Kashmir is referred to as the most dangerous place on earth. This is because Kashmir is a bone of contention between two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. Any tension resulting from the Kashmir situation is cause for alarm, writes Ambassador Ali Sarwar Naqvi, Executive Director of the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS), Islamabad, Pakistan.
Kashmir is referred to as the most dangerous place on earth. This is because Kashmir is a bone of contention between two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. Any tension resulting from the Kashmir situation is cause for alarm. The present crisis in Kashmir owes its origins to the partition of British India in 1947. Kashmir was a princely state at the time of partition. Under the terms of partition, the rulers of all princely states had to decide as to which of the two countries the state would accede to. The princely states were also told to make the decision according to the wishes of the majority population. Since the majority population of Kashmir was Muslim, the ruler should have acceded to Pakistan, but he chose to accede to India. This created great resentment in Kashmir as well as in Pakistan and there was a massive uprising in Kashmir against the ruler’s decision. In the resulting turmoil, the Indian government took the matter to the United Nations Security Council which adopted resolutions calling for an independent plebiscite in Kashmir. Meanwhile after accepting the accession of Kashmir, the Indian government provided special status for Kashmir in its constitution. The present Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has abrogated, on August 5, 2019, Articles 370 and 35A providing for this special status and incorporated the disputed territory of Kashmir into the Indian union.
Kashmir is already one of the most militarized areas in the world. Under current circumstances, it is difficult to determine how far can tensions will rise between the two nuclear opponents in South Asia. India and Pakistan face off each other and often exchange artillery fires along the control line in Kashmir. In response to the crisis in Kashmir, Pakistan’s military commanders have said they will go to ‘any extent’ if India continues provocations. Prime Minister Imran Khan said the Pakistani military was aware that the Indian government had made dangerous plans for action in Azad Kashmir in order to divert the international community’s attention from the alarming situation in IOK. It is worth noting that any military action at this stage can only result in tremendous escalation risks. In this volatile situation, Pakistan is acting as a responsible state but in an event of any military misadventure from Indian side, Pakistan army is determined to respond effectively.
In the international community, Pakistan is seeking for diplomatic support by calling on the leaders of nations and citing Indian actions as “illegal” in Kashmir. Pakistan used the OIC platform to add weightage to Pakistan’s position in Kashmir. While countries such as the UAE, Maldives and Bangladesh have not taken a position in regard to India’s decision, others such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Malaysia and Turkey have issued statements that strongly support Pakistan’s position. Be it as it may, it is highly unlikely that Kashmir would affect India’s relations with Muslim countries, given the diplomatic standing of Modi as Prime Minister in his first term when he made significant improvements in India’s relations with major Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
On its part, Pakistan will respond to the changes in Kashmir through the effective diplomacy of current government. The abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A will further enhance the popular struggle for Kashmir’s freedom amid India’s oppression and human rights abuses. The repression by India is likely to provoke attacks by Kashmiri freedom fighters against the Indian occupation forces. In recent days, Prime Minister Imran Khan has spoken to Parliament about “incidents like Pulwama” (where a young oppressed Kashmiri boy attacked an Indian convoy killing more than thirty soldiers), happening again following the failing BJP policies in IOK. The Indian government is either blind to the fact or extremely cautious of power of a politically conscious generation and is constantly pushing them into an alley where guns and stones become the idiom of a movement.
The more Kashmiris are pushed against the wall, the greater becomes their resistance where every death provides a new impetus, but it spills out directly and without strategy. Given the rigidity of the Indian government, there is no effect of peaceful resistance. The Indian government must realize that stone pelters on the streets are not Pakistani or paid agents. If any attack occurs, in a familiar sequence now, India will blame Pakistan for such attacks and trigger the kind of India-Pakistan crisis faced in February 2019 and on several previous occasions. Such a crisis could easily be turned into a general war with the inherent risk of nuclear weapons being used. The prospect of jihadists using the latest developments as an opportunity to promote unrest in Kashmir should not be ruled out under any circumstances. The February crisis was successfully overturned as a result of the restraint exercised by Pakistan and its Prime Minister, including the gesture of the unilateral release of India’s pilot. The circumstances of India and Pakistan may be different in regard to Kashmir this time. The international community must exercise its influence to prevent a conflict in this area and urge India to undertake negotiations with Pakistan on this matter at the earliest.
This article was published in the Valdai Discussion Club on August 26, 2019.