Amid the devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is surprising calm in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) over the constitutional changes made by the Indian government on August 5, 2019. Compared to the corresponding period. from last year, there seems little fuss in political and popular discourse on the issue. Mention of Article 370 and other allied changes seems to have magically disappeared from the political rhetoric of the main parties in Kashmir, as well as civil society. This lull is by no means the result of the fatigue associated with the pandemic or the fear generated by the disastrous infections of the second wave. There is now a greater, if not absolute, standardization of the monumental changes implemented in J&K in 2019.
Typically, the onset of spring is accompanied by a new peak of violence in the streets and linked to militancy in the valley. The past three months have seen only a few militant attacks on civilian and military targets – a significant change. The Line of Control (LoC) remains quiet after the ceasefire announced by the Directors General of Military Operations (DGMO) of India and Pakistan in February. Although anti-activist encounters continue, recruiting activists has remained a challenge. For the first time since 2016, security forces have announced a change in strategy: to focus primarily on preventing recruitment rather than killing activists.
It is too early to declare the normalization of things on the security front as the emerging trend of the last few months is not sufficient conclusive evidence. But normalization on the political front is evident. The thaw between India and Pakistan emanating from the backchannel talks has nailed the coffin of Article 370 and the junction of Jammu and Kashmir.
It is too early to declare the normalization of things on the security front as the emerging trend of the last few months is not sufficient conclusive evidence. But normalization on the political front is evident. The thaw between India and Pakistan emanating from the underground talks nailed the coffin of Article 370 and the fork in Jammu and Kashmir.
Multiple news reports emerging after a 7-hour long conversation held by the Pakistani army chief with more than two dozen of Pakistan’s top journalists confirms this fact. According to a item Posted in Indian express, the army chief categorically stated that Article 370 is not of concern to Pakistan. He focused on restoring the state and ensuring that no demographic change is allowed. An article published in the pakistani newspaper, Dawn, corroborates this fact. Perhaps the most significant development is the absence of any mention of the junction of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir.
A few days after the Iftar conversation of army chief yjr, the Pakistani foreign minister in a TV interview said Section 370 is “an internal Indian matter and meant nothing to Pakistan”. Reiterating the position resulting from a private conversation of the chief of the army, the minister underlined article 35A. Two days later, the Minister of Foreign Affairs gave in under pressure from the opposition and did an about-face, characteristic of Pakistani politicians.
Likewise, Prime Minister Imran Khan also issued a declaration saying that “No dialogue with India until it overturns the August 5 decision”. But there is a catch. It is not clear which of the multiple decisions taken on August 5 Khan wants to overturn: J&K Union territory status, article 370, article 35A, or the bifurcation of the old state?
Since the announcement of the ceasefire, an epidemic of confusion has hit Islamabad. It is important to note that the Pakistani government is finding it increasingly difficult to justify or rationalize the compromise that its masters seek. Given the high octane propaganda and vicious rhetoric unleashed by Imran Khan and his cabinet after August 5, a descent is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.
Since the announcement of the ceasefire, an epidemic of confusion has hit Islamabad. It is important to note that the Pakistani government is finding it increasingly difficult to justify or rationalize the compromise sought by its masters. Given the high-octane propaganda and vicious rhetoric unleashed by Imran Khan and his cabinet after August 5, a descent is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.
It is, however, reasonable to assume that despite the comedic frenzy of the Imran Khan regime, behind-the-scenes talks are continuing. The first indication came after the Pakistani government overturned the Economic Coordinating Committee’s (CEC) decision to import cotton from India. According to the news Coming from Pakistan, the turnaround on normalization of trade relations was seen only as a “bump” by Islamabad officials and did not derail the initiative.
No doubt the twists from Pakistan will surely be a relief for India, but it is the ripple effect of the U-turns that is a huge benefit to the Modi government. Opposition to drastic changes to Article 370 and the bifurcation was rejected. There is already a promise of return to the state; and a strengthening of the J&K domicile laws would not be seen as a compromise by the Indian people or Modi’s support base.
In Jammu and Kashmir, this new reality has also manifested itself in the main political parties, in particular the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which went into unrest after the release of their leaders. The silence of traditional parties is partly enforced by threats of prosecution, investigation and, in some cases, detention without charge. All Kashmir-based parties know that restoring the state and strengthening domicile laws is the only concession they can expect from New Delhi. A message, consistent with government policy, is being conveyed to their leaders.
All Kashmir-based parties know that restoring statehood and strengthening domicile laws is the only concession they can expect from New Delhi. A message, consistent with government policy, is being conveyed to their leaders.
Among these parties, Mehbooba Mufti and his PDP were perhaps the most agitated in his demands and rhetoric. But his party’s sudden silence on Article 370 and other August 5 rulings may be a symptom of an existential threat to the political future of the Delhi-designed party. At the same time, Pakistan’s willingness to drop the ball on Article 370 makes a compromise for its party easy to sell to its local constituency. If the mothership of all troubles in Kashmir (read Pakistan) decides to capitulate on an issue, why should these parties bother to agitate, risk personal and political interests, for a demand that is unachievable under the current regime?
The thaw between India and Pakistan is normalizing and, indeed, formalizing the new status quo on Kashmir. Maintaining the status quo in the face of turmoil and conflict is a perennial feature of the history of India-Pakistan and Kashmir. Despite all their traps and Pakistani hawks against a status quo solution on Kashmir, the reality may be harsher: New Delhi crossed the line on August 5, 2019 – in Kashmir and around the world as well.