral rhetoric neither can India afford to set the bar too high for engagement with Pakistan nor practically scrap Article 370 in Kashmir (which has successively provided constitutional cover to dilute Kashmir’s autonomy). Hopefully Prime Minister Modi will return to displaying the national self-confidence he did during his swearing-in ceremony earlier this year and help embark the region towards a path of stability and security.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2014.