Abrogation of Article 370 (and Article 35A) of the Constitution of India, by Hindu nationalist government Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has once again dragged the whole South Asian region to the brink of a crisis. On August 5, 2019, an Indian presidential decree revoked the special status of Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK), dividing the state into two parts: Jammu and Kashmir; and Ladakh. The changes are aimed at changing demographics in the valley which will undermine Muslim majority character of the state. Before the announcement of the decision, India moved additional 25,000 troops in the valley. Indian authorities cut since then has all means of communication – landline and internet – within the valley and with outside world. India’s repeated iteration of calling altering the status of Kashmir as an “internal matter” has heightened the tensions between three nuclear-armed neighbors – Pakistan, China and India. In response to Indian decision, Pakistan’s joint session of parliament unanimously approved a resolution which downgraded diplomatic relations with India by sending Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bhasaria back home, suspended bilateral trade and decided to take the matter to the UN, among few other steps like suspending operations of Samjhota Express the train service between the two neighboring states.
BJP came into power for the second term in 2019, infused with right-wing Hindu nationalist agenda. It nominated and promoted people like Pragya Singh Thakur – accused of terrorist attacks on Muslims in Western India in 2008, Amit Shah – who threatened to expel Muslim migrants calling them infiltrators and termites, and Narendra Modi – murderer of innocent Muslim of Gujrat, among many others. Apart from handling current crisis between two nuclear states, Pakistan needs to start taking BJP’s election manifestos very seriously. BJP is known for introducing and implementing extremist national schemes. It has done so in the past as well.
Looking back to 1996 Election Manifesto of BJP, BJP affirmed unambiguously India’s sovereignty over “the whole of Jammu & Kashmir, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir” and it will not accept any interference in India’s “internal affairs” related to Kashmir. In 1996, BJP had pledged to re-evaluate country’s nuclear policy and exercise the option of testing nuclear weapons. After coming into power in 1996, BJP government kept their pledge of going nuclear and conducted nuclear tests in 1998, putting South Asian region into unending nuclear arms race. Coming to 2014 BJP’s Election Manifesto, BJP vowed to revise and update India’s nuclear doctrine. Though BJP could not revise nuclear doctrine in its previous term from 2014-19, but its mention of revision of nuclear doctrine started a debate internally about how viable the idea would be. Apart from that BJP kept its pledge of aggressive posturing and actualization of Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) through so-called 2016 surgical strikes in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and 2019 misadventure of air strike inside the Line of Control (LoC). BJP also took some other significant steps as stated in its manifesto such as giving more powers and participation to armed forces in Ministry of Defence (MoD), making cyber security a thrust area in defense, starting restructuring of armed forces, investing in India’s indigenous Thorium Technology Program, and campaigning aggressively for United Nations Security Council (UNSC) permanent membership.
Calling itself “a natural home for Hindus”, BJP gave its 2019 Election Manifestos guaranteeing the introduction of “no-nonsense approach” to India’s internal and external security. The manifesto lauded surgical strikes in 2016 and air strike in 2019 as historic achievements. There are some more worrying issues discussed in 2019 Election Manifesto of BJP such as strengthening strike capability of Indian armed forces (through speeding up the purchase of defence equipment and weapons and firming up indigenous defence R&D projects), giving armed forces free-hand to combat insurgencies and terrorism by exemplifying surgical strikes and air strikes, reiterating of its position since the time of the Jan Sangh on the abrogation of Article 370 and committing itself to annulling 35A of the Constitution of India, construction of Ram Mandir (on the location of Babri Masjid) which can possibly start violence against Muslim – by majority Hindus supported by the government like those in Gujrat during Mr. Modi’s tenure as Chief Minister, enactment of Citizen Amendment Bill, and speeding up efforts for UNSC membership.
BJP has already fulfilled its first commitment of revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s special status through annulling Article 370 and 35A. On the other hand, BJP government has already introduced a controversial Citizen Amendment Bill in Lok Sabha in 2016. Under the provisions of this law Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs escaping persecution from India’s neighboring countries will be given citizenship in India; especially mentioning that Muslims will not be eligible for citizenship under this law. If the bill gets enacted, the Muslim migrants from neighboring countries would have to prove that they came to India before March 24, 1971; and if they are unable to prove their fate of arrival, they will be treated as foreigners and will be moved to detention centers before deportation.
Once again, what is needed for India’s neighbors, particularly Pakistan, is to intensely study and analyze BJP’s election manifesto and prepare themselves to deal with the fallout of constitutional, military and diplomatic agenda of BJP. Pakistan needs to particularly be mindful of India’s aggressive actions in the future in form of surgical and air strikes. BJP reassured its stance of considering Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Chhamb as part of IoK, Pakistan should show political will to prepare itself in order to be able to deal with any eventuality (if India tries to poke its nose in matter of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan). Pakistan should launch a diplomatic offensive, and appoint a Special Envoy on Kashmir (may be under Kashmir Committee) to take the true essence of Kashmir issue to the world. Pakistan also needs to unveil India’s evil face in international community and on different international forums through extensive discussions on Citizen Amendment Bill, and take the matter to UNHCR and champions of human rights.
This article was published in The Nation on August 20, 2019.